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Making your own chain: the sunlight to his birdman

Let imagination and creativity be your guide as you move from barbed wire to beautiful jewelry
Make your own chain

Facet is so pleased to welcome back our featured guest blogger Casey Sheppard! Love Casey's style? Sign up for the Facet: Metals and Wire newsletter to receive FREE FORM, Casey's FREE newsletter series of projects, blogs, videos, and more, available exclusively to subscribers. ~kk

Looking up the definition of words has been a bit of an obsession of mine for years. It fascinates me to see how we associate with words and how our culture, history, and society influence a definition. How our own personal views, feelings, and fears can even change those meanings.

For example, if you look up the word "chain" online, you will get a bunch of varied definitions from “a sequence of items of the same type forming a line” to the Urban Dictionary definition of: “(A chain is) a rapper's source of power. The sunlight to his birdman. Without a chain of platinum/gold/diamonds/bones, a rapper loses his ability to drop tightflows over phat beats. The is an absolute necessity, and its importance should not be taken lightly.”

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My desire to push my metalsmithing techniques, along with being completely broke with shows coming up, forced me to learn how to make my own chain.

My personal definition of chain at that time was pretty much hard, evil, complex, lots of work, too difficult for me and are you nuts!  But with necessity being the mother of invention, I set about using what I had, which at the time was copper wire.

I started off this daunting task with easy projects: I made round links with the ends wrapped together, forming a loop. Then I moved on to making linked jump rings. To my astonishment and delight, I found that chain was becoming fun to make, and I was impressed at how simple it really was. Like that first definition, I was creating a sequence of items of the same type, forming a line that was not complex or too difficult for me. 

The Complete Metalsmith by Tim McCreight is considered the most comprehensive book out there on the subject of metal jewelry. It is available in several different formats, including print, ebook and video, through Brynmorgen Press

And yet this sequence still lacked my style and my voice, and that led me to experiment further. Like the rapper in the Urban Dictionary definition, I wanted to tap into my source of power with my own chain designs.

I played with different sizes of jump rings, bringing them together as one, and then I began to combine chain links with wire. As I saw my style form, I become hungry for more. I explored books like Tim McCreight's The Complete Metalsmithwhere I found the loop-in-loop chain family that has become a long-lasting favorite.

Online, I researched epic wire workers like Alexander Calder and Art Smith, whose decade-old designs are still cutting edge today. These inspirations helped to train my brain to think in a new way and to see more possibilities.

Clifton book
Barbs, Prongs, Points, Prickers, and Stickers: A Complete and Illustrated Catalogue of Antique Barbed Wire by Robert T. Clifton was first published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1970, and is still in print! Find it, as Casey did, at your local library, or check it out here on their website. 

On a research afternoon at the public library, I was strolling through the towering shelves of information just letting books call out to me. In my wanderings I came across a book called Barbs, Prongs, Points, Prickers, and Stickers: A Complete and Illustrated Catalogue of Antique Barbed Wire,” by Robert T. Clifton. Even though a farmer would probably get more use out of this book than a jeweler, the pages called to me, longing to be opened. I answered the call, opening the worn binding and Pow! I was hit with any and every version of barbed wire, points, and prickers you could imagine.  

This was any farmer’s ecstasy. Alas I’m no farmer, but I was overcome with joyful excitement. Through my jewelry-filtered artistic vision, I saw page after page of possibilities: so many different chain designs! In overwhelming eagerness to create, I instantly checked out the book and ran back to my studio to play.

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LONDON FOG by Casey Sheppard

Within the next few hours, I had created some fun, unique, original chain that was very much my style, and also easily executed. But like all new things, I had failures, too. A small pile of knotted useless ugly wires began to form an island of misfit toys at the corner of my bench. For each good chain I made, at least two were bad. This didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was learning, expanding, challenging my thoughts, and making CHAIN!

Chain should not be taken lightly. So many jewelry makers overlook the possibilities at hand when it comes to making chain! They opt to forgo this task that adds originality, style, and a bit of pizazz to a piece. Just like life, chain fabrication is what you make of it. It can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be.

I implore you to play by starting off simple (sometimes the simplest of chains can be the most brilliant), then, if you want, dive into something more complex or challenging to reflect your own style. With steel, copper, brass, or sterling wire (and a bit of imagination), this simple task can seriously showcase your talents, allowing you to stand out among the many.

Arsenic and Old Lace, coming to Free Form on September 14!


Learn to make this pendant with matching chain in the next free project on Free Form, available to newsletter subscribers on September 14! 

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