Jewelry Wire Hardness (Temper)

Jewelry wire hardness, also called wire temper, ranges from those wires that are pliable and can easily be formed into different shapes to those are stiff and hard to bend.  Most jewelry wire is classified as either dead soft, half hard, or hard, and each has its own uses for different jewelry creations. No single hardness of wire can be used for all applications.

Dead soft wire is exactly that — extremely soft and pliable and therefore very easy to bend and shape.  Soft wire is good for decorative loops, swirls, and spirals. Because it is easy to manipulate, it is most often used in sculptured wire jewelry.  The disadvantage of using soft wire is that the finished piece can be bent out of shape if not properly handled.  It does not hold its shape in stressed situations such as clasps unless it is hardened.

Half-hard wire, somewhat stiffer than dead soft wire, is the wire I find myself using most often.  Half-hard wire is excellent for making tight, angular bends, for making loops in wire, and for wrapping wire around itself and around gemstones.  Half-hard wire works well when you are working on a jewelry jig because it bends easily.  Finished pieces made half-hard wire are usually more permanent than pieces made with soft wire but still require some care to avoid unwanted kinks.  Once in its final shape, such as a rosette, half hard wire can be hardened by hammering, which causes it to flatten, or by manipulating the wire in a process called work hardening. However, once flattened, the wire usually cannot be manipulated any further.

Hard wire is very stiff and tends to spring back after being bent and makes very permanent shapes.  It doesn’t work well when using a jig or making a spiral or rosette.  Components made from hard wire are more difficult to make because the wire doesn’t bend easily, and the end result is very permanent.  So this kind of wire works very well to create clasps and other findings that may be stressed.  I would not recommend hard wire for beginners because it is difficult to manipulate and may break without warning.

Also, keep in mind that the size (gauge) of the wire will also affect how easy or difficult it is to work.  For example a piece of 12 gauge wire, even dead soft, will not bend as easily as an 18 gauge wire of the same hardness.