Thursday, January 17, 2013

FREE Tutorial: Balled Headpins for Jewelry

A headpin is a length of wire with something on one end that acts as a stopper, preventing beads or pearls placed on the wire from slipping off. There are many ways to create beautiful decorative headpins starting with plain wire, and of course there are many retailers offering a wide variety of headpins in different gauges, lengths, and styles.
The advantages to making your own headpins are significant, but they boil down to two issues: cost savings and creative control. Making your own wire headpins takes some time and effort, but it will save you a great deal of money, so it’s worth considering. More importantly, you will gain creative control over your jewelry by making your own findings such as headpins. For example, say you want a few five-inch long headpins made of 20ga copper wire. Or perhaps you need a foot-long 16ga sterling silver headpin for a large pendant stone. Good luck finding these items in a store or online! And it’s very easy to make such things yourself.
The setup is simple: You will need either a kitchen torch or a Micro torch on a stand filled with butane fuel, a small glass or ceramic mug or bowl with tepid water, and cheap needle-nose pliers from the hardware store:
Cut several lengths of wire in the gauges and metal types you need for your designs. I always cut each wire length about an inch longer than I want the finished headpin to be. This way, if the heated ball drops off the wire or if I accidentally ball up more wire than I intended to, I still have plenty of wire in the finished headpin for my project.
I always flush-cut one wire end but not the other, as this is the end that I will ball-up with the torch. Common-sense safety precautions include tying back long hair and not wearing loose clothing.
Turn on the torch until the flame is showing a bright blue cone inside the flame. Use the lever on the side of the torch to adjust the flame; with a fully fueled torch the lever should be about halfway between “off” and fully “on.” Locate the tip of the bright blue cone: This is the hottest part of the flame. Pick up a wire piece in your cheap pair of needle-nose pliers, and hold the wire end in the blue cone’s tip. Note that the wire is hovering over the glass of tepid water; this makes it easy to drop the headpin into the water the moment you see a melted ball forming:
The amount of time it takes to form a melted ball on the end of your wire piece depends on a few factors: the heat of the flame, whether or not you successfully positioned the wire end in the very tip of the blue cone (the hottest part of the flame), the type of wire used (sterling and fine silver melt much faster than copper wire, for example), and the wire gauge. Naturally, the heavier the wire gauge, the longer it takes to heat the metal enough to melt a ball. When you see a ball forming as pictured above, it will have a bright red-orange appearance.
You can make headpins with melted balls of various sizes for different design purposes, but leaving the wire in the flame too long may cause the wire above the ball to melt and release it. In this case, you’ll have to start over with the new wire end. This is why I usually cut my wire lengths at least one inch longer than I wish my finished headpins to be.
As you make each headpin, drop it into tepid water to quench it. Tips: Using icy-cold water will shock the heated metal, so avoid that. Never touch heated metal until it’s been quenched in water.
When you’ve made several headpins, turn off the torch and allow it to stand in a safe place away from flammable items for about half an hour before putting it back in storage.
Test your headpins on the beads you wish to use:

About Fire Scale: Most artists will remove the fire scale (blackened metal) from their wire headpins using a pickle solution (demonstrated next), but some artists deliberately leave the fire scale on their headpins for a more rustic appearance. The choice is yours. If you notice a dimpling effect on your melted headpins, this is natural and will occur when using sterling silver or copper wire. Some artists will dip their sterling silver or copper wire ends in flux prior to melting them, which may help to reduce dimpling and fire scale.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Many more wire jewelry techniques and projects are found in my instructional DVDs and eBooks, including Arty JewelryArty Jewelry IIArty Jewelry III, and Arty Jewelry IV. I also offer day classes in jewelry stores in the Southern California area, and I teach my techniques during Wild Wire Women retreatsheld in my mountain home in Idyllwild, California.
Happy wrapping,


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