Cut Metal Discs for Your Jewelry Designs: How To Use a Disc Cutter

Posted by on Jul 19, 2014 in Jewelry Making |


If you’ve been designing your own jewelry for a while now, you may be contemplating making your own components. Perhaps you’re interested in metalsmithing jewelry. Using a disc cutter is a great way to begin working with metal to add unique qualities to your own jewelry designs. There are a few points you should keep in mind before purchasing and effectively using a disc cutter — we’ll review those here!

Swanstrom disc cutter

 

Tips for purchasing a disc cutter

There are a number of sources available for purchasing disc cutters. Quality and price can vary greatly. It’s been my experience that price directly relates to the quality of the disc cutter. It’s my recommendation to buy the highest quality disc cutter you can afford.

The following is a brief list of specifications to look for when purchasing a disc cutter.

1. Adjustable/removable plates

  • The ability to slide metal in and out easily
  • Holds metal securely in place while punching
  • Allows you to clean and maintain your cutter
  • Allen wrench (key) or lever handle for ease of adjusting plate levels

2. Slanted punches

  • Allows for a clean cut on metal

3. Made from hardened and tempered steel, precision cut or ground surfaces

4. Price range for quality multi-punch set is approximately $150 – $250+

5. Brands to consider: Pepe Tools, Swanstrom, Ikohe and some suppliers sell no-name brands, which could be worth considering. Do your research, consider the points mentioned above, talk to the suppliers and I’m sure you’ll find a disc cutter to suit your needs.

How to use a disc cutter

Materials you’ll need:

  • Metal sheet – 22 gauge – brass, copper, silver or gold
  • Shim – Scrap metal sheet in same gauge as metal sheet being cut
  • Brass hammer (2 or 3 lb.) or rawhide mallet
  • Lubrication for punches
  • Rubber mat, wood, or 95 durometer urethane pads
  • Permanent marker
  • Safety glasses

Step 1:

Prepare the metal sheet by annealing it. Annealing metal to a dull red glow softens the metal, making it more malleable and easier to cut. A micro torch is a great tool to use to anneal metal sheet.

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Step 2:

Use a circle template or the punches to draw the shape onto your metal. This allows for the best use of the metal sheet.

Circles drawn onto copper sheet

Insert sheet in between disc cutter plates

To mark the metal sheet, use a circle template or a punch the next size down of the punch you’ll be cutting. This allows you to see the shape when placing the metal sheet between the two the plates of the disc cutter and line it up with the interior hole of the cutter.

Copper to be cut and shim between the disc cutter plates

 

Step 3:

Place a piece of scrap metal, also known as a shim (metal sheet in the same gauge as the sheet you’re cutting) in between the cutter plates directly opposite the metal sheet to be cut. The shim keeps the disc cutter plates even, allowing for a clean cut of the disc.

Tighten down the plates on the disc cutter by adjusting the lever or using the Allen key (whichever method your particular disc cutter requires).

Applying lubrication to the punch

Step 4:

Lubricate the punch to be used to cut the disc.

Applying lubrication to the punch allows the punch to move through the plates by reducing friction, allowing for a cleaner cut of the disc. It also helps to extend the life of your tools by keeping them sharp and makes striking hammer to metal easier on the body. Lubricants are available in wax-like or liquid form, the choice is yours to make. Whichever you choose, lubricants are necessary.

Step 5:

Get ready to strike.

Disc cutter, copper sheet, shim, rubber mat, brass hammer

Position the punch into the appropriate spot and work it into the opening until it is sitting flush against the metal sheet.

The surface beneath the disc cutter is important to consider. A rubber mat, a piece of wood or, as the manufacturers recommend, a 95 Durometer urethane mat. The punch cutter needs a “reasonably” soft, stable surface to land on after striking the metal sheet.

Brass hammer

A brass hammer or rawhide mallet is the hammer of choice for striking the punches. An ordinary household or steel hammer is not the tool to use, as it may damage the punches. After spending a small fortune on a beautiful disc cutter, it is imperative to use the proper tools in order to keep it functioning properly for a long time. A brass hammer or rawhide mallet is soft and will absorb the blow to the disc punches. A rawhide mallet offers a slightly larger surface area to make contact with the top of the punch, for those of us with somewhat iffy aim.

Safety glasses

Don’t forget to wear your safety glasses!

Position your hand properly on the brass hammer by holding it at the end furthest away from the head of the hammer. Chocking up on the hammer lessens the force, which comes into contact with the punch. It also creates unnecessary wear and tear on your body.

Strike the punch

Step 6:

Strike! A strong forceful blow onto the punch. Hopefully the punch has gone completely through the metal sheet. The goal is to cut through the metal with one blow for a clean cut.

Lift the dis cutter up and off the mat. The punch stays on the mat.

Lift the entire disc cutting unit up. The punch should move freely through the disc cutter, exiting the disc cutter on the reverse side remaining on the cutting mat with the disc you just cut.

A successfully cut disc.

Success!

Troubleshooting

Sometimes a punch may need to be hit two or three times in order to punch a disc out of the metal sheet. This is OK (some metalsmiths use a multi strike method), but beware that sometimes multiple strikes will produce a double ring or shadow ring on the cut disc. A disc cutter that has the ability to tighten down the plates helps to hold the metal sheet in place, allowing minimal movement of the sheet and making multiple strikes more successful.

If a punch gets stuck in the disc cutter, it is likely the metal sheet shifted while you were striking it. The punch is best removed by reverse striking the punch from the bottom and back out through the top of the disc cutter. A wooden dowel the same size as the punch is the best tool for this job. It is not recommended to use a metal object to remove the punch. Metal or steel will harden the punch, making it unusable.

The manufacturer knows best

Always follow the manufacturer directions for using your disc cutter. Appropriate metal gauge sizes to be used in your disc cutter and methods for punching discs will be provided with your disc cutter purchase.

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Have you used a disc cutter before? What brand have you had success with?