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Create a steel wire necklace

Reinterpret a vintage design in modern materials with a handmade jig

As someone who bores easily with repetitive tasks (creating that second earring is such a bother), I wanted a way to fast-track consistent chain links. How could I re-create a vintage brass chain in strong and affordable low-carbon, black, annealed-steel wire, and how could I do it without breaking my brain? I decided to do what my Dad would do; I rigged a low-tech jig from a couple of sheet-metal screws and a piece of scrap lumber. Build one yourself with easy-to-find hardware and materials, and make quick (and less mundane) work of your next chain project! 

Read on for instructions on making the jig and links, or click here to download the complete project PDF for free.

Materials

  • Scrap lumber: 6-in. (15.2 cm) piece of 2 x 4 in. (51 x 102 mm) pine (thickness depends on screw length)
  • Phillips-head sheet-metal screws: 7/16 x 1⁄2 in. (11 x 13 mm), 2
  • Low-carbon, black, annealed-steel wire: 16-gauge (1.3 mm), approximately 112 in. (2.84 m)
  • Brass wire: 16-gauge (1.3 mm), 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm)

Additional tools & supplies

  • C-clamps, 2
  • Hand drill:
    - #8 (5 mm/3/16 in.) drill bit
    - Phillips-head bit
  • Tough nitrile gloves
  • Heavy-duty flush cutters
  • Brass or steel wire brush
  • Microcrystalline wax

Toolboxes: 

Instructions
Tip!

Where to buy low-carbon, black, annealed-steel wire

You can usually find large coils of 16-gauge (1.3 mm) dark, annealed-steel wire in the concrete and rebar section of your local hardware store. It is known as “tie-wire” in the building industry. Thinner gauges of dark, annealed-steel wire, known as “stovepipe wire,” are typically sold in smaller prepackaged coils.

Create a steel wire necklace 1
Photo 1
Create a steel wire necklace 2
Photo 2
Jig

Select your wood. Choose a short length of scrap wood that’s thick enough to accommodate the length of the screws, and long enough for you to clamp it onto your workbench. (I used a 6-in. [15.2 mm] piece of 2 x 4 in. [51 x 102 mm] pine.) 

Drill the holes. Mark two dots 1 3/8 in. (35 mm) apart on the scrap wood with a pen. Drill a pilot hole at each dot with a #8 (5 mm/3/16-in.) drill bit [Photo 1]

Attach the screws. Screw a sheet-metal screw into each hole with a phillips-head bit. Leave a 1/16-in. (1.5 mm) gap between the screw and the wood [Photo 2]. Attach the jig to your work surface with two C-clamps.

Create a steel wire necklace 3
Photo 3
Create a steel wire necklace 4
Photo 4
Links

Cut the wire. Put on a pair of tough nitrile gloves; they will help you grip the wire while you form the links. Cut a 6-in. (15.2 cm) piece of 16-gauge (1.3 mm) low-carbon, black, annealed-steel wire with heavy-duty wire cutters.

Shape the links. Place the wire between the two screws diagonally, with one end at the top edge of the left screw. Bend the long end counterclockwise around the right screw [Photo 3]. Form the wire exactly to the perimeter of the screw’s head.

Continue to form the wire in a figure-8 to the bottom edge of the left screw, clockwise around the left screw [Photo 4], and back to the center. The wire should cross at the center of the jig.

Create a steel wire necklace 5
Photo 5
Create a steel wire necklace 6
Photo 6

Cut the end of each wire 1/8 in. (3 mm) short of the central intersection [Photo 5]. Remove the link from the screws. It will be an S-shaped link.

Repeat to form all the links for your necklace. (I made 18 links for an 18 1⁄4-in. [46.4 cm] necklace. Add or subtract links depending on your desired necklace length.) Remove your gloves when you’ve finished making the links.

Flatten the links. Place a link on a bench block, and use the flat face of a ball-peen hammer to slightly flatten the link [Photo 6]. Reshape the link if necessary. Repeat to hammer the remaining links.

Create a steel wire necklace 7
Photo 7
Create a steel wire necklace 8
Photo 8

File the links. File the cut ends of the steel wire flush with an inexpensive needle file [Photo 7].

Bend the wings. Grasp the center of a link with a pair of roundnose pliers. Bend each side of the link around the pliers’ jaw to form the wings [Photo 8]. The top wing should be slightly offset to the left of the bottom wing. Repeat to bend all the links.

NOTE: Bend each link in exactly the same way, or they will not interlock correctly when you assemble the necklace.

Create a steel wire necklace 9
Photo 9

Make the jump rings. Wind roughly 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm) of 16-gauge (1.3 mm) brass wire around a 1/8-in. (3 mm) mandrel to make a coil at least 1 in. (25.5 mm) long. Use a jeweler’s saw with a 2/0 blade to saw 18 jump rings from the coil [9]. File the ends of each jump ring.

For instructions on forming the clasp and assembling the necklace, click here.

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