Making my own bails

In my last post I shared photos of my latest Valentine’s related beads, and discussed the mechanics of the decorations I used (gold leaf and silver wire).  I skipped over a fundamental difference between the two sets of beads, which is how the beads were constructed on the mandrel (a mandrel is a tool used to shape or hold work–in this case 1 mm diameter stainless steel rods coated with clay).  The large beads were built like normal beads, wrapping molten glass around the mandrel an inch or so from the end, leaving the end that I wasn’t holding sticking out on the other side.  Once the bead is removed from the mandrel you’re left with a hole running completely through the bead.  To display the bead as a pendant or hang it from a chain I thread it onto a head pin, with or without accent beads, and then either form a bail at the top of the pin, or form a loop and then add a bail.  Most of the earliest hearts I made were at right angles to the mandrel, so I mounted them on double loop pins to hang in the middle of a chain.  Here’s an assortment to illustrate:

Heart beads mounted horizontally, and top bead with vertical pin, added bail and dangle trim.

Heart beads mounted horizontally, and top bead with vertical pin, added bail and dangle trim.

I built the smaller hearts at the end of the mandrels, so the hole doesn’t run all the way through the bead.  I did that because I wanted to make smaller hearts for earrings, and working off the end of the mandrel made it easier to create a nice sculpted tip on the tiny  “ventricles”.  Since the hole left when I remove the mandrel is a dead end, ie doesn’t run all the way through the bead, it means that I can’t string these beads directly on cord or wire.

The solution in this case is to make or purchase glue-in bails or posts.  These beads are so small that I haven’t found commercial bails to fit, and I’m moving toward making all my components by hand, so the last two days I’ve been looking for a way to build bails that will fit and look good.  After a few false starts I finally decided on 20 gauge sterling wire, formed into a loop and then twisted symmetrically to form a spiral post.  I started experimenting with 18 gauge, (the lower the gauge, the larger the diameter of the wire) but when twisted it was too large for the holes.  I was surprised to find that even with 20 gauge, symmetrically twisting is important in this case (see below), because twisting one leg around the other like a standard twisted loop produced a stem that was too large for the holes.

Finished earrings, symmetrical twist (center) and classic twisted loop (right).

Finished earrings, symmetrical twist (center) and classic twisted loop (right).

To mount the hearts on these bails I’m gluing them into the holes with E6000 craft adhesive.  I know some jewelry artists who frown on glue, and it’s definitely a “no no” to glue broken beads back together and sell them, but for this application there’s no other choice.  Besides, I feel this approach is esthetically superior (it showcases the clean lines of the tiny hearts) and there will be a lot less stress on these findings than there is with pendants and clasps.  I’m going for light, clean and simple.

I lost the light before I could get good pictures of my experiments with copper foil, so check back tomorrow.  Thanks for reading!