Meinssen Handmade Rosaries Construction Section
Materials & Sizing: wire and rings
Wire coils in various metals.

A chained rosary is constructed by threading small segments of wire through a bead, bending the excess wire on either side of the bead into small loops, and threading these loops into the loops of other beads to form a chain of connected beads.  The wire in a chained rosary is visible in the completed piece.

 

Which means that in a chained rosary, wire serves two purposes:  it provides structure for the beads, and functions as a design element.

 

As to structure, the wire must be strong enough to support the weight of the beads through vigorous handling over time.  Gauge and temper are key to wire strength.

As to design, not only is the metal type and how well it matches in color and finish with your crucifix and center medal important, but the wire's thickness has a visual impact in a finished rosary as well. Heavy wires come forward in a design, while thinner wires tend to disappear behind the beads.

Gauging performance: rosary wire gauges

Gauge is the thickness of a wire. As the gauge number gets higher, the wire gets thinner. There are two common standards of wire gauges, the American weight gauge (AWG) and the standard weight gauge (SWG).

Please note how the American Weight Gauge (AWG) measurements are slightly smaller than the Standard Weight Gauge (SWG) measurements. For example, a  20g AWG is thinner than a 20g SWG.

 

Craft and jewelry wires are generally in AWG in the United States and Canada.

 

You'll find SWG used most often with industrial wires, in hardware stores, as welding wires, etc.

Wire gauge chart

As you might expect, thicker wires will support the weight of heavier or larger beads and rosary parts better than thinner gauges.  As the designer, it will be up to you to select bead/wire combinations which fit the drills and weight of your beads properly.  This will result in a beautifully finished piece with excellent durability.

 

 

Wire metals & tempers

In unscientific terms, wire temper is a measure of a wire's "stiffness," and its ability to hold a shape or curve when bent.  To make chained rosaries and jewelry, you'll usually be choosing between the half hard and dead soft tempers.

 

For the purposes of both the simple loop and wire wrapped beading techniques discussed in these instructions, half hard is the temper of choice for Sterling, brass, bronze, gold and silver filled and solid karat gold.  It curls without much difficulty around your round nose pliers, and holds the curl without springing back.  It's not so limp that your loops will pull right open when your completed rosary is in use!

 

Dead soft temper wires are limp and easy to curl, and frequently used for the decorative wire wrapping of cabachons (stones without a drill) to create pendants and rings.  This temper may also be used to wire wrap rosaries should you find half hard challenging.  Dead soft might be a good choice if you have hand or wrist problems, so you can always give it try for your wire wrapped rosaries, but it should never be used for simple loop construction.

 

You might also encounter full hard temper wires.  Avoid these for rosary making!  The full hard temper is very hard to curl, and will spring back so much that it's basically impossible to form loops.  Even with thin gauge wires, full hard doesn't work for rosaries.

Wires are available in a great variety of solid metals, plated metals and bonded metals (such as gold and silver filled).

 

While we most often think of wire types in colors to match our rosary parts, you should also be aware that every individual type of wire has its own quality of hardness.  For instance, full hard (untempered) stainless steel wire is considerably springier and hard than full hard brass, so when you purchase a half hard stainless, expect that it will feel harder to bend than half hard brass.  Despite this little range of differences between metals, you should be able to use most half hard temper wire effectively in your rosaries.

 

It's worth mentioning here that if you are interested in wiring a rosary with solid, 14k gold wire, don't get it in your head that solid gold is a soft metal and you should buy full hard!  14k gold is an alloy, and boy, is it ever tough.  In full hard, your loops will spring back (if you can form a loop at all), and you could be looking at a purchasing error in the hundreds of dollars for wire you can't use.  I have had good success wire wrapping solid gold with half hard 22g, and forming simple loops in half hard 21g.

The eyepin option

Prefabricated eyepins are a wire option which many rosary makers use to save time on construction, as half of the loops are already formed for you!

 

There can be some frustrating supply issues with eyepins, however.  In certain metals, they can be difficult to find in gauges thicker than 21g (not so great with 8mm Hail Mary beads and large Our Fathers), and the temper of the wire used to form the eyepins is often dead soft.

 

Don't overlook this choice in wires should you come across eyepins that will suit your project.  They're also nice for beginning rosary makers to practice with, no matter the temper, just to get a feel for forming loops and the satisfaction of completing a whole rosary a little bit quicker!

Antiqued brass eyepins.
Wire shapes

Because the wire is a decorative element in chained rosaries, you can have a little fun experimenting with different wire shapes.  Square wire, shown in the photo to the right, is very nice for men's rosaries.  There are also twisted wires and glitter wires for even more variety.

 

When purchasing any wire, you will select the gauge, the temper and the wire shape.

A coil of fumed red brass square wire.
Jump rings in rosary designs

Jump rings are commonly used in rosaries to connect the crucifix and center to the beaded decades and drop portion, but their usefulness doesn't end there!

 

Properly sized and weighted jump rings may also be employed as an embellishment to your rosaries as "ring caps," which top each side of your bead.  More than decorative, the ring cap cradles your simple wire loop, and helps prevent the wire loop from pulling open laterally.  This results in a rosary with the excellent drape which simple loop construction provides, and with vastly increased durability of your finished rosary.

 

Let's explore some jump ring basics, and how to size them for use as ring caps!

Small inner diameter, heavy gauge silicon bronze jump rings.

 

Pictured above is an "open" jump ring. It is called open because it has a cut which allows you to securely connect (or "jump") from one element of your design to another.

To close a jump ring, grasp each side of the ring near the cut with a pair of flatnose pliers. Holding the pliers firmly, move one hand toward your body and the other hand away so that the wire ends meet perfectly. Use the opposite motion to open a ring.

Never attempt to open or close a jump ring by pulling or pushing the wire ends perpendicular to the cut. This deforms the circle of the ring, and it's unlikely you'll be able to reshape it!

The ring capping technique for chained rosaries.

In the photo to the right, jump rings are used as caps on each side of all the beads in a chained rosary. Ring caps not only add a finished beauty to your completed rosary, but structural integrity as well!

 

It's very important to size the inner diameter and wire gauge of your jump rings to the size of your beads, the drill holes of your beads, and the gauge of wire you've selected for your wire loops. The guide below will help you select jump rings for the best fit.

 

Each open jump ring will have to be manually closed before use as a ring cap. This does add between 20 to 30 minutes to your construction time.

Double ring capped beads with simple wire connecting loops.

Step 1:  purchase your beads, and determine the gauge of wire which your bead drills will accept for the loops you will bend. If your bead drills will take only 22g and thinner wire, consider either redrilling the beads to accept a thicker gauge, or choosing a wire wrapped construction technique. Simple loop construction is best for 21g and thicker wires so that the weight of the beads is properly supported.

Step 2: determine the inner diameter and wire gauge of the jump rings which work best with your bead size and construction wire gauge. Jump rings are cut not only in different inner diameters, but in different wire gauges as well.

 

Rings cut in heavier gauges will bring the metal visually forward in your design. Each increment of increased wire gauge thickness will also increase the outer diameter of the ring, so a 19g, 2mm ID ring will be wider across its full diameter than a 20g, 2mm ID ring.

 

To clarify all the terms, the photo to the right is an example of bead size, construction wire gauge and the jump ring inner diameter and gauge.

Here are recommended bead size/jump ring size/construction wire gauge combinations.

 

For 5.5mm to ~6.5mm round beads:

20g, 1.59mm ID (inner diameter) jump rings, with 21g construction wire.

 

For 6.5mm to ~8.5mm round beads:

20g, 1.76mm ID (inner diameter) jump rings, with 20g construction wire. A very nice fit, especially for larger, feminine rosaries!

 

For 8mm to ~10mm round beads:

20g, 2mm ID (inner diameter) jump rings, with 20g construction wire, or

20g, 2mm ID (inner diameter) jump rings, with 19g construction wire (for weighty beads like rhodochrosite, sapphire and celestite, or for beads with drills over 1mm which require thicker construction wire).

 

For 8mm to ~12mm round beads:

19g, 2mm ID (inner diameter) jump rings, with 19g construction wire. A good combination for masculine rosaries and Pater beads.

 

For round beads 12mm and larger:

19g, 2.2mm ID (inner diameter) jump rings, with 19g construction wire. 2.2mm ID rings will require you to bend a larger loop so that the ring cap seats properly against the bead.

Meinssen Handmade Rosaries established May 2007

 

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