Do you need a lot of wire rings that are consistent in size, but you don’t have an expensive pendant drill and jump ring cutting system? Read on for the simplest and least expensive ways I have found to achieve a big pile of uniform jump rings.
You’ll need to gather some tools and such… Pictured above from left to right are:
- Jeweler’s saw with 2/0 saw blade
- Truss clip (we’ll go over this further down)
- Winding jig (we’ll go over that in a minute, too)
- Copper wire
- Transfer punch set (top of photo)
- Side cutters (bottom of photo)
To make wire rings the first thing you need to make is a wire coil, and the really crucial part of making a coil is having a rod shaped object to wind the wire around. You can use knitting needles, metal rods, and even wood dowels as mandrels to wind your wire coil on. What I like best, though, are transfer punches. The thing about transfer punches is that they come in a set, and thus are a really inexpensive way to lay your hands on a nice selection of mandrel sizes. Plus they generally come in an “indexed stand”, which means the sizes of the punches are conveniently marked next to the appropriate hole in the stand.
Harbor Freight carries just such a set of 28 punches for a mere $9.99 USD.
There are metric transfer punch sets available too. I found mine at MSC Direct. A set that goes from 1mm to 13mm includes the most appropriate sizes for chain making.
The other thing you need is a way to smoothly wind the wire onto the mandrel. You can, of course, do this by holding the mandrel in one hand and the wire in the other, but the resulting coil will be much smoother and more regular if you use some kind of mechanism as a winder. Hands down the simplest and most inexpensive winder is one made with a bit of hardwood and a small nail.
To make a winder like this you’ll need a piece of hardwood, like oak. The one in the picture is about 3/8″ thick (~1cm), and just over 1.5″ wide (just under 4cm). It’s a little more than 4″ long (about 11cm). The wood can also be thicker and wider, so forage about and see what you can dredge up. The local lumber yard may have a scrap bin that would supply you with admirable options at very reasonable prices.
You’ll also need a small nail with a small head on it.
Drill a hole in your piece of wood that is exactly the size of your mandrel (1/4″ in the picture). If you don’t have a drill bit that is exactly the size of your mandrel, drill a slightly smaller hole and enlarge it to the right size with a file.
Pound your little nail into the wood just to one side of the hole. You want it close to the hole, but not so close that it splits the wood and pulls out.
To use the winder, bend a “J” shaped hook into the end of your wire and hook it around the nail. Insert the mandrel into the hole so that the majority of the rod protrudes on the side with the nail and the wire.
By the way, I am left-handed, so my nail is on the right side of the hole. If you are right-handed, your nail should be on the left side of the hole. This will allow you to most easily monitor the wire as it winds onto the mandrel.
Position the index finger of your dominant hand behind the mandrel, with your thumb on top of the wire. Your non-dominant hand will hold the wooden winder and begin to rotate it, pulling it first towards you, so that the wire wraps over the top of the mandrel, making it easier to see the wraps as they are formed and keep them tight and even.
In the picture above, the winder is at the half way point, and will now be pulled down towards the table, then back towards you. Keep your thumb firmly on the wire, and push it towards the wood as you go around. The goal is to have no gaps between loops of the coil.
Once you have a coil about 3″ (7cm) long, you may notice that the strain is beginning to bend your nail a bit. Prudence dictates that you stop, cut off the coil, and wind another coil if you need more rings.
Now that you have your coils it’s time to cut them apart into rings. This cutting task, it turns out, is a surprisingly difficult one for novice jewelers to tackle with a standard jeweler’s saw. When I teach classes in chain making, I always show students how to cut rings with a jeweler’s saw, and over the years, I have found that the key to success is having a sturdy support for the wire coil, which otherwise tends to roll and wobble, while individual rings try to spring away from the end of the coil and the whole business generally misbehaves.
My solution is a small piece of hardware that costs less than one US dollar. The part in question is called a truss clip. It’s about 3″ long and is designed for attaching roof trusses, or parts of decks to other parts of the roof or deck. At least that’s what I have gleaned from the pictures on the box and the aisle at the lumber yard where they are found.
Before you can use the truss clip for cutting rings, though, you’ll need to alter its shape just a bit.
Put the truss clip in a bench vise, with the right angle bend in the clip touching the flat top of the vise.
Grab onto the part of the clip sticking out of the vise (I used vise grip locking pliers) and open up the bend in the clip, taking care to keep the part you are gripping flat and even.
Your goal is to open the bend from the original 90 degrees to about 130 degrees.
You’ll use a C-clamp to attach your altered truss clip to a bench or table. The Clamp needs to be on the right side of the clip because the nuts on a regular jeweler’s saw are on the left side of the frame, so this arrangement will keep the saw from hanging up on the clamp.
Rest your wire coil in the left hand groove of the truss clip, and use masking tape to secure it in place. Pull the masking tape tight across the coil from one side of the truss clip to the other, as if you were pulling the bed sheets tight across a squirming child and tucking them firmly in under the mattress. If you try to conform the tape around the coil and down onto the truss clip, you’ll end up with too much play in the tape and your coil will wiggle about. Tape down the whole length of the coil.
I like to position the cut end of the wire at the top of the coil so that it is facing out towards me, since then I can use it as a guide to run my saw blade along to start cutting my rings. Hold the top ring of the coil down with your thumbnail to keep it from being dragged up and away from the coil by the action of the saw blade’s return stroke. Angle the saw so that the blade is touching at most 3 rings.
Cut down as far as you can on the coil. If rings end up caught on your saw blade, hold the blade horizontally with the teeth pointed down at the bench and gently rotate the rings until the slits are facing up. The rings will fall off, and you won’t run the risk of cutting your finger on the blade.
When the saw blade begins to hit the truss clip, stop and move the remaining portion of the coil up to the top of the clip. Re-tape it and continue cutting.
It’s difficult to cut the last couple of rings on the coil, so I usually put those in a ring clamp to cut them.
Have you been yearning to try a new chain pattern, but dreading the hassle of cutting the rings? My fervent hope is that the information outlined here will cut down the hassle factor to a manageable size and get you straight on to the deliciously addictive candy of chain making!
P.S. Did a friend forward this post to you? Did you stumble on it by accident? Want to eliminate the element of chance? Click here to get on my direct list.