The copper I use is 24 gauge, and it is not-quite-dead-yet soft. Hobby Lobby sells metal in their model kit department. With a coupon it is reasonable, and you can get nice rods, planks, and sheets in both copper and brass. None of it, to my knowledge, is coated. I’m still looking for bronze, but coloring metal with heat or paint and metal stain is an alternative to buying metals just for their appearance.
I use a Bernzomatic Self-Igniting Propane Torch. With a little practice, the fear will dissipate and you’ll eventually get comfortable about leaving it in the house overnight. Go for the clearly visible “V” in the flame for the hottest area, and you’ll be drawing beads on your wire in no time. Annealing (heating) makes the metal softer and more pliable if you cool it quickly by dropping it in water after getting that glow. It can be hardened by hammering and then annealed again. With copper, the more you go back and forth from soft to hard to soft, the redder it gets. I haven’t gotten to the point where the metal snaps, but just the residue in my brain from high school science class tells me that there must be a point that the metal can’t take the strain.
I went for something lighter and brighter with this piece. I soaked it in gel flux before annealing it after it was completed, and hardened it with a rubber hammer. It’s super shiny and fun.