Daily Wire Tip: Wrapping a Bail is Simple with Technique and Tools

By on June 15, 2011
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip

Question:

Dear Dale, my hands are getting stiff (old age), and I have some problems wrapping the wire around the top of the pendant where the bail will be placed. Any suggestions?

-Judith in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee

Answer:

Hi! Yes, I can certainly understand the challenges you are having as your body begins to rebel with maturity (it really has nothing to do with the fact that you worked hard when younger, does it?).

The best advice I can offer here is to be sure you are using the best possible tools for the tasks you desire to execute. I see so many "second wind" artists and crafters in my classrooms, who have been trying to follow jewelry making patterns by using hand tools that are very well worn (yes, you love them and although they have done a fabulous job for years, now they need to retire); as well as those folks who are just starting out (finally doing something they have always wanted to do) and who think that because they treat jewelry-making as a hobby that just any old tool will do, as long as it is similar to what the instructor recommends.

As you specifically mention wrapping wire around a bail to hold a frame together, this technique really is no different than wrapping a bundle together! The only difference is that the frame has two sides to wrap together, and is therefore twice as thick as the main frame bundle. This means that the hook made at the bottom of the wrap wire needs to be twice as wide, so it will easily fit over the two frame wires being joined together. After the hook has been put on and crimped, use the same method of wrapping each of the four sides, using flat nose pliers to hold the bundle while making a 90° bend at each of the four corners, and crimping with the flat nose pliers at each bend. Really, 2 wraps to show are all that is needed to hold the frame wires together, then form the bail and continue to use the same wrap wire to wrap in the bail wires, about 2 or 3 more wraps and it’s done! I hope this helps.

Answer contributed by Dale "Cougar" Armstrong

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20 Comments

  1. avatar

    Brent

    June 16, 2011 at 10:27 am

    One method I use for the bail is this:

    If you have 5 wire coming up each side of the stone, wrap one side first (5 wires). Make one complete wrap around this group, then bring the other group of 5 wires over and continue the wrap around all 10 wires. This way you are not having to deal with so many wires at one time.

  2. avatar

    Llewellyn Alspach

    June 16, 2011 at 10:47 am

    I too have that problem. My way of accomplishing it is to use my “third hand”. I have a small pair of hemostats (medical use for blood vessel clamps in surgery) that I have filed the teeth off and wrapped the holding end with masking tape. It clamps tight enough to hold the large number of wires in place while I am wrapping them. They can be found at most flea markets or if you have to be stitched up in the ER for a mishap ask the nurse for the hemostats. They just throw them away when they are used. Or if you know an ER nurse ask her to save you a pair, preferably an unused pair. Be sure to soak them in alcohol or boil them before you get real friendly with them, just in case they may be contaminated.

    • avatar

      Trish

      June 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      Llewllyn,
      As an ER Nurse, our hemostats are NOT disposable. I have never seen disposable hemostats! That being said, most durable-medical supply pharmacy’s carry, or can order hemostats. FYI, they are expensive!

      Trish, RN

    • avatar

      Carla

      August 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm

      Try ebay, you can find them fairly cheap.

    • avatar

      Suzanne Suarez

      September 21, 2012 at 4:46 am

      I used to be a dog groomer. Hemostats are sold to groomers and vets. Your pet shop or groomer could order you a pair and they are not that expensive. You can order different guages.

  3. avatar

    Sherry

    June 16, 2011 at 11:53 am

    I use Pain a trait from melaleuca. It really helps me. It does have a little greasy feel at first but then just soaks right in. If your interested let me know and I can give you a name of a distributer. sheluke@gmail.com

    • avatar

      Maggie

      October 27, 2016 at 12:14 pm

      I too use pain-a-trate, what an awesome product. Does the trick every time!

  4. avatar

    jake

    June 16, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    i, too, have issues with my script hand, and that very area of the pendant is enough to make me drop the project and tools in frustration and walk away.

    i’ve tried a few things, and there is no one trick that works on every piece, but i hope you find something that works for you, Judith.

    – Make sure you’ve left yourself plenty of ‘spare’ wire to work with – little stubby ends can be very frustrating when you’re so close to finishing your pendant
    – Use a piece of soft copper wire to loosely bind the wires in place, or as close to in place as you can. Once they are starting to behave, use your ‘real’ wire to complete the binding, then remove the copper
    – Having a little clamp can be helpful, too. The trick is to find a clamp that keeps the wires in place without squishing them too tightly and messing up their order
    – When you put the little hook in your binding wire, don’t use flat nose pliers. As Dale says, you have to go over double the thickness. i use round or chain-nose to make my hook, then when i get the wires behaving i crimp it down to the right size
    – i pretty much always count on cutting off and throwing away my first couple of wraps. They start messy, but get neater as i go. Dale says you really only need a couple, so i cut off the messy ones that i did at first

    i hope this helps, because if you love doing this as much as i do, physical limitations can drive you bonkers. Good luck!

    • avatar

      DancingDragonfly

      February 16, 2012 at 10:26 am

      good idea with the copper wire. bag twist ties also will hold them in place til you get your ‘real’ wire on.

  5. avatar

    beverly

    June 16, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    This is the hardest part of pendant wrapping and I tell my students, like I was taught, you can’t use enough tape. The painters tape is what I now use as it doesn’t leave a residue behind that is hard to remove. I have also used the hemostats and have started using one with success. I feel this will be the easiest way of keeping the wires flat and together while starting the first wraps while keeping the stone in place.

  6. avatar

    Judy Coppeland

    February 9, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Judy says:

    Have found some clothes pen type of clamps at Home Depot. They come in seversl sizes and have vinal tips. I like the 4 1/2″ ones when starting out combining my bundle of wire before a wrap to hold the bundle in place. Then use the 2″ ones to hold closer to making the wraps before making a bail.

    Painter’s tape is also helpful with these clamps. Just make sure to use tape if your using differnent gauges and shapes of wire. These clamps hold only the same kind of gauges and shapes of wire I have found. On craft or soft wire they somtimes leave little dents in your wire so cut a piece of waffle shelf linner the size of your clamp. Place it in the clamp or if you prefer around the bundle then add the clamp. This keeps the wires from loosing their place

    I too have these problems with my hands, so these have been so helpful. One day wandered around Home Depot and found these and wondered if these might help and they do. Also gave my Sister some and she loves using them.

    Hope this is helpful to others with hand issues.

    Judy Copeland

  7. avatar

    Susan

    February 9, 2012 at 9:56 am

    Regarding stiff hands: When I’m not wire wrapping, one of my “day jobs” is massaging horses. In both endeavors, my hands are an important part of my tool collection. Like me, my hands are 61 y.o. so I help keep them happy with massage. If your hands are stiff, one of the best things to do for yourself is to massage your hands daily with a good massage cream or oil (either can be found at most large drug stores). The cream is best as it will wash off easily. If you choose an oil, just be sure to wash your hands several times before beginning work with your wire.

    You don’t need to be a pro to massage your own hands. Simply apply the cream and methodically (and gently) massage the backs, palms, and each individual finger and thumb of each hand. Don’t forget to give some attention to your wrists and work with some of the muscles in your forearms as well since several of the forearm muscles run down into your hands. You don’t need a lot of pressure, just light to moderate (about the pressure you’d need to squash a steamed pea)will do. You can’t turn back the clock, but your hands should begin to feel less stiff and a bit more nimble over a few days time.

    If you are lucky enough to live near a large mall where massage vendors offer 10 – 15 minutes of chair massage, you may want to invest in having your shoulders, neck, arms and hands massaged professionally. All can get tight and stiff when making jewelry. Also, a good therapist will be happy to give you some tips/instruction on how to give yourself a daily hand massage. Or, you can run a search on the internet such as, how to massage your hands and I’m sure you’ll find some good instructions. Just be sure the writer is a certified massage therapist.

    Hope this helps a bit.

  8. avatar

    Mary Ann

    June 15, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Thank you for all these great tips. Still new to wire wrapping, but “hand fatigue” is also occurring with many other jewelry making techniques, i.e.. weaving, chain maille, etc. I have moderate arthritis in both hands and the base of my thumbs. I manage hand fatigue with good tools with longer ergonomic handles. In the evenings, I treat them to a good hand cream massage and moist heat. Also have a professional massage every two weeks for my hands, arms, shoulders, neck and back which also take the abuse.

    Question? Is painters tape the same as masking tape?

    • avatar

      Rose

      June 15, 2012 at 2:49 pm

      Hi Mary Ann! Glad to hear that you are getting lots out of the tips. Good for you for taking such good care of your hands, we could learn a lot from you!

      No, painter’s tape is a specific type of tape, similar to masking tape but less sticky and it is bright blue :) You can find it at pretty much any grocery store or home improvement store. Some folks have seen it in purple, but report that it doesn’t work as well.
      Rose

      • avatar

        Mary Ann

        June 16, 2012 at 12:41 pm

        Thank you so much!

  9. avatar

    Beverly

    July 19, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    This blog is the very best gift for a new wire wrapper, heck for a new jewelry designer. You all are a wealth of information and so happy to share your knowledge. Thank you so much! I call it collaboration, and I love it! Hopefully I will be able to give back soon!
    And I can certainly relate to the hand fatigue and I am also noticing the beginnings of slight arthritis – which I am praying and believing against.
    I admire Dale “Cougar” Armstrong so much and have her “Wirework” book and DVD!
    Beverly, Glory Shine Adornment

  10. avatar

    Maurine

    January 26, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    At 85 years young I just started wire wrapping so started with hand discomfort. I work about an hour then take a break and massage my hands like the manicurist does. Works for me. Appreciate all the projects, tips, and information you professional persons share.

  11. avatar

    D'Arcy

    March 20, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I use flat nose pliers, but mine go from smaller to bigger, so the hook I make is tiny for a single width of wire, and I can make it appropriately bigger when I go to make the bail. I actually prefer to use what I call my little bitties tools. They r especially small so they become an extension of my arm. In my case, I’m a Bilateral Carpel Tunnel surgery patient, and I actually find for me the ergonomic tools are a nightmare. They are too big and long & I lose my control. I know they are supposed to be better for most, but for me, my hand tiers way too much. In the end, each person has to find what works best for them.

  12. avatar

    Maia

    November 20, 2014 at 10:10 am

    I have found that certain kinds of exercises for the hand also help. I also use an ointment called Thermamend which makes the pain a lot less. For the slipperies (when a stone or wire are too slippery to hold onto), I use baby powder on my hands as well. For keeping wires in place, I use a ring clamp. It has suede in the jaws so it won’t leave a mark.

  13. avatar

    Corinne

    May 28, 2015 at 10:34 am

    The aging process sure challenges us, but we keep finding ways to adapt. Thanks for all the great info. Another hand challenge that age throws at us is Parkinson’s. First of all, I find that I do best when I time my jewelry making for the hour or half an hour when my meds are working best. Another helpful hint is to brace your hands. This can be done by leaning you elbow into your table or bracing against your better hand with less tremor. Wrist weights can help with tremoring also.

    I have found Harbor Freight to be a good less expensive source for hemostats as well as third hand devices and a number of other tools. If they do not have a store nearby, try ordering on line.

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