Thursday, 26 January 2012

Hammered hearts for Valentine's Day... A tutorial for the complete & absolute beginner

Hammered hearts... yep, kind of says it all for me in the loooove department. Yeah, I know, I know. I'm a cynic. But my dog loves me (and cookies) and I love him.

I was asked last week by several people to put together a tutorial for wrapping the amethyst heart pendant. I still haven't been able to find another similar pendant but I haven't forgotten. 

In the meantime, I've been asked to show how I get such smooth curves on these heart pendants -- and which I only just figured out myself! I've been paying attention to wire gauge and dowel diameters and eyeballing the length of the wire needed to get more or less predictable and consistent results and keeping the pendant from getting too spindly and wobbly.

Note before we start cutting up wire: my measurements are approximate, however the finished width of the hearts will be pretty much exactly the diameter of your mandrel, whether it's a dowel, broom handle, pill bottle, etc., so let that be your size gauge. If you use a 3/4" dowel, your hearts will be 3/4" wide. 1" will be 1", etc. Of course, the finished hearts will always be tweakable as you will soon see.

The small hearts here were made with 20 gauge copper wire that I got from the hardware store (and made on a 3/4" dowel); the larger hearts with 18 gauge wire (both the pair and the larger one in the upper right on a 7/8" wooden dowel) , ditto hardware store. Because you'll be hammering them, unless you are very gentle, I would not recommend using Artistic Wire as the coating could split. Certainly, hammering will weaken the coating and eventually it will start to crack. However, Artistic Wire does make good, cheap practice wire.

Btw, if you're concerned about tarnishing, copper cleans up beautifully by rubbing with a little squirt of ketchup. Rinse thoroughly in a bit of detergent and distilled water, or people will be sniffing around wondering where you've stashed the fries. I recommend using distilled water versus even bottled water, which also has minerals in it, because there's so much crud in the tap water these days that whatever you've just cleaned (copper, silver) will end up tarnishing again almost immediately.

Please read all the steps first before cutting your wire.

I also recommend making one heart from start to finish to see how it all goes together. Then try breaking down the steps so that you do all the bends for the bottom, then all the twirls, then all the hammering: get yourself a little production line going, rather than completing each heart one at a time.

Putting the cart a little before the horse, in order to end up with this heart, here is the loop of wire we want to start with once we've wrapped the wire around the dowel and cut it to length. If this is your very first time trying to wrap something around a dowel/mandrel, yes, despite your efforts to wrap tightly, your wire will spring free all loosey-goosey, and come off the dowel larger than the circumference of the dowel. Calmati! (Stay calm!) Don't worry about it. The important thing is to wrap as smoothly and firmly as possible around and around and around.

Now for the steps:

1. Wrap the wire around the dowel at least five or six times for one pair of earrings so that you will end up with enough for one or two practice hearts and you can cut off the extra bits at the beginning and end of the wire which will probably end up a bit goinked. Here, I wrapped 11 times and, allowing for the overlap, ended up with 8 wires for the hearts. Always allow for a couple of extra hearts, or whatever you're making. Once you warm up and get used to manipulating the pliers, the wire and your fingers, you'll be getting better and better results. Trust me, once you get good at this, those first poor, pitiful efforts will be extremely painful to look at.

Another view, showing the slackness in the wire after you let go, despite initially being firmly wrapped around the dowel. 

It's easier to start cutting from the bottom.

 2. I ended up with 8 loops cut with an extra 1/2" to 3/4" of overlap.

3. Place the skinniest end of your pliers in the inside of the curve at approximately the half-way point of the wire, as shown. Since, these hearts look nice with one lobe a little higher/larger than the other, trying to get your pliers absolutely perfectly in the centre does not matter.

 4. Carefully make the bends in the wire as shown, pushing the wires across each side of the pliers one at a time.

Another view of the bend. See how it's slightly less than 45 degrees.  

 4. Now gently pull outward, to the left and right, so the bottom bend is about at or slightly greater than 45 degrees. You want to preserve the smooth curves on the sides, so be gentle -- this is your heart!

NOTE: This is to show that I actually do use my left hand! Obviously, I had to hold the camera with my left hand while taking the pictures, but I thought it was more important to show the exact position of the pliers holding the wire in each step that follows, but you want to keep your fingers of your left hand very close to where you're working with the pliers.

The heart started after beginning the twirl. You can see how out of shape it's gotten at the top and the bottom of the heart. Don't worry about this now. It will get fixed later. The point is to hold the wire firmly with your fingers of your left hand as you gently-gently bend and twirl with the pliers.

5. Start the twirl at the very tip of the wire, and then slide the pliers along. You're twirling it in tiny movements -- but it's kind of a rolling-your-wrist action as well. You will be using the plier diameter as the guide to keeping the twirl evenly spaced. If you look down at the photos where I've started the second lobe, you will see exactly the plier tip placement (I was getting better at taking photos). Again, the fingers on my left hand are kept pretty close to the pliers and they work alternatively. As the pliers hold the wire, my left hand fingers move a titch to the left, as my fingers hold the wire firmly, the pliers bend the wire a titch, and back and forth it goes. Try to keep the heart in this orientation while working.

You want to develop a kind of smooth rhythm of holding the wire to the left of the twirl with your left hand as you gently but firmly and smoothly bend the wire. If you compare this photo with the next, you'll see that the plier only moves about 1/8" at a time. 

And bend the wire until you're about half-way down from the top of the untwirled wire to the bend at the bottom.

6. Now you start on the second lobe of the heart. 

 And move the pliers to the next position...

And gently bend the wire...

Until both lobes are touching.

 This is more or less what you should end up with.

7. Gently hammer the large outside curve of the heart to shape and control the thick/thin. This is my personal preference, to end up with a thick and thin effect. Some people like the look of a completely flat surface. You want to work this gradually; you're not trying to whack the snot out of it in one go.

 What the hammered side looks like.

 Turn the heart and hammer the other side. Note that hammering will harden the wire noticeably. If you want to keep the round wire intact, then use a rawhide mallet to work harden it.

8. Snug the twirl upwards in the one lobe so that the jump ring will stay in place, otherwise if the jump ring can move freely, you'll end up with upside down hearts.

 Ta da!

You could always wrap a tiny bit of wire in the middle to keep the two lobes together, or wrap in a bead or a dangle.

A variation:

18 gauge wire, wrapped on the same 7/8" wooden dowel as above. However, instead of having a half-inch overlap, this was a double loop. This is probably the upper end of the size range for 18 gauge if you were going to use it as a necklace pendant.

If you found this useful or have suggestions where it needs to be made clearer, I would love to hear back from you. If you found it helpful and want to donate a little something towards this tutorial I would very much appreciate it. PayPal works for me. My email address is

Thanks and...
 Happy Valentine's Day!

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