Have you ever played at straightening a paper clip? You’ll notice that after a while the metal becomes a little more difficult to bend and eventually, if you carry on, it’ll break. This is work hardening. Work hardened metal will become brittle, which is what causes the breakage. When creating jewelry, there is a time and place for work hardening, but certainly not when you’re still working on the piece.
It’s a good idea to anneal the metal when you begin to notice that it’s becoming more difficult to work with. Annealing heats the metal enough that it becomes pliable and easier to work with. When annealing, you don’t want a focused flame, you want it to be large and what Gena describes as “bushy.” After all, you just want to heat the metal a bit, not melt it!
You should let annealed metal cool gradually, as quenching will only work harden the metal and then you’ll just have to anneal it all over again!