Handmade sterling silver beaded ear wires
I always make my own ear wires. I’m never happy with the style of ready made ones and if I make my own I can tweak each batch to suit different designs.
However, as is often the case when handcrafting, it’s fiddly and takes time, which when you run a business costs money, so efficiency is important.
Here I’ll show you how I make batches of my popular beaded ear wires and how I use jigs, tools, templates etc. to speed up making times, reduce stress and increase production.
(Before you start – A kind word about batch production… batch making is easiest if you approach it like a puzzle; How can I make these 100 ear wires as quickly and easily as possible while retaining the quality and integrity that I want? It’s a test of your ability and understanding. I have the disposition required to make 100’s of ear wires in a morning (when I’m in the right frame of mind) but the thought of it still makes my heart sink a little when I’m walking toward my workshop. However, once I get going it’s almost meditative. I don’t have to think, I just have to be aware. I repeat a making stage 100 times, then move onto the next. The repetition is a little hypnotic and batch making often proves to be a welcome break from the stresses and complications of designing or admin tasks. So please bear in mind that batch production won’t be for everyone. Do try it though. There are benefits beyond the time and money saved. But if it doesn’t work for you or it drives you a bit bonkers, don’t stress. Just buy ear wires. There are more important things in the world to worry about.)
- Set yourself up properly.
Have the tools and materials you need to hand. Get comfy and put the radio on…
2. Cut your wire to length.
You can order wire pre-cut, but this will cost you extra and will most likely still need finishing. Set yourself up with an adjustable square in a vice, in such a way that the distance between the end of the rule and the square is the length you want your wire to be. Set your square in a vice or third hand and simply offer up the wire to the edge of the square and snip at the end of the rule. Much easier than measuring out each length separately. Don’t have an adjustable rule? – simply hold a regular steel rule in a vice and butt the wire up to the edge of the vice instead.
3. Make the first bend.
This bend is in preparation for making a nice angle where the eyelet of the earring meets the main ear wire. Putting this bend in now before bending the eyelet makes it easier to make neat, consistently symmetrical eyelet shapes throughout the batch. Again, simply set your adjustable square or rule to the length you need and bend the end of the wire over to about 90°
4. Make the eyelet.
I use a pair of looping pliers for this job in order to get consistent results. Alternatively, you could use round nose pliers, (but it may be a bit of a faff if you need them all identical) or a very small mandrel. You shouldn’t need to do any extra snipping or wire cutting at this stage if you had your jig set to the right length in the previous stage – the end of the wire should curl round to perfectly meet itself at the first bend.
5. Bend number 2.
This bend is preparation for making the main hook shape. I leave space between the eyelet and this bend for a decorative glass bead and a silver holding bead. As an easy measure I simply use the width of a pair of flat nose pliers.
6. The round hook.
You have to decide what size (and shape) you want your ear hooks to be. For this particular type I use my looping pliers again, but think about how you could make other shapes using different jigs and formers.
7. Third and final bend.
I tend to make this next bend by eye. Angling the final part of the ear wire (the bit that goes through the ear) is not essential but it does make it a little easier to actually insert the earring.
8. Soldering the stopper bead.
To prevent the glass bead sliding off I solder a sterling silver bead to the ear wire above the eyelet. Because the wires and beads are fiddly I use solder paste for this job. A quick tip: use a toothpick or similar to first place a small blob of solder where you want the bead. Then, when you slide the bead onto the wire it ‘sticks’ right where you want it. Clean your ear wires after soldering in a pickle bath.
9. Trimming. At this stage no matter how careful I think I have been some of my ear wires usually are a little longer than I want, so I trim them to size with my snips. Again you could use your rule as a jig or even draw a template on scrap paper as a guide to help you stay consistent.
10.Finishing and deburring.
The end of the ear wire that’s going through a customers ear must be absolutely smooth and free of any burrs. You can either file the wire end to a rounded shape, or if you have a pendant or craft drill invest in a cup burr that will quickly do the job for you.
11. Work hardening and polishing
The penultimate step is to work harden and polish your ear wires. I place mine in a barrel polisher and forget about them for a few hours to make them shiny, shiny! Quick tip: fasten your ear wires together loosely with a length of wire before they go in the polisher to save having to fish them out of the soapy water one by one. You could of course hammer your ear wires and polish them by hand.
12. Finally, add the bead.
Because the ear wires are work hardened now they keep there shape while I undo the eyelet with pliers, add the beads and close them up. Add your pendant earring too. All done!
Batch production like this might drive you a bit bonkers, but wait until you’re in the right frame of mind and you can save yourself time, money and maybe a little sanity…? Enjoy!