Ancient Techniques of Making Wire into Art

Wirework has been around since 3,000 BC. It is an ancient folk art form first practiced by the Egyptians.  By the mid 19th century, wire art flourished. The collections expanded from kitchen wares to wire fencing. By the 1920’s, wire sculpture had made its way to the world of fine art.

Basic Materials

You can measure the wire diameter in inches or millimeters as well as in gauges. Gauges range from 0 to around 50; the smaller the number, the thicker the wire. For example, a 16-gauge wire is thinner than a coat hanger, while a 30-gauge wire is almost like a thread.

Basic Types of Wire

  • Annealed wire is the most common wire used for basic crafts. It is pliable, durable and an easy-to-use wire. An example is dark annealed wire.
  • Armature mesh: a fun, versatile, flexible aluminum wire. This is ideal for sculpture, model making, arts, and crafts. If you want to do a mini sculpture of a cat or if you are more interested in machinery such as replicating a mini franna than you can also do so with this type of wire.
  • Bead stringing wire: made from many strands of fine diameter stainless steel wire. The smooth, kink resistant nylon coating that it has provides excellent abrasion resistance. One example is Tiger Tail. Tiger Tail actually had an industrial origin. It is one of the first wires used for bead stringing. Containing only 3 strands of stainless steel wire, it tends to kink if you’re not careful.   Most general beading designs use modern bead stringing wires. They are softer, stronger and more flexible than tiger tail. Bead stringing wires work well for stringing ceramic, glass, metal, stone beads, seed beads, and freshwater pearls. As the number of strands increases, the softer and more flexible the wire is.
  • Beading cord: comes in silk or nylon cord. A nylon cord is less expensive but is stronger than silk. It stretches less and feels like silk. Silk adds elegance and a natural drape to your designs. Beaders have been using it for centuries.
  • Coloured copper wire: consists of a copper core covered with colored polyurethane. It has a clear nylon overcoat that resists peeling or chipping. It can also stand extensive wire working, twisting or bending. A colored copper wire is perfect for wire wrapping, wire forming, and bead stringing.
  • Enamel-covered wire: bendable, yet holds its shape. It’s great for jewelry making, floral design and more!
  • Memory wire: from the name itself, it “remembers” its shape and retains its coil form. This stainless steel wire is available in anklet, bracelet, necklace and ring sizes. This rigid and tempered stainless steel wire is corrosion and tarnish-resistant.

Basic Equipment

You only need the basic kinds of pliers and wire cutters to start crafting; you don’t need any sort of heavy machinery or the largest cranes to get you started either.

  • Round-nose pliers are ideal for bending wires into smaller round loops or circles.  Its jaw consists of two smooth, slender cones. You determine the diameter of your circle. Wrapping the wire ¾ nearer the base gives you a larger circle. Wrapping it towards the tip gives you a tiny circle.   Squeeze the jaws together to see how the gap between the two cones tapers, closing at the tip. Find the spot in the gap that matches the wire thickness to choose the appropriate spot for wrapping. Half-round pliers are useful for bending wires into broad curves.
  • Flat-nose pliers have a flat smooth surface on the inside of the jaw. This makes it ideal for gripping without marring the wires. These pliers are also good for bending right angles into the wire.
  • Chain-nose pliers are similar to flat-nose pliers. The only exception is the flat part of the jaw which is finely serrated for a surer grip.    Serrated jaws will mar the wire, so be sure to grip the wire only in areas which you plan to hide eventually. Use the serrations to cut some tooth in a wire for a better hold at crossover points and wire wraps.
  • Bent-nose pliers slanted, serrated jaws help you work in complicated, hard-to-reach spaces.
  • Long-nose pliers serrated jaws have an extra strong grip and provide easy pickup.
  • Twisting pliers and wire cutters make tight, consistent spirals with minimal effort. The simple one-pull action and automatic return twist wire quickly and easily. You will then have strands that will not unravel. The center of the pliers also serves as a cutter.
  • Diagonal pliers will easily cut through wire up to 1.6mm.
  • Nylon jaw pliers (regular and thin-nosed) are coated with a thin nylon layer. They can gently flatten and harden wire without nicking or changing the diameter of the wire. These pliers are also good for removing bends and kinks.
  • Parallel or channel-type pliers are useful because of the jaws open and close parallel to each other.  Although the jaws are smooth, they grip well. They hold along their length rather than at just one point. These pliers are good for straightening bent wire or for bending angles.
  • Needle-nose pliers are useful for reaching into difficult places. They are the best kind of pliers for working with chicken wire. You can use the nose to open up loops, the jaw for crimping, and the outer surface as a form to shape curves and loops.

One Basic Technique

Wires are malleable.  You can braid, coil, twist, wrap, cord, wove, or crochet it into wonderful shapes. The possibilities that you can do with it are innumerable from creating little figurines or sculptures to forming product displays for stores.

Twisting Wire

If you wish to achieve texture, twist two or more wires together. The easiest wires to twist are the soft wires like copper. On the other hand, you need extra caution and effort when working with galvanized wires, especially when it comes to larger objects such as galvanised steel mesh panels. Letting go of the wires may cause them to spin dangerously out of control.

The easiest method for twisting wire is with a hand drill, giving you more control over the wire. Start with a piece of wire at least three times as long as the desired twisted length. Keep in mind that the tighter the twist, the more wire you’ll need. You then fold the wire in half and securely wrap it around a table leg or doorknob. If necessary, place some padding between the wire and the doorknob to protect the surface. You can also use a table leg in place of the doorknob. Place a cup hook in the drill, and secure both wires ends to the cup hook. While holding the wire taut, slowly turn the drill handle, twisting the wire.

You can have a modified hand drill.  Use a wooden coat hanger that has a revolving wire hook. Cut a piece of wire at least three times long as your desired twisted length. Fold the length of wire in half and loop it around a door handle or other secure point such as a table leg. Wrap both wire ends at least three times around the hanger, on either side of the handle, to secure. Step back until the wire is taut and begin rotating the coat hanger. For an even twist, hold the wire horizontally. Don’t relax your grip. Carefully, twist the wire to the desired degree. Make sure you do not over twist the wire or it may snap. You may then remove the wire from the drill or door handle and cut both ends.