Have you ever wished that you could make your own ball headpins for your jewelry designs? Maybe what's holding you back is that you don't own a torch. Perhaps fear of using a torch or fear of fire is the culprit. Or, a torch isn't allowed in your building or covered under your insurance. Whatever the reason, this tutorial will to show you how to make hand made ball headpins or balled wire on the gas stove in your kitchen. Who would have thought that sitting right there is a big ol' torch just waiting to be put into service!?
While working in my studio one day, I needed some balled wire for a piece I was working on and was annoyed that I was going to have to set the project aside until I found a source of balled wire. As I entered the kitchen in search of a snack, my eyes settled on the gas stove in my kitchen and I wondered if the flame of the burners was hot enough to melt metal and form a ball on the ends.
Quickly grabbing some copper wire and an old pair of pliers I decided to give it a try. Not only did it work, it worked great! I was so excited and having so much fun watching the little ball form on the end of the wire that I ended up making 110 balled headpins!
So, let's get started!
Fill one small container with cold water and set it next to the stove.
You will need copper or sterling silver wire that is no larger than 20 gauge. I tried 18 gauge but wasn't able to get it hot enough to form a ball.
One old pair of pliers. Don't use your good pliers as the flame and heat will blacken the steel and may even cause the pliers to warp a bit.
Cut your wire to the desired length and straighten. I made three inch lengths as that's usually the length I want my headpins.
Using your pliers hold the end of the wire vertically:
Turn one of your stove burners on high heat and hold the end of the wire in the hottest part of the flame. What worked best for me was holding the wire about half an inch from where the flame comes out of the jet. If you look at the photo, you will see a fine blue line and that is what I aimed for:
If the wire is in the right place, the wire will first turn red:
Then it will turn white. In this photo a ball can be seen starting to form at the end of the wire:
Next you will see a green flame and this is what you want - it means you have found the sweet spot on your stove burner! The metal is melting and making a ball. From start to finish, this process should take no longer than 30 - 45 seconds.
When the ball has fully formed, remove the wire from the flame. It will be red hot and this is where the bowl of water comes in. Quench the wire in the water for a few seconds to cool it.
CAUTION: Your pliers will be hot. Do not touch the ends or leave them somewhere that small children or pets could come into contact with them. If you set them down put them on something fireproof such as metal or stone until they have cooled off. One of my cast iron skillets came in handy for this purpose.
Congratulations! You can now set your headpin aside and start on the next one.
Once you have made all of your headpins, you will want to harden them as the heat anneals or softens the wire. You can do this by work hardening, tapping gently with a rubber mallet or putting them into a tumbler. The tumbler will also clean of some of the dark scale that formed on the wire when it was heated.
If you have a tumbler, put just enough water in the tumbler to cover the stainless steel shot and the headpins and add a drop of Dawn dish soap:
Let tumble for at least 2 - 3 hours. When you remove them from the tumbler many of them will have been bent by the tumbling action. Simply straighten them out using your fingers or nylon jaw pliers. Once straightened, you will see that much of the black scale has been removed as well:
In order to remove the rest of the black scale, you will need to make a pickle. Carina, one of my jewelry making friends at the Jewelry Artisans Community found an easy pickle recipe at The Artisan Life blog which does a great job of explaining pickling metal and it is what I used for this project. You can read our discussion and experiments for making headpins on the stove at this thread: Making Balled Headpins
Here they are. 110 beautiful, shiny copper balled headpins!
These can now be used in jewelry designs and if you like oxidized copper they are ready to be dipped in liver of sulfur.
Some safety things to consider. The copper made very little if any fumes that I noticed but I was curious so looked it up. Copper is not considered to be a highly toxic metal, but it can cause respiratory problems and/or rashes if one is exposed to a lot of it. If you are concerned about fumes or have delicate pets such as birds, make sure your work area is ventilated either by opening a window, using fans or using the exhaust fan on your stove. Wearing eye protection is also recommended.
Don't forget to turn off the stove when you're finished!
Something to keep in mind is that how successful you will be is going to depend partly on your stove. My stove is propane while others are natural gas. Propane burns just a little bit hotter than natural gas which is something to take into consideration. Different stoves will be calibrated differently which can also make a difference in how hot the flame burns. My best advice would be to try it and experiment until you find what works for you.
Have fun, best of luck and please come back here to post comments about how it worked for you!