Organizing Your Jewelry Tools: Making a File Holder

I found this easy-to-make jewelry file organizer in a back issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. This one is for files, but I think a similar structure could be created for hammers, mandrels, and even pliers, with a little creative re-engineering. Enjoy!

Make a File File
by Sara M. Sanford
(originally published in the April 2002 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine)


A "file file" is a pigeonhole system to keep your jewelry-making tools in top condition, organized, and stored safely. This is a simple way to organize your metalsmithing tools and keep them handy for easy access.


10' thin-wall 3/4" inside diameter PVC pipe, for needle files (A 10' length will make enough slots for twenty 5-1/4" needle files with handles attached.)*
10' thin-wall 1" inside diameter PVC pipe, for larger files (A 10' length will make enough slots for fifteen 6" files with handles attached.)
1/4 pint can PVC cement with dauber
about 1 sq. ft. of 1/10" thick acrylic sheet, for backing**
jeweler's saw with #2 or #3 blade
320-grit abrasive paper
newspaper to protect your bench or table
denatured alcohol or degreasing detergent

*Note: if the handles on your files are thicker in diameter than 5/8" (needle files) and 7/8" (larger files), you might want to buy a larger inside diameter pipe. Take files fitted with handles with you when you purchase pipes.
**You could also use a thin sheet of wood or just about anything firm enough to be cemented onto the pipes. The goal is simply to seal the back of the pipes so the files don't fall out the back side.



1.       Cutting the PVC pipe into appropriate lengths

Mark off the lengths you need on the pipe based on the lengths of your files and handles. The file handles should protrude from the front end of the pipe about 1-1/2" to 2", so make pipes that much shorter than the total length of your files with handles. Use a fairly heavy blade in your saw frame, a #2 or #3 but not too thick, because teeth on a saw blade that is too thick will catch instead of cut through the pipe. PVC pipe is relatively soft and easily cut. Brace the pipe across your bench so that you can firmly hold the pipe while cutting it. You might want to put a wastebasket underneath the cutting area so you don't get plastic bits in with your metal filings. (If you have access to a band saw or other power cutter, the cutting will go faster. But be sure you know how to use power tools safely, or ask someone who does to help you.)


2.       Sanding the ends of the pipe sections

Once you have all the sections cut, sand both ends of each one to get rid of any burs. An easy way to do this is to put a full sheet of abrasive paper on a hard, flat surface and grind the pipe ends across it until they are smooth. (Again, a power sander will work more quickly, but obey safety guidelines.) Run the abrasive paper lightly over the surface of the pipe sections to help the cement adhere.  

The PVC pipe will probably have some grease or dirt on it, which can prevent the cement from adhering to the pipe. You can use a commercial PVC cleaning solution, but denatured alcohol or a good degreasing detergent will also work. Whatever method you use, be sure to do it only in a well-ventilated area, as the fumes from both the cleaner and the alcohol are not only toxic but highly flammable as well.

3.       Cementing the pipe sections into rows

Decide how many rows across and columns of pipe sections you are going to cement together. Since files usually come in sets of either six or twelve, having six pipes in a row will organize the same cuts or sizes of files evenly.


Put down several layers of newspaper on your bench top or table to prevent damage to the surface. Line up the pipe sections for the first row, and use the dauber attached to the lid of the cement can to apply a line of cement where the sections will touch. If the pipe sections want to roll, use small blocks of wood or metal to keep them lined up and touching each other. Repeat for each row that you want to add. You will have only about 15 minutes of working time with the cement, so get everything together before you start. (Use PVC cement only in a well-ventilated area. It contains some very strong solvents.) Let all the rows of pipes set for at least half an hour before handling them.

4.       Cementing the rows into columns

When the cement has set, again apply cement in a thin line where each row will rest on top of the one below and stack them up. A vertical brace, like a bookend or brick, should be used on both sides, because the rows of pipe will tend to slide into a honeycomb or offset pattern, and you want them directly one on top of another to allow more room for your fingers to pull the files out.

If you want to stack different size files in one file file and need different lengths of pipe, align the fronts together, not the backs, or it will be difficult to get the shorter files out. (Note: You will need to cut a separate section of acrylic backing for the shorter lengths of pipe, below.) Let your stacked pipes set for about an hour before handling.

(Editor's note: If you intend to make shorter pipes for smaller files, I recommend adhering these pipes together in a separate file file or place them all on top or to one side of the larger pipe sections, so that you can easily attach a separate backing on them and reach your files easily.) 


5.       Cutting acrylic sheet for backing

Measure the back side to determine what size acrylic sheet to cut for a backing. Using your jeweler's saw frame and a #2 blade, cut the backing out of acrylic sheet. This works very much like cutting a sheet of metal or thin wood (which you could easily use in place of acrylic sheet). If the throat of your saw frame is not deep enough to go all the way through the sheet, stop halfway and reverse the sheet to start in from the opposite side. (If you have access to a band saw, table saw or other power cutter, this will be an easy step. Beware of safety considerations. Also, be sure to use a blade meant for plastics; a blade made for wood may tear the acrylic badly or melt it.) You can file or sand the edges of the acrylic sheet if it is ragged, but don't take off so much material that the tip of a file can poke through. Once your sheet is ready, clean it as you did your PVC pipe sections.


6.       Cementing the acrylic backing on

Place the acrylic sheet flat on your newspaper-covered bench or table. Apply cement to the back side of the pipe stack and position it on the acrylic sheet. If you need to cement a separate sheet on behind your shorter pipe lengths, do so after the larger backing sheet has thoroughly set.

Once the cement has cured, about 24 hours, you will have the pleasure of organizing all your files. I found that a small piece of 1/4" thick wood placed under the front edge gave my file file a slight tip backward, which prevents files from slipping out forward (and makes the marked handles easier to see).


After you've organized your files, you'll be ready to tackle metalsmithing jewelry projects. Learn to put those files to good use in Lexi Erickson's newest DVD, Hand Finishing Jewelry, or check out Helen Driggs's Machine Finishing Jewelry DVD. Get both DVDs (or both hi-def downloads, or both standard video downloads) and save 15%, through May 2, 2012, in the Jewelry Making Daily Shop!

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