Cutting Metal Discs

discs

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Last updated: 11/3/17

Discs can be cut from any gauge metal.  You are limited in gauge by a. your strength and b. your tools.

Sawing Discs – Method One for Obtaining Discs

  • Saw out discs from sheet metal, using circle templates or steel dividers. Technically, dividers are different from compasses because both ends of the divider are the same.   The compass has a place for a pencil or lead and the other leg is pointed.  Dividers are used for measuring off distances while the compass is used to draw a circle – usually on paper.  But, in jewelry making, the divider functions as a compass – scribing a circle in metal.  Dividers are also used, in jewelry making, to measure distances.  Benefit of using dividers and sawing out your discs:  the center of the disc is already marked by the pivot point of the divider.  Draw backs:  sawing is time consuming and finishing is required – adding more time to the process.

dividers

Compass (on left) dividers-1 Dividers (right)

To reduce the time it takes to saw out circles, glue stacks of 2 – 4 pieces of metal together and then saw.  Ensure that the saw remains perpendicular to the metal or your bottom discs will be larger or smaller than the top. Although, only one disc will have the center point marked.  If you have a drill press (Harbor Freight brand) or a drill press for the flex shaft (Foredom brand) or Dremel you can use those too.  You don’t want to drill out the center by hand as it is too difficult to keep the bit parallel.

discs-sawn Results of not keeping saw parallel while sawing.saw-angle Wrong saw position for sawing stacks of metal.

 Method Two for Obtaining Discs – Using a Disc Cutter

  • Can be used with a hydraulic press (Otto Frei: Potter USA ($700.00)(frame only – needs a 20 ton jack – around $42.00).  Rio Grande:  Bonnie Doon ($995.00 – $7640.00).
  •  Disc cutters can also be used with a one to two pound brass mallet or a heavy (preferably lead weighted) rawhide mallet.  I just purchased a 2 lb. brass mallet from Otto Frei. But, I’ve decided that I like my leather mallet best because of its larger surface area.  My aim isn’t that wonderful!
  • Don’t use a steel mallet or hammer as it will damage the punches and work harden them. There is also a chance (especially if you’ve work hardened your tool) that, given the right angle and enough force, the steel can splinter and go flying (you’ve got your goggles on right?) The less strength you have, the heavier the mallet, you may need.  But, don’t use a hammer that is too heavy for you to swing. It takes a mighty blow to cut large discs of thick metal!
  • Always lubricate the cutter punch. The lubrication reduces friction, ensuring a cleaner cut and prolonging the life of your tool.
  • Use a shim, of the same gauge, on the opposite side of your cutter.  This helps to keep the plates parallel which ensures that the punch is perpendicular.  Punches can be ruined if used at an angle.  *Note:  With cutters that don’t tighten down, it is not required to use a shim.  These cutters have a shim built in and since you can’t adjust the blocks, the shim makes no sense to use. Cutters that don’t need a shim:   Economy set from Contenti, Harbor Freight’s disc cutter, older Pepe models (like I have) that don’t have a tightening screw.  It seems like Pepe’s new models all have adjustable plates – good idea!  The following cutters need a shim:  Swanstrom, Pepe Deluxe, Pepe Large and Small Disc Cutter Sets, Ikohe (my new one), unnamed cutter from Otto Frei, among many others.  Read the directions that come with your tool!

disc-cutter

  • To also avoid damaging the cutting punch, cut on a wooden surface, a thick piece of leather or you can place a 95 durometer urethane pad under the cutter to extend the life of the punch.  Per Rio Grande:  “Use a urethane square (1/16″ thick, 95 durometer) under the cutters as a support as you cut; the urethane absorbs the energy of the hammer blow, protecting the cutters and the work surface and ensuring a clean, sharp cut.”   These pads are expensive:  Otto Frei – $25.35, Rio Grande – $25.25 (as of 11/12/13).

*Note:  Please see below for two different ways to use the disc cutter (after the Fourth Method for Obtaining Discs).

 Purchasing Disc Cutters

  • HF-disc-cutter

*Note: The very inexpensive disc cutter (Above – only 30 bucks) that Harbor Freight and other suppliers carry are fine but know that they don’t tighten down, onto the metal, they don’t have the angled cutting edge and the largest diameter you can cut is 3/4″.  The ad states that you can cut 13 gauge brass and aluminum with it and even 20 gauge steel. I would think you would have to use a hydraulic press to do that thick of a gauge.

From the reviews I read, most people thought it did a pretty good job.  The biggest problem seemed to be the punches getting stuck – but, I’ve had that problem with my Pepe set for years.  The punches should be tapped until they fall out of the bottom.  Don’t forget to lubricate the punches. 

The really nice thing about this cutter is that you can see where you are placing your metal.  Not a bad idea just not sure how much stress the plastic can take – especially if you hammer like I do!

I just purchased the Ikohe set from Otto Frei disc-cutter-of(went on a little shopping spree, obviously!). My other set was old and no longer very sharp. The new one from Ikohe, is fine at cutting but, there is a problem with making washers with it.  The metal can’t move in far enough to cut the outer circle on a few holes.  This is because the rods that stabilize the top and bottom, are in the way.  I should have purchased the circular Swanstrom swanstrom-cutter – of course, I don’t know if it would have worked in my hydraulic press.  I’ll need to contact them about that.  Oh well, it’ll have to wait for the next spending orgy.

disc-cutter-pepe-tools  Update:  Since I wrote this page I have also purchased Pepe Tool’s Disc Cutter. It’s awesome and works like a charm.  It has 14 different disc sizes. You can purchase it here, at Amazon (this is my affiliate link). You can also purchase it at Contenti and Otto Frei, to name a few.

disc-punch

 

 

 

This is what the punch looks like for the Swanstrom set and the set I purchased.  Note the angled cutting edge.  On other sets the punch is even.  This angle is supposed to makes the cuts cleaner. BTW, these cutters (if lubricated) slide out so much easier than my old Pepe cutters.

*Note:  Remember when purchasing a disc cutter that you, ideally, want it to lock the metal in between the two halves of the cutter.  Not being able to tighten the upper and lower plates allows the metal to slide around.  This increases your chances of getting double hits (especially, if you are using method #2 – see below) and for precision work, it is more difficult to align the metal without this function. Don’t forget to use a shim!

Method Three – Handheld Punches and Pliers

hand-held

  • Hand-held Hole Punches – you are limited here by the size of the disc and your hand strength. Rio Grande:  EuroPower Hole Punch, Precision Hole Punch. Amazon:  Neiko Hand Held Power Punch.  I know Harbor Freight sells them (’cause I bought mine there) but, I’ll be danged if I can find a link! One thing to note:  this tool leaves a little dimple in the middle of the disc.  This is great if you want to drill it out, not so great if you don’t.
  • There are punching pliers and little screw downy things that also make holes.  The problem with them is that you are limited to a very small disc.  I’ll list a few links below:

Punch Pliers

Otto Frei

Rio Grande

Contenti

FDJ Tool

Screw Down Hole Cutters

Amazon

Beaducation

Otto Frei

PJ Tool

Combo Screw Down Riveting Tools

FDJ Tool

Rio Grande

Method Four – Pre-made Disc

  • Pre-made Discs – easiest method.  But, you are limited in gauge and disc size.

Pre-made Disc Suppliers:

Metalliferous – Aluminum (only 18g),  Brass (patterned and plain), CopperNickel SilverStainless SteelSterling Silver (partially domed – no gauge noted – probably 24g or 26g) and other metals – download their catalogs for more:  Base metal and Silver.  They also carry brass pattern sheets (2.5″ wide and as long as you’d like it) see pages 20 – 25.

Pink-a-Doodle at Artfire.com. (Scroll down page for other sizes and metals). Copper and Brass.

Rio Grande – Argentium Silver gauges: 20g – 24g. Gold-filled gauges: 20g – 24g. 14k yellow gold – 26g. 18k yellow gold – 26g. Sterling Silver gauges: 20g – 26g. 1/10 Silver-Filled Double-Clad (brass core) gauges: 20g – 26g.

 Stampede Jewelry  – Sterling Silver gauges: 10g to 30g and sizes: 3/16 inch to 2 inches in diameter. Also, gold-filled (18g to 24g), copper (20g to 26g)

Thunderbird Supply – Sterling Silver:  gauges 20g – 26g. Copper:  gauges 20g – 26g. Nickel Silver: gauges 20g – 24g.

Two Methods for Creating Discs with a Disc Cutter

*Please note: most manufacturers recommend using method #1. Use whichever one works for you.

  • Method One

  1. Put on your goggles!
  2. Draw a circle of the approximate size that you want to cut.  I use a circle template that is a bit smaller than the cutter – that way, I can see my lines when I look down into the cutter.  If the drawn circle is the same size, it makes it hard to see as the marks are under the metal.circle-cutter
  3. Place the metal between the two halves of the cutter.
  4. Them place another piece of metal, of the same gauge, called a shim, through the other side of the cutter. Skip this step and the following one,  if your disc cutter doesn’t adjust. Instead, move to step 6.shim
  5. Tighten top and bottom halves of cutter either by using the  tightening arm/knob or an allen wrench.  If your set, like my old one, doesn’t tighten down, just push the punch down – firmly, into the metal and try not to move/hit the metal – it will shift out of position.  Trying to not distrub the metal while lifting the cutter into the hydraulic press is ever so much fun!
  6. Lubricate the cutter with Bur-Life, Liquid Bur-Life, 3-in-1 Oil or other types of oil designed for use with tools.
  7. Put the punch into the correct sized hole.  Don’t force it in, if the fit is tight, twist the punch until it slides in place.  Press it firmly into the metal.  Don’t get all Superman/girl on it, just enough push to make tight contact with the metal. Again, lubrication will make this easier.
  8. Only cut on a sturdy, strong work surface. The bridge table should not even be considered!
  9. Place cutter on either wood or a 95 durometer urethane.
  10. Ready?  Take aim and swing hard. Hopefully, you’ve hit the punch dead center and have a beautiful disc for your effort.
  11. Larger sized discs and thicker gauges will take more effort.  If you are cutting (a lot of) large discs, in a heavier gauge, you might want to invest in a hydraulic press.
  12. Depending on your set, tap your punches through, until they fall out the bottom or, as in the video, use wooden dowels to tap the cutters out of the block.  Tap them out over your protective surface: wood, leather, urethane.
  13. Check manufacturer’s instructions on whether or not you should cut steel. Most punches are designed for non-ferrous (non-iron) metals like brass, silver, gold, copper, tin, aluminum, etc.

*Note:  Most cutters have a limited range of size and thickness that can be cut using the hammer/mallet method. Even if the advertisement claims it will cut up to 14 gauge – it may not.  Read the fine print:  a lot of these “cuts up to” usually means that the cutter will work with these gauges IF used with a hydraulic press.  See Swanstrom’s instruction manual.

If you are whacking away at your cutter and the discs aren’t happening it could be a few things:  Your punches are “dull as dirt” or, your gauge/size of disc is too thick/large for you to cut by hand or you are using your punches/cutting block upside down.  With some sets, like the older model Pepe cutters, the top and bottom of the block are not easily discerned.  I wrote with a felt pen on the top side because, I have put the punch in backwards quite a few times.  This is not good for your tool’s longevity!  Some punches can be confusing too.  If that is the case with your set, maybe spray paint the hitting end pink (or blue) so you don’t get confused.

  • Method 2

  1. Follow above directions until step 9.
  2. This method works best if your disc cutter can be tightened down.
  3. With this method, several, less powerful taps are used to cut the disc.  It is imperative that the punch is pushed down firmly and locked in place (if possible).  I was able to get good cuts on annealed, 24 gauge metal with this method.  But, with the thicker gauges/larger sizes, the cuts were occasionally less than stellar.  A few times I ended up with the dreaded shadow cut lines (huh?).  See image:

Untitled-4 I don’t know if you can see the “flange” at the top left.  There is also a little “double cutting” mark.  This was with 22 gauge copper.  Check out the fabulous results I got with brass, at 22 gauge.  Brass is a lot harder than copper (hard as in tougher, not more difficult).  brass-error  Lovely!  Of course, this was done with my old Pepe set that doesn’t lock down and is also quite dull.  I wouldn’t have so many “movement lines” if I had used my new Ikohe set.  I just wanted to show you what can happen with the “multiple hits” method.

Making Washers

For the Solderless Bead, you need to make some washers.  There are a few methods for doing so.  Please see the Making Washers page – which will be coming soon. In the meantime, check out my video:  Making Metal Washers.

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