Headpins are a very important component to many jewelry making styles, so you always want to have some on hand! When making your own headpins, there are cold forming options like swirly style or paddle style headpins, and there is hot forming, known as balling.
To ball the end of a piece of wire, you use a flame torch and apply heat to the very end of the wire. After a few seconds, the metal will melt and the surface tension of the liquefied metal will form a ball. Once the ball is the desired size, remove the heat and let your new ball headpin cool!
While this is an easy process that works with a number of different metals, it can sometimes be confusing as to what materials can’t be balled. This is a quick list that covers some of the most commonly used metals in jewelry making and what happens when you try to make balled headpins with them.
Nickel silver can be balled, though the zinc in the alloy will often create a pitted or puffy ball. Good for rustic finish pieces that need a grey-silver tone with hits of yellow.
Stainless steel does not ball! You need special tools to make balled stainless steel headpins, so if you want to make some yourself, I suggest swirly or paddle style ones.
Sterling silver balls beautifully, making a reasonably smooth, sometimes slightly teardrop shaped ball in nearly any gauge.
Fine silver with a copper core is a great sterling alternative for many projects, I do not recommend it for pieces involving heat. The fine silver coating melts and pulls back from the copper core, creating an uneven two toned finish.
Niobium does not ball, it will heat to red hot and stay stubbornly un-melted. the heated area will be black when cooled and the edges of the heated area may show brown, blue, and purple coloration. Niobium and titanium will both act the same, only coloring and not balling.
The gold counterpart of fine silver with a copper core, 24kt gold with a copper core acts the same, the copper core will ball, but the metal cladding will melt and burn off unevenly.
Non tarnish brass will ball, but the non tarnish coating will smoke and burn, negating the non tarnish properties of the metal. I recommend using raw brass for any heat-related pieces and sealing them after all the finishing work is done.
Would’t it be nice if you could have colorful enameled coated copper ball headpins? Sadly, ECC does not ball well. I could have heated the wire long enough to make the copper ball up, but with the amount of smoke and little flames running up the enameled coating, I stopped before the metal was hot enough to ball. To get matching headpins for your ECC projects, I suggest sticking to the swirly style only, or some other purely plier-formed design.
While silver filled can be soldered, it does not ball well. Again, the core and the silver cladding melt at different temperatures and interfere with each other, making it unsuitable for balling.
Gold filled can also be soldered, though it takes a little extra care as the gold cladding is susceptible to getting too pink from heat exposure. It has the same issues as silver filled on top of that, making it doubly bad for balling.
Now, as you may have noticed, these are mainly materials that do not ball well. Which ones do ball? Solid copper, solid brass, solid bronze, argentium, and fine silver will all ball nicely, with varying smoothness of balls(bronze is notorious for pitted surfaces). I mainly wanted to demonstrate what will happen when things that cannot or should not be balled are exposed to heat.