Making ball head pins is sooo easy, and kinda fun! Don't freak out about a little heat. If you can cook something on the stove, you can do this.
What is a head pin? A head pin is a little piece of wire with some sort of stopper on the end. The stopper prevents the bead from falling off.
A balled-wire headpin is a headpin that has a little ball of metal on the end of it. It's formed by melting the wire with a flame so that it balls up.
For balling silver or copper you need a torch (a simple propane or butane one will do), some pliers, a bowl of water, and some wire.
*Note: Take the proper precautions: This isn't any tougher than boiling eggs. Like boiling eggs, you need to take a little care around the heat so you don't get burned!
*Pay attention to what you're doing
*Don't have anything flammable close to your flame
*Don't wear loose clothing
*If you have long hair, tie it back
*Always have a bowl of water nearby (just in case)
Sterling or Fine silver wire (18 gauge or thinner),
or copper wire (20 gauge or thinner)
chain-nosed or flat-nosed pliers
bowl of water
(optional) ultra-fine steel wool #0000 grade, OR tumbler, steel shot, and dish soap
Step 1: Cut your wire into pieces a bit longer than you want your finished headpins to be.
Step 2: Light your torch according to the manufacturer's directions, and adjust the flame so that there is a nice pointy blue part, surrounded by the yellow.
My Blazer Torch
A lit torch with the inner blue flame visible
Step 3: Grab a piece of wire close to the top with your pliers. Hold the end of the wire in the flame in the hottest part of the flame. The hottest point of the flame is just beyond the blue pointy bit. The wire will melt and form a ball.
Note how the wire is held just beyond the blue tip. This is the hottest part of the flame.
Step 4: As soon as the tip of the wire pulls up into a ball, remove it from the flame and quench it by dropping it into the water.
Note: Your balled wire headpins will not be shiny and sparkly. Sterling silver will be pinkish-grayish changing to yellowish further up from the ball, and copper will be bright red, spotted with black.
Air-cooling the silver will produce a grayish blackish oxidization.
Step 5: (Optional) If you want to remove the discoloration, either tumble in a tumbler with steel shot, water, and a squirt of dish soap for a couple of hours, or polish by hand using #0000 steel wool.
(You can leave the headpin as is if you'd like. I usually oxidize my jewelry to create an antiqued patina, so I usually do away with this step.)
Tumbling doesn't always seem to get all of the black off of the headpins, so what I do is boil them in vinegar for a couple minutes. It takes it all right off. Then to get them a little bit shinier, I just tumble the jewelry once it is finished.
Wire Melting Tips:
Start out with thinner wire to make your first balled wire headpins. Thinner wire is easier to melt.
The thinner the wire, the quicker it will ball up.
Copper takes longer to ball up than silver. For the heavier gauge wires I use a propane torch and turn it up high (be extra careful though!)
Very short pieces of wire take longer to melt (or won't melt at all). The closer your pliers get to the flame, the more likely it will be that your pliers become a heat-sink, absorbing the heat of the flame before the wire gets hot enough to melt into a ball.
The highest gauge of wire I've managed to ball up with a propane or butane torch is 18 ga. I wouldn't recommend trying to make balled wire headpins with thicker wire unless you have specialized equipment.
The "ball" on copper wire will turn a rosy-red when quenched. If you want the ball to turn black instead, let your wire air-cool instead of quenching
Make sure you hold silver wire at a downward angle into the flame. If you hold it upright, the silver ball has a tendency to "slump" to the side.
This technique also works for gold-filled wire.
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