I would like to make my own sterling silver headpins with a ball at
the ends. Would it be easier to melt the wire end into a ball or try
to solder on shot to each wire?
I need to do this with a pretty thin wire, 21 guage if I remember
right, so pearls will fit on them. I don’t need the balls to be
exactly round, but I would like to get a consistent look to the size
Any suggestions on how to proceed? And what steps I need to finish
them off in a tumbler (which I still need to buy).
I would definatly melt the end of the wire. You could mark the wire
at a certain length (say, 3mm), then melt up to that lenght to have
some uniformity to the ball size.
I have made balls on the ends of wire by melting. I use a small, hot
flame. My frustration has been cleaning off the firescale
afterwards, so I have started using fine silver.
In my opinion and from experience, it is easier to melt the ends of
the wire into balls vs. soldering round pieces of shot to them,
especially if you are using 21g wire.
I like to use a clean, charcoal block that is hard. I line the wires
up on it with the ends hanging slightly over the block, at equal
lengths. Then, using your torch, melt the ends until they touch the
block. There is a technique you will discover on how fast you need
to heat the wire ends so that they will roll into balls vs. melting
over at an angle.
Since you will be using sterling, experiment with some scrap pieces.
It should become a quick and easy task with a little practice. I
always make more of the head pins than I need because the set-up of
this project is more labor intensive than just melting the ends of
After all of the wires have been balled up, pick up the cool side of
your charcoal block and shake all of the wires into the pickle pot.
I hope this helps!
Studio C Designs
Mpls. MN USA
after you melt the balls slip one end through a draw plate and
lightly tamp the ball into true. if making a skrew head you could
use a cup burr to create a pattern and then take a jewelers saw and
cut a slot for the skrew driver. for melting I just use a hemostat to
hold the wire vertical and put the wire in the flame (reducing) till
it balls up, the wire is held above the flame.
When I make my head pins I use 22 ga silver and I usually hold the
wire (the end I am going to ball up) almost upside down, this way I
can easily see the size of the ball I am achieving. Hold your wire
with tweezers and torch the end you want to ball. I use the Bernz o
Matic butane torch and it works well for me. I will usually wash the
wire off with soap and water and then lightly sand with fine
sandpaper. I don’t think you really want to spend forever trying to
solder shot onto the ends of wire, (even if you can accomplish this
it will take you a great amount of time) nor do you want to put the
wire into the tumbler. If I am reading your post correctly you are
wanting to place a ball at each end of the wire. I don’t know that
you can ball the opposite end after placing pearls on the wire. I am
doubting pearls can take the heat without harming them. Could you
finish that end with a small loop instead? Maybe some of the more
experienced jewelers can help out here.
Hope this helps, Karen
I don't think you really want to spend forever trying to solder
shot onto the ends of wire, (even if you can accomplish this it
will take you a great amount of time) nor do you want to put the
wire into the tumbler.
I just wanted to note that I do think you will still want to tumble
the headpins if, like me, you have trouble working with dead soft
Courtney Graham Hipp
cgHipp Jewelry Designs
I make my own head pins in several gauges. Most pearls will fit on
22 ga wire, but the smaller ones may be limited to 24 ga wire.
Here’s my procedure.
Using sterling wire:
Cut the wire into the length you want. To determine that, you’ll
need to experiment by cutting several lengths, each one longer by 2
or 3 mm - record your lengths for future reference. Then dip the
length into boric acid and alcohol, burn off, and holding the wire
vertically in cross-lock tweezers, melt one end into the ball you
like. Repeat with each length. Drop into pickle and let them sit
for a minute. Remove from the pickle, rinse, and lay them down in
order of length - measure each one and match it to the record you
made earlier. Now you know how much length you lose when the ball
is formed. You can use these sample headpins to determine the best
length for your purpose, and cut as many as you think you’ll need.
I cut at least 100 at a time… mindless work … watch TV.
Now melt a ball on each length, following the procedure above. After
all have been pickled, rinsed, and dried, they can be tumbled. The
easiest (read laziest) way I’ve found is to use charged walnut
shell, DRY, in either a rotary or vibratory unit. It may take a
little longer (overnight), but the small pins are easily pulled out
of the dry media, there’s no clean-up, and they don’t work-harden
NOTE: if you want to use the Argentium silver wire, it melts
differently and the ball formed will drop off if it gets very large.
Regular sterling will melt and form a much larger ball before
gravity pulls it off.
I store the headpins in clear vials or translucent film canisters,
labelled by gauge. It’s nice to have an assortment of gauges and
lengths ready to use.
Hope this helps,
Judy in Kansas where the weather is acting very strangely - it
SNOWed on April 29 in some areas! Got to harvest asparagus daily
before it gets frost-nipped at night.
Wow, thanks Judy!!
Do you buy your sterling wire spooled?
I make some necklaces/bracelets that use between 75-100 headpins
each. Now that I’m getting set up in silversmithing, I wanted a way
to be able to make my own in quantity.
Talk about mindless work — I load up my head pins with pearls and
stones by the hundreds before I assemble the finished product.
Cutting wire should be a walk in the park
I make my own head pins also, usually using fine silver since the
balls seem to come out smoother. Basically use the same tweezer
method that many of you already do – but I have a tip on how to get
the ball size consistant. Take a small group of cut wires and make a
slight bend in them, use one bent one to line up the next group. I
do about 10-20 wires at a time this way depending on gage. Then
just melt the end until you are just to the bend and the ball is
straight on the wire.
Dawn in Texas
PS Has anyone been successful in making their own head pins from
Has anyone been successful in making their own head pins from gold
You can do it, but the ball will be a new alloy, not gold fill,
because you have melted it and mixed the metals.
Hello Dawn in Texas,
You asked “Has anyone been successful in making their own head pins
from gold fill?”
I’ve tried it. The ball forms, but because the brass core is exposed,
that end quickly “patinas.” The only thing that I found to cover that
nasty brass ball was to flux and melt extra easy gold solder on it -
not easy to do. The GF wire above the ball still looks bad, but it
should be covered by a bead. Of course the cut end of the GF wire
exposes the inner core, which ages to a green patina.
I’ve also soldered gold balls on the end of silver wire. It looks OK
if most of the silver is concealed by beads. This, too, means
several steps in construction, but eliminates the green.
A lot of time involved - time is money. I just ball the ends of 10K
wire for gold headpins. Quick to do and easy to tumble polish, and
much better quality with no green to show up later.
I’m curious to see what others have to say.
Judy in Kansas where the strawberries are putting on fruit. Mmmmm.
Fresh strawberries soon and it looks like there will be several
batches of jam to make.
I have made balls on the ends of wire by melting. I use a
small, hot flame. My frustration has been cleaning off the
firescale afterwards, so I have started using fine silver.
Do you burnish or tumble your wire to stiffen it up?
When I make my head pins I use 22 ga silver and I usually
hold the wire (the end I am going to ball up) almost upside down,
this way I can easily see the size of the ball I am achieving.
I just need a ball on one end of the head pin. I usually finish off
my head pins by coiling the ends instead of sniping them – less
waste and it creates a decorative element. I think I’d go nuts if I
had to ball both ends ;-D
Do you like to approach your wire from above the flame or below?
Thanks for your help,
Has anyone been successful in making their own head pins from gold
You can do it, but the ball will be a new alloy, not gold
fill, because you have melted it and mixed the metals.
When I needed 2 double-ended balled wires for a gold-filled piece, I
decided it was worth it to solder 14Kt balls to the ends of the
I pre-melted 14Kt easy solder on each end of the g/f wires and then
heated the 14Kt. ball to temperature before touching the wire tip to
it. This produced a wire with a continuous gold surface, including
the solder joint.
A lot of time involved - time is money. I just ball the ends of
10K wire for gold headpins. Quick to do and easy to tumble polish,
and much better quality with no green to show up later.
I think Judy’s hit the nail on the head!
For the time, hassle & unpredictable results, 10 k gold sounds like
the most reasonable way to go.
That way you don’t have to worry about the piece turning green for
the customer plus you’ve saved yourself a whole bunch of time. If
needed, any other gold in the piece could be gold filled.
Ugh…looks like making ball-end headpins from gold fill just
doesn’t work well. I roasted several pieces trying various things.
I’ll have to think of some other way to end the wire, or go for the
10K that Judy mentioned.
Dawn in Texas
You could also make simple paddle-ends by hammering one end flat.
or put a single loop into the end and hammer that just a bit, if the
wire is so fine that the paddle end might not hold up in use.