To Work with Metal you will need a way to :
- Cut the Metal – Sheet, Wire, Rod
- Move the Metal – Flatten, Harden, Straighten
- Form the Metal – Shape, Roll, Remove, Refine
- Connect the Metal – Solder, Fuse, Cold Connections, etc.
- Polish and Finish The Work
The first step to making wire or metal jewelry is to cut your metals to the desired shapes and sizes.
There is a huge variety of wire cutters, saws and blades, shears and so much more. I was completely overwhelmed when I started out. I almost said Quit before I even began.
The expense seems tremendous and it can be so costly when you make the wrong choices. So how should we start building our Arsenal of smithy tools? Once again, it all boils down to the work you want to do.
Before we begin there are a few concepts that you should familiarize yourself with. You will hear these terms over and over again along your journey.
Gauge – refers to the thickness of the metal sheet or wire. As a rule of thumb, when referring to the Gauge of a metal, the lower the number, the thicker the metal. Therefore, an 8 gauge wire is much thicker than a 20 gauge wire.
Temper refers to the elasticity and hardness of a metal. The most common tempers of jewelry metals are:
- Dead Soft
- Half Hard
Intro to Cutting Tools
There are many tools you can use to cut your Jewelry metals.
You will need a basic understanding of the Key Concepts above when you are shopping for your tools.
Most Cutting tools will have rating information that lets you know what tempers and gauges of metal can be cut safely without the risk of damaging the tool blades. So you may need to purchase extra heavy duty versions of your cutters if you plan to work with thicker gauges and harder tempers.
There are also different forms of Jewelry Metals. In this post I am going to focus on Wire, Sheet Metal and Rods.
Cutting Metal ~ Wire Cutters
Wire Cutters are awesome for cutting Jewelry Wire.
They are designed to cut wire and only wire should be cut with them unless you want to chip and damage the blades.
There are literally dozens and dozens of different types of Wire Cutters on the market.
So how do you choose in the beginning?
Once again I say, this depends on the task and materials at hand. But there are a few general tools that you will need to get started.
You are going to hear a lot about Flush Cuts when you learn to make metal jewelry. The term “flush” means level or straight and on the same plane, so flush cutters cut the wire level.
This is one pair of Cutters you definitely will have to have. As you can see above, I have my Orange handled Xuron Flush Cutters, but I also still have my old pair that came in that Walmart Kit I talked about int the previous post. I use the Old ones (top Right in the Photo) to cut thicker wire when needed so that I don’t damage my more expensive ones (I paid around 15.00 bucks for the Xuron cutters on Amazon. There are many brands that vary in price from a few bucks to nearly 100 dollars a pair.
I haven’t really seen the need to spend that kind of money on my wire cutters at this point because I don’t work exclusively with Wire for my Jewelry making.
But I do plan to get a set of Heavy Duty Flush Cutters soon, because I am working more and more with thicker gauges of Wire.
Tip* Do not cut Memory Wire with any cutters other than Memory Wire Cutters.
I did invest in a a tool called a Miter Vise which I use to perfect my cuts for soldering joins, but we will discuss that tool in a later series.
Side Cutters (Diagonal Cutters)
Chances are good that you have a pair of these in your household tool box. Shown about on the left side of the photo, the blade on these cutters side-cutters leave a sharp spike on the wire after cutting.
I use my side cutters for really thick wire and then use my files to refine the end of the wire. I recommend that you keep at least one heavy duty set of side cutters in your Jewelry Tool box for this purpose.
As we talked about earlier, there are many varieties of wire cutters on the market.
You will want to explore the uses and rating info to determine when you may need a more specialized set of cutters.
But for your most basic Metalsmithing Home Studio, a good pair of Flush Cutters and a heavy duty pair of Side Cutters should get you through most tasks.
Cutting Metal ~ Metal Shears and Scissors
Another method of cutting wire is to use a pair of Metal Shears or household scissors.
To state the obvious, using your household scissors may result in dulling the blades fairly quickly. So you may want to invest is a set of scissor sharpeners if you choose this option.
I suggest that you get a pair of shears specifically designed for the purpose.
You can also cut sheet metal with the proper shears. But here are some tips to consider.
Metal Shears work best for small jobs such as trimming the backplate of a bezel or cutting a small piece off of a sheet.
They are not the best option for cutting long strips because the metal and roll up and spiral as you cut the sheet.
They are very handy for small tasks and are worth investing in early on.
Cutting Metal ~ Jeweler's Saw and Bench Pin
If you are going to work with Sheet Metals in your Projects, I definitely suggest you get a Jeweler’s Saw and a Bench Pin. This saw also known as a Piercing Saw.
As with all types of Jeweler’s tools, there is a wide variety of Saw Frames, Saw Blades and Bench Pins to choose from.
Here are a few suggestions for your first purchases.
- Good Construction – a good fitting well rounded Handle and well balanced frame will make your learning experience much less frustrating.
- Adjustable length – I like this feature and most saws allow you to change the length if needed.
- Easy to install the blades – most saws have a screw that your loosen and tighten to secure the blade.
- A surplus of Blades in a Variety of Sizes.
- You will need to apply Cut Lube to your blades to use your saw effectively.
A Note About Jeweler’s Saw Blade Sizing
Jeweler’s saw blades are sized on a scale. Considering size 0 (zero) to be the middle of the scale, larger blades are subsequently numbered: #1, #2, #3 etc. The higher the number, the larger the blade. Smaller blades are subsequently numbered: 1/0, 2/0, 3/0. The higher the number the smaller the blade.
The Rows of the Table indicates the gauges of metal and the Columns indicate the suitable Size of Saw Blade.
The Bench Pin
A bench pin is a notched piece of wood you attach to your work table to aid with sawing. Bench pins also help steady your hands and tools, so you can do intricate work in small spaces.
I bought a relatively simple and inexpensive bench pin from Amazon that attaches to my desk with the included C-Clamp. (In the photo, it is the one standing on it’s side. It came with the “V” notch and small center hole premade.
If you don not have a dedicated jeweler’s bench, I urge you to get this style. It is easy to set up and take down when not in use. It can also be easily modified, which we will talk about in depth in a later post.
I did have a little issue with the pin sliding around on my slippery desk surface, but that was easily remedied with a little self adhering bandage tape.
Cutting Metal ~ Disc Cutters and Hole Punches
Finally, I would like to mention a few specialty items that I invested in early on.
The names of these tools are fairly self-descriptive.
Hole punches are used to make holes and disc cutters are used to cut various sizes of shapes from sheet metal.
These are tools used to make small holes in your metal components.
For example, you may need a small hole to thread a jump ring or link through, to connect a bail or another component.
My punch, see here at the top of the photo, is designed to create 2 different size holes in a flat piece of metal. They screws on top are simply twisted down until the metal is fully pierced and then rotated in the opposite direction to release the metal.
Hole sizes are 1.5 and 2 mm and the tool can be used on metal up to 20 gauge thick.
There are also hole punching pliers that come in a few different hole diameters. And there is a MIghty Punch, which can punch through much thicker gauges of metal.
However you can also use a drill and larger drill bits to serve the same purpose. My referred option, due to the expense of that tool and my limited space.
Disc cutters are a fantastic way to cut uniformly shaped metal components over and over again.
Not only can you cut perfectly shaped discs or circles, but there are options available for a variety of other shapes, from squares to flowers.
As with all other tool categories, there are many brands and price ranges for these cutters. Try to think about how much you will be using them to determine which might be best for your purposes.
Currently, I have 2 fairly inexpensive sets that offer a good range of disc sizes.
Note* you will need a brass hammer and Cut Lube to use this type of tool and they are generally not included.
A Few Final Words - Cut Lube
Cut Lube is a high-tech lubrication used for almost any cutting application.
Not only does Cut Lube make cutting easier and more precise, but it adds life to all of your cutting tools.
Make sure to have some on Hand for use with your Piercing Saw and Disc Cutters.
I hope you find the information on Cutting Tools helpful and you have loads of success in Setting up your Home Studio.
The next Post in this series “Metalsmithing At Home ~ Basic Tools” will cover the tools associated with the Task of Moving Metal.
Don’t forget to Check out my Solder Station Basics Series for more on Metalsmithing Basics.
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