Mastering the Jeweler’s Saw: Piercing, Intricate Interior Sawing and More for Metal Jewelry

Flashback: Years ago, in my metalsmithing teacher Lexi’s studio. After I’d spent what felt like hours sawing my first circle out of copper with a jeweler’s saw, my arms felt like jelly and I said to her, “Why don’t they make tools to just stamp these out?”

She laughed. Laughed! At my jelly arms! “They do,” she said, “but you need to know how to do it yourself.”

Of course, it didn’t take long for me to realize that she was absolutely right. Because after she had me saw that circle (and then saw it into four pie-shaped pieces, gahhh), she let me saw fun shapes . . . and then shapes out of the inside of other shapes . . . and then I was hooked, jelly arms and all.

It’s true–a metalsmith needs to know how to saw properly using a jeweler’s saw. Along with texturing, soldering, and such, sawing is an essential skill. Granted, I now use a disc cutter when I need a circle, and I use metal shears when I need to cut out other simple shapes. But when I want to feel really creative, really Old-World-crafty, really like an artisan, I saw. And I especially love to pierce metal and saw designs on the interior of the shapes. No metal shears can do that! Being able to make interior cuts in shapes of metal opens up a very important element of successful metal jewelry design: negative space.

sawn coins by David Sparks

sawn coins by David Sparks

I’m continually inspired (and challenged) by incredible sawn metalwork I see. I recently discovered and fell in love with the intricate work of expert saw artist David Sparks, and I couldn’t wait to find some unique coins to saw. But sawing with the extreme skill and detail that David does takes quite a bit of know-how, not to mention practice.

Enter Thomas Mann. For beginner to advanced sawing advice and instruction, I recommend Thomas’s five-star-rated book Metal Artist’s Workbench: Demystifying the Jeweler’s Saw, an info-packed, incredibly thorough resource. I find myself rereading it from time to time–either because I need a tip or pointer on sawing a challenging piece, or because it’s so incredibly detailed that I’m amazed at all the knowledge Thomas included in it, or because it’s just so darn funny (especially the part about when and why saw blades break, including when you look at them wrong, ha! I knew it!).

Little City sawn metal sculpture by Thomas Mann

Little City metal sculpture by Thomas Mann

Here is a small excerpt of what is possibly my favorite part of Thomas’s book, “Sawin’ Where Y’at.”

Sawin’ Where Y’at–The Big Trick

You only have to control the direction of the blade as far as it will travel through the material in a single stroke. 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.

(See how funny he is? And how informative his book is?)

sawing coins and metal by Thomas Mann

sawn metal jewelry and coins by Thomas Mann

In addition to extensive proper sawing and drilling (for piercing) technique instruction, you’ll see how to create more than a dozen projects that feature detailed sawing work, such as a light switch plate, extreme paper dolls, metal sculptures, photo frames, and yes, coins–and more.

anatomy of a saw blade - coping saw and jeweler's saw

And there’s so much more to sawing than just sawing. There’s ergonomics and grip; there’s saw blades, there’s the bench pin. There’s rhythm, there’s understanding the abilities and limitations of a jeweler’s saw and using them to your best advantage. There’s all the materials you can saw for jewelry making, other than metal, including plastic for jewelry as well as plastic sheets to create your own custom templates.

learn to saw your own templates with Thomas Mann

learn to saw your own templates with Thomas Mann

In Thomas’s book, you’ll also find lessons with detailed illustrations/photographs on very particular sawing and drilling topics and challenges, such as:

  • coping blades vs jeweler’s saw blades, the anatomy of both, and why/how they do what they do
  • what is actually happening to the metal when you’re sawing it, in super up-close views so you can use that information to your advantage (such as when turning a corner)
  • drilling on a curved surface (like tubing), when the drill bit “will want to go dancin’ without you,” as Thomas says
  • more than you ever thought there was to know about a bench pin, including how they keep you safe
  • how to saw nontraditional materials, like seashells, vinyl records, plastic, leather, and more
  • how to hold (and not hold) your saw, including The Velvet Grip, The Death Grip, and The Thumb Block
  • why he doesn’t recommend lubrication for sawing in most cases
  • ergonomics for sawing efficiently, which Thomas calls a “whole-body experience,” because “The hand is at the end of an arm attached to a shoulder, which is part of a torso, that’s sitting on a chair, etc.”
  • and lots and lots more!

how to saw leather, seashells, vinyl records, and more

If you’re interested in mastering the jeweler’s saw, there can be no better resource than Thomas Mann’s book Metal Artist’s Workbench: Demystifying the Jeweler’s Saw or instant download eBook versionunless you’re a video learner, in which case you will love his equally awesome Metal Artist’s Workbench: Learn to Use a Jeweler’s Saw instant video download. They all have five-star ratings from customers! Thomas has decades of experience making artisan jewelry and teaching jewelry makers of all levels how to saw. Even if you already know how to saw, Thomas’s book and video show how to saw really well, really wisely, really efficiently.

If you’re at all familiar with Thomas’s work, New Orleans studio, or the workshops he teaches all over the country, you know what a skilled and creative metal jewelry artisan he is. Whether you’ve never even touched a jeweler’s saw or you’ve been sawing for years, Thomas’s book and video will teach you more than you can imagine in a really fun, engaging way.

Learn more about David Sparks on his Facebook page and see his Etsy shop. And see another way to turn coins into jewelry with coin rings.


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