Filing and Finishing: 7 Metal and Jewelry Filing Tips from Lexi Erickson
It’s no secret–I love Lexi. She taught me nearly everything I know about metalsmithing in her studio several years ago. Since I’m on the east coast and she’s in Colorado, we rarely see each other. So I continue my education with her videos and helpful advice. Whenever I watch one of her metalsmithing videos, it feels like a nice little visit. Lexi is just like herself in her videos–-conversational and friendly, soft-spoken yet extremely knowledgeable about making metal jewelry. It’s metalsmithing Zen to my ears, and watching the videos feels like hanging out with her in her studio.
Here are seven jewelry filing tips I collected for you while watching Lexi’s metalsmithing video, Jewelry Filing: How to Choose, Use, and Care for Your Files.
- Store your files so that they don’t touch. Lexi uses wooden blocks with holes drilled in them intended to hold flex shaft tools and saw blades, but they work great for storing files, too. I have a similar system; I bought some of those large flat wooden planks with holes in them used to hold vials of beads at a bead store. I use them to store my files as well as pliers, markers, soldering picks, tweezers, and just about any tool that will stand up in one of those little holes! Very handy. Another handy tip for storing files that Lexi suggests is using one of those magnetic strips intended for chef’s knives in the kitchen. Just mount it in your studio and use it to hold your files.
- The jewelry-making files you use for silver and other soft metals will wear out very quickly if you try to use them on platinum or steel. Steel jewelry has gotten very popular recently, so Lexi recommends Grobet’s titanium-coated Valtitan series of files for platinum and steel jewelry filing. They’re too rough for silver but just right for platinum and steel.
- “You want the files to be able to give you the shape that you need,” Lexi says in the video. If you’re filing inside a piece that you’ve pierced and you want a square or flat edge, you wouldn’t use a round file–you’d use a flat or square file, of course. But it’s handy to think of this in another way as well, and Lexi explains that since your files are essential just a bunch of saw blades side by side by side, “Your file is just a fat saw blade.” So if you have details in mind for your metal pieces that would be too difficult or too time-consuming to saw, consider using your shaped files to file those details into the metal. I use a tiny half-round needle file to get the curves in flower petals just the way I want them, which I really don’t enjoy doing with a saw.
- Paint your file handles to help identify them. You can paint them all one unique color so you can quickly tell which ones are yours if you use them in a class or workshop setting, or you can use color to identify the types of files you have–red for square files, blue for round files, white for needle files, and so on, in whatever colors suit you. Or, if you have several sets and types of files, paint each set or brand a different color. You can paint them easily by dipping the handles in paint and allowing to dry.
- To clean your files, first tap them on your bench to shake out metal shavings and dust. It’s a good idea to do this pretty regularly. Lexi also suggest coating the cutting area with chalk; that will keep them from getting clogged with metal dust. If your files need a more serious cleaning, use your flex shaft with the steel brush attachment. Lexi prefers the steel to the brass. She doesn’t recommend using the “card files” with bristles on them intended for cleaning files, because they don’t seem to work. Never wash your files in water, because they’re steel and will rust if not dried completely–and who could dry all those nooks and crannies completely?
- A flat file is ideal for smoothing and straightening out irregular edges on pieces of metal sheet. Just place the file on your work surface and “rub” the metal edge across the file. You’re more likely to get a straight, flat edge that way than by holding both in your hands and “air filing” across the metal, when your hands have a tendency to move and create curved edges. For that same reason, here’s #7: Rest your work (or your hand holding your work) on your bench or bench pin for support to achieve the best results.
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