How to Make Twisted Copper Wire Bracelets
This is a picture of two twisted copper wire bracelets I recently made for Christmas gifts. These are not intended to be used as jewelry, but for arthritis pain relief. These can easily be made by anyone with a reasonably equipped home shop. They are made from heavy gage copper grounding wire, available at Home Depot. I use mostly 4 gage wire, but some people prefer a lighter gage bracelet, so you may want to get some 8 gage also. The heaviest gage at the Boise Home Depot is 4 gage. Each bracelet requires 16" to 18" for an average wrist, and 20" or more for someone with big wrists. A person with small wrists may need only 14", or even less. The top bracelet in the image has 20" of wire in it and the one below it 18".
Cut off an 15" to 20" length of copper wire, depending on the size of wrist it will be for, and gently straighten it as much as possible with just your bare hands to prevent marking it. Then, using a chisel, notch it 1/3rd through in the middle of the wire, fold it in half with the notch inside the fold, and using a polished wide faced hammer, such as a jeweler's hammer, gently work it until it is totally folded flat with no space between the two wires, and no bends or bumps. I use a cobbler's hammer I obtained at the flea market for which I made a jeweler's hammer handle. The very wide flat face on the cobbler's hammer, and the curved edges I put on it will not mark the copper, and it makes a very fine jeweler's hammer. Expect to invest a half day dressing the face of the hammer to make it mirror smooth, and give it smoothly rounded edges so it will not die mark your copper wire, or other soft metals.
You need to work on a totally smooth faced anvil. If you do not have one, get yourself a big chunk of scrap steel and put a polished face on it to use as your anvil. Copper is so soft it die marks if there is even dust on the anvil, so both the hammer face and the anvil need to be very smooth. Below is a picture of the anvil I reserve strictly for non ferrous metal work, copper, silver, and rarely gold. The top is glass smooth and does not put even the smallest die mark into the soft metal. This is an image of what it looked like right after I brought it home and seated it on sheet lead so it would not make the acorn table ring, or allow the anvil to ring. That hammer came with it too, both were a gift to me. If you can find a farrier's anvil like this, reserve it for this kind of work. It has a unique feature that makes it of great value when working items like bracelets. The top of the horn is not round like the horn on a blacksmith's anvil, but flat, so you can use the top to take curvature or bend out of the metal while you are fining a shape, and bracelets need to be perfectly shaped, so that flat top is a wonderful feature. Most smiths do not like the flat topped horns on farrier's anvils for regular iron smithing, so these anvils really are perfect for jewelry work. The flat is of course to allow the farrier to take some of the bend out of horseshoes to open them out.
Once you have the wires completely parallel and tight against one another, hold the non folded end tightly together and put about a half inch into a vise and secure it, with the wires sticking straight up. Use a Crescent wrench, or better, a twisting wrench made from an old Ford wrench, and clamp the wrench on the top 1/2" where the shallow notch and fold are. Twist it to the point that it will not twist any further without starting to deform and bend the twisted shaft out of line. Here is one of my smaller twisting wrenches that I made from a Ford wrench.
Remove the twisted pair of wires, and using the jeweler's hammer, gently straighten it and make sure the two ends are still in the same plane, and with no space showing between them. Gently clamp it in the vise and twist or untwist it until the ends are in the same plane if necessary. I use a 4" post vise with smooth copper jaw covers for jewelry work so as not to die mark the copper or silver. The post vise also allows me to hammer on the work if I need to, and the force of the hammering is transferred to the concrete floor instead of the vise and the bench. This vise, like the farrier's anvil, is used strictly for non ferrous metal work. It is mounted on my foundry bench, which is steel topped, and also serves as my jewelry bench.
Now, clamp the wires in the smooth vise jaws with about 2" sticking out to the side, and cut a short piece of small diameter, say 12 gage, pure copper wire and lay it on top and between the two parallel and non twisted portions of the wires right at the end. This little piece of copper is used as filler rod. Then use your oxygen-acetylene torch, best to use a Henrod 2000/Cobra torch, because of its laminar flow characteristics and very low operating pressure, to flow the thin piece of copper wire into the space between the wires. Once that side is completed, turn it over and repeat the process on the opposite side. Then do it all again on the opposite end. You don't need to make it smooth or pretty, just make it solid, and with 100% penetration of the metal so there will be no openings in the end of your bracelet when it is done. You will file and trim them to create those nicely shaped ends you see in the picture at the top of this page.
A word about flowing/welding the copper. Copper has ultra-high heat conductivity, exceeded only by silver, so it may take you a few tries to successfully flow the copper together without having the entire end melt and drop on the floor. It is a delicate process of moving the tiny flame back and forth to heat the spot you want to melt just enough to flow it together, but not so much that it loses all its strength, becomes liquid, and drops off. You want a very tiny flame with a blue cone about 1/4" long, and about the diameter of a pencil lead. If you can hear the flame you have too much pressure and it will blow the copper away, or melt it and drop the entire end of the bracelet to the floor. Keep your feet out of the way when flowing/welding copper.
Once you have the two ends welded into a solid piece of copper, you can then relax because the rest of the project just takes time, but it is fairly easy. If the welds are gobby, with big drips, file them off and clean the ends up carefully. You do not want to mark the twisted copper wires with the file in the process. Here is where file control becomes very important. Just remove the worst of the excess copper. You will use your jeweler's hammer to work it down into the tapered shape you want to end up with. It may taper on the sides or not. Look at the top picture. The top bracelet does taper and the lower one hardly at all. You do want it to taper top and bottom however, as that will make it more comfortable to wear.
As you hammer, try to keep the two ends in the same plane. The twisted copper will make them rotate slowly, so clamp an end in the vise occasionally and retwist, or untwist, just enough to keep them in the same alignment as you work.
Once you have the ends roughed out, lay the piece on your anvil, with the flats of the two ends parallel to the face of the anvil, and gently and carefully hammer the full length of the piece to form equal sized flats on both sides of the piece. I have also cleaned the piece shown in the image with a fine steel wire wheel. You will need to keep reversing it top for bottom to flatten it equally on both sides because the metal in the side against the anvil will not move as much as the hammered side. This is where the quality of the dressing on the face of your hammer will really make a difference. If the edges of the hammer face are not curved away from the face enough you will die mark the copper with the edges. I strongly urge you to pick up an old cobbler's hammer at a flea market and make a jeweler's hammer from it. They are cheap, about $3 to $6 at the time of this writing, and they are really useful for making several different types of fine, light, hammers.
As you work the copper it work-hardens. You may use the torch, or the forge, to anneal it and make it soft again, but I never do. I like it to harden and become spring copper, and as it does so it becomes much more difficult to work. The advantage to the hard copper is it retains its shape in the rough environment it is subjected to on a man's wrist. For a woman, feel free to anneal it. Annealing coper, or silver, requires the exact opposite technique used for steel. Heat the copper to a red heat and quench it. If you quench it in a "Pickle" solution, available at any jewelry supply store, and most rock shops, it will come out of the quench very bright and clean. I don't bother with using the "Pickle" for copper because it gets throughly cleaned when I do the final finishing.
Back to the anvil...flatten the top and bottom equally, and enough to be pleasing to the eye. Also flatten the sides to a lessor degree, and work back and forth between all the faces until you have no forging distortion on the flats. Also, at this time you need to use fine jeweler's files to put the final shape on the two ends. Do it now because it is much more difficult to work on them once it has been formed into the oval bracelet shape.
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