It is important to consider the composition of the materials you intend to use when doing any kind of recycled arts and crafts. Among the things you can make from metal clothes hangers are oversized paperclips, "S" hooks, jump rings, chains and chain mail. Metal coat hangers are made of stress-hardened 14- to15-gauge steel wire, with a thin lacquer coating. For some projects, the hardness and coating may be beneficial, while for others it will not. If it is not, you will have to remove the lacquer and soften the wire.
Prepping and Annealing the Wire
Annealing is heating the metal and allowing it to air cool. This softens the metal so it will take shape without forming stress cracks, splitting, breaking or shattering. Untwist the hanger and stretch the coat hanger out full length. Straighten the two bends at the bottom of the hanger by tapping gently along the hanger with a hammer, against a hard surface, but leave the twisted ends as is. Heat the entire length of your metal coat hanger to dull red with a propane torch, starting at one end and working your way to the other. Remove any lacquer ashes from the wire with steel wool. You now have clean, soft, steel wire that is ready for bending and hammering into intricate shapes.
It may seem simple, but bending wire to the correct curves and angles to make consistent-sized items takes practice. At a minimum, you will need a pair of needlenose pliers, steel rods of varying diameter, wire cutters, a hammering surface and several different hammers. Most bending can be done cold, as long as you have annealed your wire ahead of time. Making oversized paperclips, "S" hooks and chain links helps you learn how the metal feels, and how it will respond as it is struck.
Paper Clips and "S" Hooks
A paper clip is a wire that has three 180-degree bends in it. Have a standard paper clip handy so you can gauge the scale of your oversized paperclip. Use wire cutters to cut the bottom off a coat hanger that has been softened by heating it to dull red with a propane torch. Bend the wire into a "U" shape around a 3/8-inch diameter steel rod, 3 inches from one end. Repeat the same bend 3 1/2 inches further along the wire, using a 7/16-inch diameter dowel to form the wire into a loop. Use a 1/2-inch dowel to make the last curve, 4 inches from the second one. Cut the wire at the same position as your standard paperclip. Use needlenose pliers to adjust the bends.
Once you are comfortable making "U" bends, the next step is "S" hooks. Hold your stretched and straightened hanger with vise grips or tongs. Heat it to dull red again, using a propane torch. Cut off the twisted-hook end of the hanger. Wrap the wire around a 3/8-inch diameter steel rod to bend your hanger into “S” shapes. Cut each hook off the rod with wire cutters. You can make more than two dozen “S” hooks in less than half an hour.
Chain and Mail
The next most complex bend is used to make jump rings, chains and chain mail. Straighten another coat hanger as much as possible, and soften it with your torch by heating it to dull red. Use the twisted end of the hanger as leverage to wrap your wire into a coil around a 5/16-inch diameter or larger steel rod. When fully wrapped around the rod, it should look like a coil spring. Cut the twisted ends off the hanger with wire cutters. Use wire cutters to separate single rings or links from the coil. Connect the links into a chain. A similar technique can be used to make viking-knit chain mail. Connect a row of links side by side. Connect a second row of links through the link above it in the first row and through the link beside it.