Master the Jeweler’s Saw: Learn Sawing for Jewelry Making with Michael David Sturlin

When I was learning metalsmithing in the studio of my sweet friend Lexi Erickson, the first thing she had me do was use a jeweler’s saw to cut a circle out of copper sheet. It was only about the size of a half-dollar coin, but by the time I was finished, I thought my arm was going to fall off.

“Good grief! Why don’t they just sell these already cut out?” I complained.

“They do,” she replied, “but you needed to learn how to do it first.”

See how green I was? Of course you can buy metal disc blanks “already cut out,” along with disc cutters to pop them out with a few hammer whacks. But Lexi was so right–I needed to learn how to do it with a jeweler’s saw first.

mastering a jeweler's saw

After she taught me all the basics, about tension (mine and the blade’s), how to change the blades, how to grip the handle properly, etc., Lexi taught me how to begin sawing inside the metal, by drilling a pilot hole and threading the saw blade through it. Then, since we only had a few hours to cover a lot, we moved on to neat things like using a torch, a flex shaft, and a rolling press. And I thought I was done learning about the jeweler’s saw. I use metal shears for most of my work, but I keep my jeweler’s saw close at hand for unique and intricate shapes, interior cuts, or when the shears can’t handle the metal.

Then I saw our new video, Metalsmith Essentials: Master the Jeweler’s Saw with Michael David Sturlin. In the video, Michael says if he could choose only one tool to make jewelry with, it would be the jeweler’s saw, because with it, he can “do more things and make more kinds of jewelry than with any other tool” he has. Wow, right? If a pro like MDS places that much importance on the saw, I definitely need to brush up on my sawing skills.

As I continued to watch the video, I wrote down some of my favorite lines of Michael’s in reference to using a jeweler’s saw. Call them tips, call them advice, call them instruction–but they’re all points worth remembering when using a jeweler’s saw, whether you’ve been sawing for years or are just starting out.

  • “It’s really critical that the blade is just the right tension. It needs to be taut. If it’s taut in the frame, it makes a ping when it’s plucked. That’s very important for us to stay on the line.” Exactly! It’s so simple–but if the blade has too much wiggle room, it will, well, wiggle too much, and our shapes will not be precise.
  • “Our relationship with the tool is a tender embrace; it’s not a death grip.” That’s basically the same thing Lexi told me when I was first learning to saw, and my arm nearly falling off after sawing one circle is proof that I didn’t listen very well! When I force myself to remember to loosen my grip, the whole process goes more smoothly. Funny how the simplest things are the hardest. He suggests holding it as gently as if you’re holding the finger of a child.

 

how not to hold the saw how to hold a saw
  • Michael encourages gripping the saw handle with our thumb and index finger for the most control, and then wrapping our other fingers around the handle for stability. If we grip the handle in a fist, “we have limited ability to steer the tool with any finesse,” because we’re trying to steer with the area between the thumb and index finger–and that area doesn’t have a lot of sensitivity or control.
  • “You can do whatever you want with it, once you know how to use it.” Again, such wise simplicity. But think about it for a moment. There are layers of wisdom there!
  • sawing practice lines

    There are only two things we do with a jeweler’s saw: cut straight lines and cut lines that are not straight. Either way, there’s generally a line we want to stay on while sawing, right? Michael encourages drawing practice sheets to practice cutting on the lines. “If we practice sawing these simple shapes, it gives us all the experiences we need with the tool and prepares us for anything we could possibly make.” Because anyone can drive in an empty parking lot, right? It’s driving on the roads that takes practice.

The video is packed full of helpful tips and reminders, no matter how long we’ve been sawing. Less than two minutes into the video, I heard this little gem of advice: “If people are thinking about breaking blades, their attention is in the wrong place,” Michael says. “That would be like thinking about how many bites you’re going to chew to eat a fabulous meal. It’s really inconsequential.”

Don’t get bogged down in the inconsequential stuff! Master the jeweler’s saw and the ability to cut any shape you want in metal with Michael Sturlin’s new video, Metalsmith Essentials: Master the Jeweler’s Saw. Order the DVD or instantly download the video if you can’t wait! And if you haven’t gotten a jeweler’s saw of your own yet, check out our special value sawing kit!

 

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