Making a Filigree Jig

To begin, procure or make a box out of cardboard or balsa wood. A plastic soap dish, like the one used in a traveling toilet article case although a bit deep is almost perfect for the job. The box should be about 3" long, 2" wide and not more than ½" high. Temporarily set the box aside.

5 Minute Read

By Leon HornsteinMore from this author

Now that we have the wire ready to use, it's necessary to have a jig or tool to form the filigree units. It is a simple fixture, but must be made accurately.

To begin, procure or make a box out of cardboard or balsa wood. A plastic soap dish, like the one used in a traveling toilet article case although a bit deep is almost perfect for the job. The box should be about 3″ long, 2″ wide and not more than ½" high. Temporarily set the box aside.

Procure a box of steel straight pins like those used in dressmaking. They should be about 1¼" - 1½" long. Take 20 or 25 of the steel pins and cut the heads off. To make it easier to remove the heads, heat the pins to 800 of 900F. Set these aside with the box for later use.

On a piece of graph paper about 2″ long and about 1″ wide, draw a straight line 1½" long down the center of the piece of paper. Make a sharp mark along this line every 16th of an inch until you have 20 marks. Rather than use a pen or pencil, use a sharp pointed tool such as an awl. Glue the piece of graph paper to a piece of aluminum, copper or plexiglass at least ¼" thick and 1″ longer than the length of the box you will use and 1″ wide. This piece of metal or plastic will be known as the model plate (see picture). Glue the graph paper down securely on the model plate, making sure it is centered both crosswise and lengthwise. With a sharp center punch, lightly tap the marks on the graph paper. With a No. 64 drill bit, drill through each of the tap marks. Check now with one of your little pins to be sure it will go through the coils smoothly. With some Vaseline, grease the inside of the box. Place the model plate on top of the box, being sure it is centered and that each end of the model plate lays over the ends of the box by an equal amount.

We are now ready to embed the steel pins into a cement-like material. We can use patching cement or dental stone (patching cement is my preference). It is a smooth, white, hard, heat- and water-resistant cement. It comes in powder form and when mixed with water to make a creamy mixture it will set up in 10 to 15 minutes. A popular cement is "Rocktite" and is available in most hardware stores.

Mix the cement, carefully following the instructions given for the cement and carefully pour the cement down into the box, being sure to fill it to within 1/8″ of the bottom of the model plate. As you pour the cement, be sure to tap the sides of the box to help level the contents. Carefully insert the steel pins, one by one, with the pointed end down into the holes you drilled. Be sure to push the pins down so they go down deep into the cement.

Set the box aside until the cement hardens, then carefully remove the plate by lifting it up over the pins. Remove the sides and bottom from the box. Before setting the jig aside, it is necessary to trim the pins to their proper height, which is 5/16″ -7/16″. They can be cut with a pair of diagonal cutters, but a Foredom tool would be better, using a cut-off disc. Keep the pin heights as uniform as possible.

The last step in making the jig assembly is to make a lifter plate. The lifter plate is a piece of metal 1/8″ or 3/16″ thick which can be either copper or stainless steel. It should be ½" longer than your jig and 1.5″ in width. Measure from one end of the jig along the row of pins to the last one. Scribe a line along the center of the lifter plate using this dimension and continue this line only to the last pin. Using a hack saw, make a slot following the scribed line. When finished, file the slot to smooth it so the plate can easily be raised up or slid off of the jig. Check and be sure the end of the plate opposite the end of the slot is 1/4″ longer than the jig. Procure some aluminum type of duct tape and cut to a length a little short of the lifter plate length. The width should be the distance from the side of the plate to within 3/16″ to the slot. Fasten these two strips to the underside of the plate. The reason for this is when making the units, it is important the plate does not rock or move.

To use the jig, place the lifter plate on top of the jig with the slot between the pins. Always wind the filigree units on top of the lifter plate. It is necessary after winding a unit on the jig to heat the jig before removing the unit. Always be sure to wind the unit on top of the lifter plate and heat it while still on the plate. After heating, drop the jig, lifter plate and unit, all into the water. Use water and not pickle because of contamination from the steel pins.

Any article I have ever read about filigree-making has always, without exception, taught making the lifter plate by drilling holes, and matching the jig pin alignment. This makes it necessary to set the plate on the jig by lining up the holes with the pins. I have found that simply sawing a slot instead of drilling holes is much simpler.

Many variations can be made with the jig just described. It is possible that all or some of the pins can be placed closer or further apart. When making an ovette, which is described later, the pins on one side of the center pin can be spaced differently than the other half. Many variations can be made. Larger or smaller diameter pins can be used.

Be sure to save your model plate for future use. Remember you can use your old model plate for future jig variations by leaving some holes empty.

Be sure your lifter plate is strong enough so it does not bend too easily when lifting it and the units off the jig.

When making the jig you are not limited to using 20 pins. As many as 30 to 36 pins are practical. By using this many pins, you can make, 2, 3 or 4 units at a time depending on the size. You can remove and anneal all at one time.

If one or two of the pins come loose in the jig, dip them in some epoxy and put them back in the holes.

Read also:
By Leon Hornstein – Copyright © Leon Hornstein 2002
All rights reserved internationally. Copyright © Leon Hornstein. Users have permission to download the information and share it as long as no money is made. No commercial use of this information is allowed without permission in writing from Leon Hornstein.

You assume all responsibility and risk for the use of the safety resources available on or through this web page. The International Gem Society LLC does not assume any liability for the materials, information and opinions provided on, or available through, this web page. No advice or information provided by this website shall create any warranty. Reliance on such advice, information or the content of this web page is solely at your own risk, including without limitation any safety guidelines, resources or precautions, or any other information related to safety that may be available on or through this web page. The International Gem Society LLC disclaims any liability for injury, death or damages resulting from the use thereof.

Leon Hornstein

The All-In-One Jewelry Making Solution At Your Fingertips

When you join the Ganoksin community, you get the tools you need to take your work to the next level.

Become a Member

Trusted Jewelry Making Information & Techniques

Sign up to receive the latest articles, techniques, and inspirations with our free newsletter.