Ductility, Temper Or Hardness
When making your wire selection you will need to balance the diameter of the wire against the ductility, hardness or temper of the material it is made from. In general wire is available in soft; half-hard; hard or spring tempered. Wire, being made of metal, reacts to heat and work (bending, hammering and stretching) changing its physical properties - this can be used to our advantage.
In general applying heat to a wire will soften it - this is called annealing - however this is not appropriate with plated or coloured wire as the surface will either blacken (oxidise) or show heat patterns which spoil the finish. However you will find that as you work the wire in your hands you will generate a little heat which makes the wire a little more malleable without discolouration. As you work the wire more and more the metal will begin to ‘work harden’ ie. it stiffens and becomes harder which means that is will retain its shape more readily. However if you take the wire beyond a certain point it becomes brittle and will break. The art of wirework with plated wire is to choose the correct gauge and then take it as close as you can to the stiffened state, without transgressing it, to give you a firm shape without breakage. You will find half-hard wire the most useful for the majority of projects - if you choose the right gauge it will harden up just enough as you use it to hold the form that you need. If you need to do a lot of twisting (ie. a lot of work) in the project use a soft wire but in a slightly heavier gauge. If you want something very rigid without any bending at all use a hard wire or a thicker version of the half-hard.
For more information on choosing the right wire for your project see the 'Choosing Your Wire' guide.
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