How to Use Your First Jewelry Saw

Getting Started in Metals: Sawing

Helen Driggs bio onlyThe saw frame is typically the first purchase made by the aspiring jewelry maker. It is the most important tool to acquire and master because sawing and piercing are basic operations for all metal work. It is important to practice sawing without a thought of a finished piece until you are confident you can follow a line, turn both inside and outside corners, cut along complex curves, and cut all thicknesses of sheet in all metals. The best way to start is to choose a saw frame, get a few dozen blades in a range of sizes and buy 5 or 6 small sheets of metal. I suggest aluminum, copper, or brass, because they all saw differently and they are inexpensive to practice with. Start with 20 gauge, and work down to 18. Then try 24 or 28 gauge. And trust me–save the silver for later, when you know what you are doing.

Follow the photos below for learning to thread, hold, and use your saw. Don’t freak if you break a blade–everybody does. You may find you love to saw, or you may find you hate it. If you hate it, get over it–unless you really want every piece of jewelry you make from now on to be standard, mill-cut rectangular or square!

What You Need:

  • 2” x 2” square of 20 gauge aluminum sheet
  • Sawframe
  • Sawblades: 2/0
  • Printer to print the pattern
  • Double sided tape or paper cement to glue pattern to sheet metal

jewelry-saw-pattern-DriggsPhotocopy this pattern at 100 percent. Adhere it with rubber cement or doublestick tape to a 2” x 2” piece of 20 gauge aluminum sheet (you can usually find it at a good hobby or hardware store) If you are right handed, saw in the direction of the R arrow. If you are left handed, saw in the direction of the L arrow.

Threading the saw

Saw frames are engineered to hold the blade under tension. To create tension, a series of thumbscrews, pads, and washers allow minute adjustments to the frame depth, length, and the amount of pull on the blade. Here is how to properly thread the blade into your frame.

Pick up a blade. Look at the teeth. Make sure they face you and angle down, like a children’s drawing of a Christmas tree. Hold the blade next to the frame for a visual comparison. The frame should be roughly set so it’s slightly taller–about 3/4”–than the total length of the blade.


Insert the top of the blade between the frame and the pad with the teeth facing out and down. Ensure the blade spine is parallel to the back bar of the saw frame, and the very top of the blade is touching the top of the opening at the set screw. Tighten the top set screw to firmly hold the blade. The bottom of the blade should float freely just above the bottom set screw and pad.

  Position the top bar of the frame against the lip of the bench or worktable.
  Push slightly against the bottom of the frame handle with your hip, shoulder, or sternum. You will see the bottom bar of the frame move closer to the bottom of the blade. Keep pushing gently until you can capture and insert the blade between the pad and the frame.
  Tighten the bottom set screw securely while maintaining pressure on the frame. Release pressure on the frame slowly. Verify the blade is tight by “pinging” it with your fingertip. It should make a clear, musical sound. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to adjust the frame to increase pressure on the blade.

With the blade still in position, loosen the frame set screw. Hold the frame in your hand with the back of the frame against the heel of your hand. Pull down on the bottom bar with your fingers to increase tension on the blade. Tighten the frame set screw and test the ping of the blade again. It should be high and clear.



Practice Makes Perfect

You will cut the entire square of aluminum into tiny shapes and strips by following the pattern in sequence. By the time you saw all the lines of the pattern, you will have learned all of the essential sawing maneuvers. Try to stay on the lines, not to one side or the other. Save the cut out circles and squares for later, because you’ll need to drill them before sawing, and I’ll cover that in another newsletter.

Making your first cut

Thread a 2/0 blade into your frame. Position the metal on the bench pin according to whatever your dominant hand is. Take a deep breath and relax your hands and arms. Exhale.

Hold the saw in your dominant hand. Position the frame at a 45 degree angle to the sheet, next to the straight line on the pattern. Put your non-dominant thumb over the spine of the blade and gently stroke upward to create a score where you intend to cut. Repeat 2 or 3 times. Position the saw vertically. Hold the frame loosely–you don’t need a death grip–lock the wrist, and begin to move the saw up and down a small amount until the kerf (the saw cut) has been started.
When you have a good start, begin to saw using the entire length of the blade. Go slow and DO NOT push forward or down, and DO NOT twist the blade. The saw blade should move freely–like a sewing machine needle.

Guide the metal by holding it on either side of the blade using the first and middle fingers of the non-dominate hand. Steer the metal, not the saw. Cut the entire length of the straight line. Slow down when you get to the edge of the sheet, and let the cut metal fall away from the blade. Continue sawing all of the practice lines in order. Have fun sawing!

Check out my “Cool Tools & Hip Tips” column in every issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. 
Click here to sign up for the bi-weekly Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist e-newsletter, Flashcard.

Love to saw? Hate to saw? Tell us why on the Beading Daily forums or comment below!



Post a Comment