Jewellery making

Using a jeweller’s piercing saw

Sawing is one of those skills that you just cannot do without. Love it or hate it – we all need it! Using a jeweller’s piercing saw is an essential skill for creating intricate, custom metal shapes for your designs. Beginners find it very difficult and I have made sure that it doesn’t form a major feature of the subject during the beginner’s course I offer. It is a subject area that can be a little off-putting; it also does need a more open ended learning period to master.

Combating the struggle

Having said all that, the piercing saw can give fantastic, endless possibilities for you within your work. I have to admit that I too used to hate it! But now it’s just like driving a car – I need it to get from A to B, and find it quite therapeutic. I’ve realised that I used to dislike it so much because it was a struggle, and it was a struggle because I was often doing it wrong. Practice always makes perfect, but there are some important helpful tips that will hopefully correct any wrong doings.

Blade matters

Get the blade in the right way up and the right way round! Really – don’t laugh! Blades can be little monkeys.  What’s right? The teeth should face outwards and the blade cuts on the down stroke. So if you hold the saw up-right the teeth should look like the roof tiles on a house or a cartoon Christmas tree. There’s a worksheet on the studio wall with pictures to refer to in class. Can’t even see the blade? Me neither at my age, it helps to run your finger (gently) up and down the blade – it should snag on the way up. Try not to draw blood. 

jeweller's piercing sawSize Matters

As for the size, it’s a common mistake to use the thickest blade you have just because you may think it will be less likely to break. In fact a thinner blade will glide more easily through metal. The rule of thumb is 2-3 teeth per thickness of metal you are sawing. 0.5mm sheet will need to be cut with a very thin blade. Blades are measured in numbers; size 6/0 being the finest with 76 teeth per inch, through to size 6 being the thickest with 33 teeth per inch. Sizes 6/0 through to 0 are the most commonly used for jewellery making in the studio. Sizes 1 through to 6 tend to be a bit hefty for thinner metals. Measuring the teeth on a blade is not really that easy! You will get to the point when you can tell if you have the correct thickness of blade because it will ‘feel’ right or wrong.

Why do blades break?

They just do! I can have a blade in a saw for weeks, and then I’ll break umpteen in an afternoon. However there are a few things that will lead to breaking more blades than you need to and these are listed here for you:


  1. Make sure the blade is tight in the frame. A baggy blade will snap easily. The blade should be taut enough to create a “ping” noise like a string on a guitar when you pluck it. Push the frame against the bench whilst tightening the tensioning nuts and don’t hold on to the blade with your fingers.
  2. Keep the blade upright whilst sawing. Unlike sawing wood, when sawing metal with a piercing saw, it is important for the saw to be as upright as possible. If you start sawing with the blade at an angle then more teeth are passing through the thickness of the metal. This will result in the blade jagging or becoming stuck in the metal and snapping.
  3. Try not to be heavy handed. Don’t push the saw blade forcefully against the metal. Handle the saw lightly and allow it to ‘fall’ effortlessly through the metal. Let the teeth do the work.4.  Turning corners can be tricky! Try to turn the metal instead of turning the saw and remember don’t apply too much pressure on the blade. Often when at a corner it is easy to become tense and instantly start applying excessive pressure, so stay relaxed.

Seeing is believing

Once you are set up with your blade in correctly and ready to go its worth mentioning how you should set ‘yourself’ up. Make sure you can see what you are doing. This sounds silly but it can be really difficult to see where you are meant to be sawing. Use a method to mark out your work that really helps. My favourite is to mark out on paper then stick the paper with Pritt Stic on to your work. The lines can be easily seen when drawn on paper as opposed to metal. Another method is to cut out a paper shape, stick this on and saw around it. Sometimes I’ve made a real mess of sawing just because I can’t see the lines properly.

It’s all in the action

Most sawing is done at a bench peg, but sit to one side of it, not in front of it. So, if you are right handed sit a little to the left and vice versa. If you sit centrally to the peg you will be in your own way, your sawing arm will have to cross over in front of you and become cramped up. To get started I find that drawing a square or triangular needle file down the edge of the metal will create a small groove for the blade to sit in and help to start you off.

And we’re off

So here goes. Use the full length of the blade, keep your arm relaxed, and saw using long, even strokes. Short frenetic strokes will wear you out and make you tense again. Aim for an even up-and-down gliding motion.  Cut interior shapes out for the design first. This will give you a bigger piece of metal to hold on to with your non-sawing hand. This non-sawing hand will be the one that aches so have a break here and there.


Pausing or removing mid-saw

If you need to stop slide the work right to the top of the blade – it will be less likely to break than if the work is left in the middle. If you want to remove your work entirely, again slide it to the top of the blade, open the frame and slide it off the end of the blade. This is less likely to break the blade than trying to reverse out of a cut.

The final story

So hopefully you will experience more successful, enjoyable sawing with this advice. There are just a couple of last minute tips worth a mention. If you need to cut two identical shapes out it is a good idea to stick two sheets of metal together with double sided tape. To separate these afterwards just heat them up, the tape will burn away and the two sheets should slide apart. Keep your broken blades; they are great for enlarging the holes in beads, especially pearls that always seem to have really small holes. Just thread the bead on to the blade and rub it up and down – turning it at intervals so you get a hole and not a linear cut.

One last word – Lubrication.

I often see tips in publications about using lubrication on the blade whilst sawing. A favourite is to rub the blade along a wax candle prior to sawing. However, this is a pet hate of mine. I have tried it but I find that the friction of the sawing action warms up the wax as it cuts, then the tiny scraps of powdery metal that fall on to the surface of your work are turned in to thicker clumps of sticky, metal laden wax which are warm and stick where they land. So when you try to blow them away they just sit there obscuring your line. Then the temptation is to rub then off with your fingers. This then results in a smeary greasy mark across your work, a sliced finger or a broken blade.

Improve and enjoy

It’s better if you can to just improve your sawing action – you really should then never have the need for any lubrication on your blades. Sawing shouldn’t be a struggle; if it is then stop and check through the points above. More often than not a much thinner blade, sitting to one side, being able to see what you are doing and getting the blade in correctly will just make all the difference.

If you really can’t get to grips with sawing then it may be worth attending the Jeweller’s Piercing Saw Masterclass at the studio. This class has turned many a ‘sawing hater’ in to a ‘sawing superhero’  

Have fun, happy sawing.

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