Daily Wire Tip: Making Spirals with Heavy-Gauge Wire

By on July 5, 2011
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip July 6, 2011


Hi Dale, first, I want you to know that your daily tips are invaluable to me! Thank you for sharing your expertise with those of us who are learning.

I am having a difficult time making wire spirals with 16-gauge wire. Specifically, I am having a hard time getting a good grip with my chain nose or flat nose pliers after the initial loop. The wire is so heavy I cannot get it to bend in a soft curve, without losing my grip. I wonder if I am using the wrong technique? I don’t have this problem with fine-gauge wire and I’ve even tried a WigJig, with no luck. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks, Linda

-Linda in Castle Rock, Colorado


Hi Linda, yes, working with heavy-gauge wires can be difficult. I have found that the difference between working with these wires and fine-gauge wires lies in both the tool and the technique. Here is the best way I have found to make spirals with both 18- and 16-gauge wire; you’ll need chain nose and flat nose pliers:

First, use chain nose pliers to make as small a loop as possible. Then use flat nose pliers to coax the end to meet the wire, forming a circle (rather than an oval). Next, hold the main wire so the loop is facing up. Now place flat nose pliers on the loop at about 5 o’clock (7 o’clock for the left-handed), meaning that the pliers will be holding the loop firmly about 2/3 of the way from its beginning. Grip the loop with the pliers, and use your opposite hand to bend the wire tail around the loop made, moving the flat nose pliers out of the way and then re-gripping the loop as necessary.

Wire Spirals
While it’s easy – and sometimes addictive – to make spirals in 20-gauge and smaller, like these “Best Ever Spirals”, heavy-gauge wire needs a bit more guidance.

Of course, many other people have their favorite ways to execute spirals using heavy-gauge wire. Anyone else have a tip to share with Linda? (Thanks!!)

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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  1. avatar


    July 6, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Using up to 12 gauge, I just get in there and do it. Never thought about it. It might be hand strength. Not sure. If you work your wire too much it will harden quickly making it difficult to bend. Sometimes I have to anneal the 12 gauge if it gets too hard.

  2. avatar


    July 6, 2011 at 12:21 pm


    I sometimes resort to using a torch to heat the wire and make it more pliable. Of course at that point, it does need to be pickled.

    • avatar

      Sharon Polk

      April 19, 2012 at 11:17 am

      Paula, FYI, the term forheating the wire to make it more pliable is annealing, as stated by the person before you said. If you use sterling, you should also flux your wire before annealing, so you don’t get firescale, which is hard to remove.
      Just thought you might want to know.

  3. avatar


    July 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I have found something that helps me in making spirals with large gauge wire. It doesn’t necessarily make the wire easier to bend, but seems to make a nicer round in the middle of the spiral. Take heavy cutters for gauges 16 and larger (up to 12)and make an angled rather than a blunt cut on the end of the wire. This will make a sharp, thin point on the wire. Put pliers of choice (I prefer round nose or letter writing pliers) as close to end as possible. Make curve away from angled edge. If you get too close the wire will break off since it is thin. The cut edge of the wire will fit nicely up against the next wire as you wrap. Take flat nose pliers and tuck the end up as much as possible to make a nice round shape before spiraling.

    • avatar

      Sharon Polk

      April 19, 2012 at 11:19 am

      Sonia, great idea!Thanks for the tip. I will try that one myself.

  4. avatar

    William Fisher

    July 6, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    I believe you might have better luck gripping the spiral with parallel jaw pliers that can clamp evenly across the spiral. The normal plier jaws will only tend to touch one outer coil wire & without serrations they tend to slip.

    • avatar

      Sharon Polk

      April 19, 2012 at 11:22 am

      William, I use parallel jaw pliers also. Makes it much easier, since they hold all the wires with equal pressure. If I’m afraid my wires may get marked up with my tools, I sometimes use a sunshine cloth between the tool and the wire.

      • avatar


        April 22, 2012 at 2:36 pm

        Mine aren’t parallel, but I use Nylon-jawed pliers when making spirals, so that the metal does not get marred.

        If you do have trouble with marring, try hiding it by using a hammer texture on the spiral with a ball-peen hammer.

      • avatar


        August 8, 2013 at 7:11 am

        What is sunshine cloth..? I have problem when I work on the wires , and use the tools , they make marks on them , if I don’t hold t tight the tools kind of slide, am I used wrong tools but I used them when I learning from videos and jewelry making books..i put that white stuff to coat the pliers but they did not on very long..thank you, look forward for suggestion

      • avatar


        October 22, 2015 at 10:36 am

        I was just wondering what is a “Sunshine Cloth”?

    • avatar

      kitty spanos

      April 19, 2012 at 6:23 pm

      I love my parallel pliers!

      • avatar

        Becky Respess

        September 9, 2014 at 5:48 am

        This is very interesting because I have the same issues. What or where do I find parallel pliers? I have issues with all of my spirals because I feel like my center starting point is always too large.

  5. avatar


    July 6, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    You can also try using pliers that have been treated with Tool Magic. I find that gives me a better ‘grip’ on the wire.

  6. avatar

    Patti Hoskins

    July 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    I’ve found that using dead soft wire in the heavier gauges is much easier.

    It can always be hardened afterward using nylon jaw pliers or a wire whacker.

  7. avatar

    Kathryn Kienle

    July 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    I learned two great tips from another instructor:
    First, dip a spare pair of flat nose pliers in Plasti Dip (made by Performix and sold at any hardware store). This keeps you from marring any wire type you use and gives a terrific grip (much better than nylon jaws) the Plast Dip also stays on the tools longer than Tool Magic. When it starts to wear off you just peal it off and re-dip your tools. Just be sure to reseal the can well, as the solvents will evaporate off and one can will last forever. I line my can with plastic wrap then cover with foil and replace the plastic top and that keeps it air tight.

    Second trick I learned, is after you make your beginning loop with the tip of your needle nose pliers, cut off about 1/4 of the loop at the cut end and remake the loop. This gets rid if the usually oval shaped loop that you inevitably get. So when you start your coil, it will start round not oval. Then follow Dale’s instructions using your Plasti Dipped flat nose pliers!

  8. avatar


    July 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Linda, I may be getting the wrong impression of your problem, but I think you are having trouble holding the wire with your pliers. What kind of pliers are you using? If they are typical pliers with short handles you have to use pure hand strength to hold onto the wire. If you have good pliers with longer handles you will get more leverage and more grip. I splurged and got Swanstrom pliers years ago and have never regretted that purchase. Sue

    • avatar


      July 6, 2011 at 5:40 pm

      Yes, Sue — Swanstrom flat-nose pliers are also my absolute favorite! I have been using them since the early 1990’s : )

  9. avatar


    July 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Sometimes it’s easier to make the spirals if you coat your flat pliers with Tool Magic. It’s a temporary plastic coating that prevents scratches but also lets you get a better grip on heavier wire.

  10. avatar


    July 6, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    I’m just amazed at anyone who can make a spiral with 16 gage wire at all. I am getting better at spirals, but it will be a while before I try 16 gage. I hope you get your spirals made well, and good luck with what your making.

    • avatar


      April 22, 2012 at 2:38 pm

      I actually regularly make spirals out of 14g wire, for bracelets. it does take some hand strength, but annealing helps considerably

  11. avatar


    July 6, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    For larger gauge wires, I use parallal-action pliers to make spirals. It allows a better grip on the spiral.

    I also developed an easy technique to make OPEN spirals. It is unlike the usual technique. If Dale and Wire Sculpture permit to post, here is the link of the step-by-step instruction I’ve posted on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmxg3al8DEM

    • avatar


      July 6, 2011 at 5:41 pm

      Thanks for sharing Natalie!

    • avatar

      Tricia Watkins

      April 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm

      WOW! I was soooo glad u posted the Instructional Video! I’m a very “hands on” individual so being able 2 SEE & TOUCH, went much farther 4 me than the commentary I was reading. I was getting confused about the different comments & @ times wondering what or whom do 2 believe. As soon as I saw the pictures in the video it was like CLICK, a lightbulb lit up & it was ALL crystal clear! (I even felt a little embarest that I b/came so confused over something so simple).
      I think sometimes its very difficult 2 just explain w/words as everyone has their own style of writing & words they use. So what might b described by one person as “the size of a watermelon”, the next person has 2 guess at the actual size of that watermelon. As we all know, the size c/b dependent on how much rain fell that year, or the region a person is in & so on.
      Again, I THANK U SINCERELY!!!

    • avatar


      May 25, 2012 at 6:35 pm

      Thank you Natalie. I found your youtube instruction very interesting.

    • avatar

      Mrs M H Pietila

      May 14, 2015 at 1:04 pm


    • avatar


      February 27, 2017 at 7:09 am

      I just watched the video – what a great idea! Trying to do it with a step mandrel is maddening!Thank you for sharing!!!

  12. avatar


    April 18, 2012 at 6:29 am

    Thanks Dale, thanks Natalie!
    Great tips.
    Will use it definitely!

  13. avatar

    susannah St. Clair

    April 19, 2012 at 8:23 am

    had never seen this before. How wonderfully useful!! Along with the website the u/tube person mentioned!

  14. avatar

    Kathy Bloom

    April 19, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Thank You everyone! I love working with heavier gauge wires and really appreciate the information you have provided here. I have heard about the parelle-action pliers and now have a really good excuse for getting a pair.
    I will also check my local hardware store for the Plasti Dip.
    Thanks Again

  15. avatar


    April 19, 2012 at 10:30 am

    You can make a jig. Take a small piece of wood and drive a very small nail into the center. Then drill a hole approximately the diameter of the wire you want to spiral within 1/8″ of the nail itself. The hole should be at least 1/4″ deep. Use a craft knife to make a groove in the wood between the hole and the nail. It’d depth and width should be enough so that the wire is just below the face of the board. Place one end of the wire into the hole and using a small pair of pliers…bend the wire level with the wood in the groove all the way to the nail. Then carefully begin to spiral your wire around the small nail until you have the number of spirals you want. Then flush cust the wire. Remove the spiral from the jig and carefully nip of the wire that went into the hole. Place the spiral flat on the boad and give it a couple of light taps with a plastic head hammer (or other soft hammer). It comes out perfect everytime. I have done this with 12 gauge wire without annealing. you can place several holes and grooves around the nail to accommodate the gauge of wire you work with. Enjoy! Steve

    • avatar


      April 22, 2012 at 10:07 am

      Great idea!

  16. avatar


    April 19, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Thank you so much, Dale, for this helpful tip, and thanks to Natalie as well. These are the kinds of tips I most appreciate, as they expand my knowledge. Like Sonia, I always start a spiral with the round nose pliers, and I love the tip about cutting an angle on the tip so it rests more cleanly against the wire as it’s coiled. Also, I had no idea there was a product for coating pliers so they wouldn’t mar the surface of the wire. Thanks to all. How I love the jewelry making world, and the number of people who are willing to share their knowledge with others. That spirit of mutual encouragement and support is one of the things that got me into this in the first place.

  17. avatar


    April 19, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    This is a tremendously useful wire tip. Enjoyed the discussion tips and video very much. Who would of thunk mosquito coils would inspire an astute artist to solve a difficulty all many of us face when ot come to coiling heavy gauge wire!! Great ideas.

  18. avatar


    April 3, 2015 at 8:04 am

    Thanks for the videos and texts! I, too, love 16 ga sterling….someday I\’ll be bold enough to try it! I looked up the Plasti-dip on Amazon….and there are 6 PAGES of Plasti-dip! Do not be discouraged; I found mine (in yellow) on the 2nd page. The great majority are spray on, but you can find the real dip dips!

  19. avatar


    December 24, 2015 at 10:53 am

    I would like to THANK all those who take the time to give their expert tips to those less experienced in jewelry making. I have just begun Wire Wrapping and love doing it. Thanks for your expert help.

  20. avatar


    December 28, 2015 at 6:52 am

    I Look Forward “Every Day For The TIP”. Everyone is such Great Teachers. And I Thank You Very Much.

  21. avatar

    Heather Gale

    January 17, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Sharon Polk don’t mean to criticise FYI just because someone says they heat the wire does not mean they need to be told the terminology

    If someone chooses whatever vernacular you should respect

    Paula obviously know a hell of a lot about wirework to know to get softer you heat it your average person doesn’t

    Kathryn I also came on to say about that snipping off the end after hand forming a circle then carrying on great minds ´◔ˬ◔ˋ

    As for tool magic which is, to be honest, absolute rubbish. I badgered my hubby to get me that fit my birthday and we both agreed once I showed him very bad stuff. It dries badly is too funny so whatever position you put into to dry will run maki g the area you want too thin. If congrats in one spot after running in the area you want it then peels as soon as use. The thin area also peels straight away. Very expensive mistake to buy. I emailed the company to tell them the faults in hope of perfecting but basically everyone buys it so they don’t care

    I use non marking scotch tape for when I hammer on my vice and tools now

    If need a thicker pad then any cloth not necessarily polish impregnated.

    I have arthritis so at times my hand goes into spasm so I use a hand made jig on a movable piece of wood too like Steve. The shop bought …like wig jig either too close together hard to spiral or too wide apart the next hole. The spiral jig, bought that too nope no good on thick wires

    Hold the wire then move the board or hold the wire in a ring clamp and move board all makes it easier when soft or when it work hardens.
    If all fails or if hardens too much yes then heat by whatever means you use. I sometimes use oven to anneal and also to oxidise, it’s the time spent is difference

    Thank you dale your tips are great but for me it’s the discussions your mini tutes cause from your brilliant words of wisdom