Welcome to the Dark Side

//Welcome to the Dark Side

Welcome to the Dark Side

Let me introduce myself to the Objects and Elements Fan Club! I’m Brenda Schweder, creator of art jewelry, and author of a few articles, columns, and a few more books, the latest of which is titled Steel Wire Jewelry (Lark Jewelry & Beading). I’m also a new inventor and developed the Now That’s a Jig!, the wire bending jig that Sits Tight and Stays Put!

Linda and I thought it would be fun to showcase Steel Wire, through our blogs this week! I’ll introduce you to a few fun facts about SW:


What is this stuff and why can we use it for jewelry?

  • Steel wire is iron with up to 2% carbon (two of our favorite elements from the periodic table!)
  • It is called dark annealed steel (or bend-and-stay) wire; 16 gauge is called rebar tie wire
  • It is kiln-heated and slowly cooled to a dead soft state (which is about the equivalent of half-hard sterling). This process leaves a carbon coating which will need to be removed.
  • My favorite part of working with steel is its forgiving nature, it has a MUCH longer work time than other wires
  • Do NOT buy galvanized or stainless versions for creating jewelry—it is not dead soft and is much harder to work!

What sizes/gauges does it come in?

  • 16 gauge (rebar tie wire)
  • 18-20 gauge (stovepipe wire)
  • 14 gauge (bailing wire)
  • 28/24 (uncoated floral wire)
  • Heftier gauges like 10, 12, and 14 gauge (yummy!)

Remember to keep SAFTEY FIRST minding these precautions:

  • Wear safety glasses
  • Hold both ends of the wire when cutting
  • Wear earplugs when hammering
  • Protect your hands with grippy (Nitrile) gloves if you’re a little weak-handed, have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Arthritis, or are muscle-impaired.

Keep Separate Tools:

Working steel requires separate tools and cutters: Do not use hammers, pliers, saws, files, or pliers that you use for finer metals (like silver/sterling or gold/gold-filled). Steel is stronger and can mar or ding your good tools, and the carbon—and therefore potential rust—can transfer to your other work. Until you fall in love with steel and want to invest in a separate set, use tools from your utility toolbox and certainly use a heavy-duty cutter.

You can also designate one side of your bench block to steel. Simply mark it with a permanent marker.

At the very least, wipe your tools after each steel wire session!

How Do You Work It? Here are Some Steps to Becoming an Excellent Wrangler!:

Now, the important part! Where to FIND IT! Here’s it is in a nutshell! You can find dark annealed steel:
  • At your local hardware stores: the big-boxers (Home Depot, Lowes) carry the 16 gauge rebar tie wire; and your smaller franchisers (Ace, True Value) carry the smaller gauges (18-28);
  • My Etsy shop carries a complete range of gauges (including down to 10 gauge—grrrr!)
  • New to Ornaments and Elements (is this not cool?)! in big-girl spools! Yee-haw!
Enjoy the economical, flexible, and forgiving nature of steel! It’s my wrangling choice!

1) SHAPE IT: If you get the right stuff (stay away from stainless or galvanized) like the steel on ObjectsandElements.com and my Etsy site (www.Etsy.com/shop/brendaschweder), it will come in a dead soft state (in wire terms, that means as close to a noodle as you can get with metal). Shape the wire with tools: pliers, my new Now That’s a Jig! and mandrels; or even your fingers by bending, twisting, braiding or coiling. (Brenda’s Buggaboo Note: If you want a specific circle, corner, or shape, use anything that will provide that shape when the steel is bent around it. Use these tools to your advantage by pressing the wire to the tool with your strongest finger—your thumb—right at the point of contact!
2) HARDEN IT: Next, harden and/or texture the wire so it stays in place. The hardening actually starts in Step 1 with any movement. But now hammer to flatten (this is where the wire begins its journey from extruded metal to finished jewelry) and stiffen the wire so that it stays in the shape you put it. In this Step, you can even forge it, or texture it (with a ballpeen hammer or even a standard screwdriver tip)!
3) CLEAN IT: And because it was made dead soft, it’s been kiln-annealed, so the carbon will have crept to the outside edges. This means you’re gonna’ get a little dirty from the dark residue. Be sure to clean this off with steel wool or wire brushes!
4) PROTECT IT: Last but not least—this is important—finish it with some sort of wax product (I prefer Renaissance Wax ‘cause it’s archival and the micro-crystalline structure seals more completely), so the bugger doesn’t rust later when you expose it to humidity (or you forget and wear it in the shower or on the beach during your next vacation)
5) For more tips, tricks, and techniques, try referencing my book, Steel Wire Jewelry:
By | 2012-11-14T00:00:00-06:00 November 14th, 2012|Blogs|0 Comments

About the Author: