Learn Your Way: Master Essential Metalsmithing Tasks with Thomas Mann in Books, Videos, Online and Live Classes
How do you like to learn? More than half of my career has been writing about jewelry making and other crafting, including many step-by-step tutorials and crafty projects. It was the way I liked to learn, too, so I suppose it came naturally to me. As the internet grew greater and new ways of learning came into being, first video and then online classes and webinars became the way to learn. Most of what I know about metalsmithing, however, I learned in Lexi Erickson’s fabulously appointed studio with her real-life sweet self helping me every step of the way, and I truly love taking classes at Bead Fest and other jewelry events, even when it’s a technique I might already know, just because I want to learn from a particular teacher.
So all of this got me to wondering how you like to learn, and that led me to the realization that no matter how you like to learn–print and digital books, video downloads and physical DVDs, online classes and webinars, and live classes–we’ve got you covered! That makes me happy.
For example, take metalsmithing in general, sawing in particular. Thomas Mann is an extraordinary metal and found-object jewelry artist who teaches via live classes, books, videos, and online classes or webinars. No matter how you want to learn sawing, you can learn from an expert like Thomas–in the comfort of your home, in the park, in a coffee shop, or at a jewelry event like Bead Fest.
You can also learn in this blog 😉 Here are six tips on metalsmithing and sawing in particular, from Thomas Mann, collected from all of his various educational offerings.
1. The Myth of Lubrication
This one stunned me, and I’m glad that someone said it! “Nearly since the dawn of the Machine Age, whenever someone would purchase a jeweler’s saw frame and blades, they’d also be encouraged to buy a stick of beeswax,” Thomas writes. “This less-than-subtle encouragement implied that the blades required lubrication to work efficiently. This is NOT the case. In fact, jeweler’s saw blades were never designed to need lubrication. ‘Lubing’ your blades actually inhibits the acquisition of advanced sawing skill by psychologically handicapping you into believing that waxing makes you a better sawer. It only gives the illusion of more efficient sawing, and it’s a temporary state.
“Wax as a lubricant only works when the temperature generated by the cutting action is hot enough to liquefy the wax. And that never occurs with jeweler’s saw blades (but does with drills). If your sawing action is getting hot enough to melt wax, there’s definitely something running amuck! There are only a few instances when waxing your blades with beeswax or any of the contemporary wax lubricant products can make a difference. Sawing actions in gummy metals such as heavy gauge copper, aluminum, or harder ones like steel, can benefit from waxing. The BEST lubricant is the ATTENTIVE mind that operates the body, that MOVES the saw, that CUTS the material.”
2. Metal Sawing: Bench Pins
I learned to saw using a bench pin, but unfortunately I didn’t make it a high priority to get one when I set up my own studio and went months without one. I ended up getting one when I conveniently happened upon one at a show–but once I started using it, I realized how valuable they are. “No matter the form,” Thomas writes, bench pins “are all essential to the sawing experience, because they serve several important functions. First, they are a safety device. Used properly, they will protect you from inadvertently sawing into your fingers. Two, they extend the work surface off of the bench to allow clearance for the necessary movements of your hand and the saw frame in the sawing process. And three, they support the work and provide a stable platform, eliminating vibration and wobble, an essential condition to GOOD sawin’ operations.”
3. Jeweler’s Saw Blades: TPI (Teeth Per Inch)
“Understanding TPI and its relationship to the material you wish to saw is critical to efficient sawing” Thomas writes. “The thickness and density of the material to be sawn will dictate the number of teeth per inch (TPI) of the blade that should be employed. For instance, if you want to pierce an intricate curlicue pattern from a sheet of 26g silver, you’ll want to use a finer blade with a higher TPI, like a 6/0 or 8/0, as opposed to sawing a basic geometric shape out of 1/8″ (3mm) clear acrylic sheet where you’d want a very low TPI, like a #2 to a #4, or a Skip-Tooth Blade. Remember: Ideally, there are always at least two teeth within the thickness of the material being sawn.”
4. Body-to-Bench Orientation
Thomas’s advice for sawing efficiently: “You must position your body in relationship to the bench and bench pin in such a way that your arm has clearance to move freely. If you’re right-handed, you want to position your chair to the left of the pin and angled slightly toward it. Make sure your elbow passes freely past your right side. If you’re a lefty like me, just reverse this position.”
5. Thomas’s Big Trick: Sawin’ Where Y’at
“Sawin’ where y’at” is such a funny, characteristically Thomas, characteristically New Orleanian thing to say–and that’s probably why it comes to mind nearly every time I am sawing something particularly detailed or difficult. “You only have to control the direction of the blade as far as it will travel through the material in a single stroke,” Thomas says. “This is what we call Sawin’ Where Y’at. It’s a kinda Zen thang! If you place all of your attention at the point where the blade meets the material (work face) and are mindful of the blade’s progress along your design’s outline path, you will be SawFile’n. How? Because, you KNOW how far the blade can travel through the material in one stroke, and you KNOW that you only have to control its direction for that very short distance. Do that repetitively, intuitively and you’ll be in the SawFile’n Zone.” It’s a very good place to be.
6. Loading Jeweler’s Saw Blades
You’ve surely seen the method of loading saw blades into a jeweler’s saw by pressing part of the saw against your chest to help create tension. “Alternatively, you could, though it is NOT recommended, use the Height Set Screw to tension the blade,” Thomas writes. “I find this more difficult and less effective than the method described above, so I’m not gonna tell ya’ how to do it.” Ha! See how funny he is? It’s so easy to learn when you’re having fun, too.
Clearly, he’s brilliant–and so funny, which comes through in every way, from written word to video to real life, and you can learn from Thomas in all of those ways. If you’re a fan of learning through the written word, get Thomas’s Metal Artist’s Workbench: Demystifying the Jeweler’s Saw. If you like to learn via video, download Metal Artist’s Workbench: Learn to Use the Jeweler’s Saw. His on-demand webinar, Mastering the Jeweler’s Saw with Thomas Mann, is available for download, too, and when he offers an online class again, I’ll be sure to let you know!
And if you really want a treat, join me later this month at Bead Fest Summer in Philly and take a fun and rewarding class with Thomas in person. He’s teaching “Demystifying the Jeweler’s Saw” in class, as well as a two-day master class creating a found object photo assemblage brooch/pin and an intensive flex shaft workshop.
P.S. You can’t master sawing without a jeweler’s saw, do you have one? If not, we’ve got you covered there, too, with a handy introductory sawing kit!