Chain making is a particular technique of metalsmithing. You need to be good with your hands to specialise in chain work.
What do chain makers do?
Chain making is a particular technique of metalsmithing. Metal rings are joined together to form a chain. They can be joined singly to make a simple chain or in more complex patterns. Chain links can also be joined to each other to make a sheet of chain mail (or ‘maille’).
'Jumprings' are made of metal wire which can be soldered to join the ends and form a loop. The loops can be circular, flat or twisted. Chains can be all sizes - from tiny and delicate to large and strong.
Chains can be made of different metals. Many are gold or silver, but other metals such as brass, titanium, copper or steel can be used as well as alloys. In some pieces different metals are used for decorative effect.
The chain itself can be an item of jewellery – for the wrist or neck, for example. But chains can also be made into rings, earrings, brooches, and even bags or items of clothing, depending on the creativity of the designer.
What is the job like?
The process of making a chain involves:
- choosing the type of metal to use
- deciding what thickness (gauge) of metal to use
- winding metal wire round a piece of equipment known as a mandrel to form a coil (mandrels come in a range of sizes)
- clipping the coil to form rings
- joining the rings
- soldering the cut ends of the rings
- adding further loops to form a chain
- attaching a fastener, where necessary
- cleaning and polishing the finished chain.
Chains can be made in a whole range of decorative designs, many of which have several jump rings joined through the same loop. Some patterns are well-established or traditional.
Chain makers work with tools which include:
- pliers of different types and sizes
They may use chemicals for cleaning and treating metal.
If you want to earn a living by making chains, you may want to learn more about jewellery design and metalworking.
Chain makers work in a studio. This may be at home or elsewhere, and they may share the studio with other craft workers.
Many chain makers are self-employed. They may combine chain making with other types of jewellery making.
Customers may come to the studio to discuss designs and buy jewellery.
Chain makers may go to craft fairs and events in the UK and overseas, so they can meet other craft workers and suppliers and display their goods to visitors (including members of the public).
Many chain makers have websites to advertise and display their designs.
How do I become a chain maker?
You need to be:
- interested in working with metals
- able to pay attention to detail.
- good with your hands and able to handle tools.
As well as being creative, you need to be able to do routine repetitive work to create the rings to form a chain.
If you are dealing with the public, you need to have customer service skills. If you are designing bespoke pieces, you need to be able to explain your creative ideas to customers.
If you are self-employed, you need business skills so you can market your goods and services, deal with finances and develop your business.
What qualifications and training do I need?
There are short courses in chain making and soldering. Providers include:
- the London Jewellery School
- the Mid Cornwall School of Jewellery
- Fluxnflame in Dorset
- Artshed in Hertfordshire.
You do not need any prior knowledge to go on these courses. Other courses are run by practising craft workers in their own studios.
If you want to earn a living by making chains, you may want to learn more about jewellery design and working with metal. Some of the providers of chain making courses also offer longer metalworking and jewellery courses.
Degree courses in Jewellery, Gold/Silversmithing and Jewellery Design, which may include chain making, include
- the School of Jewellery at Birmingham City University (there is also an HND)
- Plymouth College of Art
- the Royal College of Art, London.
Holts Academy of Jewellery offers Diplomas in Jewellery Manufacture at Levels 2, 3 and 4 which may also be available through an apprenticeship.
As well as being creative, you need to be able to do routine repetitive work to create the rings.
Some courses have entry requirements, such as two A levels (or equivalent) for degree courses. You will also need to show a portfolio of your work.
As well as English and maths, art and design or design and technology (resistant materials) are useful subjects. Business studies or enterprise are useful if you want to run your own business.
What can I earn?
As a self-employed chain maker, earnings vary a lot depending on how you develop your business. Craft work can be very competitive.
Many people combine chain making and jewellery making with other paid work, especially while they are getting established.