(A typically occasional series by Christine Cox)
Balling up the end of a wire for rivets, findings or decorative elements is one of the first things a metalsmith learns. It’s a fun and rewarding activity, though there’s a bit of a knack to it. The wire needs to be in the hottest part of the flame. You can’t dwell too long or stop too early. You can’t stop part way through and then resume without lowering the odds of success. Always hold the wire straight down so that gravity can help.
In spite of our best efforts, sometimes there’s a problem:
- The ball doesn’t form or only forms a little (too short a time in the flame, too short a wire, holding pliers too close to where ball should form, too large a wire gauge to heat ratio)
- The ball isn’t round (probably too long in the flame)
- The ball falls off (waaaaaaay too long in the flame)
- The ball is pitted (using the wrong part of the flame, or an inferior alloy such as brass)
- The ball is on the side of the wire (either too short in the flame, or not holding wire straight down)
That last one can be frustrating, but it’s easy to fix (mostly).
Take a look at the photos accompanying this post. In the first photo, a sterling silver wire has its ball off to the side. In macro terms, the fix is to grab the ball in a pair of pliers and bend the wire until it aligns with the ball. Unfortunately, you would likely end up with a ball crushed by the pliers and a bent wire that still wouldn’t line up.
Let’s take a micro look at the fix.
The crushed ball would be caused by using steel pliers. The jaws on a pair of brass or nylon-lined pliers are softer than steel. Hold the ball in a way that gives you access to the exact spot where the ball and wire meet.
Now place your finger where the ball meets the wire and bend the wire until it lines up. If your wire bends anywhere other than at the point where it meets the ball, you need to put your finger right up against the ball.
That’s it! Now, go back through all your old balled wires and see if you can fix any of them.