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Wire Versus Rings: Cost Analysis
Article © MAIL User: Drax

I'll be honest: I hate money. Root of all evil and all that stuff. But even though I may not like money, I have to admit it's a pretty good idea to learn how to manage time. Because time = money.

This article isn't meant to explain basic concepts of economics, but it will take a look at the monetarial factors that chainmaillers face -- even those of us who don't run businesses. First, I'll speak a little more generally, talking about things other than chainmaille. If you're just interested in the chainmailling part, skip to the later section.

The idea for this article spawned from some of the discussion over whether or not power-winding is worth it. Safety aside, it's really an issue of time. And it turns out, it may not be worth doing any winding at all!

Basic Ideas

The article will outline ways to think about how you spend your time and your money. The way we go about our lives is a balance of our time and our money available. People value time and money differently, thus, different people will draw different conclusions from this article. That's perfectly fine within the scope of this article. I will draw most of my examples in relation to chainmailling, but these basic concepts apply to any aspect of living. The initial stuff will deal with the foundational ideas, then toward the end, I'll move into direct application to chainmailling.

I'll start with a nonchainmaille example: riding a bus. Imagine you're a student on a campus, and you need to get to the other side of campus. You can walk and it will take you 15 minutes. But hey, here comes a bus! Only $1 for the ride, and it'll only take 5 minutes. You need to figure out what's more important to you: $1 or 10 minutes of your time (the time you save by taking the bus versus walking). I'm a penny-pincher, so I'll walk, also consoling myself that I'm getting good exercise. But now imagine that I'm late for an interview that starts in 15 minutes. If I walk, I'll be barely on time, sweaty, and out of breath when I arrive; if I take the bus, I'll be less stressed and a little early. Suddenly, that $1 seems like less of a loss. The same goes if it's raining heavily and I forgot my umbrella, or perhaps it's bitter cold with high winds. I may decide that $1 is worth getting out of the bad weather.

We run into the same choices when we decide to eat out (or order food) as opposed to making it at home. We balance our time available, our energy level, our willingness to prepare a meal at home versus the convenience of paying to have somebody make our meal for us.

I think we often make these choices intuitively, and for the most part, it works. However, it's worth taking a closer look at some choices, because sometimes there are better choices (that's a nice way of saying we can make poor choices).

For example: I locate two sources in my town for stainless wire. One place very close to me is selling it for $3 per pound, while another place across town (20 miles away) is selling it for $2.50 per pound. If I'm planning on buying 10 pounds of wire, I should probably go to the closer store and pay $30. I could go to the farther store and pay $25, but in the process, I'd be driving 40 miles. Depending on your car gas mileage and the current price of gas, which is about $2.50 now, you'd probably burn up all the savings of the wire in gas money. Not to mention the time. Now, if I were going to buy 100 pounds of wire, I'd be looking at a savings of $50, in which case the trip across town may be worth it.

Speaking of time, what is it really worth? One way to think about it is to ask yourself, "What else could I be doing?" For example, let's imagine you run a chainmaille business and get enough PROFIT (not sales) equal to about $8 per hour of your effort. But let's also say you could get a job at a local office for $10 per hour. From a money standpoint, the office job is better. If you decided to stay with your chainmaille business, it's because you placed a higher value on making chainmaille than on the office job (that is, you placed an added personal value of at least $2 per hour on making chainmaille over office work) -- and that can be a mix of a number of factors such as schedule convenience, what you enjoy doing or not doing, and so on.

For those that work 8-hour-a-day jobs, the question arises over the value of your time away from work. It can get a little complicated on whether you get paid hourly (and if you can get overtime) or salary (where you usually don't get overtime). And even if you *could* get paid twice as much for working 80 hours in a week over 40 hours, most of us would not want to do that for an extended period of time. So is your time outside of your job really worth your job's pay rate? Hard to really say.

Matters get even more complicated for the hobbyist, too. Most hobbyists (such as myself) do a hobby out of enjoyment; if I can make a little cash on the side, that's icing on the cake, but it's not vital. What's that time worth? Especially if I find it enjoyable, relaxing, or entertaining.

So I've complicated the whole background of having a hobby, and I haven't even gotten to the hobby itself. Finally, let's look at an example directly related to chainmaille.

Wire versus Rings

Yes, wire versus rings -- I'm not so interested in power-winding versus hand-winding, although we will still consider those differences here. This question probably crosses the minds of all chainmaillers -- "Do I buy the wire or the rings?" It's usually cheaper (I would hope) to buy the wire, but it may cost you more to make your own rings. We'll figure this question out in this section.

We can break down chainmailling into a number of steps, whether we're making armor, jewelery or other:

1. Wrapping wire into coils
2. Cutting coils into rings
3. Weaving rings (or scales or beads or...)
4. Finishing steps

I'll use the same rates as in my article on hand-coiling versus power-winding: From Wire to the Finish -- A Look at Time and Speed. You may not agree with the numbers I chose, however, you'll need to figure out what your own speeds are anyway to properly use this information.

We're going to be considering stainless steel, 16g 1/4" rings, and I'm using numbers from The Ring Lord's site (no, he didn't pay me to use his site; it's got all the numbers I need to talk about). Since TRL offers bulk discounts, I'll do one case where I buy 10 pounds, a second where I buy 30 pounds. I will also ignore shipping costs, because, since we're competing the cost of buying rings versus buy wire, the shipping would be roughly the same because the weights are the same.

Considering the basic cost of materials is simple:
If I buy 10 pounds of 16g stainless wire, it'll cost 10 * $4.10/lb = $41.00
If I buy 30 pounds of 16g stainless wire, it'll cost 30 * $2.79/lb = $83.70
If I buy 10 pounds of 16g stainless rings 1/4", it'll cost 10 * 10.40/lb = $104.00 (with 10% discount = $93.60)
If I buy 30 pounds of 16g stainless rings 1/4", it'll cost 30 * 10.40/lb = $312.00 (with 15% discount = $265.20)

Of course, it's cheaper to buy the wire. The question we want to answer is this: how much money am I saving (or losing) by buying wire instead of rings? Because I must spend my own time to convert my wire into rings, it costs me money to do so (because I could be spending my time doing something else, like weaving chainmaille, or getting a second job -- hey, tutoring brings in great money!).

To figure out the cost of turning the wire into rings ourselves, we'll have to do some estimations. I'll do both hand-winding and power-winding methods.

There are 1160 rings of 16g 1/4" in 1 pound of stainless steel (according to the site).
For 10 pounds of wire/rings, that is 10 * 1160 = 11,600 rings.
For 30 pounds of wire/rings, that is 30 * 1160 = 34,800 rings.

So to convert 10 pounds of wire into coils, I need to turn the mandrel 11,600 times (technically less due to transferring loss and all that, but we're just being approximate anyway). I'll also ignore "swap" time of coils. This approximation is probably the most dangerous one of the bunch.

If I power wind at 500 revolutions per minute, it'll take me:
11,600 / 500 = 23.2 minutes to coil 10 pounds of stainless.
34,800 / 500 = 69.6 minutes for 30 pounds.

If I hand wind tirelessly (questionable) at 120 revolutions per minute:
11,600 / 120 = 96.7 minutes to coil 10 pounds of stainless
34,800 / 120 = 290. minutes for 30 pounds.

Now let's assume I can cut 30 rings per minute of the coils (again, this will be a big factor -- if you're doing 20g 1/8" copper, you can probably cut 100+ rings per minute, and much tirelessly than stainless). Regardless of how I wound the coils, it'll take:

11,600 rings to cut / 30 cuts per minute = 387 minutes to cut 10 pounds of stainless
34,800 rings to cut / 30 cuts per minute = 1160 minutes to cut 30 pounds of stainless

Tally up the times:

10 pounds: 23.2 minutes (to wind) + 387 minutes (to cut) = 410. minutes (6.83 hours)
30 pounds: 69.6 minutes (to wind) + 1160 minutes (to cut) = 1230 minutes (20.5 hours)

10 pounds: 96.7 minutes (to wind) + 387 minutes (to cut) = 483 minutes (8.06 hours)
30 pounds: 290. minutes (to wind) + 1160 minutes (to cut) = 1450 minutes (24.2 hours)

The price difference between buying wire and rings:
10 pounds: $52.60
30 pounds: $181.50

Thus the time value for converting your own wire to rings is:

10 pounds: $52.60 (difference) / 6.83 hours (time to convert) = $7.70/hr
30 pounds: $181.50 (difference) / 20.5 hours (time to convert) = $8.85/hr

10 pounds: $52.60 (difference) / 8.06 hours (time to convert) = $6.53/hr
30 pounds: $181.50 (difference) / 24.2 hours (time to convert) = $7.50/hr

How do you interpret these numbers? Let's take the 10 pounds power-winding as an example. It says that you could have paid $52.60 to buy rings, and saved yourself 6.8 hours (or conversely, you could have bought wire to save $52.60 at the cost of 6.8 hours of your time). Thus, your time per hour savings/cost is about $8. If your time is normally worth LESS than this (i.e. you make less than $8/hour at your job, or, if you could be doing something else for money where you'd be making less than $8/hour), then it is worth your time to make your own rings. If your time is normally worth MORE than this, then it is worth your time to buy the rings. The same argument goes for all the other values.

Note: these numbers are nowhere near as precise as to the penny, like I've shown them. I've made gross approximations in many cases -- especially time to coil (the times would most certainly be greater, in which case the final values *smaller*). Also, we haven't considered anything like the cost of buying a power drill, the wear-and-tear issues, etc.

These values are extremely sensitive to the rates you use. For instance, if you cut twice as fast, the final value nearly doubles. Also, please keep in mind that these values we calculated will change drastically depending on the vendor, the materials, and the amounts of your purchase. You've got to analyze your own speeds, your own costs and.... most important common sense.

After all, it doesn't matter what numbers you use if you only have enough money to buy the wire!
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