Jewelry Making 101: How to make head pins with a ball end

fine silver head pins

Head pins are an essential jewelry making supply. They are basically pieces of wire with a ball end or flattened end so that if you string beads onto the wire, they won’t slip off. To use them, you slip bead(s) on, make a loop at the other end, and attach it to your jewelry project. There are several ways to make head pins – in this tutorial I’ll show how I make head pins from silver and copper with a ball end.

See the little pearls attached to this pendant?

Pearl Pendant made with Head Pins and wire

Pearl Pendant made with Head Pins and wire

Each of the small pearls is on a ball end head pin that I made from very thin fine silver wire. And they were easy to make!

Using silver or copper wire and a torch, you can make your own ball-end head pins by simply melting a ball at the end of the wire. Of course you can also buy head pins, but I love the look of handmade head pins, and the flexibility of being able to make them with any thickness {gauge} of wire. That way if I’m using gemstone beads with tiny holes, I can custom make a few head pins with really thin wire for my project.

30 gauge head pins

30 gauge head pins

Always be safe and use proper ventilation and eye protection when using a torch. If you attempt this tutorial, you do so at your own risk, so please take safety precautions!

Note: if you aren’t using real silver wire or 100% copper wire, this method may not work. I know from personal experience that you can melt sterling silver, fine silver, copper, and argentium silver with a propane torch. If you are using thin-gauge wire, even a little butane torch will probably work. Copper takes the most heat, and fine silver {pure silver with nothing added to it} is the easiest to melt, and requires no clean-up afterward.

To make ball ends on fine silver, all you need is:

  • fine silver wire – cut slightly longer than the finished head pin needs to be
  • tweezers
  • a torch
  • heat-resistant surface, such as cement or tile, to work over

Hold one end of the wire in the tweezers, with the other end pointing down. Direct the flame from the torch at the free end, and watch as the wire heats up and begins to form a ball. The longer you heat the wire, the larger the ball will be, but be careful because if it gets too big, it will melt all the way off. Another eason for working over a heat-proof surface.

Set the head pin down on the heat-proof surface {or dip it in water} and be careful not to touch it until it has completely cooled off.

With a little practice, you can start to control the size of the ball and create beautiful head pins every time.

This same basic process can be used with Argentium silver, but in my experience, you want to move the flame over the length of the wire before focusing on the end. For me, this results in more even melting and prettier head pins. If the Argentium wire becomes discolored, heating it for a second will often restore the silver finish, or lightly polishing it after it has cooled should do the trick.

With regular sterling silver, there is always some clean-up involved, unless you are going for the oxidized (black metal) look. I don’t bother with flux, and start by following the same process as for fine silver. You end up with a head pin that has a very blackened end. This can be cleaned up by soaking in pickle, or by using an abrasive to polish off the oxidation. I like to use a piece of a green kitchen scrubber sponge to polish off most of the oxidation, leaving a slightly rough look. If I want my headpins to be perfectly shiny, I don’t usually use sterling, since it’s easier to get nice shiny head pins with fine silver or Argentium, but if you want clean and shiny sterling head pins, use pickle to remove oxidation, and then toss the finished head pins in a tumbler with stainless steel shot and water for a few minutes.

For some projects, the blackened, oxidized look is what you want, so sterling silver is a good choice if you are going for that look.

copper head pins

copper head pins

I use the same process for copper wire as I do for sterling silver wire. The only difference is that copper seems to need more heat than silver. If either sterling or copper wire is getting too oxidized, coating it with flux before melting can help – but I try to avoid using chemicals whenever possible. Even with a ventilator on I worry about breathing the fumes, or that my kids might. Call me paranoid!

Tip: to get that pink color on the copper head pins, drop them into cold water while still red hot.

pink copper ball ends

pink copper ball ends

You can also make head pins by bending the end of a piece of wire into a nice looking shape, such as a spiral. All you need for this method are some pliers and a little practice bending the wire into the shape you want without marking it. When I make head pins this way, I like to lightly hammer the shape I’ve made to harden the wire a little bit. I’ll write another tutorial {coming soon!} with photos for this type of head pin, since I know a lot of people either don’t have a torch or are wary of using one.

This post originally appeared on my jewelry making blog way back in August of 2008. I’ve updated it somewhat.

Shopping links – online sources for some of the materials used in this tutorial:
22 Gauge Round Fine Silver Wire
20 Gauge Round Fine Silver Wire
24 Gauge Round Fine Silver Wire
20 Gauge Sterling Silver Round Soft Wire
6-1/2 Self Closing Tweezers – the self-closing tweezers are the best for holding wire while you work with a torch, they are the type I always use now when making a batch of head pins.

For a torch, the one I use is from my local hardware store & uses the standard propane canisters. I prefer it to the tiny butane torches since it gets hotter and can make a bigger flame. Any brick works as a heat proof surface to put the finished head pins on while they cool off. I actually generally make my head pins outside {better ventilation than inside} on a piece of a broken granite slab, but bricks are cheaper than breaking a perfectly good piece of granite ;)

Craftsy has a free torch basics class that you might want to watch if you’ve never used a torch before. It can be really helpful to see video instruction when learning a new technique.

As always, thank you if you make a purchase using my links – I appreciate your support!

Want to learn more jewelry making skills? You might also like my earwire tutorial, my hammered head pin tutorial, my wire spiral head pin tutorial, or my handmade earring tutorial.

Looking for another beginner level torch project? Try making tiny stud earrings, using the same technique as for these head pins.

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