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Student with questions

I have seen/read several references to Heishi, but haven’t been
able to determine exactly what it is. Could someone please
enlighten me?

I am also in the process of making a simple loop in loop chain
in sterling. I have made the jump rings from soft 18 ga.
sterling wire and soldered them individually. Do I need to
anneal them again to make them soft enough to shape and link
together… then do I harden the links finally by burnishing
them in a tumbler? I can’t tell when I’m
heating/annealing/soldering if it’s going to make the metal
harder or softer yet.

Thanks for all the great too I’ve been learning so
much from this list.


Lynne, Couple of things. I just completed 3 Idiot’s Delight
Bracelets in 16Ga fine silver. It was very necessary to anneal
prior to winding for links. I then completed, laboriously I might
add, the actual linking and clasp. I then put the entire bracelet
in a vibrating tumbler with stainless steel shot. This deburred,
hardened, and brought to a fine shine. That was all that was
necessary. They looked great. I don’t think you need to do
anything more until completing the linking.

Next, Heishi originally was the rather small diameter very
finely cut shell used in American Indian Necklaces. It later
translated into most tiny, round beads, flat on each side similar
to records in shape. Records, the old vinyl ones were used in
Africa to create heishi beads. these were very popular during the
flower child era.You can find some of these in thrift shops. I
own a seven strand natural turquoise Santo Domingo Heishi. It is
gorgeous. Teresa

Lynne: The heat generated when you solder would soften the
silver enough for you to shape the links. If you reanneal, you
run the risk of opening the soldered joint.Even 18 gauge should
be malleable enough to work into a loop- in-loop chain without
further heat.Make sure those links are well soldered so they
don’t come apart if you want to harden the chain in a tumbler.

Hi Lynne, Heishi is typically made from shell, but can also be
found in synthetic stone and occasionally (and expensive)
genuine stone. They are generally flat, round disks, about 4-5mm
in diameter, with a hole drilled in the center for stinging.
Sometimes they aren’t as much flat as they are cylindrical.
Depending on the thickness of the heishi, it may take a couple
dozen individual pieces to string an inch. To get an idea of the
concept, think of the puka shell necklaces that were a fad in
the 70’s, although puka tend to be larger, and dish-shaped
rather than flat. I believe a string of native American wampum
(pre-colonial currency) is a similar concept. Different kinds of
shells yield different colors: dark brown, tan, beige, white,
pink, lavender, etc.

I’ll let someone else handle the chain making question. The only
thing I’ll add is that I usually consider something annealed
after soldering, although the soldering temperature may be a
little high for ideal annealing, and the whole link may not be
annealed if you use a “hit-and-run” soldering technique.

Best wishes,

Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio
Charlotte, NC (USA)

Hi Lynne,

It’s not necessary to anneal the links after they’re soldered.
The soldering process leaves them in an annealed state.

When forming the round links into oblong links, position the
joint so it will be at the center on one side or the other. This
will hide the joint in the center of the chain & make repairing
links that may break during the drawing process easier.

The act of forming the round links into oblong links, assembling
them into a chain & then sizing the finished chain work hardens
the links to some extent. Final polishing in a shot filled tumbler
for 1/2 - 1 hour will leave the chain in a hard enough condition.

After the chain is assembled, it won’t a uniform diameter from
one end to the other. To make the diameter uniform from end to
end, the chain is usually drawn through a chain draw plate. Chain
draw plates are usually made from a hard, close grained wood or a
hard tough plastic. Chain draw plates can be made by drilling a
series of holes in a suitable block of wood or plastic. The wood
or plastic should be about 1/2" thick. The holes should decrease
in size from the largest to the smallest. Space the holes about
1/4" apart to prevent the plate from breaking when the chain is
pulled through it. The entry side of the hole is tapered a little
to facilitate chain entry.

The chain should be drawn before putting any clasps or other
fittings on; these generally won’t go through the holes in the
draw plate. If there are large variations (over 30%) in the
chain’s diameter, the larger diameters are sometimes reduced by
laying the chain on a sturdy surface and pounding the larger
diameters with a leather or plastic mallet.

Before drawing the chain, attach a pigtail to the end that will
be pulled through the draw plate 1st. The chain should be drawn
with the grain. That is, with the bottom of the link going through
the draw plate 1st. This is usually the end the chain was
assembled from. For additional strength, put the pigtail through
both sets (or all sets if it has more than 2) of links in the
chain. The pigtail will be used to pull the chain through the draw

When drawing a chain, lubricate it prior to drawing. Put a
quantity of ordinary liquid dishwashing detergent in the palm of
the hand & pull the chain through it. The detergent can easily be
washed of after the drawing & flexing operations are complete.

After the chain has been drawn, it will be somewhat stiff. To
make the chain more flexible again, it can be pulled, shoeshine
fashion, over a round dowel (about 3/4" in diameter) or metal
shaft. It’s a good idea to pull the chain over the dowel with at
least 4 different sides of the chain in contact with the dowel.
Each side should be 90 degrees from the other. This restores the
movement in the chain in all directions.

When starting the flexing operation, the chain may be too stiff
to allow it to be flexed sharply over the dowel. If this is the
case, start with a shallow angle & increase the angle as the chain
becomes more flexible.

Then, after the chain has been flexed in this manner, it may be
advantageous to wrap it around the dowel 1 complete turn & flex
it again. This should be done in 4 directions also. For ease in
flexing, keep the chain lubricated during the process.

Examine the chain after drawing & flexing for any links that may
have broken in the process. These can usually be found by pulling
the chain through a closed hand against the grain. When a broken
link is found, mark the spot by placing a short piece of copper
wire through the area & twist the ends together.

It’s a good idea to wash any lubricant from the chain before
beginning the repair activity. If detergent was used, the chain
can be washed with water. The chain should be dried before
starting the repair operation. Using warm or hot water aids the
cleaning & drying process.

After all the broken links have been found, they must be
repaired. Using a lower melting solder (easy) aids this process.
Separate the links of the chain for access to the broken link. A
scriber or any tapered tool works well for this. Depending on
accessibility, the ends of the broken link may be soldered to
each other or to an adjoining link. If they’re soldered to an
adjoining link, be sure both ends are solder to the same link.

After the broken links have been repaired, the chain will need
to be restored to it’s original diameter & shape. Depending on the
amount of deformation, this may be done by hand, by drawing, by
hammering or by a combination of techniques. Be sure to check for
any links that may have broken during the repair process.

When the chain has been repaired & flexed the final time, the
ends and/or clasps are attached.

Pickling the chain after all the repairs & ends have been
attached will provide a better finish from the polishing
(tumbling) process


Heishi is tubing cut into short lengths and strung is various
lengths for necklaces. It can be purchased in different sizes or
if you have a draw plate you can make your own. Use thin silver
cut into long strips to pull through the draw plate.

I usually make these chains in fine silver as it is much more
malleable in the chain making process. You can also fuse it
instead of soldering which leaves much less mess to clean up.
But in sterling you will need to anneal between operations. I
don’t find it necessary to harden the links back up again unless
I’m selling the chain to a gorilla.

Hi, You wouldn’t believe how many gorillas wear jewelry nowadays!
Also, on the turning colors on metal, heavy alcohol consumption
seems to affect the acidity in some people enough to affect their
jewelry too. Rose golds and silver seem to be the most
problematic on people with a high acid problem.(no joke) Turns
their skin black and the metals will tarnish.

Susan Sarantos

As far as metals turning colors goes, people react to things,
yes. They also frequently stick their hands in things and don’t
think about it. We had a customer with a lovely 18K Ebel watch
come storming in and accusing us of selling off-brand goods, just
LOOK at that watch, why should it be that color? Turns out she’d
stuck her whole arm up to the elbow in a bucket of, what,
chlorine or some such mess. Why? Who knows, but in the meantime
the entire watch had to be taken apart and re-finished as it was
a really ugly matte grey. She also carefully informed us that 18K
is pure gold and is not supposed to be reactive, and did we know
that Ebel was selling us goods that were apparently sub-standard?
Smile, smile, smile!!!