When working with jewelry wire, it is very important to understand the basics of wire gauge, hardness, and material and how these factors affect your designs. Today we will straighten out some confusion in the wire gauge measuring systems before we move on to wire hardness and choosing the right wire for your projects (Parts 2, 3, and 4 of All About Jewelry Wire are linked at the bottom of this post)
But, first of all, I won’t lie to you. This is not the most exciting part of learning to make wire jewelry. But it is necessary to understand these basics so that you don’t go completely cross-eyed when you try to purchase jewelry wire for your first project or tear out your hair when you realize you bought the wrong thing and your design doesn’t work!
Wire Gauge Sizes
There are many different thicknesses of jewelry wire, and the sizes are distinguished by a measuring system where the thickness of the wire is referred to as the ‘gauge’. Ear wires, jump rings, headpins, and other items made from wire are also described by their gauges. For example, for 18 gauge jump rings, the gauge refers to the thickness of the wire used to form the jump ring, and not the diameter of the jump ring itself.
The first thing I want you to know and commit to memory is that the smaller the gauge number, the thicker the wire. As you can see, 10 gauge wire is pretty big (about 2.6mm in diameter) and 28ga wire is very very tiny (about 1/3 of a millimeter in diameter). The chart below will help you visualize this – you may want to print it off and keep it close at hand until you are comfortable with the concept of wire gauge!
Wire Gauge Measuring Systems
It is important to note that while gauge measuring systems are often locally standardized, they are NOT the same across the globe. Some countries may use their own gauge conversions, so keep that in mind when shopping for supplies, and keep these size charts handy for reference (pin, print, or save!).
In North America, the standardized wire gauge system is the American Wire Gauge (or AWG, also known as the Brown & Sharpe wire gauge) and refers to both jewelry making wire and electrical wire – for the diameters of solid non-ferrous wire and sheet metal thickness. Non-ferrous means that the metal does not contain iron and therefore includes silver, gold, brass, copper, and aluminum, among others.
In most other parts of the world, the diameter of wire and the thickness of sheet metal is usually referred to by its actual measurement, in inches or millimeters (metric).
Steel and other ferrous metals have a different gauge system that may lead to some confusion, especially if certain jewelry supply vendors choose to use the AWG system to denote steel wire sizes – in which case this Wire Gauge Conversion Chart will be very useful! Please note – measurements are approximate and may be different from vendor to vendor, especially in the millimeter numbers. Variations will be very very slight, and don’t worry – I promise you won’t notice fractions of a millimeter difference in your wire :)
Most large online jewelry supply vendors should have this information available to you to help you choose your supplies more easily and make you feel comfortable that you’re getting exactly what you’re looking for.
The differences between AWG and SWG wire sizes
SWG (Standard Wire Gauge) is another common gauge measuring system, used in Europe. (It is also known as the Imperial Wire Gauge or the British Standard Gauge). Some of the gauges are close enough in size to the AWG measurements that in my opinion, it wouldn’t make much of a difference to use them interchangeably with regard to making jewelry, not electrical wiring, of course!
The main thing to consider here for jewelry making purposes is that in the larger wires, like 16, 14, and 12, (remember that the smaller gauge numbers mean larger wire) the difference in size between the AWG and SWG is enough to matter, but in the smaller wires like 22, 24, and 26 gauge, I really don’t think it will affect your designs much at all. I’ve got one last handy-dandy conversion chart for you, so that you can see how the systems compare. Remember, these measurments are in millimeters, so tenths, hundreths, and thousandths are extra teeny tiny :)
So that’s it for jewelry wire gauges explained. I hope you found this useful. Please be sure to let me know if you have any questions. I’ll see you again soon when we talk about wire hardness, materials, and how to choose the right wire and gauge sizes for your projects!