Wednesday, May 1, 2013

FREE Tutorial: Sawn & Pierced Cuff Bracelet

Since I'll be teaching a fun sawing and piercing workshop this weekend to my Wild Wire Women retreaters, I thought I'd post a basic tutorial on my process. If you're new to using the jeweler's saw, I highly recommend taking a good workshop with an experienced teacher who can show you just how to hold the saw and how to use it most effectively. There are lots of little tips and tricks to this, which are all but impossible to convey in a tutorial...
My Athena's Cuff (pictured above) is one of my favorite designs; made with 20ga copper sheet that I cut, pierced, filed, polished, textured, and heat-patinaed in my home studio in Idyllwild, California. Athena’s Cuff will enhance your sawing skills… and then some! By diligently practicing piercing out shapes with a jeweler’s saw, you can’t help but improve your skills.
Designing a heavy-gauge cuff bracelet with an intricate spiral design (or any other design of your choosing) will force you to saw out each shape with increasing precision. And then comes filing and polishing… lots of that. But you needed the practice, right?
I teach workshops on these techniques all the time and it is great fun for everyone, especially beginners who might be just a bit intimidated by their jeweler's saw. You can do this! Yes, YOU!
What you need: 20ga sheet metal (I used copper to make my cuff, but brass or silver will also work), jeweler’s saw with #3/0 size saw blades, saw lubricant (such as bee's wax), bench pin, paper, scissors, rubber cement, Sharpie marker, kitchen torch or jeweler’s torch, fire brick and/or 12-inch annealing pan with pumice, pickle solution (I use citric acid in hot water), metal hole punch or drill, jeweler’s files both large and needle-size (half-round files recommended for this project), bracelet mandrel, resin or rawhide mallet, 0000-steel wool or fine sandpapers
Creating a design for your pierced cuff is your first priority. First determine the size of your cuff; my sample is six inches long and two inches wide. Some may find this cuff size too wide; in this case try one and a half inches instead. You can always make a mock-up cuff by cutting a piece of cardstock to the size you believe will work. If it fits around your wrist comfortably, you’re good to go; otherwise, make adjustments.
Either free-hand draw a series of spirals with thick and thin lines, or use a commercial rubber stamp. Background stamps such as the one I used (from Rubber Stampede) for my sample are great because they’re usually about six inches long and definitely wide enough.Stamp the image onto blank paper, and then use a photocopier to enlarge the design as needed.
Once you have a pattern with fairly thick lines, set it aside. Cut out a window from graph paper measuring six inches by two inches (or one and a half if you prefer). Place the window over the photocopied image until you find a pleasing design within its borders. Tape it down, and then draw a quarter-inch border all around the inside of the pattern. This is the frame that will hold your cuff together once it’s sawn and pierced out of the metal.

Use a black marker to reinforce the black-and-white design; thick lines are best. You may need to add “bridges” within the design to keep it from losing structural integrity. I added several thick black bridges to my spiral design, and after I pierced it out and shaped the cuff I was really grateful for the bridges that keep the spirals from poking up.

Once you have a pleasing design, be sure to make several photocopies. After going to so much work creating a design with structural integrity, you wouldn’t want to use your original without copying it. You may want to duplicate your cuff later, or reduce the image to make earring dangles, or use portions of the design to make a pendant… there are many possibilities. Once you’ve made copies, put the original along with most of the copies in a file folder for future reference, reserving one copy for your cuff bracelet.

Now it’s time to use your design. First, adhere the paper to a sheet of metal (I used 20ga copper sheet but you could make your cuff using 18ga, 20ga, or 22ga) with rubber cement.Insert a #3/0 saw blade into the frame with the jagged edge of the blade facing out; you can either feel this with your finger or use a magnifier of some type to examine your blade. The blade’s jagged points should point downward, resembling a Christmas tree.
Ensure that your blade is inserted very tightly within the saw frame, because a loose blade will break. Use a lubricant such as bee's wax to lube the blade before you begin.
Place the metal on your bench pin, supporting the metal at all times while sawing it. Holding the saw frame vertically (i.e. not an angle, not tilted to one side or the other) begin stroking the edge of the sheet metal right next to the paper design. Begin sawing with an up-and-down motion; after a few strokes it will feel quite natural.

Tip: When sawing metal, never push the blade into it because the pressure is likely to break your blade. Think of the saw blade as being very similar to a needle in a sewing machine, which moves rapidly up and down as it moves forward into the cloth. Moving your hand up and down and holding the saw frame firmly (but not with a death-grip!), allow the blade to eat into the metal naturally, like a hot knife through butter. Remember, you are only cutting the metal on the down-stroke.
Keep your eyes on the saw blade at all times. Avoid distractions, and keep your fingers away from the blade!
Once the long rectangle of metal has been cut out, use either a hole-punch or a drill to punch or drill a hole within each white area of the design. These white areas are the negative shapes that will all be pierced out with a saw.

To pierce out a negative shape, loosen the saw blade in the frame until the bottom end is free of the frame. Thread it through a hole in a negative shape, with the design facing up as shown in the following photo. Tighten the blade in the frame as usual; make sure the blade is very tight! Lube up the blade with bee's wax (or your favorite lube used for sawing or using the flex shaft), and you’re ready to begin.
I saw from the hole toward the edge of the black design, and then follow the inner edge of the design all the way around the perimeter. When you have to make a sharp turn in a corner, changing the direction in which you’re sawing, the best way is to move the saw blade rapidly up and down while very slowly turning the metal until the blade faces the new direction. Don’t turn the saw blade itself, as it will simply break. Always turn the metal. And if you do break a few blades when you’re first starting out, take heart. We all break blades sometimes (which is why it’s a good idea to buy them by the gross instead of by the dozen!).

Once the first negative shape has been pierced out, take a look. Pretty cool!

Continue sawing to pierce out all the negative shapes. In a complex design such as the one shown below, this is likely to take a couple of hours. Remove the paper design and scrub off all the glue. Now you’re ready to start filing and polishing (oh, joy!).

Use a large jeweler’s file to smooth the outer edges of the cuff. You can also use sandpaper in various grits, steel wool, or your favorite attachment on a flex shaft if you have one. Switch to a smaller “needle” size file to smooth the edges of the pierced-out design.
Tip: Why not take off all the rough edges by simply dropping the metal into a tumbler with jewelry shot and burnishing compound? Well, sure, the tumbler is good at smoothing out the rough edges, and I’m not saying you can’t use it. But using files first will allow you to not only smooth the edges but to actually file away large bumps and flaws that will become apparent as soon as you remove the paper pattern from the metal. You can press the file firmly against the edge of the pattern as you file and carve out areas that need it, shaping the design to your desire rather than simply allowing a tumbler to smooth the edges at random. Once you finish filing and sanding the piece, you may then drop it into a tumbler for an hour or so for a final polish. This is entirely up to you.

Use 0000-steel wool to give a final polish to all the edges within and around the entire metal piece. Fine-grit sanding paper will also work.

Before shaping your pierced metal piece into a cuff, you should anneal (soften) it with a torch. First, use an indelible marker such as a Sharpie to run lines all over the metal.

Place the metal piece on a firebrick (such as the type used to line kilns with; do NOT use an ordinary household brick!), and if you have an annealing pan with pumice place the brick on that. I highly recommend purchasing a rotating annealing pan and if you can afford it, go for the 12-inch diameter size. The ability to rotate the pan while you heat the metal is a great feature, allowing you to easily hit all the areas of a large metal piece.
Heat the metal with the torch, using a bushy flame. Go over all areas of the metal evenly and watch for the Sharpie marker to suddenly disappear. That’s how you know the metal has been annealed.
Shut off the torch and place it in a fireproof area. Quench the metal by picking it up with some junk pliers and placing it in a bowl of cold water. Once it’s completely submerged in the water, it’s safe to remove with your fingers. Amazing how quickly the metal cools off!

To remove the firescale (a black residue caused by the torch), the best solution is an acid bath referred to by jewelers as a “pickle.” You have a few choices: Use a commercial pickle and mix it with hot water per the manufacturer’s instructions, or use pool acid or citric acid. I have used pool acid many times with great success; simply heat some water to almost-boiling, pour it into a small bowl or a crock-pot, and then add a quarter-cup of dry pool acid (ALWAYS add acid to water, never the other way around).
Recently I started using powdered citric acid (which is organic and non-toxic) instead of pool acid, with great results. Citric acid can be ordered online or found in some grocery stores. In a small crock-pot with heated water, add about a quarter cup of powdered citric acid and stir until it dissolves. Use either copper tongs or a plastic fork to place the copper piece in the acid bath. Remove it when the black firescale is gone, and the copper is bright orange.
Tip: If your crock-pot is too small to accommodate a large cuff bracelet, pour the hot solution into a larger container. Pickle the piece, remove it with copper tongs, and then pour the acid bath back into the crock-pot to keep it warm.

Once the copper is clean, remove it from the bath and immediately wash it with water and an old scrubbie pad. You may use water with a tablespoon of baking soda in it to neutralize the acid solution, but if you use the scrubbie to thoroughly clean the metal, you don’t really have to use baking soda. Just be sure to clean the metal thoroughly.
Next, dry the metal piece thoroughly with a clean rag or paper towels. Place the metal on a bracelet mandrel and hammer it firmly with a resin or rawhide mallet as shown in the following photo.

When the bracelet is nicely shaped, try it on for size. You may need to hammer it again on a smaller placement on the mandrel, or use your hands to gently shape it into an ellipse to fit your wrist more comfortably. The metal should be soft enough for quite a bit of manipulation. Hammering it some more with a mallet will eventually work-harden the cuff.

Once the cuff is hammered into shape and fits well, you have many options for altering it. You can use liver of sulfur to artificially age the metal, or use a commercial patina to color it. Another option is to texture it with your favorite texturing hammers. It’s easy to do this while the copper bracelet is on a metal bracelet mandrel. I advise annealing and pickling it first, to soften the metal.
If you look at the cuff pictured in the following photo, you can see that it’s been textured with a "raw silk" hammer (a Fretz brand textured hammer), and then altered by going over the entire cuff with a torch, with a gentle flame. The heat from the flame will color it with what is called a “heat patina.” If you overdo this step, the entire cuff will blacken. In this case, submerge it into a pickle solution to remove the firescale, rinse and dry it, and try applying heat to it again. This may take some practice, as the results are somewhat unpredictable.

I hope you've enjoyed this free tutorial!
If you'd like to come out to Idyllwild for a weekend of intensive instruction on wire art and various metal arts to make jewelry, please visit for more information.
Happy sawing,


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