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).
Wire that is already straight (not in a roll) is hard to find. You can find 12 gauge straight wire (not very easy to bend by hand) that’s 6 feet long in the dropped ceiling section at Home Depot. I just checked, I don’t think they sell it online but here’s what it looks like in the store (note it comes in a pack of 50):
You can also straighten wire with the help of a drill and a vice (41 sec video), or with the help of a drill and a wooden block (6:08 min video).
This would would only work for a very lightweight or small mobile, but you might want to check your local hardware store or look for it online.
If you’re planning on a mobile that’s 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. There’s a variety of pipe bending tools that can be applied to certain aspects of making mobiles (if you’re willing to spend the money for one). Or take a look at these instructions on how to make a hook bender.
If you’re planning on making a large mobile, I recommend you use aluminum rods (rounds) instead of wire, starting with 1/8 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 / pipes. On a Schedule 40 they usually start at 1/2″ diameter (outer diameter 0.84″). Using solid metal rounds instead of pipes for really large mobiles makes them too heavy, especially when using steel. Calder’s giant mobile White Cascade, which measures 100 feet in height, was made with steel and weighs close to 10 tons (!). A large mobile (33 feet in height) that I made with aluminum pipes and aluminum sheet weighs only 100 pounds.
There’s also a table on Wikipedia that shows various data including the gauge, diameter and more of the various wire gauges.
Additional resources for making mobiles:
- Blog post I wrote explaining some of the basics about the balance of a hanging mobile
- Blog post with mobile-making related questions that I’ve received via email and my answers
- An article I wrote for MAKE magazine on How to Make a Mobile Based on Calder’s Mobiles
- An article I wrote for Houzz: From the Artist: How to Make a Real Mobile – It’s All in the Balancing Points (there’s a number of questions and answers in the comment section of the article as well). The article is now also available in German
- A history of early mobiles that I’ve put together
- Some technical (“behind-the-scenes”) aspects of designing, making and installing a large custom mobile
- A definition of mobiles
- Q&A about Mobiles for a middle school student’s math class project
- See some of my mobiles if you’re looking for design ideas: handmade mobiles, large custom-made mobiles, 3D printed mobiles and kinetic sculptures
If there’s anything else I can help with, don’t hesitate to contact me.