An ancient folk art form, wirework was probably first practiced by the Egyptians beginning around 3,000 BC. By the mid-nineteenth century this lively folk art flourished with the availability of an impressive range of products from kitchen implements to wire fencing. By the 1920's, wire sculpture introduced this medium to the world of fine art.

basic materials
Wire diameter is measured in inches or millimeters as well as in gauges. Gauges range from 0 to around 50; the smaller the number, the thicker the wire. For example, a 16-gauge wire is slightly thinner than a coat hanger, while 30-gauge wire is similar to thread.

basic types of wire
• annealed wire: a pliable, durable and easy-to-use wire for all of your crafting needs. An example is: dark annealed wire.
• armature mesh: a fun, versatile, flexible aluminum ideal for sculpture, model making and arts and crafts.
• bead stringing wire: made from multiple strands of incredibly fine diameter stainless steel wire. Its smooth, kink resistant nylon coating provides excellent abrasion resistance. Tiger Tail, one of the original wires used for bead stringing, actually had an industrial origin. Containing only 3 strands of stainless steel wire, it tends to kink if you're not careful. Modern bead stringing wires are softer, stronger and more flexible than Tiger Tail, and can be used for most general beading designs. Bead stringing wires, now available in multiple colors to enhance your designs, work well for stringing ceramic, glass, metal, stone beads, seed beads and freshwater pearls. The greater the number of strands, the softer and more flexible the wire is.
• beading cord: comes in silk or nylon cord. Nylon cord is less expensive, but not inferior to, silk. In fact, it is stronger, has less stretch and feels very similar to silk. Silk, the traditional stringing material used by beaders for centuries, adds elegance and a natural drape to your designs.
• colored copper wire: consists of a copper core covered with a colored polyurethane coating. It has a clear nylon overcoat that resists peeling or chipping despite extensive wire working, twisting or bending. Colored copper wire is perfect for wire wrapping, wire forming and bead stringing.
• enamel-covered wire: bendable, yet holds its shape. It's great for jewelry making, floral design and more!
• memory wire: "remembers" its shape and retains its coil form. A rigid, tempered stainless steel wire available in anklet, bracelet, necklace and ring sizes. And it's corrosion and tarnish resistant.

basic equipment
Pliers are used to bend and shape wire, and usually only the most basic kinds of wire cutters and pliers are needed.
• Round-nose pliers are versatile pliers that are especially good for bending wire into smaller round loops or circles, because the jaw consists of two smooth, slender cones. The diameter of a finished circle is determined by where on the cone the wire is wrapped¾nearer the base for a larger circle or toward the tip for a tiny circle. Squeeze the jaws together to see how the gap between the two cones tapers, closing at the tip. Find the spot in the gap that matches the wire thickness to choose the appropriate spot for wrapping. Half-round pliers are useful for bending wire into broad curves.
• Flat-nose pliers have a flat smooth surface on the inside of the jaw, making this the tool to use if you want to grip wire without marring it. These pliers are also good for bending right angles into the wire.
• Chain-nose pliers are similar to flat-nose pliers, except the flat part of the jaw is finely serrated for a surer grip. Serrated jaws will mar the wire, so be sure to grip the wire only in areas that will eventually be hidden. Sometimes you will use the serrations intentionally to cut some tooth in a wire for better hold at crossover points and wire wraps.
• Bent-nose pliers slanted, serrated jaws help you work in complicated, hard-to-reach spaces.
• Long-nose pliers serrated jaws have an extra strong grip and provide easy pick up.
• Twisting pliers and wire cutters make tight, consistent spirals with minimal effort. The simple one-pull action and automatic return twists wire quickly and easily into a strand that will not unravel. Wire is cut easily with the wire cutter in the center of the pliers
• Diagonal pliers will easily cut through wire up to 1.6mm.
• Nylon jaw pliers, regular and thin-nosed, are coated with a thin nylon layer and can gently flatten and harden wire without nicking or changing the diameter of the wire. These pliers are also good for removing bends and kinks.
• Parallel or channel-type pliers are useful because the jaws open and close parallel to each other, unlike ordinary pliers. Although the jaws are smooth, they grip well, because they hold along their length rather than at just one point. These pliers are good for straightening bent wire or for bending angles.
• Needle-nose pliers are useful for reaching into difficult places, and are the best kind of pliers for working with chicken wire. The more versatile needle-nose pliers combines a flat jaw with a rounded outer surface that tapers to a point. You can use the nose to open up loops, the jaw for crimping, and the outer surface as a form to shape curves and loops.

basic techniques
Wire is a remarkably malleable material. It can be braided, coiled, twisted, wrapped, corded, woven, crocheted, spiraled, filigreed and fashioned into innumerable wonderful shapes.
  • twisting wire
    Twisting two or more wires together adds strength and creates texture. Soft wires such as copper are the easiest to twist. Harder wires such as galvanized wire require more effort and caution. Letting go of the wires prematurely may cause them to spin dangerously out of control.

    The easiest method for twisting wire is with a hand drill, giving you more control over the wire. Start with a piece of wire at least three times as long as the desired twisted length, keeping in mind that the tighter the twist, the more wire you'll need. Fold the wire in half and wrap it around a table leg or doorknob. If necessary, place some padding between the wire and the doorknob or table leg to protect the surface. Place a cup hook in the drill, and secure both wire ends to the cup hook. While holding the wire taut, slowly turn the drill handle, twisting the wire.

    If you don't have a hand drill, you can create your own modified version with a wooden coat hanger that has a revolving wire hook. Cut a piece of wire at least three times as long as the desired twisted length. Fold the length of wire in half and loop it around a door handle or other secure point. Wrap both wire ends at least three times around the hanger, on either side of the handle, to secure. Step back until the wire is taut and begin rotating the coat hanger. For an even twist, hold the wire horizontally and don't relax your grip. Twist the wire to the desired degree, taking care not to over twist or the wire may snap. Remove the wire from the drill or door handle and cut both ends.

  • Basic Anchor Loop.basic anchor loop
    Most wire craft designs start with a basic anchor loop. Grasp the end of the wire with round-nose pliers, about 1/4" down from theend of the nose, keeping a firm grip on the pliers' handles. Create a tight loop by carefully winding the wire around the nose of the pliers by either turning the pliers or by pulling the wire around. Remove the loop from the nose of the pliers, and place the looped end between the tips of the pliers, squeezing to flatten out the end.

  • wrapping wire
    When wrapping wire, the core wire should be thicker and harder than the wrapping wire. Two pieces of the same thickness can be used, if the wrapping wire is soft enough, copper wire is ideal. When cutting the core wire, leave an extra 2-1/2" to form the winding loop. If you are using long lengths of wire, you may want to coil them first so they won't become unmanageable.

    Wrapping Wire. Using round-nose pliers, make a loop at the end of the core wire and attach the wrapping wire to this loop. Insert a pencil or chopstick into the loop and use it as a winder by rotating it with one hand. While winding, use your other hand to tighten and scrunch the wire coils so that the wire is closely wrapped. You can also use flat chain-nose pliers, taking care not to damage the color coating.

  • coils
    Coils, a commonly used decorative shape, add grace and style to a design, while removing the hazard of sharp ends.

    Closed Coils. Closed Coils: Using round-nose pliers, make a small loop at the end of the wire. Hold the loop firmly with parallel or channel-type pliers, and continue bending the wire around itself until you have a coil of the desired size. Keep adjusting the position of the pliers as you work, taking care not to mar the wire.

    Open Coils: Using round-nosed pliers, make a small loop at the end of the wire. Holding the loop in the pliers, place your thumb against the wire and form a curve, eyeballing the space you want between the rings of the coil. Finally, carefully flatten the coil with parallel (channel-type) pliers.

    Wire Scroll Memory Holder.

    Flattened Extended Coils: The flattened extended coil is a quick and easy way to form decorative trim or a structural device such as the side walls of a container.

    Flattened Extended Coils. Wrap the wire several times around a broomstick or dowel to make a coil. Remove the wire from the broomstick when the coils reach the desired length. Splay out or flatten the loops one by one by holding them firmly between your fingers and thumbs, or by squeezing a small group of coils with nylon jaw pliers. Keep splaying out or squeezing the loops until the whole coil has been flattened. The loops will now look more oval than round. You can stretch the coil further to open the loops if desired.

    Make a length of dimensional coils by wrapping wire around a dowel. tip: Make a length of dimensional coils by wrapping wire around a dowel. Remove the wire from the dowel when they reach desired length. After removing the coiled wire from the dowel, use nylon jaw pliers to tuck the sharp ends in and to manipulate the coils into any manner of shapes. To slightly separate wire coils evenly, slip the blunt edge of a butter knife between the coils.

    tip: To slightly separate wire coils evenly, slip the blunt edge of a butter knife between the coils and rotate the knife's blade to separate the coils.

  • Scrollwork or Ribbon Coils. scrollwork or ribbon coils
    Place your wire on an anvil or other hard, flat surface; hammer the length of wire into a flat ribbon shape. Use round-nose pliers to shape the wire around the plier's jaw. Adjust the pliers as necessary, and continue scrolling to form a coil. Use nylon jaw pliers if incorporating the coil into another wire piece.

  • weaving
    Weaving, knitting and lace-making techniques can be draw on to make basketry and textile designs. Fine enameled copper wire is especially suitable for weaving as it is soft and pliable, and it comes in a wide range of colors.
    1. The simplest way to weave is by winding wire over and under struts or spokes. To create struts, cut equal lengths of wire and fold them loosely at their halfway points, or points of intersection. Holding the wires in one hand, attach a length of wire to the center and start weaving around the wire spokes in an over/under fashion, fanning the spokes in a circle as you go. After going around three times, splice in an additional spoke to get an uneven number, in order to establish the over/under pattern. Lay a new spoke next to one that is already in the weaving, and as you continue weaving, incorporate the new rib into the pattern, spreading the spokes in a uniform circle as you go.

    2. For a more closely woven, tidier finish, weave around an even number of struts by passing the wire over each strut and looping it back around the wire strut to create a smooth, closely woven surface.

    3. Follow the previous technique, but reverse the weave, this time passing the wire under each strut before looping it back around the wire strut to create ridges in the weave.
  • loop joins
    Loop joins are used for attaching two pieces of wire together, such as for a chain. To make the links of a chain out of wire, you essentially create small figure eights with perpendicular loops. Begin by bending the end of a piece of wire about 1/4" at a 90-degree angle with flat-nose pliers and form a small loop with the round-nose pliers. Grasp this loop with the flat-nose pliers and bend the wire at a 90-degree angle. Cut the wire, leaving about 1/4" length if you measure from the loop. Turn this length into another loop with the round-nose pliers. Make enough figure eight links for the length of chain you want. Join the links by opening and closing the loops with the flat-nose pliers, to keep them round. Be careful that you do not unwind the loops.

    Loop Joins.

  • wire beads
    Twist wire into individual round beads, just as if you were winding a ball of yarn. To make a large wire ball, take one 24" piece of 18-gauge wire. Make a loop at one end. About 1/2" below the loop, bend the wire loosely back on itself. Hold onto this part of the wire with the flat-nose pliers. Use your hands to wrap the length of wire around the center post with the loop on it. Continue to wrap the wire, much like the way you would wind a ball of string. If you want an airy ball, wrap loosely. If you want a dense ball, pull the wire tight. Use the flat-nose pliers to help manipulate the wire if needed. The pliers are also useful for holding onto the ball--you will need to keep shifting where you are holding the ball as you wrap it. When the ball is approximately 5/8" in diameter, or the size you want it to be, thread the end of the wire through the middle of the ball along the center post and out the opposite end. Create a loop on the opposite side of the ball from the first loop.

    Wire Beads.

  • hook and eye clasp
    For the hook, cut a 6" piece of wire and bend it against itself tightly, using flat-nose pliers. With the base of the round-nose pliers, form a rounded hook shape about 1/2" from the folded end, keeping the two pieces of wire side by side. Using the flat-nose pliers, grasp the wire "tails" 3/4" down from the bend of the hook. Bend one tail at a 90-degree angle forward and the other at a 90-degree angle backward. Using one of the tails, wrap around the two wires toward the hook, creating a tight coil. You will need to hold the two pieces of wire together with the flat-nose pliers while wrapping. Trim away any excess wire. Trim the remaining tail to 1/2" and create a loop with the round-nose pliers. Use this loop for attaching the chain links together.

    For a ring to go with the hook, wrap a short piece of wire measuring about 2", around the base of the round-nose pliers. Keep working the pliers so that you are creating a large circle coil, about 1/4" in diameter. You need to create a split ring that has overlapping ends, like a key chain ring. Remove any excess wire and tighten the ring with the flat-nose pliers if needed.

    Hook and Eye Clasp.

  • tip: To reduce the amount of tweaking on the split ring, make three rotations and then trim the ring down so that the ends overlap only once.

  • hardening
    Wire hardening is the process of stiffening the wire to strengthen it and lock in its design by manipulating the wire. Nylon jaw pliers can gently flatten and harden wire without nicking or changing the diameter of the wire. Two sizes of pliers are available: regular and thin-nosed, for tighter places.
    1. Moving the wire gently back and forth several times will result in hardening it. For example, after moving wire loops backwards and forward several times, a noticeable stiffening of the wire occurs, locking in the shape of the design.
    2. Another method, hammering, will (1) harden the wire, (2) flatten the wire, (3) flatten the design, and (4) texturize or mark the wire. Hammer with a rubber mallet or the flat end of a chasing hammer