What are the Best Metal Choices for Beginning Chainmaille? Compare and Contrast

Metal Choices

Base Metals

1. Aluminum
a. Lightweight
b. Shiny
c. Very easy to work with
d. Comes in a multitude of colors

*Aluminum vs. Bright Aluminum*

Bright aluminum has been polished and is very shiny. Regular aluminum is much cheaper, but hasn’t been polished and as a result, a blackish residue will come off on your fingers very quickly. You can polish regular aluminum using hot water and regular dish soap.

2. Raw Copper
a. Shiny, bright orange (like a new penny!)
b. Oxidizes into an auburn russet color quite quickly, especially in hot and humid climates
c. One of the most malleable base metals
d. Depending on the body chemistry of the wearer, raw copper may leave a greenish tinge on the skin (this washes off the skin easily).

*You can return oxidized raw copper to its shiny penny color by soaking it in ketchup or Worcestershire sauce and then rinsing it with warm water. Not kidding. This is actually a thing.*

3. Brass
a. Bright gold with a tiny hint of yellow-green
b. Oxidizes very quickly because it is an alloy of copper and zinc
c. People with copper allergies will also react to brass
d. Firmer than copper, but still malleable enough for beginners

4. Stainless Steel
a. Beautiful shiny dark silver color
b. Not very malleable
c. Hypoallergenic
d. Easy to clean and maintain
e. The most durable base metal I recommend for chainmaille

5. Niobium
a. Super hypoallergenic
b. Starts out as a pewter grey color
c. Easy to clean and maintain
d. Very malleable
e. The most expensive base metal I recommend for chainmaille

Anodized and Enameled Metals

1. Anodizing is the process of dipping metal into an electrolytic solution where voltage changes determine the final layer color. Jump Rings that have been anodized will keep their color for quite a while, but are not resistant to scratching or extended wear.

a. Aluminum
b. Niobium

2. Enameled metals (usually copper and sometimes aluminum) have been treated with a colored plastic coating.

3. Enameled Silvered metals usually have the brightest colors because there is a coating of fine (pure) silver under the plastic coating. These jump rings tend to be a bit more expensive.

Plated and Filled Metals

1. Plated metals start with a core of a base metal (nearly always brass) and are coated in a miniscule layer of pure gold. By miniscule, I mean that the amount of gold is not enough to be included in the item’s final weight (no more than 0.05%).

a. Initially have the look of precious metal
b. Much less expensive than filled or precious metal
c. Plating wears off very quickly to show the base metal underneath
d. Easy to work with
e. Good for beginners

2. Filled metals also start off with a brass core but the percentage of gold in the final weight is much higher (5% or 1/20 of the weight).

a. Maintains color beautifully over time
b. Less expensive than sterling silver and significantly less expensive than karat gold.
c. Relatively malleable
d. A little pricey for beginners

* Personally, I have found that gold filled metal doesn’t change color over time, but silver filled does tend to yellow a bit with the brass underneath. Although the filling process is the same for both silver and gold, I generally purchase 925 silver instead of silver filled since silver is not nearly as costly as gold.*

Sterling Silver and Argentium

1. Since pure silver is far too soft in its natural state to be much good for anything practical, sterling silver includes 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper (hence the 925 stamps you see on jewelry). This strengthens the metal while still maintaining its color.

2. Argentium sterling silver is a relative newcomer in the world of metal (2005) and has come to be respected as the most tarnish resistant silver on the market. This is accomplished by adding the chemical element germanium to the mix. This results in Argentium being:

a. A brighter white than sterling,
b. A harder metal than sterling,
c. More tarnish resistant than sterling, and;
d. More expensive than sterling.

*I just love Argentium. I can’t help it. It’s so shiny!*

Karat Gold

Like pure silver, pure gold (24k) is generally too soft to create sturdy, practical items. The karat system arose when gold was alloyed with other metals to increase its strength. The different numbers (10k, 12k, 14k, etc.) signify the purity of the gold out of a total of 24 possible karats. For example, 18k gold contains 18/24ths, or 75% pure gold. 14k gold contains 14/24ths, or 58.5% pure gold, and so on.

The color of the gold is determined by the alloy metals. For example, yellow gold comes from an alloy of copper and silver; rose gold from an alloy of copper alone and white gold from an alloy that includes platinum or palladium as well as copper and zinc.

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