Beading wire is a stringing material made up of numerous, thin steel wires that are woven or wound together. It's often coated with a thin layer of nylon that helps protect the beading wire from wear and deterioration and gives it a softer, more supple feel. Nylon coatings can be clear or tinted allowing you to better match your stringing material to the color of your beads or gemstones.
Choosing the right beading wire for a project can seem overwhelming. Not only are there several beading wire manufacturers, but each of their lines is composed of many different types and sizes of wire. Some common types and manufacturers of beading wire are tiger tail, Beadalon, Soft Flex, and AccuFlex. Fortunately, once you get a handle on some basic terminology, the process of selecting beading wire becomes much easier. Before long, you'll identify a few favorite types and styles that cover all of your beading needs.
Understanding Beading Wire Measurements
Beading wire is labeled with two to three separate measurements, each describing a separate trait of the bead stringing wire. The measurements to look for are beading wire diameter, the number of strands in the beading wire and the pound test of the beading wire.
Beading Wire Diameter
The beading wire diameter is one of the most intuitive of the three beading wire measurements. It determines the strength of the wire and what beads will fit on the wire.
The diameter of beading wire is normally given as a fraction of an inch. Logically, larger diameter wire is better for large and heavy beads, and smaller diameter wire is more appropriate for small and lightweight beads. That's because thicker beading wire is stronger than thinner wire, and thinner wire is easier to pass through the small bead holes.
Number of Strands in Beading Wire
Beading wire is also labeled with the number of strands it contains. Beading wire is actually a cable. It's made up of multiple strands of steel wire that are braided or woven together. As a rule, the larger the number of strands in beading wire, the more flexible and string-like it feels. The smaller the number of strands, the stiffer and more wire-like it feels.
Flexibility is important for two reasons. First, more flexible beaded jewelry often has a higher-quality feel than stiffer jewelry. Second, less flexible wire is more prone to kinking—permanently bending at undesirable angles -- than more flexible wire. The tradeoff is that wire with more strands is more complicated to manufacture, and therefore more expensive than wire with fewer strands.
Pound Test Strength of Beading Wire
Pound test strength, or "break," is sometimes included on beading wire labels. This is the number of pounds a length of beading wire can support before it breaks—at least theoretically. Manufacturers arrive at this number by conducting laboratory weight tests. The higher the pound test strength number, the stronger the beading wire.
However, the real "strength" of beading wire and its general durability are affected by a number of physical factors, and not solely by the weight of your beads. For example, if you use a bead or finding that has a sharp edge and is subject to lots of movement, that component might eventually wear through any beading wire, regardless of pound test strength.
You may have also seen pound test strength used to describe fishing line types of beading thread such as Fireline or PowerPro. This measurement is more useful for fishing because it suggests the strongest and heaviest fish that your line should be able to hold.
Selecting Beading Wire
Now that you have an idea what each of the descriptive terms means, it's time to devise a plan of attack for selecting beading wire for a given project. Here's what I suggest:
- Decide on a number of strands. If you're making casual, economical jewelry, consider using seven-strand beading wire for its durability and affordability. For higher-end designs, or if you plan to sell your jewelry, choose 19- or 49-strand beading wire for its flexibility and more professional feel and drape. You may also choose seven-strand beading wire for designs that you would like to remain a little stiff, such as some styles of chokers.
- Decide which diameter fits through your bead holes. For seed beads and other small beads, this usually means 0.010" through 0.15" diameter beading wire. For light- to medium-size beads of average weight, including many crystal beads, look for 0.15" through 0.21" diameter wire. For the largest and heaviest beads, use 0.24" through 0.036" wire. When in doubt, take your beads to a local bead store and ask if you may test them on their beading wire samples.
- Consider whether pound test strength is an important factor in your project. You really only need to think about pound test strength when you string oversize beads that are very heavy (for example, when you want to make a sun catcher with a very large, faceted crystal at the end). In those situations, it's a good idea to confirm that the beading wire you choose has a pound test strength between at least 26 and 40 pounds.
- Bead stringing wire is mostly meant to be secured using crimp beads or tubes. Some of the most supple beading wires can be knotted, but that is the exception. In addition, bead stringing wire is now available in a wide variety of colors and finishes. These are a nice option if you plan to make a necklace where the wire will show between the beads, or the bead color can be enhanced by the color selected.