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Homemade matrix dies for the hydraulic press

After recently obtaining a used hydraulic press, I googled “how to
make matrix dies” and found some instructions that I followed: 16
ga. steel sheet on top of tempered masonite over 3/4" plywood. I cut
equal squares of each material, then separately marked and cut out
my desired shape. The problems I had: the plywood seemed to crush at
least 1/8" after only a few pressings, and I didn’t know how to
successfully attach the 3 layers together (rubber cement didn’t
hold). Also, cutting the square of steel was time-consuming- could I
use a lapidary trim saw (or something else?) for that task (and save
my jeweler’s saw for the die shape)?

Any suggestions other than to buy some already made? I’ve already
invested money in raw materials and would like to make this work.

Dana Evans

In the metals class I took last year, we used 3/8" thick acrylic
plexiglass to make matrix dies. We cut them out with jewelers’ saws,
and filed/sanded the edges. They worked great. Just don’t cut your
die shape too close to the edge. Leave at least 1/2"all the way
around the shape.

Kathy Johnson
Feathered Gems Jewelry

I make my dies out of 1/4" thick Plexiglass. I cut the Plexiglass
with my jeweler’s saw, using a spiral blade. I draw the shape I want
onto the Plexiglass, then drill a small hole so that my saw blade
will go through it and saw away, just as I would saw a piece of
metal. If there are rough edges, I smooth them with a coarse file.

I believe you will find detailed instructions in the Susan Kingsley

Alma Rands

Use plexiglass for the material below the steel, plywood has too low
a compressive strength for this use. A hack saw with a fine blade
will cut the steel to square shape faster than a jewelers saw. Don’t
use your diamond blade on your trim saw, it will ruin the blade in
short order. Diamond isn not a good cutting abrasive for steel as it
has a tendency to try to alloy with the steel which pulls the
diamond particles out of the blade rapidly.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

Lexan works really well, too- it’s a bit tougher than acrylic, or so
it’s seemed to me in use. The procedure is the same as with acrylic.

Another tip: try not to have a point of the cut-out pointing
directly toward one of teh straight edges- that’s a carack waiting to
happen. Point toward the corners when at all possible, and do leave a
good half inch- at least- between a point and an edge.

The advantage to acrylic, lexan, etc. is that it’s much faster to
make them, so while they may not last for hundreds of repetitions,
it’s easier to replace them when necessary. I expect you could top
either with steel or brass, too, for an even longer life.

Amanda Fisher

Another hint about making acrylic dies. Often I use them to form ear
rings and need them to be mirror images, so I mark one side of the
die “A”, and the other side “B” using a permanent marker… Then when
forming metal to be used as earrings, I make one using the “A” side
of the die, reverse it, and make the other using the “B” side.

I also use this system if I plan to solder two halves of the metal
together, such as when making unusual shaped large beads.

As others have pointed out, leave a good sized margin around the
sides of the die.

By using 1/4" or thicker acrylic, they last a long long time. In
fact, I have never had to replace any.



The 16 gauge steel sheet is great for a sturdy faceplate, but I
usually use 18 gauge brass or nickel, which are easier to saw and
cut, for silhouette/matrix dies.

Masonite might be okay, but plywood is definitely too squishy. These
materials sound like they were meant for a die that was to be
hammered into, rather than pressed.

Acrylic is the material that is typically used, being relatively
inexpensive and easily available. However, other materials are
possible, if they satisfy the requirements of being sturdy,
un-squishable, and difficult to shatter. Other plastics, such as
polycarbonate, are great. Some people use whatever they find in the
scrap bin at the plastics store they live near.

An interesting thing to note is that it is generally easier to cut
two 1/4" thick pieces of material, rather than one 1/2" thick piece.

To hold all the parts together in alignment, I like to drill them
with with a #52 or 53 bit, and pin or rivet them together with 14
gauge brass wire.

I hope this is helpful.

Where do you get your plexiglas, and the steel sheet?

Kelley Dragon

Here’s my basic formula for these that I make for other people. I
like Lexan over Plaxiglas (polycarbonate and acrylic, respectively)
because plexi tends to melt and make my blades stick. Plexi is more
rigidand won’t compress nearly as easily, but Lexan is fine in that
regard except under extreme conditions. Just for ease of sawing, I
only use material that’s thick enough for the depth I want, and I
generally make a top face out of 1/16" thick tool steel, hardened
after cutting or not at all. Thinner fa= ce material is ok if you
don’t need a big radius on the leading edge (in= side edge of the
matrix hole, where the metal gets drawn down into the cavity). Some
designs (the upper middle point of hears, for example) want a big
radius to prevent the metal from tearing at that spot, so if you
make a face plate, adjust thickness accordingly. Mild steel or brass
would also serve the purpose, but the harder the metal, the better
it will hold up. I don’t recall ever using a non-faced block in
production; I simply prefer to provide people with tools that are
more or less permanent from the get-go.

It can be very slow to saw (with a #1 jewelers sawblade, say)
through a thick plastic block that has the steel face attached (best
for ensuring that they match perfectly), so sometimes I saw the
steel by itself, then glue (Spray 77 from 3M ) the plastic to it,
and saw the plastic with a spiral wax blade (tons faster) using the
steel hole as a guide. Then I file the radius on and give it a quick
hand sand. Oh, I match drill the steel and plastic while they’re
glued together and use metal pins for alignment.

There’s a whole process that includes the pancake die with the
matrix an= d blanking set, that I ought to post someday.


I had metal matrix dies made from CAD drawing via:

D.C. Water Jet
702 456-9007

They are located in Las Vegas, NV. They will give you an estimate
and you must pay via Paypal.

Marie Mader

there is an article in the november 2010 lapidary journal that deals
with quick way to make dies using heat treatable steel.

Mark Zirinsky