Friday, October 14, 2011

Home Jewelry Studio part 2

Welcome to part 2 of many on how to create your own jewelry studio at home, including lots of tip, tricks and project ideas.  By now you have hopefully ordered you Rio Grande catalogs?  If you have not read part 1 of this post, please go back and check out the info on the catalogs, because these are going to be essential to creating your studio. 

What to buy first:

Creating your studio does not have to be too expensive.  You can buy a few things at a time and keep adding tools gradually.   I will give you some info on how to use the tools I have recommended, but I would also suggest further on-line exploration if you need more details about the tools.   This is not a detailed and thorough explanation of every tool and technique but it should be enough to get you started with understanding the general function of the  tools and why they are the home studio essentials.  If you have specific questions that I have not addressed, please leave a message and I will answer your questions.  What I would buy first would be:

From Rio:
- a jewelers saw
-1 gross saw blades size 1/0
-blade lube, Bur Life
-a bench pin
-20 gauge sheet copper, and or brass (or sterling)
-Liver of Sulfur (patina) (only if you buy copper or sterling)
-hole punching pliers

From a hardware store:
-wet dry sandpaper, 220, 320, 400, 600
-steel wool extra fine
-glue stick
-fine tip sharpies

From bookstore or Amazon:
-The Complete Metalsmith by Tim McCreight

The jewelers saw is an essential tool for cutting detailed shapes out of your metal.  You can also cut many other materials such as Plexiglas,  game boards,  and vinyl records.  (i will do a future post about Plexiglas).  Saw frames come in many different sizes.  The overall height is always the same, but the depth or throat size varies.  I would suggest a mid range throat size which is a 4 inch. (page 86 of tools and equipement, letter C)
Saw blades are inserted into the frame and they too come in a variety of sizes.  The overall length of the blades are all the same, but the number of teeth per blade can vary.  So, the smallest blade is an 8/0 and the biggest is an 8.  (page 88)  You want a blade with less and bigger teeth for thicker metals, and more smaller teeth for thinner metals.  I use something in the middle usually, 1/0.    They come in little bundles of a dozen.  I buy them buy the gross, which is 12 bundles because they do break frequently and it' s a lot cheaper to buy them in bigger quantities.

Bur Life is a lube that will make your cutting way smoother and you will break less blades.  Once your blade is inserted, just run the bur life up the blade once.  Re apply often, when cutting gets rougher.

A saw with a blade in it, a bundle of blades and Bur-Life

How to use your saw:

The trickiest part of using a jewelers saw is inserting the saw blade.  The key to using the saw is to make sure your blade is taught.  Your saw frame will have 3 screw-y things on it.

Looking at the picture above, the 2 screw-y things on the right hold the blade.  The one on the left controls the height of the frame.    Before inserting the blade, the 2 screw-y things on the right side should be loose, the one on the left should be tight with around 1-1/2 inches of frame coming out of it.  Take a blade and look at the teeth.  Pretty darn small aren't they? The teeth should be pointing down and out when inserting the blade.

Here  are a few links to show you how to insert a blade:

In addition to your saw you also need a bench pin.  A bench pin is a block of wood that extends out from your work table that you place your metal on when cutting.  In the catalog there are many different kinds.  The cheapest one is called a V slot bench pin and clamp (tools and equipment, page 293).  If you have a piece of scrap wood that you can cut a V into and a C clamp you can make your own bench pin. NOTE:  the bench pin is there to support your metal when you are cutting.  It is ok to cut into it.

Cutting with a saw, on a bench pin.

Once you have your saw, blades, bur life and metal, you are ready to cut.  The amazing thing about a jewelers saw is that you can cut anything you can draw.  You can draw directly onto your metal with a FINE tip sharpie.  Or,  you can draw your design onto a piece of paper and glue the paper onto your metal.  You do not have to cut your shape out of the paper, glue down your entire drawing and just cut through the paper.  I like to give my metal a fine tooth before I glue it down with a glue stick and I use a little bit of 400 sand paper to give it the tooth.

A piece of brass in the process of being cut.

In the beginning to practice just draw onto your metal with a sharpie.  Practice really staying on your line.  Practice curves and turns.
-Use the full length of the blade for each stroke.
-Keep the frame straight, not at an angle,  perpendicular to the the ground.
-Keep the frame in front of you always in the same position.  Your non dominant hand moves the metal while your dominant hand just moves the frame up and down.
-When making turns, keep the frame in front of you, in the same position, continue sawing while you rotate your metal.
-Be aware of where your index finger is in relationship to the blade.  These can be nasty cuts!
Again, this is a helpful link:

Once you have cut out a variety of shapes we need to deal with the edges and the surface of the metal. Every shape you cut with a saw needs to be filed!

Files come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  I would recommend buying the 12 pack of economy needle files to start off with.  (tools and equip page 77)

There are around 12 file shapes, so choose the right shape for the line you are filing.  Here's a tip I give my students:  The outside of the doughnut is a flat file, (even though the shape is round) the inside of the doughnut hole is a curved file.

The file cuts in the away from you direction.  Keep your metal supported on your bench pin or workbench and clean up your lines.  

The brass is supported on the table, the file is pushing in the away direction and the file is at 90 degrees.

Filing is really a 2 step process.  The first step is to clean up your lines, make them straight and smooth, fix any weirdness or irregularities that you might have created when cutting. The second step to filing is something called beveling.  Beveling is the process of angling the edge so the metal appears thicker than it is.  This is a very important step and can really transform your flat metal into something a lot more sculptural and refined.  To bevel, work from the front of the piece and angle your file so that it is way smaller than 90 degrees to your metal.  The smaller the angle, the more bevel you get.

Notice the beveling on the inside of the A and D on the left.

 Here is more info on filing.

Filing is an essential step that will make your parts look professional and well crafted.  Consider all the shapes you can cut and turn into charms, earrings, pendants.  But you do need holes punched into your shapes to make them functional.  Hole punching pliers are amazingly easy to use and are so handy.  (tools and equip page 59, letter D)  You can now punch holes in everything, add some jump rings, hooks, clasps, and voila....!

Punching a hole through a little charm.

Next weeks post I will discuss how to deal with the surface of your metal and cool texturing techniques.   I will also talk a bit about safety issues we face using these materials.

Leave a comment if you would like more detail about the processes I have touched on.
Happy making!!

A variety of silver parts that could become charms, earrings or pendants, all cut with the jewelers saw.


  1. Thanks Anonymous, always appreciated!

  2. lol... when Anonymous posts to my blog, it's either about viagra, or something long in another language.

    Nice post, with some cool tips. :)

    Linda :)

  3. Thanks Linda! Yes, I have nice anonymous.