We have been using Beading wire for over 20 years now and have been selling it for over 12 years. In that time, we have learnt a thing or two and hope this article may help Jewellery Makers understand beading wire a bit more. A further article will explain more about the different types of Beading wire.
A word on Breaking Strain
Good quality Beading Wire has a published breaking strain. The amount depends upon two factors, it’s diameter and the number of strands. Greater strength is achieved by using more strands and/or larger diameter. The quoted breaking strain is then with beads ‘at rest’. However, if you have a long necklace which drapes nicely and maybe swings from side to side when moving, the force at the bottom or at the clasp end can exceed the breaking strain. So, as a rule of thumb, always buy the best wire you can afford (49 is the best, followed by 17, followed by 7) and with the largest diameter than will comfortably fit through the hole in your beads.
1. Beads are strung too tightly. People hate to see any exposed wire, so push the beads up has hard as they can before finishing the end. The result is a very stiff necklace that does not want to drape nicely and wants to stay rigid. When hanging, this results in the wire being stretched to the point of breakage - the beads have nowhere to move. Remember the breaking strain of the wire is at rest - but when you have a tightly strung piece, the length of the wire acts like a lever and the breaking point is easily exceeded. This normally happens at the end or middle of the wire. On inspection, you can normally see little creases at the edges of each bead.
So, how do we avoid this happening? The easiest way is to before crimping the end, lay out the necklace in the shape it will be worn - ie with the wire at its longest and most stretched - before crimping. Once crimped, if you then lift the necklace and let the beads fall to one end, you will have a small gap of wire at the top. If you know lift the loose end into the normal necklace shape, you will see the beads all move upwards filling the gap. If you hold your fingers against the beads before lifting, you will feel the force being exerted on your fingers. There is another way to overcome this situation if you really do want to hide all of the wire and that is to use 'Bead Bumpers'. These are very tiny doughnut shaped silicon rings. You thread these between each bead - they look a little like knots on a knotted pearl necklace. However, being silicon, they will compress, so you can fill your wire to the end, knowing that when hung, the necklace stretching will just compress the bead Bumpers.
2. Designs that have square edged beads next to each other! Put two such beads together on a necklace and they want to sit square, not follow the curve of the necklace. Consequently such designs will put a lot of strain on the wire – the beads are trying to leverage each other apart - eventually causing it to fail. To avoid this happening, simply make sure small beads are placed between the square edged beads in order to let the design hang better and take the pressure off the wire.
3. Over-Crimping. Many jewellers are nervous about crimping - to the extent that they apply too much pressure to the crimp, which has two negative effects. The first is that over-crimping will weaken the crimp itself – the more you squash it, the harder the metal becomes – in fact to the extent it becomes brittle and will crumble. The second is that you may squash the crimp too much such that the edges cut through or weaken the wire, leading to failure where the crimp is. The solution – make sure you use the right size of crimp to match your wire and that if using a crimp tool, it is the right size for the crimp.
4. Kinking. Where the beading wire has been bent. If Beading wire is kinked too much, the result is that the wires are case-hardened, become brittle and then snap. The fewer the strands of wire, the more likely this is to happen – think about trying to straighten a metal coat hanger – the more you try the more brittle it becomes until it breaks. Compare this to straightening a multi-strand electrical cable. For this reason, we never recommend using Tigertail (normally only three strands) - always use a minimum of 7 Strand beading wire and ideally for such designs, 49 strand which is very difficult to kink.