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Is it possible to make my own chain?


#1

Somebody is requesting a custom bracelet from me and it involves
sections of sterling silver chain. I do not have money to buy chain
for this, but I do have some jump rings and wire on hand. Is it
possible to make my own chain? If so, then how?

Liz


#2
I do not have money to buy chain for this, 

Your are in a situation jewelers face everyday, that is why I get a
large deposit that covers the cost of materials. Luckily I have 30
day accounts with most all of my vendors so I have some time to get
the piece done. If you have to buy a full bracelet just to get 3" of
chain you should charge the customer for the whole chain. The subject
of down payments has come up several times and this is a good
example, don’t start any job or order parts without money in your
pocket.

Bill Wismar
www.metalbendersgallery.com


#3

Of course it’s perfectly possible. I find making my own chain quite
therapeutic at times if its an interesting design and much of my
jewellery consists of bracelets which are a combination of cast or
fabricated objects linked together - that is a chain. However I
would not bother making the sort of even machine made chain that I
can buy by the metre at a jewellery supplier. It hardly costs much
more that the weight of silver wire in it and I can’t achieve that
level of fineness and repetition. Nor would I wish to. It is not a
productive way to us my time. I would rather water the garden or sit
down in good company with a nice bottle of red. A bracelet with
fancy links and jump rings is another matter entirely.


#4

Liz,

It is possible to make almost any thing. A good mental picture and
just do it. Keep fingers away from hot stuff and flames.

Same as hair washing, rinse lather and repeat until done. No magic,
just be damned stubborn.

jeffD
Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing
http://www.gmavt.net/~jdemand


#5

Yes, its quite easy, if a little fiddly. Here is a PDF of a tutorial
I made some time ago

Gary


#6
Is it possible to make my own chain? If so, then how? 

Yes it’s entirely possible to do and the results can be very good
even the first time you try it. From the question you ask, I’m
assuming you’re a beginner, and so I’ll also assume that your tools
inventory is limited and that you haven’t got a jump ring making
system, or else you’d know how to make them.

Basically, you’ve got to use your sterling wire to make a coil as
even as possible, and then cut the coil into rings. When I’m only
making a few rings, I simply use my needle nosed pliers as the
mandrel for making the coils. Draw a line with permanent marker on
one of the jaws, to correspond to the size of ring you want. Grab the
wire with the pliers at that point, and bend round to form the first
coil. Make sure that leading end is towards the ends of the plier
jaws and the majority of the wire at the handle side, so that the
formed coil can travel that way and the newest ring is always at the
place marked by the marker pen. If you get that the wrong way round,
because the jaws taper, there’s nowhere for the coil to go because
the jaw is too fat for the coil beyond the marker pen, and your coil
will end up tapering smaller than you want.

When you’ve got enough turns on the coil, you need to carefully cut
it into rings. Apparently Joyce Chen snips are brilliant for this,
but others use either the jeweller’s saw or double flush cutting
pliers, or even a cut off disc in a flex shaft machine. Be very
careful when cutting with saw or cut off disc. When opening/closing
the rings, make sure you keep the circle intact, by opening/closing
the ends in the plane which is perpendicular to the ring, otherwise
the ring is distorted.

When making the chain, you solder closed half of the rings, then
join them with the open rings, also soldering them closed.
Personally, what I find helpful (and what has stopped me having the
annoying things of the solder running where you don’t want it, and
soldering the links to each other so that the chain doesn’t move
properly), is to hold the two links either side of the one being
joined, with your soldering cross-lock tweezers, in such a way that
the link to be soldered is free to move, just sat upon the tweezers’
jaws. If it’s held too tightly, it can take forever to get enough
heat into it to melt your solder. The tweezers protect the other
links, acting as a heat sink, and the movement of the link being
soldered means that you can heat the link quickly, melting the solder
nice and neatly and without problems with oxidation.

If you have any questions email offline and I’ll be happy to answer.

Sometimes I make my own chain, and sometimes I buy chain which is
finer than I could make myself, but like someone else said, make
sure you’ve had a good enough deposit to enable you to buy ALL
materials you’ll need. You shouldn’t be out of pocket. I ask for half
as deposit to buy materials, then half before despatch of the
finished item.

Helen Hill
UK


#7

In theory, making your own chain is easy - make or buy some jump
rings of the right sort, and then link them together. I can do this
quite easily, because I access to a laser welder, so I can give each
join a pulse on the inside of the link. If not, then you would have
to solder each link, which can be problematic, depending on how good
you are at soldering.

If you don’t solder the jump rings, the chain isn’t very secure, and
I personally would feel bad selling someone a chain like that. Over
2mm diameter for the wire, and they are pretty strong on their own,
but I still feel like they should be soldered.

In some cases, you might feel it isn’t necessary - so long as a
casual tug won’t break the chain, the customer might actually thank
you one day, if they get the chain caught in a machine, and the
links give before their flesh does.

Jamie
http://primitive.ganoksin.com


#8
It hardly costs much more that the weight of silver wire in it and
I can't achieve that level of fineness and repetition. Nor would I
wish to. 

I have a job right now to extend a certain chain by 1.5 inches. A
rough count when I took it in was 40+ jump rings - ovals and all
soldered, of course. I call such jobs “knitting” - dozens if not
hundreds if not thousands of the same task, over and over again.
Granulation comes under that, for me, and there are others. “pick up
the ball, place the ball, pick up the ball…” Some people
thrive on that sort of work, but I’m not one of them… Making a
custom chain is one thing - spending twleve hours to make a $10
chain is quite another.


#9

I know you’ll get much better answers than mine, but I just made my
first chain and I’m now an expert on this subject. Just kidding.

The chain I made has three sizes of jump rings - about 22mm, 16mm
and 7mm. I made the jump rings from different gauges of sterling
wire by wrapping them around various dowels and sawing through them.
Once they were ready to be soldered, I kind of squished the ends
together (technical term) first to the front and then to the back so
the ends would “jump” together and meet.

I placed them on a fireproof porous brick (sorry, don’t know the
technical term) in a row, fluxed and line-fed soft solder to the
junction of each closed ring, soldering them one after another. That
was for the closed jump rings - I still had to join them with open
jump rings to attach one to the next.

I used a third hand to hold each jump ring in place, fluxed and
soldered each of them individually. Voila! One ring led to another
and another and another and I had a chain.

Mara Nesbitt-Aldrich


#10

Hi Liz,

Making flat link chain relatively easy, curb type chain is best left
to machine made. In my past I used to make many sizes and lengths of
chains, mainly for use on regalia. Here is the method of making a
length of chain. If you have to make a specific size of link, first
prepare a rod (spit) to wind the links around, if making oval links
I use a four inch length of brass rod and file the oval shape evenly
on the rod, then I polish the brass rod. After annealing the silver
chain wire I wrap a layer of damp paper around the brass spit as a
barrier between the wire and brass rod.Then I grip the end of the
silver chain wire to the brass spit in a bench vise or I use a hand
vise. Then I twist the wire around the spit, keeping the wire lengh
tight, making a tight spring like length of coiled wire. To remove
the length of oval rings from the spit I heat the whole item, this
burns off the paper between the spit and the wire, making the length
of links slip off the spit easily. I then use a piercing saw frame
to cut each link off the length of coiled links. To make the chain,
first close fifty percent of the links and solder the pierced cuts of
each individual link and file of any excess solders if necessary,
then use a cut link and join the soldered links in lengths of three
links, then solder the middle cut link. You now have lengths of three
link chain with every link soldered, use another cut link and join
these into seven link lengths and solder as before. Follow this
method until you reach the chain length required. As an apprentice
back in the 1960s I can remember making chains for The UK Houses of
Parliament Doorkeeper’s Regalia, these chains were made of of 10mm.
x 6mm oval links, each link made from 1.5mm. diameter silver wire and
each chain was made to be 50 inches long.

Peace and good health to all
James Miller FIPG


#11
if making oval links I use a four inch length of brass rod and file
the oval shape evenly on the rod, then I polish the brass rod. 

I found that soldering two round brass rods together will make a
mandrel for oval jump rings that works fine for what I need.

Richard Hart G.G.
Denver, Co.


#12

Since joining the Orchid community I have been very impressed by the
amount of knowledge shared through, not only the forum, but the
instructional videos as well. Giacomo posted a great video on how to
make a gold chain for a watch fob. Thusly inspired I made my own
video, as a challenge and posted it on a blog. It deals with
precisely your question.

Here is the link http://johnno51.blogspot.com/ which if you can
forgive the woeful video technique, may help with making a silver
chain. Part one deals with making the jump rings, as you already
have some, you could skip that part. Anyway for what its worth, I
hope it helps.

John Bowling


#13

I learned a wonderful trick to making chains from Seng Au. After
shaping and cutting the links, he’d place 1’/2 of them seam side
upright in a charcoal block with a bunch of slits cut into it and
solder them all at once with home made paste solder.

Saves so much time.

Seng was a wonderful guy to work with and made beautiful chains. He
learned how in the camps of Thailand. Those guys could make
incredible stuff with just a couple of pairs of pliers, a charcoal
block, and a can of gasoline.

No vices. They’d place the draw plate between two chairs, stand over
it, bend over and pull.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer
www.timothywgreen.com


#14

Hello Liz,

I don’t think anyone has suggested using Argentium (AS) wire and
fusing the links to make your chain. If you are going to order wire
for this project, try the AS. It’s slightly more pricey, but WELL
worth the benefits of no firescale and easy fusing. As with
soldering, the joint should be tight so that when the temperature of
the metal is right, the ends will melt together. Another nice
feature of AS is that you direct your flame on the joint - there is
no need to heat the entire link up to temperature.

I would mention that I always leave one unsoldered link in a chain.
Should the chain catch on something, that “weak” link will open,
saving the rest of the chain and possible the wearer’s neck! Much
easier to replace one link than reshape and repair several.

Just a thought from,

Judy in Kansas, where it’s another hot, muggy day. If it doesn’t
rain, the wheat will be dry enough to harvest.


#15

Thanks Gary, that pdf looks fairly staright forward.

The person ineterested in the bracelet actually wants what I’ve been
doing already, wire wrapped bead links joined by a jump ring. The way
she described what she wanted, it sounds like bead links spaced out
by chain, but a phone conversation straightened everything out.

Now I just need to locate my jump rings. I only have soft wire, I
sincerely doubt that would make for good jump rings.

Liz


#16

if making oval links I use a four inch length of brass rod and file
the oval shape evenly on the rod, then I polish the brass rod No
need to file if you use a wrap of thin paper (we use the paper from
roll-your-own, which comes in bigger sizes: those for funny
cigarets:)). Enneal the rod and the paper burns off - giving it the
space to slide the oval coil of the rod.

Peter frm NZ


#17

Making a chain, IMHO, is a good challenge and an excellent way to
develop one’s skills. I will try to post my first hand-hammered
copper chain and my last argentium link in link chain. The copper
chain set me on the path to a new level… pretty sweet. No
shameless attempt at self promotion, but e-mail me off-line and I’ll
send you a photo essay on my simple process for a link in link chain.


#18
the oval shape evenly on the rod, then I polish the brass rod. 

I found that soldering two round brass rods together will make a
mandrel for oval jump rings that works fine for what I need.

Richard is, of course, correct. I mentioned a length of oval chain I
needed to make, which is now done. I didn’t even solder, I just bent
a length of welding rod in two, and clamped the free ends in a vise.
Just exactly the right size, too, and relatively few links needed.

James (the first quote, above) will speak for himself, if he wishes.
I think his use of a solid, shaped rod is probably better in a few
cases, though. Using double rods limits you to the proportion of
those two rods put together - shaping a brass rod allows you any
proportion you like. Plus his example is of a 50 inch chain - 1 1/2
meters or something. That’s alot of links, plus it’s fine work, too.
No room for error, and it’s not just one chain, I assume. Worth the
effort of making a proper template, in those cases. I usually use two
rods put together, like Richard, but I also avoid making chains at
all, if I can. Not my cup of tea, as it were…


#19
Making a custom chain is one thing - spending twleve hours to make
a $10 chain is quite another. 

When making a custom pendant for a client, they often plan to use
their own chain. However, I don’t like the presentation that a
"naked pendant" makes. But if I put the pendant on a chain, I’m
essentially giving away the chain, so it must be inexpensive. I
dislike gold plated or silver plated chains because they cheapen the
custom pendant (which not a plated product.) Instead, I use black
rubber cord, 2-2.5mm, wrap the ends with sterling wire to form a loop
on each end and add a sterling clasp ($2-3 material cost and 5
minutes labor). The black cord looks nice contrasting with the
sterling or gold pendant. Some clients continue to use the rubber
cord, but most switch to their own chains. At least the rubber cord
isn’t trying to be something that it’s not, unlike the plated chains.
Just an idea.

Jamie


#20

To John Bowling: Thanks for your video, which is a good job of
showing the basic chainmaking steps. From viewing it I think I can
do it! I hope you do more instructional videos, and I will be
following your blog to see them as they appear.

John
Indiana