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How to Buy Copper Wire From a Hardware Store
For steel, aluminum, copper and brass I have found gleaning scrap wire from construction sites (I always ask first), buying it by the pound from recycling sites or checking out my local hardware store to be my best bets. Jewelry store suppliers provide "single strand" spools or coils of wire. Hardware stores and construction sites yield "stranded" wire which is multiple strands within a plastic or cloth sheath. When you pick up the end of a stranded wire that is called - say - 16 gauge and you look into the end of it you'll see there are several wires bundled together. The total of that bundle equals 16 gauge. However, inside the sheath you may have a mix of 18 and 20 gauge wires or 10 and 16 gauges or a whole passle of just 34 gauge.
There are several standards for measuring wire and the ones most used for jewelry are American Wire Standard (AWG) and British Wire Standard (BWG). The electrical copper, aluminum and brass wires on spools in the hardware stores in the United States is closest to AWG. If I need exact measurments, then I pull out a micrometer and go with millimeters. (If you don't know what a micrometer is or does, I recommend a search for it on the internet. It can be a handy tool.)
In the hardware stores there are big spools of stranded wire in the electrical department. See second picture on the right. You can find it elsewhere in a hardware store, but electrical grade is superior quality for a better price. You can get copper, aluminium and brass. Do take care not to buy any wire with nickel in it. Nickel is as dangerous as lead.
I go in with a pocket knife and a pocket wire gauge. (I have not been able to purchase any wire gauge measuring disk or ruler in any hardware store in my area. I purchased one pocket gauge online and another at my local jewelry store. I use them a lot. If you choose to buy one, do a lot of price comparison because the prices vary greatly from vendor to vendor.) Once I get to the spools of wire, I use my pocket knife to cut a two inch strip of the insulation - just enough to pry a couple strands from inside. Then I use my pocket wire gauge to determine what gauges are inside the wire. Sometimes a strand will be too big for one notch but too small for the next larger notch. When I get this, like the fourth picture down on the right, I simply assume the gauge is somewhere inbetween.
Now here's the neat trick. The result is if I pay roughly $0.98 a foot for a bundle with 12 strands and, if I get just three feet of it, I end up with 12x3'=36' of wire for a song.
Now, here's another handy thing to know. In the Wire Wrap Jewelry Yahoo Group, a couple folks went to the trouble to strip down a bunch of stranded wire to determine how many of which gauge was in each bundle. If I could just remember to take this information with me when I go to the hardware store, I wouldn't need my pocket knife or my pocket wire gauge! LOL
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