Head pins are pieces of wire with a protrusion or “head” at one end to keep beads from falling off. There are paddle, flat, decorative and ball head pins, to name just a few. Commercial ball head pins are usually expensive and somewhat unreliable. You can easily make them yourself and save a lot of money while doing it. Handmade ball head pins can also highlight the artisan aspect of your work and add value.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Sterling, fine silver or gold wire, 18 gauge maximum thickness, or
- Copper wire, 20 gauge maximum thickness
- Wire cutters
- Jeweller’s pliers, cross-lock pliers, or hemostat
- Torch striker
- Torch or gas hob
- Trivet, hot pad or soldering block
- Steel wool
- Small pot
- Rotary tumbler
- Steel shot
- Dish soap
Select the wire you intend to ball by considering what you plan to do with it. Check to be sure that anything you will string on it fits easily. Plan how the colour and size will fit into your design. Choose from sterling, fine silver, or real gold wire (10 to 24 carat) which is a maximum thickness of 18 gauge. Use copper wire that is no thicker than 20 gauge. Thicker wire and other metals will not ball properly.
Set up your work area so that you can reach all of your tools and supplies with one hand. Fill a bowl with water for quenching or set up next to a sink. Arrange your wire, pliers and striker in front of your non-dominant hand. Unroll 12 inches of wire from your roll and shape it into a gentle curve or use wire cutters to cut your head pins to length, plus 1 inch.
Light your torch with a torch striker and adjust your flame so it has a tight, blue cone surrounded by a yellow flame. Use the high flame on a gas hob if you don’t have a torch. Use a smaller size of wire if yours does not melt.
Pick up the end of a cut wire piece or hold the rolled end of your curved wire. Position your hand as far as possible from the heat, while locating the other end of the wire in the hottest part of your flame, which is just past the end of the blue tip. Keep the wire vertical, so gravity keeps your ball centred on the wire. When the wire balls, immediately remove it from the flame.
Quench the wire in water immediately and turn off your flame. Rest your hot torch and pliers on a trivet, hot pad or soldering block. Cut your curved wire or pre-cut wire to the desired finished length using wire cutters. Remove any discolouration with steel wool by boiling the pins in vinegar, or by using a rotary tumbler with steel shot and a drop of dish soap in it.
Tips and warnings
- Practice will make this a very easy process for you.
- Start with sterling or fine silver, which is much easier to work with. Balling copper can take a lot of patience and gold wire is too expensive to risk many mistakes.
- Longer wire balls more easily.
- Natural gas burns slightly cooler than most torch gases, such as propane, acetylene and MAPP gas, but hotter than butane. All are hot enough to do the job.
- Thinner wire balls more easily.
- The hotter the flame, the easier it is to make the wire ball.
- If your ball falls off, try again, making the ball slightly smaller. Be sure to work over a protective, heat-proof surface.
- Any open flame can be dangerous, as can the metal elements which are heated in the process.
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