WIRE PLAY class 

(these are the take-home notes for a class I gave to 3rd graders in 1997, though lots of the ideas apply to everyone)


telephone wire (electric supply store, like Halted. . . or find a telephone repair man)
When looking at various kinds of bundled wire, to see exactly what kinds of wire are inside, take along a craft knife or razor to split the outer plastic coating of the bundled wire tubing (usually gray) down about 1"... then peel back the tubing and check the types and the bendability of the wires inside ---mostly you will probably want solid colors, and wires that will hold a tight, small bend.

OTHER plastic coated wire --Ace Hdwe., Home Depot, Orchard Supply Hdwe, electric supply, old computer wires?, Radio Shack?, etc. 
OSH has $6 plastic coated wire in a bubble pack (275’) in 3 colors which are especially easy for a beginner to use --the kids used the blue one.  
(nowadays there is plastic-coated craft wire that can be purchased in craft or hobby stores or online, in many colors, like Fun Wire, Twisteez Wire, etc.).
Any plastic coated wire will usually work for this play, but some are too thick to bend or to cut easily enough; test them with your fingers if possible. 

As for metal wires, they can be purchased at hardware stores (Ace, HomeDepot, Radio Shack?, etc.) where you should find various brass, copper, “silver,” black?, green (garden), or other colors of metal wire
...or look for jewelry-type metal wire at craft stores, etc (nowadays there is Artistic Wire, e.g.), plus green and silver wire in the floral dept.  
(20 gauge or thinner is a good place to start for bending.... 24-28 gauge for anytime you want to wrap around and object or cord, tightly and closely).   Metal wire can also be hammered.*

--Use your hands, the side of a table, tubes/markers/pens, tapered ends of pencils, or any simple shape you can find, to help you make bends and coils.  Rounded objects will make rounded bends.

--Use pliers (“round nose” to make loops and rounded bends).  You can move the pliers, or move the hand holding the the wire, to make shapes.

--round nose, aka "rosary" pliers, for circles or rounded bends
--needlenose, long nose (long blades, with or without teeth) for most bending

*Hammering metal wire: (plastic coated wire won't work)... lesson:
Using a regular hammer or a plastic or leather one (or a thin piece of leather or plastic over the item to be hammered with a regular hammer), you can hammer the wire flat which looks interesting.
Usually this is done after any bending if finished.
You will need a flat surface which is harder than any metal you are pounding (hard to find) so that marks won't be made in the surface. Iron is good if you can find a bar somewhere or try a small iron skillet. Anvils are available at jewlery suppliers but will prob. be $15 and up.
NB: if you hammer an area with overlapping wires, it will be okay as long as you don't bend that "joint" later (if you do, it will break; thanks to Nate, our unwitting experimenter).
However, hammering or stretching (non-overlapped) wire will also make wire stronger, compressing the molecules.

more lessons and ideas:

Braiding & Twisting:  Wires can be braided by making a loop near the ends of each of the three pieces, which will be dropped over three nails pounded into a board at a backward slant, and C-clamped to a stable surface. 
Twisting can be done similarly with pliers holding the wire ends, or you can use a vise at one end and twist the other ends with an elec. drill or screwdriver.

Necklace: Thread any shape you make onto a ~26” ribbon or cord (stretch cord also) and tie in back of neck. 
Coils and other shapes may slip onto the ribbon, or it may be necessary to create a loop at the top of the shape to attach it, or to use a jump ring. 
Jump rings
are split circles of metal that can hold 2 things together.  Buy them or create your own by cutting coils apart in single circles.  Open only by separating ends in the same plane; otherwise getting a circle shape back again is impossible.

Bracelet:  Thread as above onto stretchy cord just large enough to get the hand through (plus extra); tie ends together, glue together, wrap with tape? or thin wire, or use end-loops method to connect, etc.

Ring:  Use a piece of wire long enough to circle twice around a tube, marker, or whatever smooth object you can find that’s the same size as a finger (ring will hold its shape best using medium gauge metal wire).  Leave a tail of around an inch or less before wrapping, then wrap twice around tube; twist ends twice near tube.  Thread a bead or other decoration onto one tail at a time, then using pliers bend tail around in a loop or simply down, to keep the bead on.

Wallboard Base:  We used 4x4” squares of wallboard (gypsum board) ...score the board, then break into pieces... “sand” rough sides by rubbing against the side of another piece (or use sandpaper or a rasp, etc). 
These can be used to make abstract wire sculptures, small scenes, etc.
Use a pushpin to create a hole for the wire ends; we used a glue gun for anything else.

Jigs: (lesson)
To make a more complicated shape (flat) from your wire, or one you want to repeat *exactly,* make a jig.
The best ones are made by inserting (I used1/8") dowel pegs into pre-drilled holes in a piece of wood, but nails can also be used (get smallest heads possible!). Draw or trace shape onto wood. Insert peg everywhere there will be a bend (use several to make a "curve"). Hold the end of the (not too stiff, long) wire off to the side, at the top. Wind wire around pegs, holding previous wire down with a pencil, etc. to prevent its lifting off the nails. Press all wire down flat, then remove by jiggling gently and pulling up (esp. if using nails). Cut off any extra wire.
Outlines: Use simple cookie-cutter-type shapes to copy. Draw onto paper; begin bending, holding it against the drawing to see where the line should go next.
Spacers: make some round or square "spacers" which fit over the pegs like donuts, to create wider loops or squared bends,e tc., with the jig
....the ones you can buy from wigjig.com might fit...or try going to the hardware store and "getting the plastic spacers that fit one on top of the other. The smallest had a hole that just fit the metal pegs in the jig. Works great. About .35 per spacer." Syl

Coils: (lesson) These are great and many things can be done with them!

--(If right handed)  Hold a tube/pen with left hand (leaving only an inch or two extending past fingers.  With wire in right hand, press the left end of wire to extruding area and hold tightly to tube with left finger/thumb.  Begin wrapping tightly around tube (wrapping away from yourself).  Remove from tube and cut wherever desired, or press the tiny tail down to the tube with pliers or against the table.
...After removing the coil, string on necklace, or flatten it and bend, or stretch it out and bend or bend into circles, or glue coils together to create figures, or do anything else you can think of with them.

Spirals: (lesson)  These are harder, but used very often in jewelry and other places (and look really neat).
--Begin with a very small loop (made with round nose pliers, etc.). 
Holding wire in left hand, grab across loop with regular pliers or fingers, tail to the left. 
Holding loop tightly, bend tail up (from 9:00, go to 12:00) a quarter turn in the same plane, so that it lies next to the loop.
Move tail back to 9 o”clock, grab loop again and repeat, until the spiral is the size you want. 
....You can also make loose spirals by bending the wire lightly (only to about 10:30 each time--this will leave space between the coils).  ....Try making a double spiral (begin each spiral from one end of the wire; mark where center will be before beginning, or just keep checking so the spirals will end up the same size--if that's what you want)

When CUTTING wire, use the middle-to-pointed-end area of a pair of wire cutters, or the bottom of jaws of large scissors (or use a pair of toenail clippers), and squeeze until wire breaks. 
Also, protect your eyes and others' eyes!!  Some wire bits will go flying off to the side after being cut. 
...To be extra safe with the kids, we made our cuts INSIDE a box turned on its side, while wearing protective glasses. 

(please feel free to use these notes for teaching others if you want!...just put my name on them)