All About Gauge

One of the most important and sometimes confusing aspects to jewelry and jewelry making is gauge, the method that wire and sheet metal is measured in.

Why is it confusing? There are two main factors that can throw you for a loop.

First, because the larger the number of the gauge, the thinner it is, which is a little counter intuitive! For example, 22 gauge is thinner than 18 gauge.

Second, there are two different standards for gauge, American Wire Gauge(AWG) and Standard Wire Gauge(SWG). Depending on the manufacturer and the vendor selling the material, they may use one or both.

Here is my favorite go-to reference for how thick each gauge is:

Gauge_Guide_Biz_Card_grande

Now, when it comes to making jewelry, what gauge should you use for what projects? That is where this cheat sheet comes in handy! These are not hard and fast rules, merely the most common uses for each gauge.

Wire Size
Diameter in Millimeters
What It’s Good For Making:
14 ga
1.63 mm
  • clasps
  • thick jump rings
  • chain maille jewellery
  • neck rings
  • bangle bracelets
  • substantial formed links
  • eye pins for beads with very large holes
16 ga
1.29 mm
  • clasps
  • thicker jump rings
  • chain maille jewellery
  • neck rings
  • bangle bracelets
  • substantial formed links
  • eye pins for beads with large holes
18 ga
1.0 mm
  • more delicate clasps
  • jump rings
  • formed links
  • eye pins, head pins
  • wire-wrapping
  • ear-wires (though 20 gauge is more common)
  • fits through most bead holes
20 ga
0.81 mm
  • jump rings
  • delicate formed links
  • eye pins
  • head pins
  • wire-wrapped links
  • split-rings
  • earwires
  • fits through most bead holes
  • standard ear piercing gauge
21 ga
0.72 mm
  • many people buy this odd size gauge specifically for making earwires, but it is a little thinner than standard earwires.
22 ga
0.64 mm
  • wire-wrapping
  • wire-wrapped head-pins
  • wire-wrapped eye-pins
  • fits through almost all bead holes
24 ga
0.45 mm
  • wire-wrapping
  • fits through all but the smallest bead holes. Semi-precious gemstone beads and pearls often have smaller holes than other beads. This gauge fits through almost all of these.
26 ga
0.40 mm
  • for wire crochet
  • wire-wrapped bead links and head pins for very thinly drilled beads
  • wire-wrapping
  • fits through all but the smallest bead holes. Semi-precious gemstone beads and pearls often have smaller holes than other beads. This gauge should fit through all of these.
28 ga
0.32 mm
  • for wire crochet
  • wire-wrapping
  • wire-weaving.

Another problem that can arise when gauging wire is that it is not always exactly or consistently sized to the correct thickness. Plated and coated wire is especially prone to this fault as the thickness of the coating is not always taken into account. This means that when using aspect ratio to work out rings sizes, you may come out a little tight or loose if the wire is under or over sized on your rings. Read more on aspect ratio here.

The last instance where I find a lot of confusion on gauge is in reference to piercings. Unless you got your piercing done in a professional parlor, you may not know what gauge to look for when shopping for new jewelry, or what to make something out of.

Here is one last cheat sheet that is great to refer to:

Piercing Typical Starting Piercing Size
Earlobe Piercings 20 Gauge, sometimes 18 Gauge(20 Gauge is the most common, so considered standard)
Cartilage Piercings 18 Gauge or 16 Gauge
Eyebrow Piercings 18 Gauge or 16 Gauge
Cheek Piercings 16 Gauge to 12 Gauge (14 Gauge on Average)
Tongue Piercings 14 Gauge or 12 gauge
Nostril Piercings 20 Gauge or 18 Gauge
Nipple Piercings 14 Gauge or 12 Gauge
Belly Button Piercings 14 Gauge ot 12 Gauge
Industrial Piercings 14 Gauge
Lip Piercings 14 Gauge or 12 Gauge for Horizontal Lip Piercings, 18 Gauge or 16 Gauge for Stud Piercings like Monroe Piercings

I hope that this article helps you, let me know if you have more gauge related questions or if I missed anything you think is important!

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