How to make a headpin and what they are used for in jewelry making …

While I am going to show you how to make your own head pins below, I want to cover exactly what they are, what they are used for, and why I recommend making your own first.  But if you already know all that, feel free to skip right to the video.

Image of sterling silver headpins with a ball made from various gauge wires

What is a headpin (bead pin)? 

Simply put, a head pin is a wire with a finished end that acts as a stopper when you add beads to it.

They are also referred to as bead pins or jewelry making pins, since they are used with beads to make jewelry.

The finished end can take many forms:

  • Some look like common pins with a flat “nail head” at the end
  • Some have a ball at the end (learn how to make these in the video below)
  • Some have a more decorative finial
  • Some are forged flat like a graduated paddle
  • And some have a wire shape formed at the end

They come in different wire gauges, in various lengths, wire types and hardness.

What are headpins used for? 

Headpins are used to make bead dangles for jewelry:

  • You can add a bead dangle to an ear wire for a simple pair of earrings
  • You can use them like a charm on a bracelet or a pendant
  • Or you can use them to add fun pops of color to a chain necklace

Pretty much any jewelry design where you would want to dangle a traditional style bead, you’ll need some form of a head pin to get the job done.

Bead dangle samples made with open loops and wire-wrapped loops

What gauge wire is best for headpins? 

The best gauge of wire for making bead dangles is directly related to the beads you plan to use.

Ideally the hole of the beads fits onto the head pin with little room to wobble around.  Though often more than one bead is used at a time.  Typically, the feature bead (or focal bead) will dictate your choice for the wire gauge, and the supporting beads are chosen to fit and complement the focal bead.

  • Fine gemstone beads and pearls often have small holes and can only fit on 24- or 22-gauge wire.
  • Natural stone beads tend to have slightly larger holes. Many 6mm beads fit on 20- gauge wire, whereas 4mm stone beads are more likely to need 22- gauge wire.
  • While larger beads, like 8mm or 10mm, or funky shaped beads may fit on 18 or 16 gauge wire.
  • Large hole beads like lampwork and other specialty beads will wobble on wire gauges fit for forming loops, but you can use small round beads to flank the large opening to help stabilize them. In this case, the wire gauge would be selected according to the size of the holes in the small round beads.
Brown and Sharpe gauge chart excerpt showing the most popular wire gauges we use for making jewelry

Your best bet is to test the wire gauge in the hole of the bead.  Or if you are ordering online, look for the dimension of the hole on the beads and compare them to a wire gauge chart.  For instance, if the bead has a 1mm hole, 20 gauge wire (which measures .812mm in diameter) will fit well.

Wire-wrapped loops (pigtails) vs. open loops: why and when …

Once you’ve determined the gauge of the wire appropriate for use with your beads, it’s time to consider the structural integrity needed to support them.

This is not as complex as it sounds, but it’s extremely important for crafting jewelry that will stand the test of time.  Wire wrapped loops (or pigtails) are a closed loop connection which provides much more tensile strength than an open loop connection crafted from the same gauge wire.  So, if the bead we want to use determines the gauge of the wire we choose to work with, the way we are using the bead dangle will determine whether to use an open loop or a wire-wrapped loop.

Bracelets take a lot of abuse as you wear them, so any bead dangles used as charms on a bracelet should be quite durable.  Whereas earrings (especially small designs) don’t commonly have a lot of stress placed on them, so a bead dangle on an earring can be more delicate.  When considering necklaces, typically a short thin chain choker can be adorned with bead links featuring open loops of 18 or even 20 gauge wire, but longer, heavier versions need 16 gauge for open loops.  The bead’s scale and weight also play a role in this decision.

How long should headpins be?

The ideal length is based on the length of the bead segment and the style of the loop.

Wire wrapped loops require more length than to create than an open loop.  Typically, I like to allow at least 1.5” of wire to make nice wire-wrapped loops.  The length required to form open loops varies by the gauge of the wire and the size of the loop, but often closer to .5”.  So headpins for wire-wrapped bead dangles should be a minimum of 2” long (allowing .5” for the actual beads).  And headpins for open loop bead dangles could be as short as 1” depending on the bead segment size and gauge of the wire.

Why make your own headpins?

  • Choose the gauge

  • Customize the length

  • Durability

If you’ve followed along, you now realize that there are lots of variations you may want for your headpins, and they simply aren’t all available to purchase.  But even more important is the durability factor.

When you make your own headpins by melting the end of the wire creating a ball on the end, the finial (the decorative ball) is formed from the wire itself.  This means there is no joint that can be weak. 

Commercially produced headpins are commonly laser-welded to join the stopper to the wire.  Whether it’s a simple nail head design or an elaborate finial, that join can be weak.  That’s not to say they are all weak – but there’s potential for an issue.  I mention this because of personal experience.  The price point of the headpins doesn’t necessarily make them stronger.  It’s merely an accepted risk as part of the production process.  But when you melt the end of the wire to form the finial, this risk is mitigated.

How to make your own headpins:

While this quick tutorial showed you the basic process, the full lesson is almost an hour long and covers all the bases:

  • all the basics about setting up to use a butane torch including equipment and safety factors
  • the most common lengths and wire gauges
  • demonstrations with 2 different size butane torch “lighters”
  • troubleshooting for the top issues you’ll likely encounter
  • how to salvage them when things go awry
  • and what to do with the headpins after the pickle
Membership to the Jewelry Classes with Jen Learning Center affords you access not only to this lesson but also our signature course, Measuring Charts Made Easy, and many more fundamental lessons and jewelry project tutorials you can easily make at home.

Once you make your headpins, the lessons on wire-wrapping bead dangles and open loop bead dangles are very appropriate follow-up lessons.

Are you a member of the Jewelry Classes with Jen Learning Center?

Be sure you are logged in, and watch the full length lessons now:

Graphic for 'Melting' your own head pins lesson: How to create a ball on the end of sterling silver wire.

Fundamental: Making your own Head Pins

Learn how to 'melt' the end of your sterling silver wire into a ball for use as a head pin.  Choose your gauge; choose your length; and really durable!

Graphic showing samples of beads on headpins with wrapped wire loops

Fundamental: Wrapped Loop with a Headpin

Wire wrap beads for dangles using a headpin.  Keep a log for future success.

Learn how to go about using your teardrop rollback loop charts to craft bead dangles using head pins.

MCME Components: Open Loop Bead Dangles

Use your teardrop rollback loop measuring chart to craft consistent bead dangles using head pins.