What wire to use to make a hanging mobile and where to buy it

I get an email once in a while asking what kind of wire I suggest to use to make a hanging mobile and where to buy it. I just got one again and I figured I’ll just turn it into a post on my blog here.

Most of the time I use galvanized wire which you can get at most hardware stores. It usually comes in a roll (see image below), usually 100 feet long and costs around $6 a roll. Two tips: if you can’t find it in the regular hardware section: sometimes hardware stores have wire in the dropped ceiling section and I’ve also seen wire sold in the household section as clothing line. Any place that has fencing supplies can be a good source too. If you can’t find them in any stores near you, you can get them online at McMaster-Carr.

Wire comes in different gauges, the smaller the gauge number the thicker the wire. 18 gauge is very easy to bend and works fine if you’re attaching lightweight things to it like paper shapes. 16 gauge is sort of in the middle, and 14 gauge works good for a little heavier attachments (I use mostly 14 and 16 gauge for my two to three feet sized mobiles where the shapes are made of sheet metal).

If you’re planning on something a little bigger and a little heavier, you will have to get 12 or even 9 gauge wire, but when you go to that thickness it’s becoming increasingly hard to bend. Especially if you start using solid metal rods (rounds), you’ll need to figure out how to bend it in ways other than just with your hands and a pair of pliers. I made myself a special tool with two pulley wheels to get nice even round loops, but I’ll cover that in a different post sometime.

If you’re planning on making a large mobile, I recommend you use aluminum rods instead of wire, starting with 1/4 inch thick ones. To make a really big mobile or kinetic art installation, such as the 76 foot (23 meters) mobile by Alexander Calder at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, use hollow aluminum tubes. Using straight up metal on really large ones makes them too heavy.

I also read somewhere that Calder used piano wire (also known as music wire) from time to time but I haven’t tried it or looked into it yet.

There’s also a table on Wikipedia that shows various data including the gauge, diameter and more of the various wire gauges, and see the page I made that explains some of the basics about the balance of a hanging mobile. I also have a blog post with some of the questions that I receive via email regarding how to making mobile and my answers and see some of my mobiles – handmade mobiles, large custom-made mobiles, 3D printed mobiles and kinetic sculptures – if you’re looking for design ideas.

I also wrote an article for MAKE magazine on how to make a mobile based on Calder’s mobiles.

If there’s anything else I can help with, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Image of roll of galvanized wire to make hanging mobile art

with “piano” also called “music” wire

© 2014 Marco Mahler