Feb 14, 2014

Free Chainmaille Tutorial Series: Tools You'll Need and Instructions for Project One: "Loopy in Love Charms"

"Loppy in Love" Chainmaille Charms

"Loppy in Love" Chainmaille Charms for earrings or pendants are today's free chainmaille tutorial.  To read about tools later, and skip ahead to the instructions right now, click here or scroll to the bottom of this post. In an effort to keep blog posts succinct, I'm posting all the tutorials for this series on my tutorial blog. To go to the free tutorials at any time, simply click "tutorials"on the leaf photo located at the top right sidebar of my blog.

Today's weave --loopy loops -- is great for earrings, pendants, and bracelets. The weave can be made with any size rings. Since everyone learns differently, you'll have 3 ways to learn this weave: a downloadable pdf, a video, and my personal photography instructions.

Happy Valentine's Day! 

The Helm and Mobius Weaves Combined

Response to this series has been great! Thank you. I appreciate everyone following along. Today, we are going to create our first chainmaille project and discuss the tools we will need for creating chainmaille. We will continue to explore the basic weaves one type at a time.The reason for this: once you create and know the various weaves, you will be able to take off with your own designs. Like the cool chainmaille pattern above that combines a Helm weave with a Mobius, you will also combine weaves and create embellishments for weaves that will make your chainmaille special to you. 

We will learn both the MOBIUS & basic LOOPY LOOPS. You will have a video presented by Christiane Ross (she taught me chainmaile) on creating Mobius rings (also known as "love rings") and on creating Loopy Loops. In addition, you will have an illustrated free tutorial from Blue Buddha Boutique on Mobius, or Love Rings & Loopy Loops. 

And finally, I will take you step by step on creating & then embellishing Loopy Loops for Valentine's Day, "Loopy in Love Charms" which can be made into earrings or a pendant. These may seem like simple weaves, at first, but keep in mind you are building your understanding of maille, and even the simplest design can be sophisticated. In fact, a design by Lauren Andersen using the "Loopy Loops" weave was published in Step by Step Wire for the 2012 Crystal issue. 

But firstly, let's talk tools. 

As I stated in last week's post, this series began when a friend asked what ring sizes to buy for chainmaille. Since each weave is like a beadwork pattern, requiring different ring sizes just as beadwork patterns require differing seed beads, there isn't one answer to that question. However, one tool to solve the need for rings in differing sizes is the chainmaille mandrel set by Beadalon. It is my favorite tool of all! With it, one can create almost any and every ring size needed for any chainmaille pattern. 

The Beadalon Chain Maille Mandrel Set created for Jewel School

The set of 9 mandrels was created exclusively for Jewel School, so you'll only find it for purchase at the Jewel School website (I've looked everywhere). They are very popular and often sold out, so I purchased a second set recently. They come in the 9 most frequently needed ring sizes for chainmaille patterns: 

2 mm
2.4 mm
2.8 mm
3.2 mm
3.6 mm
4.4 mm
4.8 mm
5.6 mm
6 mm

Additional ring making tools: Calipers & Make-shift Mandrels

Digital calipers are another must have tool for creating chainmaille rings easily and accurately. A digital caliper measures the inside of jump rings (using the top prongs) and the circumference of items (using bottom prongs). That makes turning everyday jump rings sold by outer diameter (say, the package at the craft store says 6mm) into chainmaille rings because you can measure the inside of the ring for the chainmaille size. 

You can also use items such as crochet hooks, curtain rod supports, and knitting needles as mandrels for making rings. Sometimes, tweaking a pattern means I need an unusual size ring, such as a 3.9 mm. I can use my digital caliper to measure the circumference of items & make the rings I need in any size. 

Making rings:

The most frequently used rings for chainmaille come in widths of 16 gauge, 18 gauge, and 20 gauge. Please note all the gauges I'm sharing are American Wire Gauge. In comparison, Standard wire gauge may be listed for patterns since chainmaille is a global art; we'll cover the difference between American & Standard gauges in an upcoming post, with a chart you can refer to when patterns call for SWG rather than AWG.

The most frequently used metals are copper, brass, jeweler's brass, sterling silver, Argentium silver, gold-filled, stainless steel, Anodized Aluminum, Niobium, and Bronze. I most often use non-tarnish treated as well as natural metals, including copper, brass, Antique copper & Antique brass, Artistic wire colored wire, Anodized Albumin, and Czech glass rings.

 Let's look at the wires by color groups and the qualities of each wire for making maille rings: 

Copper -- great for rings, softer & easy to use. Plain copper can take a patina (with some work)

Copper, treated for Non-Tarnish -- Artistic Wire Brand -- softer & easy to use, will not tarnish but also can't hold patina. Also, color coated copper by Artistic Wire -- fun to use for splashes of color in design. Available in a huge array of colors that are durable & permanent (exception: the black artistic wire peels!)

Brass -- I buy plain brass wire from my craft store. Brand is Darice. Available in 16 gauge, 18 gauge, 20 gauge for maille rings. (note: not the copper wire coated in brass)

Antique Copper -- Beautiful shade of brown wire that is actually copper. By Vintaj, Parawire, and Artistic Wire (Artistic wire call their brand "gunmetal" but it is Vintaj brown)

Antique Bronze -- Beautiful shade of brown wire that is not actually bronze wire but copper (bronze is very hard & would be too hard to cut & shape by hand). Brands are Vintaj, Parawire, and Artistic Wire (Artistic wire call their brand "gunmetal" but it is Vintaj brown). There is a slight difference in red-tones between the Antique copper & antique Bronze wires by Parawire & Vintaj. Artistic wire offers only "gunmetal" shade.

Silver -- treated for Non-Tarnish by Artistic wire. The craft store offers a very nice blend of rose gold and Argentium (no tarnish) silver by Darice that is great. Also, Argentium wire is a good choice as it is almost pure silver & thus will not tarnish. It is expensive, however. Lastly, sterling silver wire, which can take a patina.

Aluminum and Anodized Aluminum -- Aluminum wire can be found at the craft store & is fine for making your own rings for practice jewelry. Anodized aluminium rings are different from the aluminum wire found at craft stores because the anodizing process makes the aluminum retain its color. Good AA rings are stronger than aluminum wire, and are cut before being coloring, so the ends of the rings are also colored (not white). Poor quality AA rings are cut after anodizing (coloring), leaving unsightly white joins (kerfs) in your chainmaille. Blue Buddha Boutique sells quality AA rings. They also offer packages of slightly "off-color" rings that make excellent practice rings at a discounted price. 

Jeweler's Brass --  buy in jump rings; wire not readily available.
Brass --  buy in jump rings; wire not available.

Gold-filled and Niobium -- expensive. Can purchase gold filled wire and niobium wire online at Fire Mountain Beads & Gems and other shops. Chainmaille rings are available at finer chainmaille online shops like Blue Buddha, the Ring Lord, and ChainWeavers. 

My Favorite Pliers & Cutters:
The " Generic " version of Italian Flush cutters and Ergo Pliers comes in a kit.
It's SOLD out often, but worth getting on the waiting list at Jewel School.


The "Ultra Ego" brand of pliers are getting more & more attention in the chainmaille community for their wider handles & finely tapered jaws. They don't dig into the palms of the hand, and that means comfort when opening & closing hundreds, if not thousands of rings. 

Here are the handles of my Ultra Ergo pliers compared to Beadalon's Sparkle Pliers. Notice how the wider handles curve. They are excellent for preventing pain because there is no pushing into the muscles of the hand.

These relatively new style of pliers are inexpensive and yet becoming very popular for chainmaille. Available on Amazon (search "Ultra Ergo"), they are now even recommended by the famous chainmaille artist and instructor, Spider, and sold at her online shop, SpiderChain. I also found a set of four Ultra Ergo pliers with a pouch at Esslinger

Baby Wubbers and Lindstrom pliers are also good for maille. You'll want chain nose, bent nose, flat nose and round nose pliers for chainmaille. If working with stainless steel or 14 gauge rings, you will want duck pliers too. All of these pliers -- from the Ultra Ergos to Lindstroms -- can be found and purchased at Blue Buddha Boutique. Here's what you want to look for in your bent nose and chain nose pliers, in addition to comfortable handles: 

                Your pliers should touch flush along the center, 
                  line up in equal length, and taper to a narrow, 
                  well defined tip.


There are many choices in cutters; for chainmaille we are looking for nippers that will leave the cleanest kerf (where the ring meets when closed). Chainmaille rings that are handcrafted with cutters are called "pinched" rings because one side of the cut will be flush and one side will look pinched. Only saw-cut rings have perfect, flush cut kerfs. The chainmaille flowers below are made with all handcrafted rings. Smaller and more narrow rings have a less obvious pinched kerf than wider and thicker rings. Also, the direction of the ring in the weave can make pinched kerfs more or less obvious. 

All handcrafted rings.

Sometimes, handcrafted rings are ideal and add to the value of a design. Other times, I prefer to buy rings for the perfect kerfs. Making chainmaille for auction for Beads of Courage, I chose to use saw cut rings for mainstream buyers. Making jewelry for a community blog hop, I chose to make my own rings as the value was on handcrafted. 

Beads of Courage charms made with AA saw cut rings.

The flatter your cutters, the less surface area to pinch the wire. Here are "double-flush" cutters, Martha Stewart cutters, Beadalon cutters, and Italian cutters:

From the side, there's a great difference in surface. The "double-flush" cutters do a poor job of cutting two flush ends because they are too wide to fit into the rings. Likewise, all but the Italian cutters have too much surface area. 

DOUBLE FLUSH CUTTERS -- to wide to fit rings 

MARTHA STEWART -- too much surface

ITALIAN CUTTERS -- slim, flat, & narrow -- perfect

My favorite cutters are Made in Italy. They are available at Amazon and as part of the Jewel School tool kit (on backorder, but can be requested by email -- see above for link). 

Hakko CHP-170 Micro Clean Cutter, 16 Gg Max Cutting Capacity -- available at  Amazon

Two more cool tools: Ring Openers & Tool Magic

Besides having great pliers on hand, you will want to have Tool Magic available for your chainmaille projects. Tool magic is a liquid rubber that one dips their pliers into to coat the metal. Coating pliers in Tool Magic prevents marring the rings and slipping pliers, also protecting our hands since slipping pliers can cause hand injury. It's best to apply a thin layer of Tool Magic, let dry for a few hours, and apply a second layer to dry overnight (at least 6 hours). When I'm working on a big project with AA rings or Artistic colored copper rings, I keep two sets of pliers dipped in Tool Magic. That way, as the rubber coating wears off I need only switch pliers and continue to chainmaille. 

 I also recommend a ring opener. Ring openers will come in handy when you are working on an intricate weave and need both hands to hold rings in place with your pliers. Worn on the top of the finger, it allows you to open the next jump ring without letting go of a weave. Although most of the time we prepare rings by opening and closing a certain number of rings for a pattern, some weaves will require opening rings as you maille. An inexpensive tool costing two dollars or less at most stores, I wouldn't be without mine. You'll find jump ring openers at Beadaholique, ArtBeads, and almost all jewelry online stores. You'll find Tool Magic at Fire Mountain Beads & Gems, BBB, & your local craft store (I buy mine at Joann's). 

Now, let's make chainmaille :) 
Let's create Loopy in Love Charms.

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