The joys of saw piercing

I spent much of my weekend sawing out pieces of sterling silver, some of them into very intricate designs. While working I thought about the process of saw piercing and how much my own perception of it has changed over the past year or so.

Finished handmade components fresh from the tumbler.
Finished handmade jewelry and components fresh from the tumbler after a weekend of making.

I suspect it’s no accident that many courses teaching jewellery making from a metalworking perspective often have beginners start out by learning to saw shapes out of sheets of metal.

Of course many pieces of jewellery require saw piercing as the first step in making them, but I think more importantly saw piercing requires seemingly boundless amounts of patience, especially when starting out. And if there’s one thing that jewellery makers need to have in buckets it’s patience, along with a healthy dose of perseverance.

A day’s worth of broken saw blades.
A day’s worth of broken saw blades. Thanks to Shoshona Snow for this gorgeous little dish!

Saw blades used in a jeweller’s saw frame are incredibly fine. Even if beginners are started out on what more experienced makers would regard as thick blades, they are still much finer than most people will ever have used before. Also, sawing out shapes for jewellery very often requires the maker to saw out intricate and fluid designs with complex curves and sudden changes of direction.

A 5/0 saw blade against my hand. Sterling silver rubble after a weekend of saw piercing and other work.
Left: A 5/0 saw blade against my hand to give an idea of thickness (or lack thereof!). You can see a close up showing the tiny teeth of the blade on Flickr. Right: Sterling silver scrap caught by the pouch in my bench after a few days of saw piercing and other jewelry making work.

The result is broken saw blades – lots and lots (and lots!) of broken saw blades.

Of course beginners will break blades a lot more frequently than more experienced jewellery makers, but it’s something that still happens often no matter how much experience you have. As a beginner you will either learn to live with this and keep going or you will decide this world of jewellery making isn’t for you and will find another outlet for your creativity. And realising this sooner rather than later is always a good thing!

Obviously as a beginner I stuck with it, despite the large mounds of broken saw blades and the frustration of seemingly endlessly replacing them as I was learning. Patience is definitely one of my personal strong (and weak!) points, so jewellery making and me seem like a good fit.

However, I still didn’t exactly love the technique of sawing metal. It was something I had to do as part of making many designs, but I was never exactly fond of this aspect of my work and would avoid doing it when I could.

Then I read one little line in a technical book which changed my perception of saw piercing. It was simply that a saw blade is effectively like a tiny sliver of the cross-section of a file and that to a degree you are kind of filing metal when you are sawing. This led me to go off on a tangent and suddenly see saw piercing as being a little bit like carving – and I love the process of carving! I find it easy to get into ‘the zone’ with this sort of work and for me it’s a very fluid, organic process, which I very much enjoy.

So this simple change in perception completely turned my thinking about saw piercing on its head. Pretty much immediately I started to work on much more intricate pieces where the technique is really the focus of the finished jewellery. And of course my skill in this area of work continues to improve as I push myself.

Sterling silver butterfly pendant - detail - by Simone Walsh.
Sterling silver butterfly pendant.

One example of this in my current handmade jewellery range is the butterfly pendant I have been making in recent months – an extension of the butterfly wing pendant I have been making for a year or so now.

I now also often prefer to leave evidence of the saw piercing process in many of my pieces. For example, the marks from the saw blade can be seen in the pierced out sections of the butterfly wings. I like my work to look handmade and I love to leave traces of the process of making in my jewellery, and this is one example of doing so.

So as a result of one sentence in a book, for me saw piercing now really is a joy instead of a chore.

Except of course when I’m having one of those off days where I seem to break about ten times more saw blades than seems reasonable and even my patience is worn very thin! In which case it’s a good idea to simply do something else.

4 thoughts on “The joys of saw piercing

  1. Wow, you just made me feel so much better – I thought I was just especially bad at sawing, given the number of blades I broke in my intro to metalsmithing class. I’ll definitely put in some more practice to see if I get better, so thanks for the encouraging post :)

  2. That’s a wonderful post. I’m tinkering with metalsmithing and haven’t decided how seriously I want to pursue it. I was warned that I would break saw blades. I was so proud when I did the first time, I took a picture.

    It’s very cool how your perspective changed and you were able to enjoy sawing more. The butterfly pendant is amazing. I’ve been eyeing it on Etsy.

  3. Pingback: make me » blog archive » The joys and trials of production work - handmade jewelry, indie design, art objects ... and more - a blog for simone walsh jewelry + objects

  4. Can totally relate to this post, you have to be so careful not to break them, but u’ll always break a few. Hannah.

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