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Pancake dies are supposed to work

Pancake blanking dies are supposed to work, and when properly made,
they do what they’re supposed to, without leaving burrs, rough
edges, or metal sticking in them, and without breaking (unless used
for a good, long life, abused, or simply asked to do more than is
realistic). Thick or thin metal, too, and that’s my main point right
now, that they can be made to work on thin metal.

It feels rather odd to say something as simple as this, something
that’s second nature to me , after 25 years of making them, because
it’s surprising that there should be any need to overstate what is
beyond obvious to me. However, the jewelry making industry being
something of a revolving door ,continually bringing new craftspeople
into the environment, has a lot to do with it. To people new to
jewelry manufacturing techniques, pancake dies are a new technology,
and though it is a fairly straight forward process, there are many
easy ways to make it work poorly.

Pancake dies are supposed to work on material as thin as paper, if
you need them to, and in fact I just made to fancy horse dies about
4" long, that I tested on common printer paper; they are for cutting
self-stick label paper and they work. I’ve said for 25 years that the
angle of the cut, in relation to the width of the cut and the
thickness of the tool,is critical; it is the inescapable absolute
about getting them to work on thin material. Lately I’ve become
annoyed when new customers wonders whether they can cut 24 or 26 ga
with pancake dies ; I gnash my teeth and think " what has happened to
the world, that some people think pancake dies don’t work on thin
metal ?! ". About those dies that don’t work on thin metal, I’m just
going to say that if you made them yourself, you didn’t use the right
angle, and if you bought them from someone, they were not engineered
to cut thin metal, and that’s ok for what it is, BUT THE PROCESS CAN
BE MADE TO WORK ON THIN METAL !!!. (gnash gnash gnash, grumble
grumble grumble )

One mistake I still sometimes make is not about how dies are made,
but about not making sure that new users understand the basics of
how to use them. This, plus the problem of people who think pancake
dies aren’t very good because they’ve had a bad experience, are why
I feel compelled to write this at this time. It’s mostly all about
; I am busy making dies and punching out parts for
people, and sometimes I overlook the need to educate, even though I
do a lot of repetitive explanations to new people via email. I don’t
spend much time or money advertising, because these things do a
pretty good job of selling themselves, and there are also many, many
people using my dies, who spread the good word, and I am most
appreciative of that.

Still, it’s the crazy things that have a way of sticking out and
demanding attention ; the broken dies, the ones that fail
prematurely, the imaginatively incorrect ways of using dies that I’ve
heard from people over the years, or someone saying simply “I tried
those (not ones I had made), and they didn’t work right, so I
thought it wasn’t a good kind of tool”. That one made me stop, a
couple of months ago, and realize that there was a bit of a
knowledge gap, a level of misperception developing, perhaps, from
whatever type of misfortune whatever number of people were having
with dies that weren’t working for them. Then just last week, it was
avery unfortunate situation with dies I had made, that made me want
to hurry up and write something about all of this.

More about that, and other horrors of die abuse, later sometime.


they can be made to work on thin metal. 

I’m here to say, amen to that!

Dar made me a couple of dies that work like a champ on 26ga
titanium, hundreds of times, with a fairly complex outline. The
second one fits to such a tight tolerance that I have to pop it back
open with a wood dowel, but it needs to fit tight when the metal is
so thin (right?)

I couldn’t be happier with my dies.


Dar you ever think about a DVD on making pancake dies. I, for one,
would be on the list for it as I am much better with visual learning
than I am at interpreting from books. I had some
experience at one point, but obviously did not have sufficient
knowledge or available to become adept. I recently
resurrected my 20 ton press and I am looking for new and interesting
ways to use it. Maybe you can point me to some already existing
literature on pancake dies that provide adequate Thanks
for your input. Frank Goss

I recently resurrected my 20 ton press and I am looking for new and
interesting ways to use it. Maybe you can point me to some already
existing literature on pancake dies that provide adequate

A 20 tonner is surprisingly useful. however, can you describe it for
us? height, action, strokes per min power source etc. as there are so
many types of presses its difficult to suggest uses for yours without
a description,or even better, a picture!! Im a press man too, so can
advise all sorts of possibilities.



How can I share files and pictures with the list?

Or… send the files to the attention of and
we will upload them for you…


Absolutely. I would very much like to buy a tutorial on that

Dar’s dies have done a great job for me too. Read about him here
over ten years ago and was delighted that he could help me out. He
also suggested a modified die to accomplish something else I had in
mind. Worked better than I could have imagined!


in “was-hot-but-now-it’s-cool-again (repeat several times)” Apache
Junction, AZ.

Pam Chott

Frank, and anyone else interested, the best, and only really decent
material about pancake dies is a chapter in Susan Kingsley’s book
Hydraulic Die Forming for Jewelers and Metalsmiths’, and an
instructional video on the RT System put out by Rio Grande
(discontinued). There’s a brief article in an ancient Metalsmith
magazine as well, but the most informative one is in the Kingsley
book. I assisted in all three of those items, so I can vouch for the
content (except for one small part of the Rio video; a step I don’t
do anymore).

The idea of a video is a good one, but it’s not likely to happen
soon, as I’m way too busy either making dies, working on the house,
yard, my wire sculptures, noodling on the guitar, or herding
chihuahuas. A video or book just haven’t quite made it to the top of
the priority list yet, but a book is potentially not in the
too-distant future. A basic video wouldn’t be all that hard to do,
but I get intimidated thinking of tackling the whole bull, so to
speak. There is a vast amount of detail involved, taking into
consideration all the variations of the process I’ve worked on over
the years, and that will have to start making it’s way into the world
of words and pictures before too long. I’ve finally gotten tired of
time-wasting discussion boards, almost all my old favorite forums,
and there’s even a note on my computer screen “write about dies, not
BS !”, so that’s actually major progress.

Someday for sure, and eventually there will be a lot of detailed
and pictures, and probably video. Some of it might end up
being the somewhat coherent rambling of a rickety old geezer, but an
informative rambling geezer. I feel that I have a responsibility to
document the details for future metalsmiths. There wasn’t much to go
by when I started , around 1986, and it would be just plain wrong not
to leave behind the things I’ve learned.


Hi Frank - nice to see you back - you would like to get a copy of
Susan Kingsley’s book “Hydraulic Die Forming for Jewelers and Metalsmiths” In the back of the book is an invaluable table. It
gives cutting angles, saw blade size and tool steel specs for making
pancake dies. It has lots of other on types of dies as
well. Amazon is really proud of their access to the book (pricey)
but I’d guess that you can get it used somewhere reasonably.

Judy Hoch

I am glad Dar brought up this subject, I make a line of pancake dies
that are machine made they are not cut by hand. My dies will not cut
metal thinner than 22 gauge and the metal needs to be fully hard. I
send out instructions with every die and clarify in email to the
buyer that they need to use 22gauge or thicker metal and it needs to
be fully hard. I have videos showing how to use the dies but every
now and then someone gets a die stuck and they send it to me. Every
time it is stuck it is either because the metal is fully soft or they
are cutting 24 gauge. Whenever people ask me if my dies will cut 24
gauge I send them to Dar, his dies are cut at an angle this allows
for thinner metal to be used. I dont do any custom shapes if you want
custom shapes or want to cut thin metal Dar is the man to see. If you
want to buy what is on my website and want to use 22 gauge or thicker
metal give me a call I have over a 1000 dies in stock of all
different shapes and usually ship same day. As long as you stay
within the parameters my dies will last for hundreds of strikes and
you will get great parts. My dies cost 18 dollars. Some of the more
complicated shapes like flowers are a pain I make a note of that on
my site. My dies allow hobbyists with limited budgets to cut shapes
that they might otherwise not be able to make. If you are wanting
custom shapes or you need very precise parts or high detail Dar is an
expert on making great dies. As long as you use my dies as instructed
they work fine and will last for years.

Thanks Kevin Potter.

Noel talked about

a couple of dies that work like a champ on 26ga titanium, hundreds
of times, with a fairly complex outline. The second one fits to
such a tight tolerance that I have to pop it back open with a wood
dowel, but it needs to fit tight when the metal is so thin (right?)

Right, Noel; pancake dies need to have tight tolerance between the
cutting edges in order to cut thin metal cleanly. A decent analogy
is pairs of scissors that are either tight at the joint or loose. The
loose pair will cut sloppily or allow the material to bend and
become jammed between the blades; the tight pair will cut very
neatly. A pancake die that’s too loose - let’s say the metal jams in
the die - for 28 ga. may cut 22ga. just fine, though probably with a
little burr around the edge.

Potter makes dies that have a loose fit, and that’s the precise
reason they are intended for use with 22 ga. or thicker material.
The original RT Blanking die concept, however, presumes that a tight
tolerance is desired, and is therefore based upon the cut that
creates the matched cutting edges being made at an angle not
perpendicular to the face of the die. This angled cut, when made
properly, creates a zero tolerance fit when the die parts are in
shearing position. The relationship between steel thickness,
sawblade width and angle of cut is critial for making tight dies
that need to cut thin metal and for cut thicker metal as cleanly as

I’ve said before that for certaim metals and gauges, things have to
be pushed right to the limit, and in practice this means adding as
much angle to the cut as is possible, to end up with dies that are
as tight as possible, such as Noel’s, that has to be knocked open
with a dowel or punch. The two large, inmtricate, horse dies I just
mentioned , for cutting label paper, were so tight that after heat
treating it took about ten minutes to carefully open each one the
first time. This was done by hammering a small punch into the
extremities, opening and closing the die up a little more each time
until the whole design is free. This can be very tricky business when
the design is intricate ; it is possible to break ordeform delicate
parts of a design by opening one spot too far, before the rest is
open. Another issue is keeping the opening process balanced, so that
when the die is closed it closes evenly ; uneven closing can force
the cutting edges on one side to collide and damage each other. The
intricacy of the horse designs compounded the tightness of the
tolerance, forcing me to do this step carefull and slowly. With
simple shapes it’s much easier to open a tight die, and actually more
important to have it be very tight, for very thin material.

The precursor to RT dies for jewelry was the ‘Continental Process’,
which was used to make large Al parts for airplane wings. The die
parts were sawed out with less than zero tolerance, so that when
closed for the first time, the cutting edges intentinally engaged
directly and sheared off a little bit of each other. This created a
parfectly tight fit and a small section at the point of contact
where the angle of the cutting edges was more or less 90 degrees,
which is less susceptible to wear. When I make tight dies for thin
metal I also saw with such a negative tolerance, which makes the
dies hard to open at first, and when they close the first time, a
very, very fine sliver gets sheared off all the way around the

There’s a fine line here, because this approach can take us right at
the limit, ideally ; you want to push it to the edge, but not over,
since the cutting edges can ruin each other if there’s too much

The way I make dies, they almost always intentionally start out so
tight that I have to use a hammer (or hammer & punch) to knock them
open after heat treating. Then I break them in by opening and
closing them so that they can be opened relatively easily with
finger pressure or knocking the die against a solid surface. Ones
that are still so tight that they need a hammer or punch during the
normal use of the die are not very common, and are really only
necessary for the problem metals and very thin gauges.

I just saw that Potter wrote about his dies, and obviously they fill
a niche too, as they are very affordable and useful within their
stated parameters. I’m still making all mine myself, and I’m sure
I’d be even more swamped with work - too swamped- if some people
weren’t getting his dies. The whole point is that (you guessed it)
pancake dies are supposed to work, and they do work, if you don’t
abuse or misuse them. Speaking of which, I have seen some truly
frightening things done to them by people over the years, and done a
few less-than-gentlemanly things to them myself. Oh, but that’s a
subject worthy of it’s own thread !.


I just saw that Potter wrote about his dies, and obviously they fill
a niche too,

You know, actually his name is Kevin.

Just saying.

Yes Hans, I know Potter’s first name is Kevin. I certainly didn’t
mean anything weird by using his last name. We’ve been on good terms
since I found out about him and we exchanged very positive emails.
There’s no undercurrent of animosity here, so you and anyone else
that may have thought there was can relax. I’m often reminded that
tone is a very subjective thing when dealing with people over the
internet, where it’s just words, without the rest of our normal, but
rich, array of subtle human nuance, and individuals’ different ways
of communicating may not be familiar to everyone else (on a public

Shelton, Dar