Studio Saturday and Fire Water Copper with Lynn Davis

Welcome to Studio Saturday! Each week one of our contributors gives you a sneak peek into their studio, creative process or inspirations. We ask a related question of our readers and hope you’ll leave comments! As an incentive we offer a free prize each week to bribe you to use that keyboard. The following week we choose a random winner.

Lois Moon has won a really lovely set of willow branch disk beads from Heather Powers at Humblebeads! Congrats! Email Heather your mailing address to to receive your prize.

This week we’re visiting the studio of Lynn Davis to see what the heat and fire is all about.

Welcome to the studio, I’ve been continuing on my quest to make the most of maximizing the use of art beads and conquering my torch fears. For the longest time I’ve been wanting to make my own copper headpins, so I always have the size I need for the hole in the bead or charm I’m working with, and something that looks organic and handmade to match the pewter components.

I had already used a butane mini-torch to make fine silver headpins, but I love the ruddy color of the copper and wanted to have some that would have that beautiful oxidized ruby color. I knew I’d need more heat than the butane torch put out so I went to the hardware store and got a plumber’s BernzOmatic torch. Sometimes making jewelry with Art Beads takes you to strange places for your supplies – you can get the raw copper wire there too!

I cut a 6″ length of 20 gauge raw copper wire and turned on the Mapp gas plumber’s torch. Holding the copper wire very vertical with a hemostat I kept it in the hottest part of the flame and it balled up right away. To get that ruddy ruby color I immediately dunked it into cold water and wiped it down with a cloth. Now to turn it into a bail for one of my pewter charms, I put it through the hole in the top of the charm and made a 90 degree angle so I could put the wire into my bail making pliers.

I made a couple of turns, one to the left, one to the right and then back to the center on the bail making pliers to make a hanger for the charm so that a large chain, wire wrapped beads or a thick cord could pass through to make a pendant out of the charm. The pewter has a coppery-bronze patina on it, so it is very compatible with the copper wire color.

To finish it off I tucked the end of the copper into the back of the bail to make it secure, or if it’s long enough it can be wrapped around the bottom to make a wire-wrapped finish. The three wrap loops can be snugged together to make a tight rounded coil, or spread them in a “V” shape for a different look. I like mixing the metals with a silver chain, pewter charm and copper headpin bail for an interesting play of color.

Here’s the question for this week, post a comment in reply and you will win a pair of my pewter charms so you can practice making headpins for earrings or necklace bails, too.

Do you use copper wire in your designs with Art Beads as well as fine or sterling silver and if you do, how do you decide which metal to use in your design – do you have a favorite?  Do you like the natural copper finish or do you use a patina of heat or liver of sulphur to change the color of the wire in the finished design –  and do you mind that copper isn’t considered a “precious metal” like silver or gold?

I hope this gives you some ideas on ways to try copper wire bails and headpins with pewter, glass and many other Art Beads in your designs!

Posted by Lynn Davis, who is also offering a BONUS tutorial on her blog for making small diameter headpins for pearls and other small-holed beads using fine copper wire.

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25 Comment

  1. Alice
    May 15, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    I have not taken the leap into making my own metal components yet. The most I do with wire is making simple or wrapped loops for dangles or connectors–but that doesn't happen very often.

    I love that you feel confident enough in your skills to march down to the hardware store and get something new.

    So far I have not mixed sterling or gold with non-precious metals, but I will mix plated silver with gun metal.

  2. Sue
    May 15, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    I really enjoy the look of copper and have used some in the past, mostly mixed with silver and brass. My question on the bale is how to keep it straight since copper is so soft?

  3. TesoriTrovati
    May 15, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Great stuff Lynn!
    I am definitely not a materials snob. I freely use sterling, brass, copper and steel in my designs. I love to mix metals because like color, it makes for an interesting metallic palette and gives a piece texture. I loved playing with fire two years ago at Bead & Button. But I am chicken to use a big torch like you are talking about. Maybe I need to ask my plumber friend for some lessons on how to use it safely! Do you use it in the house or in an outdoor space? How do you use it safely? That would be a good follow up. Thanks for sharing, Lynn. You know I love your work.
    Enjoy the day! Erin

  4. CraftCrave
    May 15, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Just a quick note to let you know that a link to this post will be placed on CraftCrave today [15 May 02:00pm GMT]. Thanks, Maria

  5. Beatnheart
    May 15, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Right now, as a beginning jeweler, copper is the choice for me as well as brass. When you are learning the mistakes are plentiful…If I were using silver, I'd run into financial difficulties Also, l love the warmth of copper. You can keep your costs down so more people can afford to buy your pieces if you are fortunate enough to sell them. Copper has that "found" in dads toolbox look which I think fits in with todays eco feeling.

  6. maneki
    May 15, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    I really like that bail — a great way of using headpins! 🙂

    I'm not that big a fan of silver, not least since it's been too expensive for me, so I do often use brass, copper, steel and pewter with all my beads. It's also to do with the fact that I prefer earthtone colours — and brass or copper can be so much more earthy than silver. They also go so well together with my favourite colours (purple and red/brown tones primarily). Of cause, sometimes silver or silver coloured metal is a better match and then I will use that.

    Copper might not be precious, but at least it's not plated, which can easily turn ugly as the plating wears away in some places or crack when manipulated.

  7. Mary Newton Designs
    May 15, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I love to use copper in my designs and always use a patina on it. It doesn't matter to me that copper isn't "precious", neither is wood or clay! My favorite way to use copper is mixed with sterling silver. The only thing I don't use it for is ear wires, those are always sterling.

  8. Erin
    May 15, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    I LOVE copper wire. I use it the most. I often pair it with antique brass and/or stainless steel. I almost never use sterling silver anymore because of the cost. I occasionally use bright copper, but much prefer antiquing it in liver of sulfur. Would love to win your charms!

  9. Jen V.
    May 15, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    I'm generally a silver user, but I've been getting into copper more and more for two reasons…first is cost and second is the influence of my artist and teacher friends…Jeanette at Fundametals was my first wire teacher and she uses copper to create gorgeous pieces with lots of patina and character. Sweet Bead Studio's Cindy is another one who can make copper sing.

    Plus, anything shiny is a good thing. 🙂

  10. Bead-Mused
    May 15, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    When choosing, I try to decide which metal looks better with the beads. My fave, however, is ALWAYS copper in all it's colors/patinas. And who's to say it isn't a "precious" metal?

  11. GailW.
    May 15, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    I tend to use whatever wire looks best or achieves the look I want.I like the natural color of copper and don't care much for changing the color.And,last,I don't care if copper is considered a precious metal or not.I save copper scrap metal,though.Last time I sold it,I got $53.00.My husband is a plumber,which helped out alot!

  12. LLYYNN - Lynn Davis
    May 15, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    I thought I'd mention that on the companion tutorial on my blog, I do talk about hardening the soft wire when it's been annealed, you might find that bit interesting. And I used different gauge copper wire there, you can see the differences.

  13. LLYYNN - Lynn Davis
    May 15, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Those of you who have read previously about my torch TERROR know that it's been a challenge to attack wire with a big plumber's torch – I use it on a fireproof surface next to the patio door in the studio, with the door open for ventillation. Safety is very important and breathing is not optional, so I keep the air flowing steadily.

  14. cindydolezaldesigns
    May 15, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    My absolute favorite metal is copper. I've been experimenting with it but I'm heading out to my studio right now to ball up some copper wire. I like patinaed copper. I'm not a fan of liver of sulpher, it just stinks. My husband is a gun collector and I use gun bluing to patina my metals. In my mind all metal is precious. I love, love, love this post.

  15. Gail W.
    May 15, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    I use whatever wire makes my beads look better.I like working with silver,but it has gotten way too expensive.The way you make your headpins is impresive,I'm afraid to work with any kind of torch.And as for copper,I like it natural.Have a great weekend.

  16. baglady
    May 15, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    I usually use the less expensive metals like copper right now until I feel more skilled to move into sterling. I like it with a patina too.

  17. Sabine
    May 15, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    I have just started moving into the copper and brass metals. I also get them over at the hardware store. I haven't had the nerve to try to torch them though.


  18. HopelesslyAddicted
    May 15, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    lately, I can't get enough copper, love the warmth and the glow, and I'm so tired of polishing silver! I think mixing metals is fun and looks great. I have used liver of sulphur on most of my copper if it isn't already darkened, but starting with the bright look and letting it "age" on its own is preferred by some. Lynn Davis,you are awesome! I got into the game late, and see no need at all to worry about the torch. The rest of you brave ones can doit for me!

  19. Susanm
    May 16, 2010 at 12:20 am

    I like chain – no matter the colour. But particularly copper with a patina – missficklemedia`s violet chain is a favourite. I don`t tned to use silver, except for wire – partly cost but also because it is often too shiny for my tastes.

  20. cindydolezaldesigns
    May 16, 2010 at 1:06 am

    I did it! But some of the headpins came out that beautiful rosy red copper and some came out more blackened. Did those just not get hot enough??

  21. LLYYNN - Lynn Davis
    May 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Be sure your water is really good and cold – after a few hot things go into it the water may warm up more than you think.

    And don't wait to put the cherry-red-hot copper into the water to capture that ruby red color. The black is firescale on the copper.

    Sometimes if you're really careful you can re-heat the ball to cherry-red-hot stage again, but I usually just hammer those into a paddle shape and make more! It just takes a few minutes to make a bunch.

  22. Dale
    May 16, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    these look really great!I love your idea of using it to wrap thigns so nicely. beautiful beautiful.

    I myself also love working with copper… it's my favorite material to work with. It torches nicely, it gets lovely patinas, it ages well… just enjoy it's warmth as well. And the price… much preferable.

    What gauge wire were you working with there, that you needed such a torch? I usually just use my propane one on my wire, but 18's my thickest.

  23. LLYYNN - Lynn Davis
    May 16, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    It's 20 gauge raw copper wire, and propane will work fine for it just as the Mapp gas does, but the butane mini-torches aren't hot enough. I haven't tried it with 12 or 14 gauge but I'll give that a try and see if this torch will fuse rings of that gauge.

    It is good for annealing copper wire too, to make the larger diameter wire easier to work with by making it softer for bending, like for bangles. But that's a different tutorial …

  24. nannie
    May 17, 2010 at 3:33 am

    i just love it… i love copper,
    the color,the shine,the way if put with the right combination,it POPS!
    i haven't tried soldering but i am going to.i just got a soldering iron.i'm teaching myself how to do all of my beading.i really like the way you did the wrap around.. it also makes it stand out. even if i don't win,i want to thank you for sharing your gift with us…we are the lucky ones.

  25. quiltingjewel39
    May 17, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    I wear a lot of silver but when working use copper a lot. I love the warmth of it. Some I leave shiny and some with a patina. I don't care that it isn't considered "precious"! I want to learn to use a torch – like you were, I am kind of scared!

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