The gauge of a wire determines its thickness. In this article, I cover the most popular gauges used in wire jewellery making and how they might be used together to create different structures and textures within your jewellery.
The most popular gauge measurement system for jewellery making is the American Wire Gauge, otherwise known as the Brown and Sharpe wire gauge and abbreviated to AWG. The table below lists the most commonly used gauges used in wire jewellery and their equivalent in Standard Wire Gauge (SWG) as well as their diameters in milimetres and inches. As you can see, AWG and SWG are very close in values so just be careful when buying wire and when following tutorial lists that you are referring to the same wire gauge for both! In the UK, I’ve often found that wire is sold according to its diameter in mm so this table is very useful when trying to get a best fit for a tutorial where all the wires are listed in AWG.
The last column of the table gives a rough guide as to what each gauge might be used for in a wire jewellery project. These are generalizations rather than hard and fast rules based on the many projects I’ve seen.
By structural, I’m referring to the fact that the thicker (smaller gauge) wires are often used to define the framework and underlying shape of a piece. Other wires together with beads and cabochons can then wrap around the structure or be secured to it. Sometimes these thicker wires are hammered which not only flattens them but also makes them more rigid – a process known as work hardening. Wire that has been hammered flat can even have holes punched into it so that thinner wires can pass through.
This pendant uses hammered 16 gauge wire around the outside to act as a sturdy frame on which to attach the remaining wires and beads.
In wire weaving projects, base wires are wires around which some much thinner wire is woven. Usually, you’ll have at least two base wires side by side and these will be held together by weaving wire.
This photo shows five base wires that have been woven together to form a strip.
Much like structural wires used to make the framework for a piece, base wires often create a more or less rigid form when woven together, even if the individual base wires are of 20 or 22 gauge which aren’t as strong on their own.
Wrapping and Weaving
Thinner wires can be woven or wrapped around larger base wires. This not only holds the base wires together but can also add interesting texture to a piece depending on the type of weave used.
For this pendant, I separate and bring together the base wires at different points and also twist a couple of the smaller woven strips to give it depth.
Always secure a weaving wire by beginning and ending its journey coiled around a single base wire.
This is really a form of wrapping and another way of adding interesting texture to a piece. Thin wire can be woven around thicker wire in tight coils for a ridged effect. A bonus from this is that, as with wire weaving, the thinner wire can also be used to secure the thicker wire to another section of the piece. Perri of Shaktipaj Designs has an excellent example of this in her Rose of Sharon tutorial. The petals of the rose are coiled instead of being plain wires which adds intricacy and interest.
Thinner wire is often used to secure beads within a jewellery piece or to attach thicker wire together at a point. The thin wire that runs between the eyes of these cats serve both these purposes.
More often, the same wire length is used for weaving and for securing and perhaps for coiling too. The fewer wire ends you can get away with the better so good designs often use long lengths of wrapping wire to weave and connect their way through the piece.
A different way of securing a component – generally a cabochon – is to create prongs to hold the component in place. The prongs need to be firm enough to stop the cab from slipping so are generally formed from 20 AWG or lower.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you found it useful, please do share the love!