Metalsmithing Basics: Tips and Tools for Cutting and Sawing Metal Like a Pro
One of the metalsmithing skills I like to emphasize with my students is good cutting and filing techniques. Conquering both lends a professional look to your jewelry and great cutting/sawing skills make filing and finishing your metal much easier. And we all like easier, right? In this installment, we are going to focus on cutting metal. Filing and finishing will follow soon.
Tools for Cutting Metal
Here are a few of my most-used cutting tools. Pictured is (from left to right) metal shears, a Xuron Maxi flush cutter, and a jeweler's saw with blades. These tools leave the edges of the metal straight and smooth so a minimum amount of filing is needed. Over-filing can take away that flush edge and make it difficult to fit pieces together for soldering.
Let's start with the flush cutter. To make a smooth cut on a piece of wire, there is no substitute. When you make jump rings and want the edges to line up perfectly, give the wire a snip with the flush cutter. Before you make that cut, check to see that your cutter is suited to the wire gauge that you are cutting. These Xurons are heavy duty and cut up to 12-gauge soft wire. Make sure you are clipping the wire with the correct side of the cutter and that the heads are lined up at a right angle to the wire
To get this straight, flush cut …
Metal shears or French shears are my favorite way of cutting metal sheet that is thinner than 20 gauge. The heads of the shears are nice and smooth, so the resulting cut edge is smooth as well. These shears work best for straight lines or slight curves.
I use a jeweler's ruler and scribe to mark metal for cutting. Then I just use the shears like a pair of scissors to cut the metal along the scribed line. After cutting, I straighten the metal by lightly tapping the cut edge with a plastic mallet on a bench block. Then the edge is ready to fit and solder. If it is the final piece, just a touch of a file will be needed to finish it.
Now meet the jeweler’s saw. My students shy away from this tool, but really, it can become your new best friend. I use the saw to cut shapes from metal sheet. Nothing works better on intricate shapes. Here are my tips for cutting metal with a jeweler’s saw:
- Keep the saw stationary and turn the piece that is being sawed. You'll have more control over where the saw cuts.
- Saw blades break all the time. Don't get discouraged if your blade snaps. Just stop, take a breath, and change the broken blade. It happens to everyone.
- Reduce the instance of broken blades by using a blade lubricant. Turning a corner can also snap a blade, so saw in place as the blade turns. The motion will keep the blade from breaking.
- Ease your death grip on the saw handle and don't push the blade into the metal. A light touch will keep the blades from binding up in the metal and the saw will move up and down with ease.
- Make sure the blade is clamped tightly in the frame. A loose blade will not saw well. A tight blade should give a high "pling" like a harp string when you pluck it.
- Brace the piece that you are sawing on a bench pin that clamps to your worktable so you have a stable surface to work on.
Choosing Jeweler's Saw Blades
I default to size 2/0 saw blades for 22-gauge metal sheet and higher. For 24-gauge sheet and thinner, I jump down to 4/0. The finer teeth of the 4/0 blade make cutting thin metal much easier. This way I don't have a tangle of unknown blades to wade through.
To insert the saw blade into the frame:
- Loosen the screws on the frame and insert the blade in the top clamp with teeth facing out and pointing down towards the handle.
(Note the close-up view of the saw blade with teeth pointing down and out.)
- Place the frame against a stable table edge and push so that the frame bows slightly.
- While the frame is bowed, insert the opposite end of the saw blade into the bottom clamp and tighten.
- Remove the pressure from the frame and pluck the back of the saw blade with your finger. If you hear a high-pitched "pling," the saw is ready to go.
Hope these cutting tips are helpful. Feel free to share your own metal-cutting tips in the comments below. See you soon for part two on filing and finishing!
Read on for the next part in Kate's metalsmiting basics series, Tips and Tools for Filing and Finishing Metal Like A Pro.
Ready to take your metal cutting and sawing skills to the next level? Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine is the go-to resource for metalsmithing inspiration and tutorials using special shapes and intricate metal designs from leading jewelry artists and experts.