Choosing the right beading wire for a project can seem overwhelming. Not only are there several beading wire manufacturers, but each of their lines is composed of many different types and sizes of wire. Fortunately, once you get a handle on some basic terminology, the process of selecting beading wire becomes much easier. Before long, you'll identify a few favorite types and styles that cover all of your beading needs.
Understanding Beading Wire Measurements
Beading wire is labeled with two to three separate measurements, each describing a separate trait.
- Beading Wire Diameter
What it determines: Strength and fit.
This is the most intuitive of the three beading wire measurements. The diameter of beading wire is normally given as a fraction of an inch. Logically, larger diameter wire is better for large and heavy beads, and smaller diameter wire is more appropriate for small and lightweight beads. That's because thicker beading wire is stronger than thinner wire, and thinner wire is easier to pass through the small bead holes.
- Number of Strands in Beading Wire
What it determines: Flexibility and price.
Beading wire is also labeled with the number of strands it contains. Recall that beading wire is actually a cable. It's made up of multiple strands of steel wire that are braided or woven together. As a rule, the larger the number of strands in beading wire, the more flexible and string-like it feels. The smaller the number of strands, the stiffer and more wire-like it feels.
Flexibility is important for two reasons. First, more flexible beaded jewelry often has a higher-quality feel than stiffer jewelry. Second, less-flexible wire is more prone to kinking -- permanently bending at undesirable angles -- than more-flexible wire. The tradeoff is that wire with more strands is more complicated to manufacture, and thus more expensive than wire with fewer strands.
- Pound Test Strength of Beading Wire
What it determines: Strength and durability, to an extent.
Pound test strength, or "break," is sometimes included on beading wire labels. This is the number of pounds a length of beading wire can support before it breaks -- at least theoretically. Manufacturers arrive at this number by conducting laboratory weight tests. The higher the pound test strength number, the stronger the beading wire.
However, the real "strength" of beading wire, and its general durability, are affected by a number of physical factors, and not solely by the weight of your beads. For example, if you use a bead or finding that has a sharp edge and is subject to lots of movement, that component might eventually wear through any beading wire, regardless of pound test strength.
Tip: Pound test strength is also used to describe fishing line. This measurement is more useful for fishing, because it suggests the strongest and heaviest fish that your line should be able hold.
Putting it All Together: Selecting the Right Beading Wire
Now that you have an idea what each of the descriptive terms means, it's time to devise a plan of attack for selecting beading wire for a given project. Here's what I suggest:
- Decide on a strand number. If you're making casual, economical jewelry, consider using seven-strand beading wire for its durability and affordability. For higher-end designs, or if you plan to sell your jewelry, choose 19- or 49-strand beading wire for its flexibility and more professional feel and drape.
Tip: You may also choose seven-strand beading wire for designs that you would like to remain a little stiff, such as some styles of chokers.
- Decide which diameter fits through your beads' holes. For seed beads and other small beads, this usually means 0.010" through 0.15" diameter beading wire. For light- to medium-size beads of average weight, including many crystal beads, look for 0.15" through 0.21" diameter wire. For the largest and heaviest beads, use 0.24" through 0.036" wire. When in doubt, take your beads to a local bead store and ask if you may test them on their beading wire samples.
- Consider whether pound test strength is an important factor in your project. You really only need to think about pound test strength when you string oversize beads that are very heavy (for example, when you want to make a sun catcher with a very large, faceted crystal at the end). In those situations, it's a good idea to confirm that the beading wire you choose has a pound test strength between at least 26 and 40 pounds.