Monday, July 20, 2009

Upcycling Electrical Wire to Make Copper Chain Maille

I always get a mix of reactions from people when I share with them that about 90% of the copper I work with is actually upcycled electrical wire: confused, mystified, excited, etc. Basically, electricians usually have some wire leftover after a job and I've been able to get my hands on some of it from time to time. What that means, however, is that I have to strip the protective plastic coating in order to get to the gorgeous copper wire hiding underneath it. The wire usually ranges in gauge sizes between 15 and 18 and they are entwined in each other so even after you have the wire stripped, it still needs to be separated. Stripping wire is a project, but so worth it. If you are given the opportunity and want to give it a try, here are a few pointers. Be sure to read through all instructions and cautions before you attempt to strip wire yourself.

What you'll need:
-length of electrical wire
-utility knife
-eye protection
-a cutting board, cork board, mat or a bench or work table that can get scratched up if the utility knife slips

How to do it:
-Wearing your eye protection, place your electrical wire on your cutting surface and click open your utility knife. The knife doesn't have to be out very far (in fact, it shouldn't be), just a couple of clicks should do it.
-Start at one end of your wire and cut into it with your knife, making a slice about 2" long. Put down your knife and start to peel the plastic back. Right now, you're not trying to cut all the way through the plastic coating. You are simply taking off the very outermost sheer plastic shell. Continue to cut and peel until the outer layer is completely off.
-Repeat the process, this time cutting through the thick plastic that protects the copper. The trick is to cut deep enough to split the coating, but not so deep that you mar the copper wire underneath. Stop cutting about an inch away from the end of the wire, you should be able to pull this off fairly easily.
-Now, you can either untwist the different gauges or leave them entwined until you're ready to use them (that's what I usually do).

Take great care not to cut anywhere near your fingers. I usually keep one hand holding down the wire on the opposite side of the direction the knife is cutting.

Take your time and go slow. Rushing leads to injury when you're working with a utility knife.

I know I said it before, but I'll say it again: wear eye protection.

Work with short cuts at a time. It's easier to manage and there's less chance of injuring yourself with smaller cuts.

If you take a break or walk away for any reason, close your knife!!

If you get tired, stop and come back to it later. After stripping wire for an hour you are bound to get tired and that's when mistakes happen.

*If you do strip some wire for yourself , I'd love to see what you make! Share links in the comments below.*



I love that you upcycle, makes your beautiful creations all the more interesting!! :0)

The Green Cat said...

I absolutely LOVE that you upcycle copper wire from leftover electrical wire. This is a fantastic reuse of something valuable that might otherwise go in the landfill!

Andrea Paulie said...

Absolutely fabulous that you up-cycle electrical wire!! Great Idea :-)

Athena's Armoury said...

Thank you all so much! I was partially inspired by another mailler who used wire coat hangers when he was starting out.