Friday April 25th 2014

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DIY: Blocking Wires

Okay, blocking with pins can be rather relaxing and meditative, but frankly? usually it’s kind of a pain in the butt. You need lots of the pins. That’s “lots” as in “hundreds of the pesky little things.” Depending upon the size of your project, you might also end up with a sore back from bending over the blocking. You have to keep measuring back and forth to make sure you have everything as symmetrical as knitting ever gets, and move all of the pins when you get one bit wrong.

023wireblockingWires, now. Blocking wires (sometimes also called “dressing wires”) are cool. You slide the wire into the edge of your knitting (on scalloped or pointed edges, you can just put it through the tips), then you pin the wires into place, not the knitting. Voilá. If the intervals between points isn’t right, you just slide everything around on the wire until it is right. If one side is longer than the other, you just slip the few pins out and re-pin quickly and easily. If you use an official blocking mat or surface, the wires make it really easy to measure so pinning out is quick and easy. Most blocking wires are even thin enough to be flexible to go around gentle large curves, though not small ones. With wires, the points are pointier and more even looking. You can really block hard and wide with wires, and oh so easily. (Here’s a tutorial from Knitting Daily on blocking a shawl with wires.)

Okay. So you have that blocking wires are good, right?

Now, here’s the thing. Insofar as I can tell, commercial blocking wires tend to be a stiffish but still flexible wire of about 1/16″ or less in diameter. They come in lengths of about 12″ to 36″. Stainless steel is a must, because the yarn is wet, and you’d be surprised how fast rust can develop…and then mark your yarn rather permanently. (That’s not a good thing, probably needless to say.) You usually get anywhere from 10 to 15 or so wires, usually mainly in the 36″ length and a few of the 12″ length, costing you anywhere from $17.50 to $35.00.

Want to make your own set for about half of that cost? Welding wire. Stainless steel welding wire, the kind for TIG welding. The kind that has no flux coating. You won’t find it at most big box hardware stores, you need to find a welding supply shop — most towns do have one or two. A package of wires will cost you, currently, about $17.50 for 30 wires of 36″ length, so you can split the cost with someone else and still end up with 15-19 wires, depending on how many shorter wires you want, or go the “I never want to run out of blocking wires” route and keep the whole thing for yourself.

If you want particularly fine wires for lace, you might have a harder time finding thinner welding wires; talk to your local welding supply shop or take a look at welding supply online houses.

TIG or MIG? There’s been a small amount of controversy regarding whether you want to purchase TIG or MIG welding rods. I asked the good folks at Lincoln Electric Company what the difference was, and Customer Rep John Seifarth replied: “The TIG rod is stiffer because it does not have to be wound in a spool for wire feed welding.They both have the same properties if they are the same grade stainless.” So there you have it. Just make sure you ask for a high grade stainless.

Don’t be embarrassed. Call up that welding supply house. Make yourself a set of wires. Make other knitters envious enough to make their own and give them the welding supply house’s phone number. They will be pleased by the extra custom. You and your knitting buddies will be pleased with your new wires. Your wallet will be happy that it still has some money in it.

So, you’ll need:

  • Welding wires, stainless steel, no flux, 1/16″ or less, for TIG welding
  • optional metal snips and safety glasses
  • a metal file
  • if you want to get really fussy, fine metal sandpaper
  • some kind of cleaner, such as isopropyl alcohol, or GoopBGone, etc.
  • cotton balls or clean rags
  1. wires1If you want some shorter lengths, put on those safety glasses and snip the wires to desired lengths.
  2. Rotating the wire slightly with each swipe, run the edge of the end of the wire straight down the metal file. After you’ve gone around about twice, start moving the metal file in a rounding motion over the tip to help round the end, like a fairly blunt knitting needle tip. Run your finger tip over the end to see if you have any snaggy bits and file those away.
  3. Optional: fine-polish the ends with the sandpaper.
  4. Once you’re happy with the ends, use the cotton balls or rags with your cleaner and take any printing off the wires, so the “ink” of the printing and any dirt on the wires doesn’t end up on your yarn.

wires2This pic (click on the image for a better look) shows the difference between the wire as it comes out of the package (on the right) and the filed-down wire (on the left).

And, ta da! there you have them. Blocking wires.

Mind you, some of the commercially available blocking wires don’t bother with the rounding of the ends, they just give you snaggy wires. If you do buy a set instead of making your own, be sure to take them out of the packaging and feel the ends for sharp bits that will make it much harder to thread your knitting onto the wires. You can file down commercial blocking wires the same way.

Tomorrow, I’m going to run to Lowe’s or Home Depot to get a slender 36.5″ PVC tube with some caps, from the plumbing dept. I’ll use that to store the wires. (P.S. If you go this route, and all your hardware/ironmonger store has in the PVC section is a 3/4″ or 1″ piping, try looking in the water pipe or electricity section. You may be able to find 1/2″ pipe there, even though it will be more expensive, as in $2.50 instead of $0.95. The rubber caps for the piping is usually kept in cardboard bin boxes under the pipe shelves.)

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18 Responses to “DIY: Blocking Wires”

  1. Laurie says:

    Wow! I’ve been considering buying blocking wires, but will instead head to Lowe’s. I remember years ago, when I did a lot of fancy doily crocheting…I would wear band-aids on my thumbs and index fingers to prevent the blisters that invariably developed from working with all those hundreds of pins…ouch!

    • Zina says:

      Our Lowe’s didn’t carry the stainless steel welding rods, though — so you’ll likely find that you’ll have to get it from a welding supply house, online or locally! It’s actually kind of fun to do…

  2. Amber says:

    I can’t tell you how timely your post is! I am just getting to the end of a big lace shawl, and was considering buying some blocking wires, but honestly, I’m much rather buy some welding wires and put in a little work to make them perfect! Thanks for the tip!!

  3. Penfeather says:

    I’m so glad you posted this! I can’t find my old set of blocking wires anymore and was wondering what to do about replacements. I’ve seen welding wire mentioned before in vague terms, but had no idea what to ask for. Now I’ve found a local shop that has them in stock and will probably make it out there tonight to get some. Yay you!

    • Zina says:

      Yeah, I actually had the same problem — it wasn’t ’til someone told me what kind of wire to get that I had the courage to call up a welding supply house and actually ask for welding wire…and discovered in passing that they would have recommended the wrong kind of wire, so I’m glad I was able to pass that on to you!

  4. DIY Welders says:

    I was looking for welder related tips this was good

  5. Really enjoyed this article post. Want more.

  6. Twila says:

    Sigh, I didn’t see this post until after I’d already purchased blocking wires. It was very useful though as the wires I bought weren’t smooth on the ends and had a gray residue on them–and they were purchased from a knitting company! Thanks so much, Zina, for the tips on smoothing the ends and cleaning them.

  7. Rekha Sharma says:

    This is excellent advice, though hardware shops 1. sell in weights, 2. and not less than 0.5kg.

    • Zina says:

      That’ll actually depend on the shop. An actual welding supply shop will sell differently from a general hardware store, for instance, and online shops often will only sell small amounts in pre-packaged bags only. Some shops will obligingly sell you just a few pieces, others want you to buy in bulk only. YMMV!

      • Zina says:

        Oh, and I have heard of times when a knitter went into a shop, told them she only wanted 7 pieces, and they simply cut her 7 pieces the size she wanted from some scrap they had lying around, and told her it wasn’t worth their while to write a receipt or take her pennies, so have fun with her new wires. :)

  8. Linda says:

    Love the article- very timely.
    I need short wires for small items. Store bought kits have the 36 Inch which are way too big-even 18: is too big for my purposes. I have used the plastic childrens toy “Pick up sticks” and they work pretty good. made cheaper these days and more flexible. I have also tried bamboo skewers with some success. I like the idea of SS but I am worried about the cost of snips which can be costly. Also the snags could be a proble.

    • Zina says:

      Cheapest metal snips evah…borrow them from someone. Most people who do wiring or repair fences or any amount of small jobs around the house will have a pair of metal snips. The file (also something that any reasonably experienced handyperson will have about) will take care of the snags.

  9. [...] the wires are not cheap – so I give you, courtesy of a forum I visit, a cheaper solution, here.  The terminology is from the US but Ij suspect it’s not that much different here.  It [...]

  10. U2CH says:

    I totally did this. I had an apartment around the corner from a welding supply place and when I asked the staff if I could buy some, they said they usually don’t sell them in batches less than 100 wires. They were intrigued though and gave me a handful (about 25) for 3 dollars. They are better than any blocking wires I’ve seen even with the hand-finishing that I had to do.

  11. I have been surfing on-line more than three hours yesterday, but I never found any fascinating articles like yours. THANK YOU!|

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