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There’s something oddly amazing and empowering about knowing how to build or create something—anything, really. For that reason, I’m excited to be teaching some jewelry making techniques and, later, some “recipes” for various kinds of jewelry. This is the first in a meandering series of instructional posts on making handmade jewelry. Of all the techniques you need to know how to do to make handmade wire jewelry, eye pins are fairly foundational. Closed loops connect everything, so other wrapping techniques simply build on that knowledge. There are also a few different ways that you can learn to make an eye pin! Let’s get started!
Making an Eye Pin — the Manual Way
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Nylon Jaw Pliers — I still have this one; I got it at Hobby Lobby years ago. I’ll eventually upgrade to something else once the nylon part gets too worn down.
- Wire Cutter — I use and really, really like this pair by Xuron. I started with an economy pair but quickly upgrade when the blades warped.
- Chain-nose Pliers — I have a few random economy-priced ones, which have been alright, but I plan on upgrading to this one, this one, and this one.
- Round-nose Pliers — I wholeheartedly recommend this pair that I use by Lindstrom, but start with what you can afford.
- Flat-nose Pliers — Mine is an economy one, but I want to upgrade to this one soon.
- 20-gauge half-hard Craft Wire — Something inexpensive like this to practice on
Regarding tools, get what you can afford. You can always upgrade later as you’re able. It’s perfectly fine to use the economy ones from the crafts section of whatever store you go to, but there’s a “however” to that. Professional tools last longer. They don’t warp or bend or need to be replaced as often, and because they’re made better, they’re easier to work with because the “nose” ends “meet” where they are supposed to meet. When you’re able to upgrade, start by getting a really good round-nose pliers, then a wire cutter that cuts flush ends really well, then get a really good chain-nose pliers, and so on. Some can get by without a flat-nose pliers by instead using a second chain-nose pliers, but I like to have it as an option if I need a tool in each hand or to straighten an eye pin flat, for instance. You’ll want back-ups for your tools, which is a perfect use for the tools you start out with after you’ve upgraded. Additionally, don’t use your tools for types and gauges of wire that exceed their maximum use, and don’t use your good pliers on really hard or really thick gauges of wire. Same for your cutters. You should have some tools reserved for specific uses like precious metals vs. metal wire thats really difficult to work with like stainless steel.
STEP 1: To start, use your nylon jaw pliers (aka: wire-straightener) to straighten the wire. This action has the additional effect of lightly work-hardening the wire (the process of the compressing the wire molecules closer together, causing the wire to be denser). That’s a good thing, but don’t over-straighten the wire because work-hardening the wire too much will actually weaken the wire. (Think of a bread twist-tie that gets twisted too many times and finally breaks apart; it’s because the molecules got compressed too much.)
STEP 2: Cut your wire into the length you need. As you’re setting up the cut, be mindful of the side your cutters are because every cut results in two sides—the pinched side and the flat side. I like having the resulting flat side of the cut wire be the side that forms the loop. On pieces that could catch on clothing or hair, it can sometimes be a good idea sometimes to go as far as filing the cut end so there’s even less chance to snag. It’s personal preference; it might or might not make a difference depending on the application. Most commercially available eye pins come in 1.5 or 2 inch lengths. (I don’t typically buy eye pins just for knowing that no matter how many years I’ve been doing this, I would be beating myself up to assume the loop I made will look identical to the pre-made loop on the other side of the finished bead link. That’s me though.) Your best cut length depends largely on the size and number of beads that will be on the finished piece. With experience will come being able to estimate what length you really need to avoid wasting wire. A basic gauge and hardness for making eye pins is 20-gauge, half-hard wire because it’s thick enough and hard enough to hold its shape while still being workable. For purposes of practicing, choose a basic craft wire that you can use without being concerned with wasting it. Cut a bunch of pieces roughly the same size to practice on.
STEP 3: Using a chain-nose or flat-nose pliers, make the bend for the wire. The length of wire after the bend is the amount of wire you’re giving yourself to make the loop. Three-eighths of an inch is a good give-or-take length to bend the short end of the wire. Where you place the barrel of the round-nose pliers will determine the diameter of the loop. That part can take some practice. For some jewelry you might want to use smaller or larger loops. A lot of this is personal preference, so don’t get hung up on that; just practice technique at this point.
STEP 4: After trying on my own to master this technique back when I was new to wire-working, I was fortunate to find a class to take. The instructor suggested to turn the round-nose pliers like turning a key in an ignition, and I got it finally because it made sense now. Call it muscle-memory; call it what you will. Turning a key just registers better than “make this precise loop.” After gripping the short wire end with your round-nose pliers, turn your hand and wrist into the bent side so the end of the wire touches the pre-bent shape of the wire. You might do this step in one movement or by “walking” the round-nose pliers down the short end of the bent wire.
STEP 5: At this point, don’t expect your loop to be perfectly round and ready to use. It might need to be touched up to get there, and that’s okay! Using your round-nose pliers, do any adjusting that you need to do to get a nice, round shape. Then, using your chain-nose pliers or flat-nose pliers, rock the end of the short part of the wire a little so it can meet the other side. Then, lightly clamp the eye with your pliers to flatten your loop so the entire eye pin could lay flat on a table. A good way to remember how this should look is the think of the closed loop like a head, the point under the loop as a neck, and your goal is to make sure the eye pin has good “posture.” That good “posture” enables the eye pin to hold beads well and to connect well with other looped wire. If an eye pin had poor “posture,” beads could start to slide down into the eye of the eye pin or the loops could let go of each other if pressure pulled them apart.
* When I make a manual eye pin, I use the steps laid out above. That’s one part for being introduced to that way first, and another because, for me, I think I’m able to create slightly better eye pins using that version of the manual way. Next, I’ll describe an alternate way to manually create an eye pin.
Making an Eye Pin — Manual Variation
Some jewelry makers do the loop step before the bend, and then make the bend after the loop is made and meets the other side of the wire. With that version, you start out with a straight piece of wire, then create a “P” when you make the loop. After that point, you snap the “head” backward (aka “break the neck”) to fix the “posture.” When doing this, you have to be diligent in making sure the eye pin has good “posture” since the wire won’t have gotten the same 90 degree bend to start with that the other way allows; however, this is still a totally valid way of making an eye pin. In fact, if you like that process, you can forgo using the separate chain-nose pliers + round-nose pliers action and skip straight toward using a looping plier like this one. (See more in this video.) This process looks a little like this next way of making an eye pin.
Making an Eye Pin — Using a 1-Step Looper Tool
Those were the first couple options in making an eye pin. Here is the short-cut. Using this thing is easy, but calling it a single-step tool seems a bit of a misnomer because you do need to interact with it to use it well.
Looper Tool STEP 1: Using a 1-Step Looper tool (this is the one I have), thread your cut wire piece (the cut wire piece like step 2 from the manual instruction steps) through to the hole in the looper tool. It doesn’t need to go all the way through, but it can if you’re using a long piece. No need to waste wire if you’re not already using a long piece of wire; this step is in part for leverage. You could simply let it poke out just past the cutting mechanism; it depends what works for you.
Looper Tool STEP 2: Squeeze the spring-loaded handle to make the mechanism form a loop.
Looper Tool STEP 3: Once the loop has been made, use your other hand to gently pull back the long end of the wire so that your loop gets a “neck.” (See manual instructions for that analogy.)
Looper Tool STEP 4: Release the formed wire piece. Now, go back and touch it up like you’d do in step 5 of the manual eye pin technique.
The “plus” to this version is that your eye pins will always have nearly identical loop diameters. The looper tool can be a real time saver. The drawback (if it’s a drawback) is that the “eyes” (or “heads” if you’re using the analogy from the previous instruction set) aren’t as round which can sometimes require more touching up than doing the first manual method. It can also potentially limit the range of motion the links have, which isn’t necessarily good or bad, but there’s sometimes less “swing” for dangle earrings. Additionally, your options for loop sizes are restricted to sizes made by the standard 1.5mm looper tool and the “big” 3mm looper tool. If your manual skills are already really solid without the aid of a fancy gadget, maybe you’ll prefer the manual methods. It’s personal preference. I use and really like making eye pins manually as well as with the looper tool; it depends the design and the beads I’m using that causes me to use one over the other. Both versions have their place in different applications using different kinds of wire and beads. Which ever way you decide to use, the best loops you’ll get are the ones you get when you’re practicing and getting better with experience and continued use.
Doing the other side of the beaded eye pin is the same process with a caveat. Check back for a tutorial on how to complete your beaded link as well as a jewelry “recipe” for practicing making loops.