Q: I want to make my own tool for producing beaded wire, and wondered if I need to use tool steel, or if mild steel was sufficient?
A: Tool steel is not some extra fancy stuff. It’s just a good grade of high carbon steel that can be fully hardened, and I’d guess this is what you want. It’s the same material that things like files, chasing tools, various punches and other tools you already may have are made of. If it’s hard to start with, you can just use abrasive tools to shape it, being careful not to get it too hot in the process. If it’s soft, then shape it first, then heat it to red heat, then quench it in water or oil, depending on the type of steel it is, to harden it. Then heat it to temper it, reducing the hardness of the steel so it isn’t brittle. Sand a part of it near the working edge, and watch the colors flow over the surface as you heat it. For this use, probably a “peacock” color, a blue-purple, is what you want to see. Quench it when that color appears, and it’s tempered.
If you don’t really wish to make your own, or perhaps want a tool that can crank this out faster than your hammered-together plates can (it’s a somewhat iffy method for achieving consistent results), you might want to look at a pattern rolling mill. The little cheap mills made in India or Spain and which are often sold for under 300 dollars have available a number of optional pattern rolls that include a range of interesting embossed wires, some of which, if I recall, are classic beaded wire patterns. I may be wrong, but I seem to recall that the Karat Brand carries these.
This approach would cost you more, of course, than banging out your own tools, but you’d likely save almost as much back again, in terms of the time and trouble saved, plus the rolling mill makes more than just the one pattern of wire.
by Peter W. Rowe M.F.A., G.G.