Chainmail in General
What is the Aspect Ratio? (links to a blog post)
What do your ring names mean?
I make both inch sized rings and millimeter sized rings, and they both follow the same naming rules. The first half of the name tells you what size mandrel the wire was wrapped around, and the second half of the name tells you what size wire was used. So…
The first half of the name is the mandrel size. If the ring name has a : in the middle it’s an inch size. If it has an M in the middle it’s a millimeter size.If it’s an inch size (it has the : in the middle) then the number is the 1/64ths of an inch of the mandrel. This is where you get to dust off your fractions math from high school. If the mandrel size is a “19” like in the example, that’s simply a 19/64″ mandrel. But if it’s a size “32” mandrel instead, well that would be 32/64″ which is the same thing as 1/2″ – with me so far? I’ve put a chart together that should help you see how the inch fractions and mandrel names work together. If it’s a millimeter size (it has an M in the middle) then you just read off the decimal as though it were on a ruler. Mandrel size of “7.5” is 7.5 millimeters. Mandrel size of “4.75” is 4.75 millimeters.
: is for inches
M is for millimeters
The second half of the name is the wire gauge. I use the American Wire Gauge system for my wire sizes. AWG is the standard for precious metal wire, and it runs a little smaller than SWG (Standard Wire Gauge) which is used for ferrous metals and most non-precious metals. For instance, 14ga AWG is roughly the same size (but only roughly the same) as 16ga SWG. And, of course, the bigger the number the smaller the wire. You gotta love standards… *sigh* But my rings are all the same wire sizes. A 10:16 ring will be made of the same size wire as 13:16, 4M16, and 6.25M16. They’ll be wildly different ring sizes (different mandrels) but the wire size will be exactly the same.
Why did I make it so complicated? It’s not actually complicated once you understand it, and I find it much easier to refer to a ring size by one compact name rather than saying “3/16 inch with 19ga rose gold fill wire” or some such. I’ve tried my very best to make the names easy to understand and easy to compare to each other. For instance, messing with inch fractions drives me batty – I always have to scratch my head to figure out whether 3/16″ is bigger or smaller than 11/64″ but I know immediately that 12/64″ is bigger than 11/64″ so I always refer to my inch sizes by their 1/64″ measurements.
You may find this chart to be helpful for visualizing how the ring sizes compare. I recommend printing the chart (portrait mode). Trim the blank edge off the bottom of the first page and tape the two together for a handy-dandy reference of what my mandrel names are and how the inch sizes compare to millimeter sizes.
Now that you understand the names of the different ring sizes, here are the list of changes that I might make to the wire. These are all letters that I might add to the end of the ring name. The letters mean:
ss – sterling silver
jb – jewelry brass
cu – copper
gf – gold fill
gfr – rose gold fill
gfw – white gold fill (This is a palladium white – no nickel content.)
nb – niobium
sc – solder core (I used to call these “sf” for solder filled, but decided that “sc” was a better code since I’ll use “sf” for silver fill eventually.)
k14 – solid 14K gold (Why not “14k”? I wanted a letter at the beginning so that it wouldn’t get mixed up with the wire gauge of the ring.)
k18 – solid 18K gold (and so on…)
fs – fine silver (Dead soft, unless otherwise indicated. Used for loop-in-loop chains.)
sh – spring hard (The wire used to make the ring is spring hard, instead of half hard which is my standard. Spring hard available for sterling rings in 19, 20, and 21 gauge.)
nothing – If there are no letters hanging off the end of the ring name, that means that you’re holding a bag of sterling silver rings from the years when I didn’t put “ss” at the end of sterling ring names.
examples – If a ring is named 8:19gf, that means it’s a size 8:19 made from gold fill wire. If a ring is named 8:19k14sfsh, that means it’s a size 8:19 made from 14K wire that has a solder core and is spring hard. Just add letters as needed.
How does your pricing system work?
Sterling silver, niobium, and all three colors of goldfill can be combined for automatic volume discounts. These discounts do not apply to kits, only to bulk rings.
- 10+ troy ounces of precious metal = 10% discount
- 50+ ozt = 20% discount
- 100+ ozt = 30% discount
Copper and jewelry brass are sold by the full troy ounce and have no automatic volume discounts. If you need 10+ ounces of the same size, contact me to discuss a discount for that size.
Why do smaller gauge rings cost more per ounce?
It takes longer to make an ounce of itty-bitty rings than it does to make an ounce of monster-huge rings. A single coil of a huge ring size can yield many ounces of rings. But a single coil of a bitty size (same amount of work) yields only a fraction of an ounce. In theory, I should also charge more for smaller diameter rings within a given gauge, but that’s too much of a headache to track. Instead, I base my pricing on the time it takes to coil/cut/wash/dry/sift a normal medium-ish ring size (think Box Chain) in that gauge.
Can you make other sizes of niobium rings?
I can, but the overhead for adding a niobium size is much greater than for a non-niobium size. If you want 50+ ounces of a size that I don’t already carry (in any color/mix combination) please send me an email to discuss it. If you just want a few ounces, email me anyway and I’ll add your vote to the customer wish list, since I will be adding more sizes over time.
What ring size should I use for my project?
This is a difficult question since everyone has their own opinion about what ring looks “best” for a given weave. I personally think that the weave should be as tight as possible and still be nicely flexible. If you agree with that opinion, then visit my chart of recommended sizes. If the weave you’re interested in doesn’t appear on that page, or if you just have more questions, send me an email.
What pliers should I use with precious metal rings?
Any pliers with no teeth will work, though you’ll almost certainly want springs on the handles as well. Personally, I use mis-matched pliers for all but the largest and smallest rings: one chain nose pliers (they come to a point) and one flat nose. Different people prefer different jaw styles. The only crucial thing is to make sure the jaws are smooth, otherwise you’ll mar the rings. Pliers are so important to chainmaillers that I wrote a long blog post on the subject. Find the style that works for your projects and your hands!
For a selection of Spider Approved ™ pliers, visit the Tools shopping page.
How do I translate Blue Buddha Boutique sizes into Spiderchain sizes?
In April of 2014, Blue Buddha Boutique discontinued their line of sterling silver jump rings. They’ve been sending sterling customers to me because they know my quality is great, but there’s been some confusion about ring names. So here’s the secret decoder ring for switching between the two naming systems.
The first part of the ring name is the inner diameter. (I use a number for that, B³ uses a letter.) The second part of the ring name is the wire gauge (no change there).
For example, if you bought size D20 from Blue Buddha, you’d get size 8:20 from Spiderchain. The second part doesn’t change. Please let me know if this is at all confusing. I want to get you the right rings!
I highly recommend Spiderchain for precious metal rings. She is meticulous with her sizing, has incredibly rigorous standards for cutting and polishing, and outstanding customer support. I first did business with Spider in 2002, and I have had only positive experiences with her. In short, Spiderchain is terrific!
– Rebeca Mojica, owner of Blue Buddha Boutique
When re-shaping a piece of metal using classic goldsmithing techniques, you usually want it to be as soft as possible. To get metal fully soft, heat it to orange-hot and let it naturally return to room temperature. This is called annealing. For chainmail, we want a bit of springiness in the wire. We use tempered (AKA work-hardened) wire so that our pieces have some strength.
Anodization is immersing metal in a conductive fluid and running electrical current through the bath to produce an oxide layer on the surface of the metal. The three metals that are commonly anodized are niobium, titanium, and aluminum. With the first two metals, the oxide layer yields a wonderful range of colors. The thickness of the oxide layer determines the color. Possible colors (from thinnest to thickest oxide layer) range through brown, blue, yellow, pink, purple, teal, and green.
With aluminum, the oxide layer is colorless, but porous enough to accept dye. So after anodizing the aluminum, you can dunk it in any color dye that you want. However, the dyed colors of anodized aluminum are always sort of “flat” in comparison to anodized niobium and titanium, which often have an iridescent, color-spanning shimmer.
The draw plate is one of the oldest metal-working tools. In essence, it is just a sheet of metal with many holes drilled in it, each hole just a little smaller than the one before it. By pulling wire through progressively smaller holes, you get wire of a smaller gauge (which is also longer). These days, draw plates are made from tool steel with extremely precise holes, but the technique is the same as for the primitive draw plates used thousands of years ago.
Solder Core Sterling:
The wire used to make these rings has a solder core. To make soldered pieces using these rings all you need is a torch. No need to apply the solder to each join – it’s already there! You do need to paint flux onto the joint to allow the solder to flow.
The simple version is that a a troy ounce is a little bigger than a normal ounce. A troy ounce is roughly 10% heavier than a normal ounce.
The longer answer is that troy ounces are the standard for precious metals. For whatever reason (resistance to change? politics of the time? tradition?) precious metals have continued to be measured in troy ounces, even as the rest of the world moved onto avoirdupois (normal) ounces. And now, much of the world has moved beyond any sort of ounces, to grams – yet the troy ounce sticks around, stubbornly measuring gold, silver, and platinum. Even though I do make copper and brass rings, I’m primarily a precious metal ring maker. That’s why I standardized on American Wire Gauge and troy ounces. Those are what’s used for precious metals, so that’s what I use for all my rings – even the copper and brass.
Temper is a measure of how hard and springy a piece of metal is. Different metals have different inherent hardnesses (iron is harder than lead), but within the same metal you can have harder or softer pieces, depending on temper.
To change the temper of a piece of metal, you work harden it – that is, you change its shape/size while it’s at room temperature. (Hit it with a hammer, roll it in a mill, pull it through a draw plate.) This affects the underlying crystalline structure within the metal, and you end up with something that’s harder. With wire (starting at full soft), the further you drop the wire gauge the harder it gets according to the following scale:
area of wire
An important thing to note is that if you heat the wire too hot you’ll lose all the springiness and you’ll be back to full soft. (See anneal.)
Temper is only a useful concept when comparing wires of the same metal. Iron will always be harder than lead, no matter how much you work harden the lead.
There are two main wire gauge systems used in the United States. The first is the “Standard Wire Gauge” (or SWG) which is used primarily for industrial metals – steel, aluminum, brass, etc. The second system is the “American Wire Gauge” (AWG) which is also sometimes called “Brown & Sharpe.” This is the standard gauge system for precious metals, and it’s the gauge system that I use for all my rings.
American Wire Gauge – AWG – Brown & Sharpe
|0.643 mm||0.724 mm||0.813 mm||0.912 mm||1.02 mm||1.15 mm||1.29 mm||1.45 mm||1.63 mm||1.83 mm||2.05 mm||2.30 mm||2.60mm|
What are these “shopping lists” on the site?
Shopping lists are a way to save a group of items for later. (You might also see them called “wishlists” – we’re still tracking down all the places to change that label.) I use them as a handy way to create easy-purchase lists for specific projects that don’t have formal kits. Most of these lists show up on the Project Maps page, but you’ll see them scattered around elsewhere.
You can use them to create any collection you want:
- ring sizes for a specific project
- earmarked items to buy when your tax refund comes in
- anything that you know you want to use later
You can also share your lists with other people:
- tell your friends exactly which sizes you used to make that piece they admired
- send your mom a list of presents that you’re guaranteed to like
- provide a materials list to customers who are buying your instructions (If you’re doing this, let me know and I’ll link to your project.)
The shopping lists also come into play if you have a question about your order. When you’re ready to check out, you have the option of asking me for a “sanity check.” (Will your chosen sizes/amounts work for your project?) When you do that, the contents of your cart get saved aside in a shopping list. After I answer your questions, you can update quantities or items and then go ahead with your order.
Please note that you have to be logged into your account to create new shopping lists.
Do you teach classes?
I teach one-on-one classes at my studio for $40/hour, $20/hour for each additional student. Classes are easiest to schedule during weekdays, but evenings and weekends are possible with enough advance notice. Send me email if you’d like to schedule a class.
For the time being, I’m not teaching outside of my studio. This will likely change in the future, but not until I’ve gotten a couple of important items marked off of my To Do list.
Do you wholesale?
All my ring prices are based purely on order volume. If you have a resale number you won’t get a different price for rings (though you won’t have to pay tax, of course).
What is your return policy?
I don’t accept any ring returns. Please, please make sure that you know what size(s) you need. I’m happy to answer questions or help you decide on a good ring size. Once the rings arrive at your house they’re yours forever.
If any product that I sell you is defective I will definitely replace it. If you buy non-ring items based on a specific recommendation from me and you don’t agree that it’s a good item, then I’m happy to take the item back in exchange for credit toward future orders.
When will my order arrive?
Orders ship on Fridays, mid-afternoon. We nearly always ship all the pending orders each week, so your package will typically ship at 2:30 on the Friday after you place your order.
Once your order ships it will take 1-3 days (according to the post office) for your Priority Mail package to arrive. The closer you are to California, the sooner you’ll get it. International orders should take 6-10 working days to arrive.
How can I get my designs published in magazines?
This is definitely a frequently asked question, and I don’t actually have a Spider answer for you. I’ve never gone looking for magazine slots – they’ve just kinda snuck up on me. So I suppose that my answer is to build a high-end chainmail business, be passionate about it for more than a decade, and then magazines might start to bug you for designs. But that’s not so practical… *grin*
Luckily, I had this question in mind while I was corresponding with Barb Switzer about my Persian Pearls project that appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Wirework Magazine. I asked Barb to answer the question from the perspective of a magazine editor. Happily for us, she was willing to do so. Thank you Barb!
———- begin Barb Switzer quote ———-
What do editors look for when seeking submissions for a magazine, you ask?
There are a few key points.
1. A clear, straight-on photo of the entire, finished project and several detail shots that are relevant (pendant, attachment for pendant, clasp and any specific or decorative components). Decorative shots with props are strongly discouraged. If the design needs to hang or drape, use a necklace board, not a human model, when possible. Shooting on a white or light grey background is recommended. If you have professional shots, regardless of props or backgrounds, DO send them as well. It never hurts to influence opinions with a really good, professional photo.
2. A description including measurements, a list of materials used, and a brief explanation of the types of techniques used to create the design (chainmail, wire wrapping, beadweaving, etc.)
3. Contact information, including an email address, phone number and shipping or mailing address. If you have a web site or etsy store, include the URL(s) for 1-click navigation.
If you have submitted the same project to more than one publication, it is wise to mention that somewhere in your message. Make sure your message is clear and easy-to-read. Since you’ll be expected to write instructions for projects that you design and submit, think of the email as a cover letter.
Check editorial calendars. Publications often have certain types of projects or techniques scheduled for specific issues and you’ll have a better chance of being considered if your design is in sync with the calendar. Some publications request physical samples, so don’t be surprised if you have to send the physical design to a publisher. Be SURE to make a second one to keep so you have a physical sample of the same design, especially if you haven’t already written the instructions.
Who am I to be telling you this?
My name is Barb Switzer. I have been teaching wire and beading classes since 1998. I edited Simply Beads, an easy-beading, stringing magazine, from 2007-2008. In 2011 and 2012, I served as Editor for Wirework magazine, a Bead & Button special issue. And I’ve edited two beading books, Four Seasons of Beading and Earrings, Earrings, Earrings! I’ve looked at and been responsible for publishing close to 300 jewelry designs. Visit my web page: www.beadswitzer.com or look for Barb Switzer, Wire Maven, on Facebook. Contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org.
———- end Barb Switzer quote ———-
Note: When I checked Barb’s web site in April of 2015, it looked like she’d let it lapse. I sent her an email, but haven’t yet heard back. Hopefully she’s still around, being creative!