Wire wrapping is a great way to display your collected stones and other treasures, and anyone can learn the basics with a little bit of time.
Let’s dig a bit deeper, and I’ll show you the various tools you’ll need and which wire will work best for you. Then we’ll get into the good stuff and I’ll show you a way to wrap stones without holes.
What Tools Do I Need for Wire Wrapping?
Wire wrapping is attractive to many people new to working metal for a couple of reasons.
The big one is that you don’t need a ton of tools to get into it. Some people even claim to go entirely tool-less, but that’s a bit of a stretch unless you’re willing to snap every piece of wire by flexing it until it breaks.
The following tools will get you started without any fuss.
Pliers are a hot debate topic in the wire wrapping world, and everyone has their favorites. I do most of my work with bent-nose pliers and tweezer pliers but these are a bit of a specialty and not necessary for a beginner.
I recommend you get a pair of long flat nose pliers and round nose pliers to begin with. You can purchase others as you need them.
You can use standard pliers for wire wrapping but you’ll need the right pair. Most pliers are meant for technician work on harder metals, meaning they have a lot of grip that will tear into your copper wire.
Round nose pliers are used to get curves without marring the wire. You can simply bend them around the round portion of the pliers to get curves, start swirls, and other curvy bits.
Flat nose pliers are used to straighten and harden portions of wire. They’re essential, but you may only use them a couple of times per piece. I’ll also teach you how to use them to create sharp corners below.
Other pliers you may be interested in are:
- Tweezer Nose Pliers– With a very fine tip, these pliers are great for adjusting fine details in wire work. They’re a personal favorite for that reason but they’re not a requirement.
- Bent Nose Pliers-Great for wrapping wire tighter when attaching it to more advanced framed pieces. They also allow you to work at odd angles.
- Mandrel Pliers-Great for getting the same repeating curve. There are many types available but they’re all going to be rather expensive.
But all of those specialty pliers are really only needed for those planning on getting serious. You can start with a cheap pair of round nose and flat nose pliers without any problems.
Your cutters need to be sharp and strong enough to cut the wire you’re looking at.
For most people a small pair of micro-shears is exactly what’s needed. These usually shouldn’t be used on wire any bigger than 18 gauge(roughly 1mm). Cheap pairs can shatter when cutting thicker wire, a good pair will deform and be easy enough to repair.
I personally use a larger pair you’ll see in the tutorial. These can be used up to 12 gauge wire. If you’re looking to get into the bigger fabricated wire pieces or other kinds of work with non-ferrous metals then they’re a better value.
The pair of cutters you use needs to be flush cutters or you’ll spend a lot of time on finish work. You can certainly grab a pair of wire cutters from your toolbox, but you’ll spend a lot of time filing as well.
Files or sandpaper aren’t essential but they can help add a cleaner finish to your piece.
The exact set doesn’t matter much. If you’re buying a set specifically for wire any small set of files works.
The linked set contains both standard and diamond files.
Diamond files work like sandpaper on a stick, they’re just a diamond abrasive bonded to steel.
Standard files cut only one way, but tend to outlive diamond files. You push them along the end of the wire and they cut, but drawing them directly back while maintaining pressure on the metal is damaging.
If you’re only wire wrapping then a cheap set of files is fine. You’ll lose them before they wear out if you’re only wire wrapping. If you do other metalwork you’ll have to make an investment.
Other Useful Tools
There are a few other tools a newbie to wire wrapping might find handy:
- Small Mandrels– Making consistent turns and loops will make your work a lot cleaner. These remove the guesswork.
- Masking Tape- Often used to hold wires in place when doing weaving techniques, or to attach wire to the stone before the wrap is tight enough to hold it.
- Small Rubber/Plastic Mallet– Used to work harden wire at the end of construction, helping to ensure a long lasting hold.
What Wire is the Best for Wire Wrapping?
For a beginner, bare copper with a dead soft temper is the preferred material. Get away from anything coated or labeled as tarnish resistant, just wrapping will often remove coatings and the effect as it ages isn’t good.
The Best Metal for Newbies – Bare Copper
You’ll see a ton of wire labeled as “tarnish resistant.” The coating on these inevitably flakes off. I’ve also found that colored wire has a few drawbacks, but the big one for an amateur is that the coating chips and flakes off with impact.
Impact like using your pliers.
My preferred material is sterling silver wire, which works the same as copper but has a bit more “spring” to it. True dead soft copper gets incredibly soft, making it flexible and easy to use for your projects.
Stick with uncoated metals.
And, I hate to say it, but if you accidentally bought any sort of coated aluminum wire like that you found in one of the big box craft stores… you may not be able to complete the tutorials below. Aluminum is very unforgiving and work hardens rapidly, causing it to snap.
Copper will oxidize rapidly. You can remove oxidation with a Sunshine Cloth, or take things into your own hands and oxidize and polish the piece yourself. That’s beyond the scope of this article, but the usual agent used is Liver of Sulfur.
The Right Shape- Square and Half-Round Wire
When I began wire wrapping, I was stripping old bits of wire from abandoned appliances and had only round to work with. I kept that up for a year, even buying round wire as time wore on, and I regret the time spent doing things that way.
Square wire will make all of your framing needs much easier. It just grips the stone better and, more importantly, it’s easier to tie off on with the other wires you’ll be using.
Half-round wire is ideal for wrapping things together. You’ll see in the tutorial how I use half round wire to bring the frame into line and bind everything together.
Both can be hard to find in person, but you can get large rolls of copper in most gauges and shapes online easily. I strongly recommend picking up shaped wire early in your journey. Round wire is a much harder medium to work with.
Temper – Dead Soft
Always buy wire dead soft.
Wire is very easy to harden. If you choose to make a frame, for instance, you can just shape it and stick it on a bit of rubber or a sturdy book and whack it a few dozen times with a rubber or rawhide mallet. Problem solved.
Softening wire is significantly more difficult. You’ll have to anneal the wire, which means heating it to a specific temperature and dunking it in water. Not a big deal for an experienced metalworker, but a bit much for people who just want to wrap stones in their kitchen.
You also can’t anneal wire once it’s in the process of being wrapped.
Just buy it dead soft. The amount of time it takes to harden wire is trivial.
Wire Wrapping Tips
Learning the ins-and-outs of any art takes time, but there are always tips a beginner can easily learn.
In this case, before we get to the tutorial, keep in mind the following:
- Make tight corners with flat nose pliers. Grab the wire with the place for the bend on the outside of the pliers, then fold the wire by hand.
- Keep a loose grip on your pliers, you only want to tighten them enough to give you the grip you need. Tighter grips lead to more tool marks.
- Use your fingers for curves whenever possible, but use mandrels and pliers for circles.
- When you spiral a wire you’ll almost always end up with a flat section in the center. Cut the flat piece of wire for a cleaner spiral.
A Simple Guide to Wire Wrapping a Cabochon (Stone Without Holes)
So, the meat of the matter.
I’m going to walk you through a technique which is often used to create simple pendants. For those who do a lot of these, they’re often simply stock churned out the couple of days before a show to fill out spaces in your stall.
As such, this isn’t a tutorial on the artistry achieved by artistically skilled wrappers. It’s instead meant so that you, the reader, can wear a stone with minimal fuss and an hour or two of spare time.
For demonstration purposes, I’ll be using 18 gauge square wire and 24 gauge half round for these simple wraps.
When I first started, I used this same technique with 20 gauge round wire and 28 gauge round wire.
Most wire wraps are much more difficult if you only use round wire, but the essential element here is to have one larger base wire(16 gauge to 20 gauge) and one smaller wrapping wire(24 gauge to 28 gauge).
Follow the links if you’re having trouble finding something locally.
You’re going to need:
- 1 Cabochon or Polished Stone
- Square 18g Wire
- Half Round 24g Wire
- Flush Cutters
- Round Nose Pliers
- Flat Nose Pliers
- (Optional) Needle Files
- (Optional) Masking Tape
Get everything together before you start. Trust me on this one, digging around to find tools just makes everything take a lot longer.
For this tutorial I’ll be using three different stones with different shapes and profiles. This tutorial is to teach you a technique rather than creating an exact craft. Trust me, I wasn’t 100% sure how these would end up either.
You can do this with tumbled stones as well, but they’ll be much more difficult to set.
Step 1 – Cut Framing Wires
Cut three or four wires for your stone, they should be 4-6” longer than you need to wrap around the stone. This doesn’t need to be exact by any means, but more is better if you’re not working with a metal like silver or gold.
Straightening the wire can be a pain, but don’t worry about getting it perfect just yet. If they lay flat next to each other and there’s no major twisting(see the picture) you’re good to go.
Step 2 – Wrap Framing Wires Together
Take your 24 gauge half-round and use it to tie the framing wires together. Four or five wraps should do it.
The trick is to keep the area of square wire you’re wrapping flush against each other. The wrap has to be tight enough you can manhandle the wires in the next step, if any of the wires are twisted or sitting at an angle it’ll cause problems down the line.
You can then tuck the ends into the space between the first and second wire. Loose ends are a big no-no in wrapping. They can catch on things or leave cuts and scratches on the skin of the person wearing them.
You can also crush down on the half-round with your flat nose pliers. This helps keep everything in place, but it’ll also push the wire outwards if it wasn’t tight enough in the first place.
Step 3 – Form the Wrap
Here’s where things get tricky. We’re going to make the “form” of the wrap before we tighten it up to actually hold the stones.
The middle wire or wires are going to go strictly around the exterior of the stone. You’ll then want to bring the front wires over the piece in some fashion and fashion them on the back to hold the stone in once things are tightened.
You can bring the front wire down to meet the middle wire along the way, just leave enough space to creep some 24g wire through there so that you can tighten it up. Alternatively, you can simply bring them to the top.
At this stage, we’re also going to tighten the wires up by forming them around the top of the pendant.
The basic idea is just to get everything tight enough the stone holds. We can accomplish that by tying down the sides where the wires in the middle and front or back are tied together.
The area underneath the future bail can also be used but be careful when wrapping the framing wires tighter. It may distort the entire frame, so it should be approached cautiously by beginners.
If you have some thinner wire, such as a 28g round, you can also use it here to tie things together. Many people prefer to tie the wires at the top with a smaller gauge, allowing them to make a “cleaner” bail with a little bit of extra effort.
In the future, you’ll learn how to plan ahead for the ends of your wire wraps. As things sat, for this particular tutorial I simply sat down and free formed these.
Step 5 – Fix Those Ends!
You’ll now bring the ends around and finish them off. Spirals are a great way to do it, and add a lot of embellishment for simpler pieces. You can also wrap them around the back framing wire and snip the ends for a cleaner look on the front.
I’m a big fan of spirals, especially for simple wrapping. Let your creativity go nuts, this is the stage that truly separates pieces.
Leave at least a pair of framing wires sticking up from the top of the stone. You’ll use these to create the bail, which is the bit the chain goes through when you want to wear it.
Step 6 – Bails
For the simple bails seen above, which are my personal favorite for fast pieces, all you’ll need to do is cut about a foot of your 24 gauge half round, and wrap the wires.
Wire weaving is a bit different from wrapping, but if you’ve done any fabric arts like macrame you can apply most of the same principles here. The Figure-8 weave is a common weave for pendant bails, creating a mesh-like bail.
Open loops are also an option, but are a bit minimalist for my taste.
Leave a bit on the ends of the wires, you only need about an inch wrapped for the bail and a couple of inches for finding the connection. Roll the bound together wires over a pencil or mandrel to create the loop and then tie the ends in.
In some cases, you can just carefully roll and file the ends of the bail wires into small circles and create a bail that’s not technically tied closed.
If you choose that option, place whatever mandrel you used through the bail and beat on it with a rubber mallet. This will harden the wire and make it much more difficult for it to pull free.