I use lots of different wire gauges in my work, and at the various workshops that I teach, and I often get asked about the best wire gauges to use for various jobs - so I thought I'd post here some of the information that I give out at my sterling silver wire workshops! Please do remember, though, that these are the wire gauges that I prefer to use - there's no law that says you have to use the same!
The first thing to bear in mind is that some suppliers sell wire by the gauge, others by mm diameter, and that, of course, the two do not match up exactly. From the research I've done on the web (aka browsing through various websites making wishlists of beads and wire) a general rule is that US suppliers, books and magazines use gauges, and those here in the UK use mm. Typical! The larger the gauge, the thinner the wire. Some of the common gauges, their diameter in millimetres and some of the jobs I commonly use them for are below:
16 gauge (1.29mm)
Very thick wire. I use 1.3mm and 1.2mm wire for the bases on my wire wrapped pendants (like those below), very strong clasps and for making the hammered rings such as those in the necklace below. 1.2mm wire is the thickest of the 3 wires that I use in my sterling silver charm bracelet workshops.
18 gauge (1.02mm)
Medium thick wire. I use this for clasps, wire wrapping beads with large holes and for making some heavier chains. 1mm wire is one of the 3 wires that I use in my sterling silver charm bracelet workshops.
20 gauge (0.81mm)
Medium wire. One of my favourite thicknesses! I use this for making earwires, headpins, smaller clasps and for wire wrapping glass beads. This is the thinnest of the 3 wires that I use in my sterling silver charm bracelet workshops - see the bracelet above for an example. 22 gauge (0.64mm)
Medium thin wire. My other favourite! I use 0.6mm wire for wire wrapping beads like Swarovski crystals and semi-precious beads.
24 gauge (0.51mm)
Thin wire. I use this for wire wrapping smaller Swarovski crystals, semi-precious beads with smaller holes and freshwater pearls. I also use it for making headpins.
26 gauge (0.41mm)
Very thin wire. I use loads of 0.4mm wire when I'm making my wire wrapped pendants and earrings! (see above and below for examples) I also use it for wire wrapping beads to tiaras, for making thinner headpins, for wire wrapping tiny holed beads. This wire kinks as it's so thin, so nylon jaw pliers are recommended. A bit more information for you from my workshop booklet:
Wire Hardness is described in the following terms:
Dead Soft wire is extremely malleable and can be bent easily, but it does not hold its shape well if a great deal of weight or pressure may be applied, such as with clasps.
Half Hard wire is malleable and does maintain its shape under moderate weight and pressure.
Hard wire holds its shape very well and is excellent for clasps, but it is far less easy to work with.
Wire does become harder as you work with it, and it can be made harder still by hammering it or by putting it in a tumbler with stainless steel shot for at least an hour or so, but if you make wire too hard it becomes brittle so don't leave it in the tumbler for too long! Think about how you would break a metal paperclip - I bet you'd bend it make and forth until it snapped. What you would be doing is hardening the wire at the bend until it became so hard it was brittle.
Okay, lesson over for today! And if you want to know more about my workshops see here!