One of the methods mentioned for making a tapered wire involves using
a file and a grooved block. A drawback to this method is the time and
effort that it takes. One way to speed up the process is to use an
appropriately sized and graded tool.
For example, while a small wire, say 18 gauge, can be effectively
tapered with needle files, to file a six inch taper on a length of 10
gauge wire would take a long time. However, by using a big and coarse
file, like a 10 inch mill file, the work will go much faster.
You don’t always need costly precision files to do fine work. Big
files like the mill file mentioned can be purchased at Home Depot or Amazon for little money.
Here’s a source for about files, their applications and
how to use them, from Nicholson, a U. S. producer of high quality
The Nicholson files used to be very good. They are now made in China
and aren’t worth buying. I noticed a definite drop in the quality. I
always look for the old files when I see a display, but they are
bought out of old stock now.
Really, Nicholson are bad? So what is a good brand? And how do I
know if I have an older set that I bought at an estate sale?
I use Nicholson files with miter jigs. For precise work swiss files
hard to beat. Good files are quite expensive and should be purchased
slowly, over a period of time unless someone has a few thousand
dollars to spare.
So what is a good brand? And how do I know if I have an older set
Well, Brenda and all - American files in general are pretty bunk.
Nicholson was once the best American file you could get, but they
still weren’t so great. One of the biggest issues with files is the
"pattern". American pattern files are mill, bastard and etc. That
defines the fineness of the teeth and they don’t get very fine.
Swiss patternfiles are 00, 0, #1, #2, etc. and get quite fine - far
finer than any American file. It’s not a matter of US vs Swiss, it’s
just the name of the pattern. Even deeper than that is that needle
files use the same numbers but they are even finer than hand files.
A #2 needle file is around the cut of a #4 hand file.
I have a handful of files and rasps in the machinist cabinet for
utility work of various kinds. The only files we use, the only files
we will buy for making jewelry is Grobet.
I have had wonderful luck finding Grobet files at junk shops and
antique malls, usually for $1 USD in a box. They are clean and
without handles, but that’s an easy fix to be able to get the best
files. It’s taken me a while but now I have 7 in various lengths and
I learned that every tool, even cheap, rustic (and rusty, perhaps)
ones can have a perfect application.
Files are important enough in our business to get some attention
here on Orchid… I have a square file and a true 1/2 round
(square tip) at home that come from the airforce in the 50’s. They
are like 8 or 10 inch files, which doesn’t include the tang -
monsters. They cut like most new files of today and are darn useful,
mostly for finer filing on wood, for me. They’re pretty rough for
When you get into serious jewelry filing where you need to get up to
a mirror polish in the end, Swiss pattern files are the only way to
go, though. I know some readers don’t use files as much as others. I
spend 1/2 my day with a file in my hand. Everybody works differently
and makes different things, but if you were to ask me:
Two half round ring files, six inches (hand files) #0 cut and #2 or #4 cut. That gives you a curve and a flat in rough and medium to
finer. Round, square, triangle and 1/2 round 6" needle files in #4
unless you have some certain need for other shapes.
At Otto Frei right now that comes to ninety bucks, about. $28 and
change for the big files, around $8.50 each for the needle files.
Not so bad for nice tools that should last at least a couple of
years. Most of my work involves diamonds, whichmeans my files are
heavily impacted. I still use them till they die, and sometimes a
duller file is useful too.
A six inch needle file set at Frei is $110 for 12. Normally I
wouldn’t advise on buying sets, but you just don’t know how useful
an equaling or crossing file can be until you have one. Then you can
replace the daily use files and still have the occasional use ones
left… Certainly not thousands of dollars…
I’m pretty much a beginner and have only had two community education
classes (and one college course taken over 40 years ago) so have
little knowledge other than what I’ve learned on this forum or from
journals. Now that I have taken the plunge and bought good Grobet
files, I want to take care of them. I’m wondering if these should be
reserved for only silver or gold or if they become contaminated if I
use them for other metals, including copper, brass, steel, etc. do I
need a separate file set for these other metals? I know not to use
them or other files for lead–one cheaper set I already had was used
for my stained glass came and solder. And I also just inherited some
files and other tools from my father who used these for general
work-- can these be used with silver?
bought good Grobet files, I want to take care of them. I'm
wondering if these should be reserved for only silver or gold or
if they becomecontaminated if I use them for other metals,
including copper, brass, steel,
Peggy, I’m sure you’ll get some answers, which is a fine thing.
Bottom line is, they are files - tools - and even more so they are
Use them as you see fit, in the end. Now - filing on lead and tin in
a jewelry shop is a no-no unless it’s a lead and tin shop. That’s
because it will contaminate your whole shop, not just the files, if
you’re not careful. And any lead left in a file’s teeth will
contaminate future silver and gold, with disastrous results. And you
shouldhave a file card anyway to clean your files, anyway. Beyond
that, I don’t do much steel and most of that is toolmaking and such,
so I usually use cheaper files for that just to preserve the life of
my good files. If you are doing fine work in steel and need a fine
file then by all means use the Grobet - they are files, that’s what
they are for, is filing. Gold, steel, brass, bronze, copper - I see
no problem with that unless you want to keep your filings clean, like
I do. I’m sure some are going to write about their file storage
systems, which is also a fine thing. My file storage system is the
occasional files go in drawers, the everyday ones go in a pile in
the front of my workbench tray, where I can get to them. Works just
fine. Like that $200 or GBP bottle of wine, it’s still wine, meant
to be drunk.
I also spend half my time filing. Personally, I have found that
cheap files are next to useless! The teeth are all different depths,
so they just put scratches into the work that can be almost
impossible to eradicate, especially if trying to do so still using
cheap files! I invested in a set of Swiss Vallorbe needle files.
They are brilliant and make much lighter work of achieving the
profiles I’m after. I do still need to invest in one or two large
files to make initial removal of material easier and less costly in
Taking this opportunity with the Topic, I’d love to hear (read)
people’s experiences and suggestions on the following----
(1) how to clean files (ranging from needle files to large ones) Do
the brushes made for that purpose work for you? How do you use them?
How often? Or do you use something else?
(2) how to file a straight line of metal (so that ends will meet
flush) It’s embarrassing, but I often have a hard time doing that.
I’ve focused carefully on what my arms and hands are doing and tried
various positions, look at the piece with a loupe to see the
deviation, and so on, to no avail.
Well, actually, I may be improving. I’m doing it more slowly.
I never see either of these questions addressed anywhere, (except
for the use of the mitre-jig for filing straight).
Barbara, in northern CA
(still a relative beginner)
how to file a straight line of metal (so that ends will meet flush)
It's embarrassing, but I often have a hard time doing that.
I've focused carefully on what my arms and hands are doing and
tried various positions, look at the piece with a loupe to see the
deviation, and so on, to no avail.
What I did before buying my miter vise was to first use a machinist
square and mark a straight line across the metal where you want the
end to be. Saw that out as carefully as possible just a hair beyond
the line and then mark the sawn edge with a marker. Using a large
flat file, lay the file on the bench top and start at the end away
from the handle. Set the end of the metal flat on the file and
slowly pull it towards the handle. Pick it up and set it down again
and pull to the handle. Do this slowly and methodically and don’t
use a lot of pressure. Pretty soon you will be filing away all of
the little projections that happened when you filed. Just watch your
straight line and make sure you keep it vertical.
I’m always yelling at my students to drop their seats and get bench
pin higher up while sawing. Also, most people seem to want to "air"
file, so I have to keep re-introducting the humble bench pin to my
students. After a while, they get into the hang.
I was teaching a weekly stonesetting class at Metalwerx years ago,
and Imade (now the directer of Metalwerx), Lindsay cringed every
time I whipped out my 10" barrette file, cut 2 and use it on a tiny
setting. By the last class, I told her I took pity on her and used a
7 3/4" barette needle file for her on my last demo. I do 98% of my
file with my 10" barrette file, cut 2, and the rest with half round,
square and the occasion al barrette needle file.
My students always get nervous when I pull out that big file of mine
andyet, half of them get the exact same file after “borrowing” mine
a lot. It’s the best file and I love the safety edge and the thin
edges that allows me to file in tight joints, esp on sizing rings.
DON’T forget to put on file handles - your hands will thank you.
I misunderstood this question at first - “How to file a straight
line” I took to mean how to make a groove - a line.
One of the keys to filing square edges, besides using a big file, is
to break the rule they likely taught you in school. Don’t remove the
file from the work, just file it back and forth. I’m talking about
after you have it clean from sawing, just adjusting the edge. Keep a
flat edge on a flat file and the edge will stay flat. Keeping it
square is up to your own skill, but making it flat isn’t so hard.
Files are one of the tools I use the most. Bastards 0 and 2, ring
files 2 and 4, half round 0 and 2 and 4 small barrettes 0 to 4, and a
set of different shapes. They were not cheap but last for years.
Then it is onto sandpaper on sanding sticks and on mandrels for the
flexi. Do not under estimate the use of a sanding stick.
There have been good answers to filing metal to true it up for
solder, but if the metal is under tension as in a ring band or bangle
it is a simple matter. Put the ring in my benchmate to clamp it.
I use a small bastard on rings, open the shank join put in file and
file. There is a video in the Orchid archives about a ring repair
If the shank is wide say 8 to 10 mils I use a number 2 saw and cut
through the join.
To the original poster, while filing looks easy it takes practise.
Filing 2 pieces of metal to true up for soldering when there is no
tension is extremely difficult to do well, so keep trying you will
How to tell if the solder join is good? Put a hair next to the
solder line they should be the same.
Only took me a few hundred solders to get this one down pat.
Also I do not put handles on my files as sometimes I pull the file
towards me and the handle would be in the road, my engineer father
taught me to file like this. If you let the file do the work holding
the tang is no drama.
Don't remove the file from the work, just file it back and forth.
This shows that the right answer is “try different methods and find
what works for you”.
It appears to me that changing directions tends to cause the file to
tip/wobble/see saw. Bottom line-- whatever keeps your filing
straight and level. Easiest is to use a filing (miter) jig and file
off everything that sticks up-- right down to the steel. Barring
that, what works for me to to hold the piece in such a way that I can
extend my forefinger and/or thumb and allow the file to touch them
lightly as I file (easier to show than to describe). By maintaining
the same amount of contact with my fingers, I keep the file level.