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Using a jeweler’s saw frame is one of the required basics of most fabrication projects when working with sheet metal. Sawing can be either a battle of wills between you and the saw frame (is my saw frame the only one with a will of its own?) or it can be a relaxing, contemplative activity. The recipe for the latter includes your comfort and posture and, most importantly, the correct blade for the gauge and alloy you’re sawing. If a blade is too coarse for the metal, it will feel like the blade is chewing the metal and out of control. If the blade is too fine for the metal, you will find that you’re expending a lot of energy but not making a lot of progress and the blade will tend to wander off your pattern line as you saw.


A Christmas word stamp and StazOn ink was used after painting but before sealing.

Snowflake Tree Ornament


Feel free to use my template, but it’s so much fun to make your own.


Center-punching the places for holes will keep your drill bit steady and put the hole right where you want it.


Use one hand to steady the other while drilling the holes. Once all the holes have been drilled I can sit and saw without having to stop and drill more holes.


Correct orientation of the teeth and the correct size blade can make sawing an almost effortless and contemplative activity.


While sawing, your saw frame should travel straight up and down, rather than at a diagonal as you would with a wood saw.


Use your fingers as clamps as you saw. Any “chatter” in the metal will tend to cause broken blades.


All the interior spaces have been sawn out.


The ornament looks beautiful, though plain, after the filing is done.


Only applying one layer of paint gives your snowflake a snowy look.


Automobile paint is great for this project; it comes in a wide variety of colors, has a sealer specially made to work with it and it’s durable and weatherproof.


 

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.

Materials
3” X 3” Text Weight Paper
Rubber Cement
3” X 3” 22 Gauge Metal
Spray Paint for Automobiles
Clear Cote for Automobiles
Old Newspapers
1/8” Eyelet
Wire
Radial Bristle Discs (various grits) (optional)
Narrow Satin Ribbon

Tools
Sharp Scissors
Jeweler’s Saw Frame and Blades (3/0)
Bench Pin
Hand File
Needle Files
Mini Needle Files
Center Punch
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)
Flex Shaft, Dremel or Drill Press
Bench Block
Wooden Block
Roundnose Pliers
1/8” Eyelet Tool
Poly Hammer

Technique:
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 see it).

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 loose.

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 and beautiful.

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.

Christine Cox was a regular contributor to ARTitude Zine. This article originally appeared there and is reprinted here with permission. Unfortunately ARTitude is no longer published.
 

 

 


Issue # 19

Christine Cox teaches metalsmithing and bookbinding classes in our Studio in Volcano, CA.