Since these ornaments are so beautiful, and
can be a fair amount of work, it makes sense to produce them in
multiples. I’ve thrown in some hints for speeding up the work.
One of my favorite steps in this project
is the first one; I get to put on my elf hat and make paper snowflakes!
The paper snowflakes become the patterns for delicate metal tree or room
ornaments that would make Scrooge himself sit up and take notice.
3” X 3” Text Weight Paper
3” X 3” 22
Spray Paint for Automobiles
Clear Cote for Automobiles
Radial Bristle Discs (various grits) (optional)
Narrow Satin Ribbon
Saw Frame and Blades (3/0)
Polishing Papers (400 Grit and Finer)
Mandrel for Radial Discs (optional)
Drill Bit (a diameter smaller than the narrowest point in the interior
shapes of your pattern but large enough to accommodate a saw blade)
Dremel or Drill Press
1/8” Eyelet Tool
Fold paper into ever smaller triangles until it’s as small as possible
but scissors will still cut through all the layers at once.
Just like in grade school, cut various
shapes out of the folded triangle. Open the paper all the way to see how
the pattern is developing and assess if more cutting should be done.
Re-fold and refine the shape if desired.
Rather than leaving the edges square, cut
them into peaks and valleys too. Leave an open area at the top of the
snowflake shape so that later you can install an eyelet for hanging the
ornament. Check out my template for an example.
If you are going to make several
ornaments at once, make several snowflake templates, either by cutting
them out individually or by making copies of the first template you cut
out (put black paper behind the template when copying so that you can
Use rubber cement to affix one template
to one piece of metal. If you are making more than one ornament at once,
use rubber cement to glue 2 pieces of metal together and then glue a
template to the top piece of metal. I like to press mine together in a
book press while the glue dries but any heavy weight will adhere the 2
pieces of metal. Good adhesion is critical. You’ll cut both pieces of
metal at once by using a coarser blade than you would if only cutting 1
piece. A #1 size blade will be about right but will depend on the brand
of blades you buy and the alloy of the brass. If you put a little Bur
Life (a fatty alcohol based lubricant) or other light solid lubricant on
the blade it will reduce friction. I don’t use beeswax as it can clog
the teeth of the saw blade.
Whether cutting one piece of metal or
two, you will start by cutting out the interior shapes. You’ll cut the
exterior shape out later since it’s easier to hold onto a larger piece
of metal while cutting.
Since you wouldn’t be able to saw into
the interior shapes without damaging the exterior, you’ll need to drill
a hole inside each shape to be cut out. To start cutting an interior
shape, make a pilot dent in the metal by placing it on the bench block
and using the center punch to make a dent near one of the cutting lines
of each shape.
Install the drill bit into your rotary
tool of choice. I prefer a flex shaft as it’s comfortable to hold and
has infinitely variable speeds. Metal is best drilled with a slow speed.
Using the pilot dent you made, drill a
hole in each interior shape. Rest the metal on a block of wood to
protect your work surface while drilling.
Install the 1/8” drill bit into your
rotary tool and (a drill press is best for this task). Use the center
punch to make a starter dent where you want the ornament hanger to go
and then drill a hole with the 1/8” bit.
To install a blade in your jeweler’s saw
frame, first observe the orientation of the blade’s teeth. When properly
installed, the teeth will face out (in the cutting direction of the
frame) and down toward the handle. A great trick for finding the
direction of the teeth (those little guys can be very hard to see) is to
run the blade across your sleeve. The teeth will hang up on the fabric
in one direction and not in the other. The direction in which it hangs
is the direction the teeth are facing.
Now open the key closest to the handle of
the saw frame. Insert the blade, double checking the orientation.
Tighten the key. From the bottom of the metal, thread the saw blade up
through one of the pilot holes in one of the interior shapes.
Flex the saw frame by placing the handle
against your breastbone (or stand up and use your hip) and resting the
screw or nub at the top of the frame on a table. When you push the
handle with your chest, the frame will flex so that the blade can reach
to the top key. Note: when the frame is at rest, the blade should not
quite touch the top key. You should have to flex the frame to get the
blade into the right position. If the frame is too short for the blade,
the blade will be loose and will not cut correctly. Use the “ping” test
to ensure that the blade is tight enough. After stringing and tightening
the blade, hold it up close to your ear and “ping” it with a fingernail.
The resulting sound should be high and sharp. If it’s dull, the blade is
Rest the metal on your bench pin and
clamp it with your left – or passive – hand. Saw out each interior shape
using a relaxed, smooth motion. After each shape is complete, loosen the
top key of your saw frame, allow the metal to fall off and then string
the saw blade up through the next hole and tighten it.
Once all the interior shapes are cut out,
restring your saw’s blade and saw out the outer shape of your snowflake.
If you were sawing out more than one
snowflake at once, separate the 2 pieces of metal. Remove the paper
template and rub off any excess glue. Now use progressively finer files
and then polishing papers to finish all the edges, interior and
exterior, front and back. For the smallest holes, put the end of a piece
of jute or twine in a vise and then thread it through the hole in your
ornament. Run the snowflake back and forth on the jute until it’s smooth
For those of you with a flex shaft, you
can save unbelievable amounts of time by using radial bristle disks
(available at jewelry supply stores) rather than filing by hand. These
disks attach to the end of a mandrel in your flex shaft (or Dremel) and
you can file and bevel the edges of the metal in about 15 minutes. You
may have to shape the piece a little where your sawing line may have
wavered. One of the goals of this project is to improve your sawing
skill so that you don’t have as much filing to do.
If you want to punch a name or date into
the ornament, now is the time.
Once all the shaping is done and the
metal is completely finished, you can really do some fun things. If you
want to paint your creation, you’ll need to rough up the surface a
little. Use a piece of 400 grit polishing paper for the job.
Set up a spraying station outside by
laying out some newspaper in a windless area and put the snowflake down.
Spray the ornament as you would with any spray paint. Use several thin
coats (follow the directions on the can) letting it dry thoroughly
between layers. Once one side is done, turn the ornament over and be
sure that there are no drips of paint or newspaper stuck to the metal.
If there is, simply sand it off and continue. Repeat the painting
procedure on this side. Once both sides are the color that you like,
seal them with a few layers of the Clear Cote sold for use with the
automotive paint you’re using.
When the sealer is very dry, install the
eyelet into the hanger hole. Thread a thin color-coordinated satin
ribbon through the eyelet, tie a pretty bow in it and then hang the
ornament on your tree with pride.
A fun variation is to make 3 ornaments of
different sizes and patterns and then to join them together with jump
rings. Make little miniature snowflakes and hang them in a garland on
your mantle (a very ambitious project!). Hang them in a window where
they can catch the sunlight. If the automotive paint you chose is
“metallic” or “pearl” the ornament will really sparkle.
Now take off your elf hat, put on your
flannel nightshirt, put out the dried apple chips and low-fat milk for
Santa and relax and enjoy your handiwork.