10 Expert Tips for Mastering a Jeweler’s Saw, Plus How to Install Saw Blades
Among the most common metalsmithing tools is the jeweler's saw. Even beginning metalworkers who don't solder yet will most likely use a jeweler's saw to cut out components for their jewelry designs. Metal shears can do many jobs, but a jeweler’s saw allows you to cut out very intricate shapes and cut holes or other shapes inside a piece of metal sheet, like the accent cut inside this heart.
Metal Sawing BasicsA good metalsmithing teacher will tell you that two keys to successful metal sawing are to have a good saw with the best blades you can afford and to master an effective sawing technique. Understand that the blades will break; I've used good blades and average ones at all stages of my learning, and the good ones snap just as often as the bad ones. I'd add that you should buy saw blades in bulk and be prepared when they break, because they will! I've had one blade last for months and then five break in one project.
Of course a good sawing technique can reduce the breakage, but they will break. Contributor Kate Richbourg agrees: "Saw blades break all the time," she writes. "Don't get discouraged if your blade snaps. Just stop, take a breath, and change the broken blade. It happens to everyone."
Start with a 2/0 saw blade for best all-around use, and move on to a 4/0 once you get the hang of it. A 6/0 saw blade is best for more advanced, intricate work. Lube your saw blade with Burlife, beeswax, or Gemlube, and strive for a steady rhythm with a fluid sawing motion.
10 Tips for Sawing with a Jeweler’s Saw
As with all techniques, a good tip can make life so much easier. Here are 10 jeweler’s saw tips I've gathered from Interweave jewelry-making experts, community members, and resources, as well as a tutorial on installing blades in your jeweler’s saw.
From Elizabeth Bone's book Silversmithing for Jewelry Makers:
- If you saw with too much force or try too hard, you'll probably break a blade. Always check the tension of your blade, as a loose blade is more likely to break.
- The cutting motion comes from the elbow, not the wrist. Hold the saw frame lightly, keeping your arm and body relaxed, and saw using long, even strokes.
- Start sawing with the blade tilted at a slight angle; then move to a vertical position and continue sawing.
- From a reader, Diane Brooks, featured in Merle's tips from Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine: Place a scrap of mat board used for framing pictures between the bench pin and the metal you're sawing. It will help you in several ways. Starting the blade in the mat board prevents the metal from skittering around when the blade bites into the metal, and it cleans the blade as you saw. It supports the work over the hole in the bench pin so it doesn't collapse and bind the blade, and it results in fewer broken blades.
- Have you ever attempted to cut a piece of silver sheet longer than your saw frame and come to a screeching halt? One solution is to use your pliers to twist your saw blade 90 degrees so that the saw frame is perpendicular to the axis of the saw cut. With the saw frame off to the side, you can make cuts of unlimited length, as long as the width of the silver sheet isn't greater than the saw frame depth.
—From Tom and Kay Benham, Contributing Editors to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist
- From contributor Kate Richbourg:
Keep the saw stationary and turn the piece that is being sawed. You'll have more control over where the saw cuts.
- 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. "I default to size 2/0 saw blades for 22-gauge metal sheet and higher," Kate says. "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."
- 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.
- 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.
- Member corymike shared this tip: The bench where you do your sawing and will be mounting your bench pin should be at a level such that your work is nearly at eye level and you can comfortably rest your elbows while doing detail work
Inserting the Blade in the Frame
Here's Kate's tutorial for properly installing a blade in a jeweler’s saw frame.
- Loosen the screws on the frame and insert the blade in the top clamp with teeth facing out (away from the frame) and pointing down towards the handle.
(Note the close-up view of the saw blade with teeth pointing down and out.)
- Place the "top" of 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.
Sawing allows you to create all kinds of interesting shapes in metal that you couldn't create otherwise. In Helen Driggs' metalsmithing video tutorial, she explores various approaches to making spirals and coils, curves and swirls using wire and metal. You won't believe how much fun and interest these simple shapes can add to your jewelry designs—and how easy they are to achieve with proper sawing techniques. Order or instantly download Create Spirals, Tubes, and Other Curves for Jewelry Making and get started making more interesting jewelry.
Learn more about the value that curls and spirals add to your jewelry designs.