Sunday, March 2, 2008

Conquering 10 Gauge Stainless Steel Wire

I love copper, as I've stated before. The color intrigues me as it ages from bright shiny penny to rich nut brown to that heavily weathered green and blue patina. It is a soft wire and a great deal of fun to play with. You can curl it, bend it, hammer it flat to get whatever shape you want. I made a hefty keychain out of 8 gauge copper wire and my husband liked it so much, that I made one for every guy in my family for Father's Day last year. I received so many compliments that I decided to list it in my Etsy store.

Many people looked at it, a few commented and left hearts to let me know they liked it. One brave soul contacted me and asked if I could make it in stainless steel. Well, having never worked with stainless steel before, I told him I had to research it a bit. It took me quite a while to find a source for stainless steel wire in a heavy enough gauge to get the same look, but I finally did at The Ring Lord, located in Canada. The heaviest I could find was 10 gauge, but according to the measurement charts, it was only a bare fraction of an inch smaller than the copper, so I went ahead and ordered it. I eagerly awaited it's arrival, looking everyday for a little box on my front porch. You can't imagine my surprise when I discovered a white tyvek bag holding what appeared to be an 18" frisbee. I knew right away I was in trouble! This wire had traveled from Canada to Georgia in a plastic bag and was so stiff, it was left loosely coiled and was not even the slightest bit warped! I wish I had thought to take a picture, because it really was intimating looking.

So, off I started on the journey to tame 10 gauge stainless steel wire. The first thing I learned was that i could not cut it with any of the shears I have on hand (even the ones used to cut 4 gauge copper wire) nor could i cut it with a cold a nice big nick in my hubby's blacksmithing chisel...good thing he has a grind wheel. I finally dug out the hacksaw and that did the trick.

I coiled it around a 1/2" aluminum rod that was secured in a smooth jawed vise. I discovered that steel gets warm as it bends, copper does not do this. It also has a lot more spring back than copper. I can see this being extremely dangerous if tried with a motorized coiling system. It coils fairly neatly, but you have to really watch your coils as they form, I had at least two that are slightly oval. I was able to get about 18 rings from 36 inches of 10 gauge wire.

I don't have a jeweler's saw, so I used a hacksaw to cut the rings. I discovered that a 24 tooth blade worked much better than the 32 tooth blade. The blade with more teeth left a smoother cut, but it took forever and it dulled very quickly. I actually snapped two 32 tooth blades while cutting the rings. I am figuring it's going to take at least a couple of blades for each keychain.

Once the rings were cut, it was time to clean them up and get ready to assemble the byzantine link. I went through about 3 jeweler's files, before i just gave up in disgust. Automotive emory cloth worked much better for smoothing the burs and wiped away the slight scratches with ease. I didn't want to scratch the rings as I opened and closed the rings, so I had my husband cut the toothed portion off the end of two pairs of heavy duty needle nosed pliers. This gave me two pairs of snub nosed, smooth jawed pliers to use to twist the rings open and closed. Not that it did me any good as I could not budge these rings by hand.

So, back to the smooth jawed vise i went. I clamped each ring in the vise and then used a pair of the modified snub nosed pliers to twist the rings while applying pressure to close them.

It took quite a bit of hand strength and I didn't think to wear gloves until after I had pulled up an inch long blister at the base of my right thumb...ouch! You can bet I dug out those gloves fast to finish assembling the link!

Although I still prefer the look and feel of copper, I am very proud to say that I can hand coil, cut and assemble a byzantine link from 10 gauge stainless steel wire!

You can see more photos of the link of the link assembly on my flickr page.


Elizabeth said...

Honey - after all that time, sweat and muscle work, you'd better at least double your price for the keychain!!

Ellen said...

I was thinking the same thing as Turtlemom! That is a lot of work, and must have been so satisfying to accomplish. I still love all your copper pieces, though. The color is just so warm and beautiful.

nicoleleeartistry said...

Congratulations! Stainless Steel! That is SOME key chain and a great design!

XUE said...

Such a nice informative post...I could see you vividly, working hard on this! I agree with Elizabeth & Ellen - a higher price is justified after all that sweating!

Waterrose said...

What great insight. Thank you for explaining that process. Not that I will be working with metal of any kind --it was great to read what it took to work with that steel.

Livvy Lu said...

Your metal work is beautiful! I too am learning to work in's fascinating to work with. I've been practicing on aluminum (it's much cheaper to mess up than silver :) Thanks for visiting my blog today and for your kind comments. I really like your blog too. I'll add you to my blog list. Thanks,

Anonymous said...

I've done a bit of chainmaille, but never attempted stainless steel - what a surprise and adventure that sounds like. Congratulations on persevering and creating the key-chain! I hope your customer really loved it! That kind of accomplishment is a great feeling!

Anonymous said...
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stainless steel wire said...

A very informative topic,we can use these as reference material. The specification of each stainless steel and it's application are useful to follow.I will study more to gain lots of details.

Gkon Electricals & Electronics Pvt. Ltd. said...

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i sew because i cannot draw.