Monthly Archives: March 2010

Tool Time Tuesday – Tube Cutting Jigs

Well, it is just before midnight on Tuesday, so if I type quickly enough perhaps I will still squeak this one in before it is Wednesday.

I am finally home and loving it. The weather is pretty typical of Ohio and I do miss the spring time weather we were having in Utah. However, it looks like we will be in the upper 80’s by the weekend. I am having a difficult time getting my internal clock reset to Eastern Time. Hopefully it will happen soon, though next week is spring break for my kids so I am not holding my breath.

This week’s Tool Time Tuesday is one that has been made by special request. This is one of my favorite tools that I quickly found out I cannot live without when I began working with cold connections, particularly tube rivets. The tool is a Tube cutting Jig. There are a number of them out there and I must admit I own a couple. One is a very cheap one, and it is cheap in every sense of the word, but it still works. I also own a mid-line jig. I haven’t had the opportunity to work with any of the higher quality jigs personally, so I can’t really give a comparison here.

Tube cutting jigs are great for holding your tubing or even thick wires so you can cut precisely measured pieces and repeat the cut without having to measure and mark each individual piece. I first learned of the jigs when I began working with cold-connections as I stated above. Are they necessary? Probably not, but for me the cost of the tool was worth it. I had been marking my wire or tubing where I wanted to make the cut, then carefully balanced it over the slot in my bench pin. Just as I would get to the final cut of my piece, it would either fall to the floor or fling across the room never to be found again and leaving me to teach my children a few choice words.

I began asking how others held their pieces and that is when the jigs were recommended to me. I began my hunt for this tool, found one, bought it and life became much easier.


When you first get your jig, it looks like this, only without the silver dust inside.  There are two pieces shown here, the jig itself and a stopper. I didn’t get a picture of this, but the stopper actually has a little triangle piece that fits into the ‘V’ shaped grove of the jig.


Insert the stopper and tighten the knob on the side to hold it into place. This is what allows you to set the desired length and make multiple cuts without remeasuring.


To work with the jig, insert your wire or tubing into the ‘V’ Slot and hold it into place by bringing the holding bar over the top of the tubing and holding it down with your thumb. If this jig looks large, it really isn’t. The cute little hand in the picture is my sweet little 10-year-old. But if she can hold this tool, so can you.


Before inserting your tubing or wire into the jig, you do need to measure and mark your first cut. Line that mark up with the thin slot at the end of the jig. This is the guide for your saw blade. Once you have it lined up, adjust and tighten the stopper to hold your piece. You can also see how the holder flips over the top of the tubing and is held with the thumb. Don’t use too much pressure as you don’t want to crush your tubing.


I find this tool works best when I can stabilize it on some type of surface. I have found that my bench pin works the best as I can easily get my hand on the tool and under the bench pin without any discomfort.

Once everything is set up, we are ready to make the cut. I always run my saw blades through some kind of lubricant such as bees wax or Bur-Life before cutting. Insert the blade in the small slot and verify it will be cutting at your desired mark. Then working back and forth without a lot of pressure work your way through the tubing or wire. When cutting tubing, you might find that the blade gets caught . Just try to push the blade forward as you lift up. Don’t just lift the blade up as you are more likely to break the blade. I also find that while it takes a bit longer, a smaller blade works better with cutting the tubing.

I have also found that once my tubing has been cut I don’t always end up with a perfectly straight cut. For whatever reason, that has not been able to be corrected yet, I am ending up with slighted angled cuts. Sometimes it isn’t an issue, but when I need a perfectly flush cut I will take the piece into my miter jig and file it flush, but that is for another Tool Time Tuesday post.

Be careful as you get to the bottom of the tubing cut. Sometimes when you make the final break through and pull the blade up, the small piece can go flying. A lot of times I will turn the tubing out before pulling out my blade.

Hopefully this answers any questions you might have about this tool. If I haven’t answered them all, please feel free to contact me and I will do my best to further elaborate.

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Mixed Metal Jewelry Workshop – New Book

I am finally home. I arrived about 2:00 am yesterday morning and I am still beat! My darling husband had the house cleaned up for me when I came home and I was amazed and filled with love. Then I walked downstairs into my classroom and found out where everything had been moved too.  HAHAHAHA

As I went through the mail, I came a cross a package from a publishing company that looked a lot like a book. I didn’t recall ordering any books. I did know that there are two books that I am in coming out this spring so I quickly opened it. The book inside is the latest publication from Mary Hettmansperger called Mixed Metal Jewelry Workshop. It is filled with great new projects with a very organic feel. I didn’t write anything for this particular book, rather I am one of the artists with a featured gallery piece.

In the wee hours of this morning I sent her an email thanking her for featuring one of my pieces and congratulating her on another job well done. She wrote back letting me know what a difficult decision it was to select the few that made it into the book. Apparently there were over 900 submissions. The editors narrowed it down to 250 for her to look at. She selected 90 from there and then the group was further refined to about 30. It truly is an honor to have my piece selected for this book when I am sure there are MANY talented artists and great pieces that didn’t make it.

I haven’t had the chance to sit and really study the book yet, but I have gone through it quickly. Mary began as a fiber artist and uses many of the fiber techniques in the projects she uses in the books. It really is a fun book and I am looking forward to studying it further and trying my hand at a few of them. The book is set to release on April 6th. You may be able to pre-order it on Amazon or other locations.



Tool Time Tuesday – Make Your Own Bead Caps

I am sorry for not making any blog posts during my time away from home. You may be happy to know that I am flying home tomorrow afternoon. I already have a great list of things to show you all. I had the great pleasure of meeting with Sherri Haab while here in Utah and I will be demonstrating a couple of her products that you all might like very much. Some of the topics in the next couple of weeks will be Tube cutting jigs, Image Transfers, Electro-etching (etching without the horrible chemicals) and even some electroforming. I have received a shipment of some new tools that I will also discuss. So we do have some very fun things coming up.

In other news, I will be traveling to the San Antonio area the first week of June. If you would be interested in holding a class there, let me know. If there is enough interest I will do what I can to get some classes set up.

Today’s Tool Time Tuesday has been prepared by my Friend Jeanette Blix. She does a wonderful job of showing you how to make beautiful bead caps.

Thank you so much Jeanette. You did a fabulous job on this!

I am anxious to return home and get back into the studio once again.

Tool Time Tuesday – Disc Cutters

Sorry about missing last weeks edition of Tool Time Tuesday. And even this one is late, but I really do have good reasons for it. Many of you know that my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer and underwent surgery to remove the cancer. The surgery was quite successful, so much so that she didn’t require Chemo or Radiation. We have certainly counted our blessings for that. Mid February my mother underwent some extensive surgery during the reconstruction process and I have traveled to Utah to help her as she continues to recover from this surgery. She came home from the hospital last Tuesday and I have been busy in helping out around the house among other things. So with that all said, here we are for another edition of Tool Time Tuesday.

When I decided to get serious about jewelry just 3 1/2 short years ago I quickly found that having the right tools made my job much easier and much more efficient. I wanted to work with some discs and circles, domed or flat, but I quickly found that I had a very difficult time getting a perfect circle with my jewelers saw and files. Not only that, but they took much more time than should be reasonable to be practical and profitable. Below, you will see the four disc cutters I will be talking about in this edition of Tool Time Tuesday. The back two are economy disc cutters, we will talk about those first. The one on the right is my Pepe disc cutter and the one on the left is a Swanstrom disc cutter on loan to me by my friend Jeanette from

Many choices

Before buying a cutter I began to do a bit of research on disc cutters. I found that there were some very affordable disc cutters on the market that worked, but it didn’t mean they were a good buy. I will show you what I mean. I have a couple of suppliers that have “economy” disc cutters. They run the range of $35 – $50 -US. They are made of hardened steel, which is desirable. However, their downfall is in their construction.

You can see the construction looks nice and there is a slot where you can insert your metal. It allows for a nice thick piece of metal which is great. But you cannot adjust that gap when you are working with thinner pieces of metal and that is where we really run into problems.

not closed
You can see that the metal is not held into place well. This makes it so that the metal can move while you are trying to punch your hole out of the sheet. The best cutters will open and close on the metal so you have a nice solid fit between the top and bottom dies so the metal doesn’t move when striking the punch with a hammer.

rotten Cut
You can see the marks left by the punch as I tried to cut the disc out. This happened because the metal shifts between hammer blows. This metal is approximately 22 gauge and it took a couple of strikes before I got the punch to penetrate entirely through the sheet.

So what if this is the only option you can afford at this time? There are ways to make this work. They just take a little more work. I find that you can use some of the blue painter’s tape to help hold the metal in place so that it doesn’t move as much when striking the punch. You will get a bit of a cleaner cut that way.

I had read about these disc cutters and decided that this was going to be one of those tools that you invest your money right the first time and I didn’t buy them… at least not at first. As you can see, I now have 2 of this type and to tell you honestly, they don’t get used much. I bought them more to show my students the difference between a good set and not so good set.

When I bought my disc cutter 3 years ago the best one that I could find was made by Pepe. I absolutely ADORE my disc cutter. It was not cheap and they are somewhat difficult to get a hold of as they seem to always be on back order. But the wait and cost is totally worth it. This is a tool that I cannot live without.

If you look back to the picture at the top you will see that this disc cutter comes in a wooden stand that holds each of the separate punches and the two pieces of the die. That is an important feature, there are two separate pieces to the die. This means that you can put in any thickness of metal between them and it will hold your metal nice and snugly giving you a good clean cut.

There are a couple of other points that are worth pointing out between a high quality disc cutter and an economy one. The dies or holes are milled with exact precision so that the punches fit perfectly in the holes. You MUST take care to insert your punches straight in and not at an angle. This will keep your cutting edges nice and crisp ensuring a good clean cut every time. You will also notice on this Pepe tool that the openings are beveled in a little to help guide the punches in correctly.

Another really good disc cutter came out just in the last couple of years. It was introduced after I had already purchased my Pepe cutter. This newer disc cutter is made by Swanstrom.

This cutter comes with a rubber storage mat for the cutter and punches. Similar to the Pepe, the die is constructed of two separate pieces of steel. The Swanstrom cutter doesn’t come apart like the Pepe cutter does, but you use the handle to crank it open and close on your metal, again forming a nice snug fit on your metal to keep it in place. You just move the handle out of the way before striking your punch with a hammer.
Tighten Metal
Here I am cranking the handle to tighten the die on my metal.

insert cutter
I have inserted the punch and moved the handle out of the way.

brass hammer
Using a brass mallet I will strike the punch to create my disc. Is the type of hammer important? YES! You want to use a brass mallet so that you don’t ruin your steel punches. Using a steel hammer can shorten the life of your punches. The brass mallet still has a little bit of give to it, but still provides the strength necessary to force the punch through the metal. Here I am using a 2 lb mallet, but that is only because my 1 lb  hammer arrived after I took these pictures.

You want to have a nice solid surface to hammer on as you will be striking the metal with some pretty heavy blows. I actually have a concrete floor in my studio and will set my disc cutter on that and hammer there. You also want to take care that you only strike hard enough to cut out your disc. You don’t want to hit your punch into the concrete or steel block if it can be avoided. There is a reason that I say this, particularly on the better disc cutters. The punches are not flat on the bottom. They are actually cut at an angle. This helps to create a better and more precise cut on the metal. It also makes it cut through the metal faster than if the pressure is evenly distributed.

Look at the difference between the punches from the Swanstrom and economy cutters. The Pepe punches are cut just like the Swanstrom pieces, I just didn’t take a picture of them.

cheap punch
This is a picture of the economy cutter. See how it is just a straight cut along the bottom?

Good Cutters
These are the punches from
the Swanstrom cutter. The angled edge is what helps get that super clean cut. This is also the reason you don’t want to hit the punches onto a hard surface. You can easily damage that edge if you aren’t careful. These tools aren’t cheap and you really want to take care of them.

Creating Washers with perfectly centered holes

make a washer
Washers are a big thing in jewelry right now. You can purchase washers already made, but what if they don’t have the size you want? Well, if you have a swanstrom cutter, you have a great option available to you. My good friend Jeanette worked with the engineers at Swanstrom to come up with Center Positioning plugs and these things totally ROCK! You make your smaller hole in the metal making certain to leave enough of a margin for the outer disc. After cutting out the inner disc, move the metal to the hole that will be used for the outer edge.

center with plug
Find the plug that fits in the die for the outer disc. The plug has been tapered perfectly to move the inner hole to the center of the outer hole. Remove the plug after you have centered your metal, insert the disc cutting punch and strike with the hammer and you have a perfectly centered washer EVERY TIME! The best part is the plugs are fairly inexpensive and what a time saver.

Keep it clean, lubed and rust free

I currently live in Ohio and our weather is somewhat humid. Nothing like it was when I lived in the DC area, but I still have a problem with rust on my tools if I am not careful. It is very important that you take good care of these tools as they are an investment and they will last forever if you take just a few minutes to care for them.

One thing I do in my studio, particularly during the more humid months is run a dehumidifier at least a couple of hours a day. I am amazed at the amount of moisture I get out of the air in the studio. The other thing I do is put a lube and moisture barrier on my tools. The one that I prefer is a little more expensive, but again, totally worth it to me.


I use this Boeshield T-9. It was developed by Boeing to be used on their airplanes. The thing I really like about this is that it can be used in a couple of ways. You can spray it on and just leave it as a protectant. The lube will turn into a powdery substance that can be wiped off when you are ready to use the tool again. Or what I do most often is spay it on and then use it to lubricate and clean the tools.


You can see that I have put a nice coating of this on the die. From here I will take a paper towel and rub it evenly over the surface and into the each of the die holes. I also pay attention to the pegs so that when I assemble the die it will move smoothly.
Here you can see that I am working the lubricant into the holes of the die. This cleans and protects the tool.

It is also important that you take the time to clean and lubricate the punches themselves. This will keep them rust free and moving smoothly as they work through the die.

So how do they all compare?

I already pointed out the differences between a good disc cutter and some of the economy brands out there. But how do the two nice disc cutters compare? there are features that I really like about both of them.

I like the variety of sizes of holes I can get from both the Pepe and Swanstrom cutters. Both of them are made with exact measurements and with the best materials.

I like that my Pepe cutter has a flat surface when it is assembled and I don’t have to worry bout damaging anything if my strike is a little bit off. The Swansrom has the crank that can get it the way if you don’t do things just right. However, I am positive that once you have worked out your confidence on your striking, it won’t be a problem at all.

I really like the cranking mechanism of the Swanstrom I know that if I put a piece of metal in the cutter, crank it down, the metal won’t be moving at all. I never have to worry about unclean cuts, even if I don’t get the punch through the first time.

Another thing that I really like about the Swanstrom is the size of the cutters. My Pepe cutter only goes up to 1″ for the largest disc that I can make. The Swanstrom cutter sizes go from 1/8″ to 1 1/4″ in 1/8″ incriments. So there are two larger sizes than my Pepe. That right there is so very tempting for me to want to buy it.

The Swanstrom is a bit more expensive than the Pepe but you won’t find yourself waiting for months while the other is on back order. That right there is sometimes worh the cost in and of itself.

Both the Swanstrom and Pepe have storage units which make moving the tool around much nicer than the economy tools. The punches stay in place better in the Swanstrom unit as the rubber mold has a nice snug fit for both the cutter and the punches. The Pepe base is made of wood and offers a more rigid surface which makes it somewhat easier to move as it isn’t flexible.

The economy tools don’t have bases and they are a pain in the bum to move, but it wouldn’t be difficult to come up with some sort of base for it if it is that bothersome.

If you would like more information on the Pepe Cutter you can check out their website at

To find out more information on the Swanstrom Disc Cutter, check out the Website.
Click here To find out more information on the Swanstrom Centering Plugs

I am not affiliated with any of these tools, providers or anything. These are just my own insights into these tools as I have used them in my work. If you have had some experiences with these or any other disc cutters, please feel free to share your experiences.

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