How to make ball-end head pins with a micro torch

November 28, 2011

Little butane torches are sweet, and not just because they are often used to caramelize sugar on fancy desserts. Micro torches are great for a ton of jewelry making techniques – soldering, fusing fine silver, sintering small Art Clay Silver pieces, even enameling. One really fun and easy project for the micro torch is balling up wire to make your own ball-end head pins.

Supplies needed:

tools for balling silver wireNon-plated wire (I’m using fine silver wire. Sterling silver and copper wire also work. Brass, nickel silver, steel and coated craft wires do not.)

Micro torch

Butane (sold at most hardware and general stores)

Cross locking tweezers

Bowl of water

Making DIY head pins is addictive. Using the locking tweezers, simply hold the wire vertically above the bowl of water. Heat the end of the wire with the torch.

balling-fine-silver-wireAs the wire starts to melt, it crawls up the wire. Once you have a good size ball, quench the wire in the water. Ta da!

If you get too ambitious, the ball might get too big and drop off the wire. Not a big deal. The little balls make cute additions to other projects, and the water ensures you’re not burning down the house. A little practice is all it takes to consistently make the balls the same size.

homemade-ball-end-pinsThe balled wire also makes nice French hook ear wires. Don’t have a torch? Rings & Things micro torch kit contains everything you need to get started, except the fuel. A book such as Soldering Made Simple: Easy techniques for the kitchen-table jeweler or Melissa Manley’s Jewelry Lab will provide loads of inspiration and how-tos for more complicated projects that take full advantage of your new tool’s powers! ~ Cindy

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  • Jill November 16, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    I’d love to be able to streamline this process. Do you know of any device that allows you to hold more than one wire at a time to make multiple balled headpins?

    • Polly November 19, 2012 at 9:23 am

      Hi Jill,
      To the best of my knowledge, this is the type of device that people have to create themselves. (A surprising amount of specialized jewellers tools are that way.) Some type of heat-resistant clamp (perhaps a pivoting vice?) that can be loaded up while sitting sideways, firmly clamped, then hung upside down at just the right height.
      I’ve seen some experienced people make ball-end head pins by hand, and even one at a time, it looks impressively fast. Hold, ball, drop. Hold, ball, drop. … but I can imagine that the “hold” part would get very tiresome after a few hundred head pins!

  • Jennifer Hermann Handmade May 8, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    You can use lock tweezers for sure, to limit the hand clenching needed when doing a lot repeatedly. Also, I ball up one longer piece of wire on both ends and then just cut it into two when I’m ready to use it. You have to be pretty precise doing it this way, so your wire doesn’t end up being too short. Also you can hold 5-6 in a bent pair of lock tweezers, if you bend it right.
    Hope that helps!

  • Jennifer Hermann Handmade May 8, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    I wish I had seen the photos before I commented before, they weren’t loading…obviously, you used lock tweezers, and I didn’t read carefully enough the first time. Also, I just wanted to add that you can ball up brass wire if you dip it in Flux first. I was trying to figure that out and that’s what brought me to this page. Just took a little more thinking, but I figured it out:)

    • Polly May 8, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      Hi Jennifer,
      Thanks for posting your helpful tips! This is one of the things I love about the world of Handmade.

  • Mary Beth Hollenbach June 8, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    ‘When I make these headpins, everything is fine, but I don’t get a nice shiny ball at the tip, mine looks kind of pitted and scared up. What can I do to fix this?

    • Polly June 9, 2014 at 8:04 am

      Hi Mary Beth,
      I believe the pits are from impurities either in the flame or the silver itself. You might want to try a higher grade of butane (we use triple-refined), or try using fine silver instead of sterling silver. It might also help to clean the silver with a little flux or isopropyl alcohol.
      Also – what part of the flame are you using? Are you in the smaller blue cone, or out in the larger more-diffuse brighter part of the flame? If you’re not using that smaller blue cone of flame, turn down the lights and try adjusting your flame so that little cone is sharply defined, and heat your metal in that nice little hot spot. ~Polly

    • Polly June 9, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      Hi Mary Beth,
      I heard that a recent batch of sterling silver wire from a major online distributor (not us!) has an unknown contaminant that is causing the problem you are describing. I believe it is still .925, so what they are selling is not illegal, but it does not ball up nicely.
      In other words, you might not be doing anything wrong; it might just be a batch of sterling silver wire that pits instead of balling up nicely.
      You might want to contact your vendor to find out if this is a known problem ~Polly

  • Krithika December 16, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Will this work with German silver wire or silver filled wire?

    • Polly December 18, 2014 at 10:27 am

      Hi Krithika,
      No, it won’t. German silver wire is a wide variety of different possible alloys, rather than one particular alloy. Each alloy will have a different melting point, and most of them should be soldered with simple “soft solder” and an electric soldering gun, similar to the type used in the stained glass industry.
      And Silver Filled wire has a core of one type of wire (often brass), with a thick layer of silver around this core. The core layer and the outer layer have different melting temperatures, so can’t be torch fired.
      ~ Polly

  • Laurel December 17, 2014 at 11:19 pm

    Does it work with argentium silver?

    • Polly December 18, 2014 at 12:33 pm

      Hi Laurel,
      Yes, Argentium silver wire works too.
      We found that fine silver, sterling silver, and Argentium silver each behaved slightly differently, but all worked.
      Fine silver was the easiest to control, and basic sterling silver wire was the toughest to control.
      Argentium is a special form of sterling silver, so behaved similarly, but didn’t require as much cleanup since it doesn’t develop firescale.

  • Ariana November 10, 2015 at 12:07 am

    Would this work with 14k gold wire? I’m looking everywhere for a solution.

    • Polly November 17, 2015 at 2:25 pm

      Hi Ariana,
      Yes, it should, but you will need a higher powered torch. A butane micro torch doesn’t get hot enough. You should be able to find the flow temperature for 14kt wire, where you purchase(d) your 14kt wire. Also more information about the type of jeweler’s torch that you need. –Polly

  • Big Al November 21, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    What gauge of wire are you using and do you know how large of wire can be balled with a micro torch?

    • Polly November 28, 2015 at 2:02 pm

      Hi Big Al,
      This works with 26g to 22g wire. We mostly used 24g. Thinner wire balls easier; this was very easy with 26g and 24g using a butane micro torch, but was pretty easy with 22g too; it just took a little more focus.
      We weren’t trying to make a very large ball; we were going for quick and consistent, about the same size as the usual ones you can buy ready-made, so I’m really not sure what you can do with a little practice trying to make larger ones. Sorry my answer to your second question was vague; I’m afraid I don’t have time to do the experimenting currently to get you a better answer. To be honest, I’m not sure I’m patient enough to find out. =) It might vary a bit from torch to torch, too.

  • simone May 1, 2016 at 4:43 am

    Can you use a flame off a gas cooker? Just to try before buying a tool!

    • Polly May 1, 2016 at 11:04 am

      Hi Simone,
      I don’t think the angle would work well.
      Check the photos above for how we did ours. We had a bowl of water underneath, and the flame at the side. I think trying to make ball-end head pins over a gas cooking stove would be very difficult. And since I have a butane micro torch, and I don’t have a gas cook stove, I’m not very tempted to track down a neighbor who is willing to let me experiment on theirs!
      I did a quick google search and didn’t find anyone else saying they suggest it. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just that no one who has tried it, has posted anything about it that I can find.

  • Barbara Paul September 10, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    I’ve seen jewelry in which a ball pin is used to hold a bead – with a ball head on each end. So, a hole has been drilled in the silver, the ball pin has been put through the hole with a bead, then the wire on the other side of the hole has been heated to create a ball pin – holding it all together. How is this accomplished without burning up the bead?