|fine and sterling silver pendant by Fabric Dragon|
like any new art , it pays to learn the language.
This post is more for the jewelry maker and crafter, but even if you only buy jewelry, it may be nice to know.
Wire, and sometimes other metal (like sheet metal) is listed according to how flexible and pliable it is.
Soft ( often called dead soft) wire feels soft, bends in curves, and doesn't hold a shape well .
Half Hard is still easy to work with, bends in fairly tight angles, and holds its shape .
Hard is, well, hard to work with. It makes a crisp corner turn, and holds its shape very well, if you can shape it.
Everyone has their own preference on what to work with. i like soft wire myself, but most wire is sold as half hard. The thing to remember is that wire gets harder as you work it! going from soft, to half hard, to hard, sometimes very fast.
As you work with it (bend it, move it, etc) metal becomes harder and stiffer. Eventually, it becomes BRITTLE and will snap. Most people find this out with florist wire... the cheap green stuff at the craft stores? bend it back and forth and at first it bends easily, with a soft curve... then it gets harder, and stiffer.. and eventually it snaps.
This is called work hardening
so if you start with soft wire, and you whip those ends around a lot working on a stone... the last bits of wire will be stiffer and harder to work than when you started!
The way to make wire softer is to add heat... but you cannot always heat wire up to red hot once you start wrapping it around things!
so, the more you work your wire, the harder it becomes, until it finally breaks.
This can be used to your advantage as well! by twisting or hammering wire , even a little, you can make parts of the wire harder. this is often used to make a hard pin point. Soft wire makes lousy pins.
Different metals harden at different rates!
this confuses people, because you get used to working with one metal and when you switch the metal acts "funny". Here is my personal, totally unscientific, analysis of how each metal handles:
Gold takes the longest to work harden. it also gets stiffer very gradually and smoothly.
Silver hardens faster than gold. At first its a gradual change but then it gets a lot harder very fast toward the end.
Copper is tricky. It seems very soft for a bit, as though it isnt getting harder at all, and then suddenly it gets VERY hard... and not much after that it snaps.
This is why i actually do not like to tell beginners to practice on copper. It can be very frustrating. Given today's metal prices, i understand that practicing with silver may not be possible. Just keep in mind that when copper suddenly snaps on you, its NOT your fault...
and remember that when moving from copper to silver (or gold) it will not be as abrupt a change.
(i hope to add more photos when i get back from my jewelry show)