How to Use Chain to Make Jewelry
So you want to get started making jewelry using chain, but don't know where to start? Our guide will show you everything you need to know to use chain to make jewelry. You'll learn about the variety of chain styles, how to cut chain, and how to add a clasp to the end of your chain to make a bracelet or necklace. You can even use chain as an accent in earrings. Read on to learn everything you need to know to get started using chain in your jewelry making projects.
Ball Chain is named as such because the links are small balls clamped down over wire, equally spaced along the length of chain. Commonly used in dog tag style necklaces, Ball Chain is available in 'dot' and 'dot-dash' varieties. Think of it like Morse code, a dot ball chain is a series of balls on each length of chain, a dot dash ball chain alternates between a ball and an elongated link, that looks like a dash. Ball Chain uses a unique tube-shaped ball chain connectors to close the links together.
Cable chain is commonly constructed using oval-shaped links made of round wire. This style has a few variations such as Drawn Cable Chain where the links are elongated, or Flat Cable Chain where the links are made of flattened wire, as opposed to round wire. Cable Chain sets itself apart by its uniform appearance, all links are equal in size and shape. Cable Chain remains one of the most popular chain styles for its versatility and reliability. If you are making a simple pendant necklace, a cable chain is a great choice for its sturdiness and dependability.
Curb Chain is similar to Cable Chain in its contruction except that Curb chain is slightly twisted so that it lays flat. Think of curb chain as the style that looks like the curb on the side of the street in how it slopes downward.
Historically, curb chain is a very popular chain style and is available in a wide variety of metals from stainless steel to rose gold filled and gold plated.
Rolo Chain is also similar to Cable Chain in its construction but in this case, Rolo Chain is made with circular links, typically made of half-round wire, so the inside of the link is flat, and the outside is rounded.
This chain style has a few variations, some using long, drawn links that appear stretched, also some rolo chain uses wire with beveled edges to create flat edges instead of the curved surface of a typical rolo chain.
Figaro chain is made by linking one large link alongside three smaller links. It usually has a 'stretched' appearance with its links slightly twisted so it will lay flat when worn. Figaro chain is commonly made with flattened or rounded wire. Choose a flattened Figaro Chain for an elegant design.
Figaro Chain is not to be confused with a Figure 8 chain, which is made of of one large link and a smaller looped link that looks like an 8, Figure 8 chain is still made with one smaller link, as opposed to three smaller links in a Figaro Chain.
Beading chain is made with long, thin, rectangular links. It has a solid appearance that resembles wire or cord, rather than a chain, though we call it chain as it is still constructed using metal links. As its name implies, Beading Chain can easily be used in place of a stringing material to thread through beads. This chain remains flexible despite its solid metal appearance.
Because beading chain is made of solid links, we cannot finish it like other chains, so we need a special connector to add a clasp, but more on that at the end of this guide.
Chain Platings and Finishes
As you can see from the images above, chain is available in a variety of colors like gold, silver, antique and copper. Not all of these platings and finishes are created equal. We'll review these materials so you can have a better understanding of what is available.
- Sterling Silver
- Sterling Silver Chain is made of 92.5% silver. Often when you see a stamp of .925 on a piece of silver jewelry, this indicates it is Sterling Silver. The remaining 7.5% of the metal content is usually other metals that are mixed in to help strenghten the links. Sterling Silver is the 'de facto' standard in jewelry. Keep in mind that Sterling Silver does contain nickel so it is not recommended for people who have nickel allergies. Also, remember that Sterling Silver will tarnish and discolor if not properly stored and cared for. Fortunately, it is easy to care for Sterling Silver jewelry, just keep an Anti-Tarnish tab in a closed container when you store your jewelry. These tabs will absorb and neutralize the chemicals that cause tarnish.
- Surgical Stainless Steel
- As its name implies, Surgical Stainless Steel chain will never tarnish. Our chains are made from a high grade #316 or #430 Stainless Steel and meet the Mayo Clinic recommendations as well as the EU Nickel Directive. Unfortunately, there are no federal regulations in the United States regarding stainless steel, but we do our best to carry the best quality Stainless Steel Chain available. Chain made with Stainless Steel is considered hypo-allergenic and is safe for people who have nickel allergies. This metal is a great choice for jewelry making as it is safe for everyone and never tarnishes.
- Base Metal
- To understand what Base Metal is, we need to understand 'precious' metal. A precious metal is gold, silver or platnium. A base metal is any metal that is NOT a precious metal. This will include metals such as copper, brass, nickel and zinc. These metals are strong and durable and typically plated with another metal to add an attractive finish to the chain. Base Metal Chains are typically more economically priced than precious metal chains.
- Gold Filled
- A gold filled chain is made of base metal links with a layer of 12K or 14K Gold on top. As compared to a Gold Plated chain, a Gold Filled Chain will have a stonger, more durable layer of gold. Gold Filled Chain is available in the warm Yellow Gold color and in the luxurious Rose Gold color as well. A Gold Filled Chain will contain real gold, as will a Gold Plated Chain, the determining factor between the two is how thick the layer of gold on each link is, though we are talking about microscopically thin layers of gold.
- Sterling Silver Filled
- Much like Gold Filled, a Sterling Silver Filled Chain is made of base metal links with a layer of Sterling Silver over the top. Sterling Silver Filled is a great option if your budget is limited but you still want the bright, gleaming appearance of Sterling Silver.
- Chains that are marked as "Plated" like Gold Plated or Silver Plated are made of a Base Metal with a thin layer of gold or silver over the top of a Base Metal. This combines the strength and durability of a hard metal with the visual appeal of a more precious metal like gold or silver. Gold Plated and Silver Plated chains are plated in real gold and silver though there is less precious metal content in these chains than in the Filled variety.
One last topic we need to review is wire gauge. At its most basic, chain is loops of wire linked together. Wire is measured in term called gauge which is commonly abbreviated as 'ga'. When the wire thickness is written as 12ga, that means 12 gauge. Gauge is measured in slightly confusing way. The bigger the number, the thinner the wire. A 24 gauge wire is a thin wire, and a 12 gauge wire is a thick wire. Taking that measurement to chain, if the links are made with 12 gauge wire, you're going to have a thick "chunky" links, and the same chain style made with 24 gauge wire is going to have thin, delicate links. A 24 gauge chain is going to be lighter weight than a 12 gauge chain. Also, as a frame of reference, 24 gauge is equal to .5mm (milimeters) and 12 gauge is equal to 2mm, so a 12 gauge wire is not just twice as thick as 24 gauge, it's 4 times as thick!
Terms like "heavier" in regards to chain mean that the links are made of wire with a low number gauge. A "heavy weight" or "heavier" chain, would be made of 15 or 18 gauge wire and a lighter chain will be 24 or 32 gauge. Wire comes in gauges smaller (higher gauge number) than 24 but is not often used to make chain, as the links become too fragile and they will bend and lose their shape.
In short, high gauge number = thin wire, low gauge number = thick wire.
Which Chain should I use?
Now we know all the factors we can consider when choosing our chain. We know about the materials, the wire and the styles of chain which will help guide our decision in choosing a chain for our jewelry project.
With al these factors being considered, we have a few rules of thumb when choosing chain.
- Consider how much weight needs to be supported. If you are hanging a small pendant, a lighter weight chain should be sufficicient. Lighter weight meaning a higher gauge chain. If you are attaching multiple charms, a heavier weight chain may be needed, something made with thicker links, or lower gauge wire.
- Also, consider the application. Bracelets may need to be made with stronger, thicker links, a heavier gauge wire, as they will come into contact with a wider variety of surfaces throughout the day. Think about your wrist resting on a counter top or your hand reaching out for a door knob. A heaver weight chain is less likely to snag, catch, or break during common, every day use.
- A necklace which lays against the body has much more support and can be made with a delicate, thinner chain. It can be more ornate in its design and is less likely to catch or snag during the day.
- Consider the style of the person for whom the jewelry is intended. Jewelry for a man will typically use larger links that appear more masculine. Also, styles that have beveled edges or flat links with hard edges are considered more masculine.
- Consider color theory when choosing your chain as well. Basic lessons like wearing a light colored chain against darker colored clothing. Silver jewelry will work best in dark colored evening wear situations. Colors like Antique Brass or Antique Copper are ideal for rustic or vintage jewelry designs. These warmer colors such as red, yellow and brown are the same colors we associate with late summer into Fall. These concepts are important to consider when planning out what jewelry you want to create.
There are no hard and fast rules for choosing chain, we encourage you to experiment with different chain and wear different styles. Browse some of our DIY Project Ideas for inspiration and see what chain styles are used.
Cutting your Chain to Length
Once you've selected your chain, you get to start the actual work, the fun part, getting down to the nitty-gritty, you get to start making your jewelry. It is likely that your length of chain is longer than what you need for your project. Common lengths for necklaces are 16" for something that sits just below the neck to 22" that will rest at your ribs. You can take a piece of spare cord and measure around your own neck to determine the length you need.
In order to cut chain to the proper length, we recommend using a sturdy pair of Side Cutters to snip one link in the chain. Our trusted Heavy Duty Side Cutters are a great starter pair of pliers for cutting metal. Your side cutters should provide a flush or semi-flush cutting edge to ensure a smooth cut in your link, as this makes it easier to join the link together in the future.
Measure your length of chain against a yardstick and snip the link closest to your desired length. Remember to point your Side Cutters away from your body, and watch out for flying links! Once you have cut your chain to the desired length you can start decorating.
Using a Bail
To attach a pendant to a chain, you will need a bail. For Swarovski Crystal pendants, an Ice Pick Bail will be the quickest and easiest way to attach it to a chain. Each one of these bails have two prongs on the inside, and you simply line up the prongs to the hole in your pendant and squeeze it closed. Even though Bails are made of metal, they will be soft enough to easily squeeze closed.
In the images below, we attach our Sterling Silver Ice Pick Bail to a Swarovski Crystal Silver Night Pear Shape Pendant and thread this pendant on a Sterling Silver Figure 8 Chain
Many of our other pendants work the same way and you can use an Ice Pick Bail or a Snap On Bail to create a loop that will accommodate your chain. Snap On Bails tend to be a simpler design and may provide a more elegant look, while an Ice Pick Bail can be more decorative.
Using a Jump Ring
Another way to attach your pendant to chain is with a jump ring, which is just a simple wire loop that is cut in the middle. In fact, jump rings are made just like chain, except jump rings are commonly made using round wire. If you were so inclined you could make your own chain by linking multiple jump rings together, but that is a very time consuming process, when you could just buy pre-made chain in bulk. Jump rings are made in a variety of materials and finishes just like chain, so you will want to buy jump rings that match your chain. If your chain is Gold Filled, then you will want to use Gold Filled Jump Rings. Antique Silver Chain should use Antique Silver Jump Rings, so on and so forth.
To open a jump ring, hold one side of the ring, and twist the other end away from you. Don't pull the ends away from each other. This puts stress on the bottom of the ring and may weaken it, causing it to break. You can use our Jump Ring Opener to assist in opening various sizes of jump rings. It is best to use Nylon Jaw Pliers to open the ring, the softer material on the jaws won't scratch or damage the ring when holding it. Once your jump ring is open, slide the ring through the loop in your pendant or charm. If your links are large, you may choose to close the ring through one of the links in your chain. To close the jump ring, reverse the process you used earlier to twist the ring back in place. Make sure the ends of the ring line up when closed to avoid any sharp edges or having it catch or snag.
Finishing your Chain
You've decorated your chain and added all the findings you like, and now you have unfinished ends of your chain. How do you connect the two pieces and turn it into something you can wear? Well, you need a clasp, and you need a way to connect the clasp to the ends of your chain. Fortunately, we already know a method of connecting findings to chain. We'll use our trusty jump rings. Many of our jump rings come in multi-packs so you should still have a few jump rings handy.
Using a Clasp
We need to pick out a clasp. Choosing a clasp comes down to personal preference, though some clasps have advantages over others.
Lobster Claps are the quickest, easiest way to secure a chain. A lobster clasp has a trigger on the side that opens the 'claw' and you can hook this claw on the end of your chain. The claw will only open again when you press the trigger. This method requires only one jump ring to attach the clasp.
Toggle Clasps are a two part clasp that require a jump ring to attach each component. Each toggle clasp has one bar and one loop, which use gravity to hold. Place the bar in the loop and let it sit around your neck. The weight of the hanging chain will keep the clasp closed.
A spring ring clasp is a typically used as a very subtle way to finish a necklace or bracelet. Spring Ring clasps are like if a jump ring had the functionality of a lobster clasp. As its name implies a spring ring is a ring shaped clasp that has a trigger that you pull to open a section of the ring allowing you to slide the end of your chain inside the open loop. Spring ring clasps tend to be small and the trigger can be even smaller in comparison to the ring so it can be challenging to get the mechanism to function. However the small profile of the spring ring clasp has its benefits as it can be disguised as part of the chain.
Other clasps that can be used are a Barrel Clasp, also called a Torpedo Clasp, which are small tube shaped clasps which unscrew into two pieces. Like a spring ring clasp, these Barrel Clasps have a low profile and can be used subtly in your design. Also a Hook and Eye clasp works similiarly to a Toggle Clasp but instead of a bar and loop set, it is a hook and loop set.
Attaching a Clasp
Once we've decided on a clasp to finish our chain, we will need to attach it using a jump ring. Remembering our lessons before in how to use a jump ring, we will twist the ring open, not pull the ends away from each other. With the opened ring we slide it through the loop in our clasp, and through the last link in our chain and twist the jump ring closed. If you are using a two part clasp like a toggle clasp or hook and eye clasp, you need to use a second jump ring to attach the second clasp part and close it around the other end of your chain.
One small wrinkle in our plan, if you are using Beading Chain in your design. As you may have noticed, there are no open links in a beading chain, so how do you add a clasp? There's a finding for that. Use our Crimp Tube End to close over the end of your beading chain. This chain end includes a loop so you can attach a clasp to the beading chain.
That's it, we're done!
Now you can wear your fancy new jewelry that you made all by yourself. Impress your friends and family with your new creation. The opportunities are endless. Now you can make hand-made gifts, maybe even start your own jewelry making business. Keep at it and keep practicing. Keep creating and have fun.
For more of the best jewelry making supplies at the best prices, visit JewelrySupply.com. We offer quantity discounts on all bulk chain. The more you buy, the more you save. Chain is not perishable and won't spoil, so you can never have too much. Shop our Bulk Chain selection and get started making your own jewelry today!
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