Metalsmithing: 25+ Professional Tips to Improve and Master Sawing
Learning to saw is essential to becoming an accomplished metalworker. Mastering this basic skill expedites the process and eliminates most filing and sanding clean-up. With practice, the saw will be your best friend, a natural extension of your arm and hand.
Simple Solutions for Sawing Problems
We notice an immediate reluctance from most students when instructed to saw out a pattern in class. They immediately suggest it is easier to cut the metal with a pair of shears, even though doing so leaves an inferior crimped edge, in our opinion.
Tips and Hints for Sawing
We’ve found that the following techniques and hints result in an immediate improvement of a student’s expertise and attitude:
- You must be able to see the pattern to have success in sawing.
- Use a task light for illumination.
- Put on your glasses.
- If an optivisor or other magnification is required, wear them.
- If need be, adjust the height of the chair so the pattern is in focus.
- If the chair is not adjustable then raise the bench pin so you can see.
- Mind your posture.
Tom built this portable riser to elevate the bench pin for workshops where worktables are used and chairs not adjustable.
- Make sure the blade is properly tensioned so that you hear a musical ‘ping’ when you pluck the back edge with your fingernail.
No white knuckles, please.
- Grip the saw lightly in your hand. When the saw is held too tightly the blade is immediately ‘wonked’ to one side moving the sawblade off course. Think of the handle as a little bird in your grip, and don’t squeeze the birdie!
- Apply beeswax or other cutting lubricant to the back of the sawblade as this is where the blade binds when cutting a curve. Putting wax on the front of the blade causes a buildup of wax that traps the metal filings preventing the clearing of the blade. Relax, breathe.
- Your arm becomes a fulcrum as it moves steadily up and down in a sewing-machine motion, keeping the sawblade perpendicular to the metal. Don’t push the sawblade forward, instead feed the metal into the blade.
- Relax, sawing is not a competition – there are no checkered flags just the satisfaction of a job well done.
- Slower is faster — use the full length of the sawblade in a steady motion. You’ll be surprised at how quickly the blade cuts through the metal.
- The sound of the sawblade cutting should be quiet and smooth as opposed to the sound of a sawblade pushed at a frantic pace with a tight grip using only a small portion of the sawblade. Using just a small area wears out the blade, leading to breakage.
- A tip we garnered from an article by Michael David Sturlin: Position your body at 45° to the pattern so your eye’s line of sight is focused on the pattern, the portion of the pattern line being sawn, and then the sawblade.
- Always saw just outside the edge of the pattern leaving the line. Sawing through the middle of the pattern is not advisable as it leaves a wobbly line. Leaving the pattern lines intact aids in filing and sanding during clean up.
- Remember, don’t become a contortionist when sawing the pattern, turn the metal not the saw.
- Saw a little — look a lot.
- Take short breaks while sawing.
- Take a deep breath, roll your shoulders, and relax your neck.
- Apply the lubricant when needed — you’ll hear when the sawblade becomes dry.
*No beeswax or other lubricant on hand? No worries, you always have ‘nose oil’ with you. Yes, rub your finger along the side of your nose, then apply to the back of the sawblade. Remember, the outside of the nose…. Some recommend that spit can be used, but that’s just icky!
- If your sawblade binds in the metal don’t just bear down harder, as this causes the sawblade to snap. Rather, relax your grip on the saw allowing the sawblade and metal to reposition, relieving the stress. This may seem counterintuitive but give it a try. Doing so will save you time by not having to install another blade due to breakage.
Once you correct all these little problems you’ll find that sawing can become a pleasant, enjoyable experience. Some people we know even consider it to be almost a Zen-like pastime.
- Always buy the best sawblades you can afford because cheap blades are not really a bargain. You’ll spend more time changing out the inferior ones than you can ever save by buying them on the cheap.
- Inexpensive blades frequently aren’t of consistent lengths and are often not properly tempered, thus they break more easily.
- A general rule of thumb is that the sawblade should have 3 teeth to the gauge of metal being sawn. Most jewelry suppliers provide a chart for selecting the proper size blade to the gauge of metal you are using in their print and online catalogs.
Okay, so we haven’t addressed specific saws yet or our preference for one over another. Here’s a photo of some of the saws we’ve collected over the years. And, yes, we are charter members of Tool-Oholics Anonymous.
We acquired the Knew Concepts (red frame) and GreenLion [black handle] saw frames recently.
- We feel these provide more rigidity and stability to the sawblades when sawing.
- We have no problems inserting sawblades into them but there has been a lot of chatter about difficulties encountered by many users.
- We found that our students tend to encounter more issues with the installation and breakage of sawblades using the Knew Concept saw frames during workshops and classes.
- Surprisingly, the GreenLion frame proved smooth sailing for the students.
- Kay prefers the Knew Concepts saw frame as the handle fits her hand more comfortably. To her the handle of the GreenLion saw frame is too large.
The truth of the matter is that once you master the art of sawing using any or all of the hints/tips we’ve mentioned here, you can use any saw frame you wish. It’s not the saw that is the true issue but one’s sawing ability that matters.
Tom & Kay
Tom & Kay Benham are Contributing Editors to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and author its Ask the Experts column. Have a question for them? Please leave a comment below.
Get more on sawing and a workshop by Michael David Sturlin workshop in the store, today!!