An approach to make curves or shallow bowls in metal

Wato wato

I have to get a silver vessel ready for a show in Truro the week after next and have neglected my commitments here.  As promised, I will illustrate a way to create curves or bowls without stakes or depressions to form into.

The piece of copper was from a scrap corner of a disc I cut to make a raised copper bowl, more on that in a future post. I deliberately made it square to help you to think about curves in a different way. If I cut a circle then, perhaps, you may think why not just use a doming block or punch? If you try this with a square you may find the points don’t behave as you think they would, tending to crumple and become marked by the doming block, no such challenges with this way.

Please be aware that this is ‘a’ way; not ‘the’ way to approach making effects photographed here. I am minded to think of when I started and looking at all the stakes and hammers on offer, which one? How many? I feel certain you will have experienced just such confusion. I offer this way to you as I feel sure you already have, of can inexpensively come by the tools shown here to experiment,  creating your own sculptural shapes, adding to your deeper understanding of how to problem solve when you hit a creative wall as it were.

A steel bench block and a ball peen hammer are all you need, good oh eh 😉 if you are just ‘sketching’ as I do, then you will not even have to worry unduly about the surface finishes of the block or hammer. In fact you may be able to produce some beautiful effects with less than perfect surfaces, unique to you. It just gets better don’t you think.

I deliberately did not freshly anneal the piece to start. If you look further along the sequence you will see I have highlighted the help that a freshly annealed and pickled surface give to you as a guide to facilitate more accurate placements of your hammer blows. You may wish to start with a freshly pickled surface, your choice.

The idea behind this, and I will descend into metaphor to help explain to you how I see it; Again, before I do I am bound to say that this is how I see it, if anyone knows a better way please please do let me know and I will alter to be clearer and less confusing. Metal works like slow motion clay, also it flows a little like water under the hammer blow making a small ‘wave’ of material. If you hammer quite hard with the ball end of your hammer on a freshly annealed piece of material, copper silver or other types, on a steel block you will notice the contact point sunk with a ring of material surrounding the mark. Try it with a cross peen and again the ‘moat’ or wall of material will surround where the hammer has struck. This is the softer, un work hardened material being squished away from the compressed area.  The outside edge that I hammered to start creates a ‘moat’ or barrier of work hardened material. When you then go from the middle, overlapping blows you are trapping the soft state, not yet hammered and work hardened material towards it, eventually meeting a barrier it cannot cross. As the distance is covered the ‘wave’ is larger and will cause the material to curl as it gets closer to the edge.

Where the analogy with clay breaks down a little here is the one shot deal you get with metal. Metal will not stand repeated blows and will eventually crack if continually hammered on the same spot without annealing. For safety sake it is best to do one round, re anneal, pickle and start again. This way you will not be likely to cause the material to fail by overworking. Another bonus is that you will become far more accurate as you become aware of sticking to this one hit rule and using the colour change as a guide as the struck area becomes shiny.

I have only done three rounds to show what is possible, nothing to stop you taking it further if you wish. You will come up with limits eventually as you continually thin the material, as a result this is perhaps best left to create shallower forms. By holding the sheet at increasing angles as you strike it you can alter the depth, even making different depths on a single piece.

The other photographs illustrate this as they clearly show the way I have held the brooches at shallower and steeper angles to the block to obtain the transitional curves seen here. The ‘shrinking marks’ shown are made with a cross peen. I will explain how this works with examples an another post. To get you thinking about shrinking, (a poet and didn’t know it 🙂 think fold forming. I hope to show you why I think of metal as a kind of slow motion clay, try to think ‘barriers’ stretching and compressing waves.

Thank you again for reading and the kind messages. Until next time.

All my very best wishes

Stu Art

Preparing to sink a copper bowl also applies to silver.

Wato wato.

Time for a break from chasing and repousse, good oh do I hear you say?

I very much wanted to create three dimensional, sculptural type work in metal. This type of working was what attracted me to silversmithing in the first place. So we don’t go off at a tangent, as I am likely to do, no really! I will not give examples of the work that inspires me yet. O/K perhaps just one to give an example of the extreme plasticity and mailability of metal over repeated courses.

http://en.wahooart.com/@@/8Y366D-Benvenuto-Cellini-Salt-Cellar-(5)

This piece was made from gold sheet and raised to become the masterpiece you see here. I was astonished when I saw this and was truly amazed to discover how it was made. As I understand it, it is still somewhat of a mystery as to he exactly did it. I feel the need to show a modern master of this extreme form of metal raising, my biggest influence today as well as a thoroughly decent chap who responded to my ham fisted request for help; David Huang.

http://davidhuang.org/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=2147

Breathtaking aren’t they. Please do take the time to look at his sight, the man is a truly beautiful individual who has an inspirational take on life that is well worth reading. When I make enough to support myself and have cash to spare (I put when so that defeat is not an option) I will purchase one of his masterpieces, you can quote me on it.

I was afraid I would get carried away, oh well I hope you find some history and examples of masters challenge you to have a go.

The pictures show the early stages of the journey that leads to hand raised vessels, hollowware or sculptural art as shown by Cellini and Huang. Many practitioners start by raising and not sinking first, here is why I prefer to sink first.

The metal, when you start with a flat sheet, even after annealing is quite reluctant to raising and demands a degree of understanding as to the direction the metal will tend to take. As a beginner it was easy for me to get lost and create what looked like a pringle crisp that had been processed more than once. Experienced practitioners do not have a problem compensating for and altering their approach as the material demands, sinking before lessons this ‘wild’ behaviour of the metal, in my experience anyway. Sinking lets the metal ‘relax’ into the process and aids me in making each round more consistent.

The two ancient looking machines shown in the photographs were purchased by me from a chap who retired as a tinsmith. I managed to rescue the whole of his workshop machines and stakes. You can just see one of the two fly presses that came from him. He showed me one of the press stamps and said this was his first job as a tinsmith when he was sixteen. I feel proud to have been able to become the next custodian of these fine machines that were at the centre of the golden era, now sadly gone, of British manufacturing, don’t get me started!

The metal guillotine is handy, fast and efficient in cutting straight edges. You don’t need it, its just lovely to have as is the next machine that you may not have seen before. This is a circle cutting machine. A kind of tin opener like machine with two cutting wheels that cut as the handle is cranked. Again not a necessity, just a beautiful machine to own and one that will be overhauled, like the guillotine in the future.

The metal sheers or tinsnips are perfectly good for this and are mostly used as many people will not have a circle cutting machine. When you cut with these sheers, go just outside the line and finish off by filling to the line. The sheers will leave a little raised edge or burr that will need to be filled smooth. The jewellers saw is a posh one made by KEW designs. It gets mixed reviews, I am not the best person to advise as I started with the nastiest cheapest saw to begin with, as a result I feel sure anything else would feel fantastic. This saw is great for me and I noticed the difference straight away, best, if you can, to try a really nicely made traditional saw, then compare, I haven’t so am not subjective on this.

Shown are the hammers I use, sinking or blocking hammers as they are known. I put the common ball peen hammer in to show the difference in profiles. As you see this hammer has a very tight radius compaired to the blocking hammers. Imagine the surface finish you see on planished jewellery or vessels. The ball peen is great for texture, not so good for sinking as it compressed a too small area. The larger hammer on the right is looking almost flat by comparison. Imagine this moving large areas at a time and distributing the stresses from each blow more evenly as well as making overlapping blows far easier. Some people would use a bossing mallet shown here to do all the sinking. I find it more efficient to use a hammer on wood then finish off with the mallet, either in the same wood depression or on a sandbag to even out the surface before annealing.

I show the two examples of wooden depressions made to accommodate different sizes and depths. The second one shows the hole I drilled to remove material before using a sinking hammer and repeatedly hammering hard and accurately to create a depression that matched the profile of the hammer. The other one was made deliberately irregular with chisels and sanding to experiment with differing depths and profiles. Willow is said to be the best material as it has a natural spring, as it was explained to me, think of cricket bats. I do not have any and used wood I found after a tree was cut down where I walk my two dogs. Pretty much any end grain wood should work I would think.

When you started to mark out your circle you need to centre punch the middle where the compass spike sits. This is important as you will need this as a reference point later. Careful not to go too deep, making sure you can see the mark from the reverse, this is not as important if you plan to just sink, however if you go on to raise you will need both.

I have, again, written more than I intended and find myself running out of time. I will continue this topic next time, trying not to be as distracted. The next post we will start to strike the metal and create a small bowl. For those of you who are not sure about sinking with the wood, or do not have a blocking hammer but do have a ball peen. I will show you how you can use work hardening with such a hammer and a flat steel bench block to make a small bowl from scrap if you like.

Until next week, all my very best wishes.

Stu Art 🙂