Chains for Jewelry Making

Styles abound but practical tips can help you choose the right one

13 Tips for using chain in jewelry design
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Chains for jewelry making come in many different styles. While you can easily make your own chain, the process can be time-consuming. It's often easier to purchase prefabricated chain to use in your jewelry designs. Buying chain in bulk saves time and expense and can give you many more choices in styles. Local bead shops often carry a limited selection of types, finishes and styles but you can find many sources online.

Chain Styles

Chain comes in different types or styles and the name of the type or style depends on the number and shape of the links used to make the chain pattern. They have names such as rolo (made of thick, round links) and figaro (made of one long and three short links). It is important to become familiar with the different types of chain as you consider which will best suit your design.

  • You can choose round cable chain, oval cable chain and flat cable chain. A cable chain, also known as link chain, is made up of round or oval links of the same size. This style can usually be found in a simple necklace with a pendant or a charm. This chain works well with small to medium-size pendants.
  • Bead or ball chain includes round metal beads fixed along the length of it, with a small distance between each bead. The bead or ball chain needs a special connector. Each end of a connector goes over and around a ball at the end of the ball or bead chain and snaps over its wire connection -- the space between the metal beads -- to secure it. These can be used to connect two lengths of chain or to connect the ends of the same chain to form a loop.
  • The figaro chain incorporates a pattern of two or three small circular links with one elongated oval link. 
  • The links of a rolo chain are usually identical and often round. These links join in a simple alternating sequence, making this chain simple yet durable. 
  • Snake chain may also be called Brazilian chain. The tight-linked snake chain has a round or square cross-section and links that create a slight zigzag look joined together forming a flexible chain. It looks like a smooth snakeskin, hence its name.

    Tips for Working With Chain

    • Avoid chain patterns such as the box chain, twisted rope or small cable chains if you plan to use your chain in a project mixed with wire-wrapping techniques. The links are too small to work with easily. 
    • Plated chains contain base metals covered with a layer of gold or silver on the outside. While they cost less, they can lose the plating over time. If you want your jewelry to last for a long time, go with sterling or gold-filled.
    • While thinner chain costs less, it can be difficult to attach wire to it. You may also find that it breaks easily if you attach several charms or pendants or even one large pendant or charm. 
    • Look for chain with generous links if you plan to attach other items to it such as beads. You want to make sure your wire can fit through the links.
    • Chain can have links that are easy to separate or solid links that are not meant to be separated. Be sure to consider your project before you choose a chain. If you want to add accessories, make sure you can open the links.
    • To separate chain links or cut sections, use a good pair of wire cutters. Literally cut out a link or two if you need a section of chain. When you work with precious metals, save discarded links. If you cut them carefully enough, you may be able to use them as jump rings. Otherwise, save the scrap. Many metal jewelry suppliers allow you to turn in scraps for credit. Alternatively, you may be able to spread the link just far enough to take away or add to it and then carefully push it back together. Just don't do it too many times as it can weaken the metal. 
    • If you plan to use a fair amount of chain, look for suppliers who sell it by the foot. Normally, the more you buy, the more you save per foot. Ready-made chains are also good to use sometimes because you can recycle the attached clasp. 
    • Keep chain on rolls or wrapped around pieces of cardboard stashed in airtight containers. This keeps it from tangling and also helps reduce tarnish. Keep silica gel packets found in packages, shoe boxes and new handbags, and toss one or two into the container with your chain; it will reduce tarnish dramatically.  
    • Don't solder plated chain as the heat from the torch can damage the top layer of metal.
    • Save scraps of chain, even just an inch or so long. You might find these come in handy to use as a necklace or bracelet extender or to make earrings at a later time.
    • When creating a necklace with different types of chain and a variety of pendants or charms, consider the weight. Keeping the bulk of the necklace weight front and center keeps the necklace from rotating around your neck as you wear it.