How to Improve Your Basic Sawing Skills

How to Improve Your Basic Sawing Skills

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Sometimes the very basic skills in jewelry can be confusing for beginners. I have been at the bench for a while, and sometimes I take for granted the things I do automatically like sawing, forgetting all the options available for someone just getting started. Today I will break down the basic skill of sawing and give you a starting place, in case you have never done this and were too intimidated to ask someone, or just never attempted sawing.

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First, let’s look at the saw frame itself. There are many saw frames available from 2 inch depth to 8 inch depth. (the distance from the blade to the back of the frame) I use a 4″ frame for most jobs, it just feels right for me, I have better control at this size. Frames 3″-5″ are the most common sizes for most jewelers.  Here is the frame I have used for years, a German Style 4″ Frame.

Next, it is time to select a blade. They come in packs of a dozen (probably because they break easy) and I usually buy them by the gross. (12 packs of 12)  Saw blades come in a variety of sizes from 8/0, the smallest, to 8 the largest. I could bore you with a bunch of dimensions of sizes of blades, but I could see your eyes glaze over as I would begin to read them off.  So just know, the thinner the metal, the smaller the blade you use. I use a 3/0 for most jobs. and the brand I usually use are Herkules White Label 3/0 Blades. I have had good luck with these, feel free to try other brands and find the ones you like.

Now it is time to put the blade in the frame. Always make sure the teeth are facing or pointing towards the handle and away from the back of the saw frame. Place the blade into the top of the frame first, opening the thumbscrew and placing the blade between the 2 metal plates and tightening with the thumbscrew.

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Now I place the top of the saw frame in a notch I have in my bench pin, (I have used a hole in the front of my bench as well) and add tension by placing the handle on the center of my chest and add pressure to the frame. Place the other end of the blade into the bottom of the frame and tighten the thumb screw. You want the blade to be tight, and if you pluck the blade, it should have a “ping” sound. (hard to explain in text)

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We are now ready to do some sawing. Before we dig in, let’s lubricate the saw blade, to make it easier to cut. I will give you a few options to do this, First, you can use Beeswax to lubricate the blade. Take a bit of beeswax and run it along the blade. In the next example, you can use Paraffin Wax. Add it to the blade in the same way. Last, I also use my bur lubricant, Pro-Cut Bur Lube. I just rub a little on my finger, and rub it on the blade, thinly coating the blade.

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Another option, and for some good “aroma-therapy” is to use Oil of Wintergreen. You can use this on burs by just dipping the tip of the bur into a small amount of it, and add it to your saw blade the same way as with Pro-Cut, by your finger. Another benefit of the Oil of Wintergreen is that it has a very pleasant smell and will give your whole work space a hint of wintergreen odor.

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Now it is time to do some cutting. In this example, I have scribed a straight line in a piece of copper. If you are new to using a saw, it is a good idea to practice cutting straight lines because you will have to learn to “steer” the blade. I hold the piece of metal flat on my bench pin for support.

Depending on the blade, or the tension of the blade, sometimes your cutting will want to “wander” to the left or right. If it does this, you will need to counter the action by steering the blade. For example, if the blade wants to cut to the left or wander that way, slightly hold or twist the frame handle to the left, countering the action and making it cut back to the right.

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In most cases you will want to cut with the blade perpendicular to the metal, but sometimes if you hold the blade at an angle (30 degrees or so) it will help you cut straighter. Scribe a number of straight lines and practice cutting along the lines.  A good scribe to use is a Tungsten Carbide Scribe.

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Next, let’s do some piercing cutting. In this example, I have scribed a rectangle onto a copper sheet. I used an Adjustable Spring Loaded Center Punch to give me a pilot hole to drill, so when I drill the hole, my bit or bur doesn’t wander. Here I used a .8mm round bur to drill the hole through the sheet. Use a bit large enough so the saw blade can fit through the hole. Unhook one end of the saw blade and feed it through the hole in the sheet. Re-attach the blade in the frame as before, with the sheet “on” the blade. Start cutting along the line, and when you get close to the end of the line, start to turn the blade to make the corner. you will want to make less aggressive cuts and let the blade do the cutting to make sharp corners. When you have finished cutting, remove the blade and clean the inside with a 4-Square Needle File or a Barrette Needle File.

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These are just a couple of examples of sawing and there are an endless number of tasks you can do with these 2 basic examples. Get familiar with your saw frame and go saw-crazy. Keep practicing and you will be able to do amazing things with your handy saw.

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8 Responses to How to Improve Your Basic Sawing Skills

  1. Heidi September 22, 2015 at 9:33 am #

    Hi Doug,
    Great to see you back at the bench and blogging again! I am just starting out and have been learning so much from your site, thank you for your generosity <3

    So far I have been doing pretty good with regular sawing, but when it comes to piercing I have a hard time retensioning the blade. I feel like I need more hands to support the work and keep it from bending, twisting and bowing the blade while I insert and tension it. I do use my chest but are there any other tips you could suggest? I feel like I am missing something obvious, lol.


    • Doug Napier September 22, 2015 at 9:43 am #

      Thank you Heidi, it is so good to be back and feeling better.

      • Doug Napier September 22, 2015 at 5:37 pm #

        Heidi, I have a small hole drilled in the front of my bench as well, just large enough for the top of my saw to fit into. I put the top of my saw frame into the hole, place the handle on my chest, and this leaves both hands free to adjust the blade. Also if you hold the piece you are working on towards the top of the frame, it will leave the blade free to adjust. (no weight on the blade) Hope this works.

        • Heidi September 23, 2015 at 9:58 am #

          Awesome! I will give that a try. Thanks 🙂

          • Doug Napier September 24, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

            Heidi, Let me know how it works. If not, we will figure out a way to get you up to speed. I can make a video for you.

          • Heidi September 25, 2015 at 10:38 am #

            OMG You are such a doll! <3 I will keep you posted.

  2. Rob February 16, 2016 at 8:21 pm #

    Great post. I will be looking to pick up some copper sheets to mess around with.

    • Doug Napier February 17, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

      Great Rob. Look forward to seeing what you come up with.