Wire Properties

Wire was first used nearly 4,000 years ago. In the beginning is was formed by pounding gold nuggets into flat sheet metal. The metal sheet was  cut into strips, then twisted and rolled into rounded shapes forming what we think of as wire. The wire manufacturing process has come a long way since then. Today there are standardized systems for measuring the diameter of wire and the temper. Read on to learn more about this and how to select wire based on your jewelry assembly needs. At Baubles & Beads we try to carry the most popular metals, sizes and temper choices available. If you haven’t already, check out our selection.

Wire Gauge

American Wire Gauge (AWG) is a standardized measurement of wire.  This standardized system of wire measurement has been in use since 1857 and is used predominantly in the United States. Wire purchased in other countries may refer to a wire gauge but we recommend inquiring which gauge system is used.  Wire gauges  are available from 0 gauge to 40 gauge. Most jewelry applications only use 14 gauge-26 gauge wire. The higher the number, the smaller the wire diameter.

One can use a pocket wire gauge tool to measure the gauge of wire. Simply pull the wire through the slots on the edge of the gauge tool, the smallest one that the wire fits through is the gauge measurement of the wire.

Pocket Wire Gauge Measuring Tool

Pocket Wire Gauge Measuring Tool


The temper of wire refers to the hardness of the wire. Hardness is defined as the amount of resistance required to bend and shape the wire.  Most wire workers only encounter three hardness’.  These are: dead soft, half hard and full hard. Dead soft wire, also known as annealed wire, is the easiest wire to manipulate with the hands. Half hard wire is more resistance to shaping but is more likely to retain that shape over time. Full hard wire is considered to be a finished state and therefore jewelers do not use this hardness to create jewelry. Finished state means that the metal is at its hardest and bending or reshaping will result in wire breakage. Wire hardness varies dependent on the metal. When working with wire one can work harden the wire by  bending it repeatedly in the same place. Ultimately the wire will harden to a full hard state, become brittle, and break.

Choosing the Correct Gauge and Hardness For Your Wire Project


Most jewelry artists choose their wire gauge based on which wire fits into the hole of the beads to be used.  Many beads have standard hole sizes and over time many jewelers memorize what wire will fit what bead hole.  The techniques required to complete a particular design are also important when selecting a wire gauge. Use our handy chart below to help aid you when matching wire gauge to a particular bead and common techniques used for jewelry assembly.

Wire Gauge

Beads That Will Fit Onto This Gauge

Common Techniques Used

12g-14g Large holed beads such as metal and lamp-worked beads. Used in metalwork to create rings and bangles. Also used to make sturdy links.
16g-18g Many metal beads and natural materials such as horn, bone and wood. 16 gauge is favored for rivets. Also used for components.
20g Most glass and some stone beads will accommodate this wire. Excellent choice for making earwires. Sturdy enough to hold a simple loop.
22g Glass and crystals easily fit this wire gauge. Heavier beads look great wire wrapped together with this size wire.
24g Semi-precious stone beads and pearls often require this small gauge. By far the most popular wire used to make wire wrapped links.
26g-28g Precious stone and some Indian semi-precious stones have small holes and will require using these fine wire gauges. Excellent choice for textile techniques and coiling wire. 26g wire is recommended for wrapping semi-precious stone briolette beads. Always wire wrap loops for durability in wear.


Preference as to which wire hardness is best for any given project is subjective. A good guideline to follow is that if you will be working the wire with your hands, use dead soft; if you are manipulating the wire with tools, use half hard. If a finished project will face a lot of wear and tear, using half hard wire will help the piece maintain its shape. Most wire workers use half hard wire to create custom wire findings. If the wire project requires the wire be repeatedly manipulated, as with crochet, dead soft wire will be easier to use and take longer to work harden.

We’d love to hear our reader’s tips on choosing wire. If you have a good idea, or question, feel free to share it in the comment section.


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