Copper Wire Questions

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#1
At the suggestion of a club member, I'm looking into picking up a few spools of copper wire for my Junipers I'll be working this fall. I notice that pricing for annealed copper wire for bonsai is pretty high compared to say, copper wire used in jewelry making. I haven't come up with much information comparing annealed with "dead soft" or "Half hard" wire descriptions. Would jewelry making copper wire work harden as well as annealed bonsai copper wiring? My immediate guess is that I just should pick up the bonsai wire and quit finding ways to be a cheap bastard, but figured I'd ask anyway and see what others' experiences are in the community.
 

Dav4

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#2
I'd suggest getting the annealed bonsai copper wire and use it. It'll be easier to use and will do the job right. After you have some experience, you could try to anneal your own wire... at least you'll have something to compare it to. I mainly use professionally annealed copper wire for my trees, though I do have a pile of "re-annealed by me" wire that I'll reach for when wiring up JBP seedlings and other long term project trees.
 
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#3
I go with aluminum or straight up rebar if needed.
Aluminium is super cheap, I picked up a 5 meter roll (2.0mm) for 50 cents yesterday. 5 meters of 4mm is around 10 bucks. Ebay has some great offers on alu wire too. It is softer, that's true. But it's cheaper doing a double layer of aluminium compared to doing a single thicker wiring with copper. For reference: 2 meters of 4mm copper wire did cost me 23 bucks, and I needed to strip and anneal it myself.
When using raffia, it's okay to use rebar. The raffia protects the bark to some extent anyways. Now I'm not saying you should, but there's alternatives all around. I have even seen people wrap rebar in paper or rope to prevent damage to the tree.

Personally, I'm done with copper. It's hard to obtain and expensive, and it's pain in the A to re-use copper. It's just to much of a fuss to me.

Otherwise: some thriftshops or second hand stores have loads of throwaway copper wire you can pick up for pennies. If you want to get into home-annealing and what not, I'd suggest you do it with that kind of material first. Youtube has a bunch of videos about the properties of copper and how to use them in your advantage.
 

jimib

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#4
I’ve bought annealed wire from electrical suppliers online for about 1/2 of what I paid for annealed wire from Bonsai suppliers. The only difference I noticed as the wire from the electrical suppliers were cleaner. But I’m a novice...
 
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#5
There is a reason why people use annealed copperwire. It works. Especially if you wire trees that need to keep the wire longer, thinner is good. I find copper also holds better over time than alu; Alu just tends to lose shape in wind & weather.

IF jewelry making copper wire is indeed 100% copper, it should respond in the same way, assuming it is also annealed.
 

Adair M

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#6
With copper wire, work hardening isn’t the issue. All copper will work harden if it’s bent. It’s the annealing that’s important. Annealing makes it soft, allowing you to wrap where you want, NOT just “where the wire lets you put it”. That’s a huge difference.

Ignore the advice Wires-guy-wires posted. He obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Double wrapping aluminum is poor practice.

I recommend you watch Colin Lewis’s tutorial on wiring. It’s free on www.craftsy.com. Once in, search for “bonsai”.

Someone recently posted a link to a video by Ryan on wiring. It’s also good.

I know everyone wants to save a bit of money and use aluminum on conifers. Copper works SO much better. Frankly, if the cost of copper wire is too high, bonsai may not be the right hobby for you at this time. Good pots get REAL expensive.

Julian Adams sells a starter set of a bit of all sizes at a reasonable cost. Try it, and then re-order just the sizes you use the most. Www.adamsbonsai.com
 
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#8
With copper wire, work hardening isn’t the issue. All copper will work harden if it’s bent. It’s the annealing that’s important. Annealing makes it soft, allowing you to wrap where you want, NOT just “where the wire lets you put it”. That’s a huge difference.

Ignore the advice Wires-guy-wires posted. He obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Double wrapping aluminum is poor practice.

I recommend you watch Colin Lewis’s tutorial on wiring. It’s free on www.craftsy.com. Once in, search for “bonsai”.

Someone recently posted a link to a video by Ryan on wiring. It’s also good.

I know everyone wants to save a bit of money and use aluminum on conifers. Copper works SO much better. Frankly, if the cost of copper wire is too high, bonsai may not be the right hobby for you at this time. Good pots get REAL expensive.

Julian Adams sells a starter set of a bit of all sizes at a reasonable cost. Try it, and then re-order just the sizes you use the most. Www.adamsbonsai.com
I do not use Aluminum because it's cheaper than copper, I use it because my hands cannot handle copper any longer due to nerve damage.
 
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#9
It was great meeting you at the NBS meeting. I feel extremely positive after my first NBS experience.

Regarding wire -I’ve been getting electrical wire from the habitat for humanity re-store, removing the insulation, and annealing it in coals of a hot fire overnight.

It’s not ideal for needing an array of gauges, but it’s been a really good resource for 1-2mm.

This wire (photo) is 14’, and has four 1.5 mm wires in insulation. So that’s 56’ of quality copper wire for $1.99. It (unlike some that feel like steel) is already very pliable and does not require annealing.

That video that @Cofga posted is actually what inspired me to do this (.. & to start collecting wild native species -wish he put more up).

... there is an older post by someone here annealing with a charcoal grill. 0398642C-036D-4040-AFD7-08A3A6ECEC11.jpeg 79230320-6F49-4F03-B161-2D46F44598DB.jpeg
 

Adair M

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#10
Here is a link to a video on annealing copper wire for bonsai use. There are also a lot more on Youtube.

Those coils are too tight. The larger the diameter, the better. That’s because just uncoiling it to use it stiffens the wire!
 

Adair M

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#11
I do not use Aluminum because it's cheaper than copper, I use it because my hands cannot handle copper any longer due to nerve damage.
I’m sorry to hear this, Vance. We all have to do what we have to do!

Small gauge copper is still very easy to bend. Thicker copper can be difficult to manage.
 
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#12
I really get what you are saying @Adair M. In the future I will employ a much larger diameter in spool-surface.

Another thing related is that when you put it to fire you want it really loose -like just bound enough to not be a slinky. I have figured out that this especially makes the difference the thinner the gauge...

Can anyone describe why this thinner wire (1mm, should’ve mentioned earlier but just realized that problem wire was 1mm) sometimes can become brittle, when the 1.5-2mm does not in the same fire? Is it too tightly bound and spoiled as stated or 29F34048-B8B4-4C4F-90CF-5D252425F903.jpeg something else?
 

Adair M

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#13
If copper is over heated when it’s annealed, it crystallizes. And becomes brittle. That’s actually what happens when annealed wire work gardens. It crystalizes. Which makes it stiffer.

So, this whole annealing thing is not as simple as it looks!

Jim Gremel, whose wire I use, used to be an engineer at Boeing. He uses a kiln to anneal the wire he sells. He ran experiments annealing each gauge of wire at different temperatures, for different lengths of time, and then tested the annealed wire on a strain gauge, determining the optimum temperature and time for each gauge.

That’s why I prefer his wire. Other people do a good job, but Jim’s always is very consistent.
 
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#14
If copper is over heated when it’s annealed, it crystallizes. And becomes brittle. That’s actually what happens when annealed wire work gardens. It crystalizes. Which makes it stiffer.

So, this whole annealing thing is not as simple as it looks!

Jim Gremel, whose wire I use, used to be an engineer at Boeing. He uses a kiln to anneal the wire he sells. He ran experiments annealing each gauge of wire at different temperatures, for different lengths of time, and then tested the annealed wire on a strain gauge, determining the optimum temperature and time for each gauge.

That’s why I prefer his wire. Other people do a good job, but Jim’s always is very consistent.
Gremel, as I understand, began making wire for bonsai due to the same plight as the OP.

While the layman, perhaps not with the same tools at ones disposal, & unlike requirements of firing pots, annealing various degrees of wire seems within reach without a kiln or other device, and within proper technique and execution.

It may take some attention and know how, but seems within reach...?
 

Adair M

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#15
Gremel, as I understand, began making wire for bonsai due to the same plight as the OP.

While the layman, perhaps not with the same tools at ones disposal, & unlike requirements of firing pots, annealing various degrees of wire seems within reach without a kiln or other device, and within proper technique and execution.

It may take some attention and know how, but seems within reach...?
Julian doesn’t use a kiln, he uses a fire, and he does it by visual inspection. When it glows pink, it’s done. Again, you don’t want it to get too hot, or it becomes brittle. Julian dunks his in water. Jim does not. He lets it cool in the kiln.

Most people who anneal copper for bonsai do in a fire, and visually determine when it’s done by color. Like any skill, it takes practice to get it right.
 

markyscott

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#16
If copper is over heated when it’s annealed, it crystallizes. And becomes brittle. That’s actually what happens when annealed wire work gardens. It crystalizes. Which makes it stiffer.

So, this whole annealing thing is not as simple as it looks!

Jim Gremel, whose wire I use, used to be an engineer at Boeing. He uses a kiln to anneal the wire he sells. He ran experiments annealing each gauge of wire at different temperatures, for different lengths of time, and then tested the annealed wire on a strain gauge, determining the optimum temperature and time for each gauge.

That’s why I prefer his wire. Other people do a good job, but Jim’s always is very consistent.
The unannealed wire you buy is made by pulling a rod through progressively smaller dies until it reaches the right diameter. So the act of making the wire work hardens it and it comes out very stiff and not usable for bonsai. In fact, it work hardens so much that it’s often annealed several times as the wire is drawn.

Fully annealed copper wire is somewhat harder to put on than aluminum of the same size, but not a huge amount harder. It’s something like 50% stronger than aluminum. But once it’s been work hardened, it has close to 3 times the holding power of aluminum wire. This is why copper is so good for bonsai - it’s easy to bend the first time, but once on it holds its shape.

Copper has a crystal structure. Bending copper wire introduces defects into the structure which interfere with further deformation and make the copper hard and strong so it is not easily rebent. Annealing the wire removes the defects so which makes it easy to bend again. Overheating the wire during can lead to grain boundary penetration which makes copper and copper alloys brittle. Annealing is done at a temperature of around 70 - 80% of the melting temperature - that’s about 700-800 deg C for copper. It’s probably easier to control that precisely and ensure even heating in a kiln if you gave one, but I think most folks use a fire source of some type and guess the temperature based on color. Just realize that it may not be perfect at the end of the day.

Scott
 
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#17
At the suggestion of a club member, I'm looking into picking up a few spools of copper wire for my Junipers I'll be working this fall. I notice that pricing for annealed copper wire for bonsai is pretty high compared to say, copper wire used in jewelry making. I haven't come up with much information comparing annealed with "dead soft" or "Half hard" wire descriptions. Would jewelry making copper wire work harden as well as annealed bonsai copper wiring? My immediate guess is that I just should pick up the bonsai wire and quit finding ways to be a cheap bastard, but figured I'd ask anyway and see what others' experiences are in the community.
Jewelry making has been a hobby of mine for longer than bonsai. Most of what was said above was correct, but I'm still gonna rant.

Most copper jewelry wire is the same 99.999..% copper that you'll get from the bonsai suppliers, stripping electrical cable, or buying bare copper wire at Home Depot. I only say "most" because some "copper" "craft" wire may just be a copper colored aluminum.

As I'm sure you've guessed, dead soft wire is a lot softer than half hard. Bonsai people like their wire much softer than dead soft. This matters less at the smaller gauges (say, 18g to 12g or so) but becomes a really big deal when you are working with the fat stuff -- 10g, 8g, and 6g. I often make bracelets out of 6g and 4g wire. I believe that there are bonsai that need those sizes -- I just don't own any ;)

I'm a little surprised that you found that jewelry wire is cheaper than bonsai wire. In my price checking that didn't really seem to be the case for anything larger than 20g (which isn't really a useful bonsai size). Otherwise, for retail quantities of wire, the bonsai suppliers were ahead of the game (stone lantern for 18g, Julian Adams for 16-8g) the one exception was 8g that was cheapest (in 50ft rolls) at a local hardware store (Menards).

Wholesale, I was (unsurprisingly) able to beat Julian Adams prices for 8, 10, 12, and 16g through wireandcableyourway.com. (I had previously lucked into a deal on scrap 14g so I'm set for that for the forseeable future as well) But, 100ft (and 500ft for 16g) quantity minimums may be more than you are willing to take on. Again, I have jewelry (and sculpture) uses for this stuff, and a (small) kiln which makes annealing* for my own trees easy enough.

All that being said: I wouldn't recommend buying wholesale (or scrap) and annealing your own as a good way to save money, unless you really don't value your time. It's just not *that* much cheaper, and it's kind of a pain. Which is all to say -- it's tempting to believe that the bonsai wire suppliers are adding "bonsai" tax to the price of their wire. I don't really think that they are. It does suck to pay for shipping, but if you order a sizable quantity from Gremel or Adams, you'll be set for a while and can spend more time on your trees.

*I've never used "proper" bonsai copper wire. But... I took wire from the SparkleKiln™ to a workshop with a bonsai professional and he wanted to know where I got it because my fat wire (8g) was the softest he'd ever used. I know that Gremel and Adams have their various "programs" worked out, but I just load the kiln with my spools (various gauges), ramp to 1350F over 1 hour, quench immediately, and (if I'm feeling fancy) pickle.
 
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#18
Julian doesn’t use a kiln, he uses a fire, and he does it by visual inspection. When it glows pink, it’s done. Again, you don’t want it to get too hot, or it becomes brittle. Julian dunks his in water. Jim does not. He lets it cool in the kiln.

Most people who anneal copper for bonsai do in a fire, and visually determine when it’s done by color. Like any skill, it takes practice to get it right.
I do anneal my own wire on my charcoal grill. It takes about 4 hours, and then I quench it in iced water immediately. I like the results, and I have fun doing it.
 
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#19
Thanks for all the great responses guys. I went ahead and ordered the intro kit from Adams bonsai. I spoke to Mr. Adams on the phone (super nice guy) and he is evidently not doing his own wire anymore. However he has trained a replacement to use his methods. Very quick turnaround time, I just ordered yesterday and got a shipping confirmation this morning. Thanks for the help!
 
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#20
It was great meeting you at the NBS meeting. I feel extremely positive after my first NBS experience.

Regarding wire -I’ve been getting electrical wire from the habitat for humanity re-store, removing the insulation, and annealing it in coals of a hot fire overnight.

It’s not ideal for needing an array of gauges, but it’s been a really good resource for 1-2mm.

This wire (photo) is 14’, and has four 1.5 mm wires in insulation. So that’s 56’ of quality copper wire for $1.99. It (unlike some that feel like steel) is already very pliable and does not require annealing.

That video that @Cofga posted is actually what inspired me to do this (.. & to start collecting wild native species -wish he put more up).

... there is an older post by someone here annealing with a charcoal grill. View attachment 209609 View attachment 209610
It was great meeting you as well. The NBS folks are an awesome group. I'll definitely be making the October meeting for Bjorn's demo!
 

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