Gayle Dowell is known as the Prairie Jeweler. She creates jewelry using prairie grasses and wildflowers in fine silver and 22k gold.
Make Your Own Headpins and Ear Wires
Some of the first jewelry findings I learned to make myself was balled headpins and ear wires. It is a very easy process, and I will explain everything you need to know here to get you started.
With a few basic tools, you'll be making your own jewelry findings and saving time and money by not having to purchase them from stores or online. Making your own findings gives your designs a unique look of craftmanship.
What You'll Need
- Butane Micro-Torch: There are several great torches on the market at a relatively low price. For convenience, I suggest purchasing one that comes with an ignition. The one I use is great for small soldering jobs like wire and small jewelry items. It is easy to use, affordable, and powerful enough for most small soldering jobs. I've had mine for several years and use it all the time.
- Looping Jewelry Pliers: These are by far the most used of my pliers. I like that they have six steps in sizes. It's a must-have tool if you're making a lot of loops of varying sizes such as ear wires.
- End-Cutting Nipper Pliers
- Wire Rounder
- Lortone 3A Single-Barrel Tumbler: I've had mine for three years now, and it still works like new. I've never had a problem with it, and it is so easy to use.
1. Cut the Wire
I prefer to make ear wires out of sterling silver, although I have started also making them from copper wire. Whichever you use, the following process will be the same.
- Use 20-gauge wire. I find that it gives the best strength, retains its shape, and is still thin enough to accommodate all ears.
- Cut this wire to six-inch lengths. I do several at a time. One six-inch length will give me one pair of earrings.
2. Flux Both Ends
I use Battern's self-pickling flux for hard soldering and dip both ends of all my cut wire into the flux. This keeps the base metal in the wire from oxidizing. Oxidation inhibits the metal from flowing and adhering to itself, or in the case of making balled ear wires, inhibits the wire from balling.
3. Melt the Ends
I then use a butane kitchen torch to melt both ends of all the wire lengths to create melted balls of metal. Be sure to use soldering tweezers to hold the wire. Metal conducts heat, and fingers on hot metal hurt!
For best results, be sure the tweezers are gripping the middle of each six-inch wire. The tweezers will act as a heat sink, pulling the heat away from your wire tip if it is too close to the flame and will also keep your wire from balling.
Be sure to hold the wire ends at the tip of the inner blue flame coming from the torch. That area will be the hottest part of the flame. Copper wire will take longer to ball up. If you find that your wire will not ball, hold the wire more horizontally in the flame until it starts to ball up, and then continue heating it as you bring the wire back to a vertical position.
Using Argentium sterling silver wire makes nice round ball ends without dimples. Just be sure not to quench wire in water while it is still red hot as it may cause the metal to crack or warp.
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4. Shape Balled Wire Into Earrings
If making head pins, cut these six-inch pieces in two. This will give two three-inch head pins that will be long enough for most any jewelry project.
If making earrings, fold the wire in two, being careful that you keep the balled ends together and at the same length as you fold the wire.
Shape the folded wire around looping jewelry pliers. I usually bend the wire slightly off center and closer to the balled ends because I like to leave the ear wires long in the back.
Using a small step on my looping pliers, I form smaller loops near the balled ends to create a hook for wire-wrapped beads or metal-clay earrings. I make sure to shape the balled ends together to ensure uniformity in my ear-wire shapes.
After the ear wires are shaped, I cut the folded end of the wire using cutting nipper pliers. This now gives me two uniformly-shaped ear wires.
- Having a durable set of wire cutters is essential in jewelry making. I have several different wire-cutting devices that I use for various types of wire. For most applications, I grab a pair of end cutting nipper pliers. This type of cutter gives me a nice, straight cut. It helps me easily cut close to my designs.
5. Finish the Ear Wires
Using a cup bur, I then round off the cut end to take off any sharp edges. I use a cup bur or wire rounder on all of my wire ends no matter if they are ear wires or not. I like knowing that the wire ends will not poke or scratch the wearer as they wear my jewelry. Be sure and use either bee's wax or a lubricant for cutting tools. Lubricating will help keep the cup bur from excessive wear.
I hammer the rounded parts of the ear wires with a plastic hammer to strengthen the wires so that they keep their shape.
6. Polish the Ear Wires
The final step is cleaning and polishing. I take some fine 1000-grit sandpaper to take off any fire scale. I then use a tumbler with mixed steel shot and liquid burnishing compound to polish the ear wires.
7. Tumble Them
I leave them in the tumbler for a few hours. I tend to make my ear wires in batches of 10 pairs or more to save on polishing compound.
- I use my Lortone tumbler at least three times a week. I use the mixed shot for polishing everything. I always rinse my steel shot after each use and spread it out on a towel to dry thoroughly before I store it.
8. Add Designs
To add my designs to my ear wires, I bend the loop of the ear wire off to the side like I would a jump ring, slide my design through the backside of the ear wire, and close the loop.
9. How to Open the Ear-Wire Loop
Opening and closing the loop of the ear wire is much like opening and closing a jump ring.
Additional Design: Marquise Ear Wires
Marquise ear wires are made about the same way, but I don't ball the ends—I just loop them. I shape them around a bottle of Elmer's glue, hammer them at the bends, use a cup bur to file the ends, and polish them in the tumbler.
© 2011 Gayle Dowell
Are you a Jewelry Maker?
Gayle Dowell (author) from Kansas on April 25, 2014:
@sranbarger: Thank you for letting me know that it was easy to follow. I never know how clear I am in my instructions. I know what I want to say but sometimes it doesn't always come out the way I arrange it in my mind. :)
sranbarger on April 25, 2014:
This was the best tutorial ever. I could follow all of it and there are no missing steps
Cynthia Haltom from Diamondhead on June 04, 2013:
I enjoyed learning your technique and appreciate the work that goes into creating beautiful jewelry.
LorLinda from Denver Colorado on May 10, 2013:
This seems like it would be difficult but I guess once you get the hang of it that wouldn't be the case. You really provide clear detailed instructions that is very good for the reader thank you for this lens
Anthony Godinho from Ontario, Canada on December 30, 2012:
Excellent step-by-step guide on how to make your own jewelry head pins and ear wires. Blessings!
DecoratingMom411 on November 27, 2012:
I would love making jewelries as Christmas gift!
Bubbajuju on November 14, 2012:
Making glass beads was the farthest I ever delved into jewelry making. Oh yeah, I used to make cool rings out of brass and silver wire. This is a very informative lens. Thanks for bringing back the memories!
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on November 03, 2012:
I do not make jewelry but my daughter worked her magic on it for many years. You did an excellent step by step job of explaining the process of making your own pins.
BuckHawkcenter on September 17, 2012:
I do make jewelry and have even sold some, but I have never tried to make my own wires. Great tutorial.