I feel like we have answered this question before, but we keep getting it. Now those of you who know me, know that beads, specifically Murano Glass Beads are my field of expertise and anything to do with glass, Murano, Venice. So to answer this question I had to do a little sleuthing, naturally on the internet. I came to the beading world because – well because they made beads in Murano!
The terms are used to inform you of the metal bending qualities of the wire. Hardness is actually just the measure of how much the wire resists bending.
- Dead Soft is the most flexible, pliable and easiest to bend. It works great for wire wrapping, and forming spirals and free flowing designs. It will not make a right angle.
- Half Hard gives resistance to forming, not easily shaped into those free formed spirals or designs.
- Hard is just that, it can be forced into right angles but is too hard for soft curves or spirals.
From Wikipedia, comes the model used for analyzing the hardness of the wire.
“Since it is made of metal, wire has this same hardness property. Most modern manufacturers of jewelry wire make the wire with a defined hardness, generally a hardness of 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4. Historically, these numbers were associated with the number of times that the wire was pulled through a draw plate, becoming harder or stiffer each time it was drawn through the drawplate. A hardness of 0 meant that the wire had been drawn through only once and was as soft and as pliable as possible. A hardness of 4 meant that the wire had been drawn through five or more times and the wire was as stiff and as hard as possible. Most jewelry wire that is sold now is designated dead soft, half-hard, or hard, where dead soft is wire that is manufactured with a hardness of 0, half-hard is wire manufactured with a hardness of 2, and fully hardened wire is wire with a hardness of 4.
Dead soft wire is extremely soft and pliable. It can be easily bent and is excellent for making rounded shapes such as spirals. It is also excellent for wrapping wire around beads to make them look as though they are encased. The disadvantage of using soft wire is that the finished piece can be bent out of shape if not properly handled.
Half-hard wire is slightly stiffer than dead soft wire. Half-hard wire is excellent for making tight, angular bends, for making loops in wire, and for wrapping wire around itself. However, it is not very useful for making spirals. Finished pieces made with half-hard wire are usually more permanent than pieces made with soft wire.
Hard wire is very stiff and tends to spring back after being bent, making it harder to work with when using a jig; it cannot be used to make a spiral. Pieces made with hard wire have the advantage that they are not easily accidentally deformed.
As in many things, no single wire is perfect for all applications. Soft wire is easy to bend and shape, but the finished product may be bent out of shape if squeezed. Hard wire is difficult to bend but makes permanent shapes. Half-hard wire is a compromise between the two. Wire-wrapped jewelry can be made by wire which is initially soft, simplifying fabrication, but later hardened by hammering or by work hardening”.
Beadalon has the following chart showing the hardness of their craft wire.
But then, even Dead Soft wire can be work hardened with proper tools and knowledge. So if you want to make some earwires and you have only dead soft wire. Working the wire will harden it. But it is absolutely easier just to buy the wire you need, but if you have an inspiration at midnight, there is a solution.
If you are really interested in the ability to work harden your wire, I suggest you buy some of each hardness so you have the feel for each and keep as a sample for while you are working the wire. If you over work the dead soft, it can break so it is good to know exactly how much you can work it. You can harden the wire (best on 22-28 gauge) using nylon jaw pliers and pulling the wire. We recommend you only harden the amount of wire you need for a project, otherwise you’ll need to keep it identified. Test the wire during the work hardening so you do not over stress it. Compare it to those samples of various hardness wire we suggested you keep*.
What you want to make will determine which wire you need. Working with Venetian Beads, we often use the 20 gauge wire which is “Half Hard” because our larger beads are heavy.
Beadalon’s German Style Wire which many of our customers use in wire wrapping jewelry falls somewhere closer to Half-Hard than Dead Soft, which is probably because it has a copper core giving it greater strength.
*NOTE: Always wear safety glasses when working the wire.
Click here to see our selection of Wire for Wire Wrapping