If you enjoy the satisfaction of working metal with your hands, chasing and repoussé are for you. High impact yet low tech, these twin techniques are the essence of moving metal at its most elemental: adding volume and depth to your sheet through every strike of your hammer against the chasing tool of your choice. And because you are simply pushing out a piece of sheet, you can create substantial looking jewelry without increasing the weight. Your accomplished design will also be made without increasing your metal costs.
Different Chasing Punches for Different Effects
As you can see, there are many kinds of chasing tools for you to work with. Here’s a peek at how Helen Driggs stores her chasing punches according to what effect they’ll produce on a piece of metal.
“Like larger forming tools, chasing punches show you what they will do when you look at the shape of their face,” Helen explains. “I keep like punches grouped in small jars so I can lay them across the bench with the working end facing me. Then I can choose the one I like easily as I go.
“So,” she continues, “all the liners are together, then all the runners, undercutters, etc. And what are they?
“Straight liner punches create sharp creases and are used first to outline a design. You should have several widths and thicknesses on hand to effectively work in tight spaces or on complex designs.
“Curved liner punches work the same way the straight punches do, but are for creating curved or wavy lines. Have some of several degrees of curve: sharp to gentle, and narrow to wide.
“Specialty punches. Matting and texturing punches are used to create surface contrast on chased forms. Typically they are used on the background, or flange, of the chased work.
“Setting punches can be used for chasing and stone setting. Most commonly, they are straight sided and wedge shaped. Often, they have very sharp or crisp edges that should be softened with sandpaper to avoid creating dents on the work. They are used in chasing for undercutting a form.”
There are oodles more by way of chasing punches out there, too, but you get the idea.
When Chasing, Remember to . . .
Now let’s see what Helen recommends by way of using chasing tools. Here are three of the most basic tips to keep in mind whenever you pick up a chasing tool yourself.
- “Push, don’t cut. Chasing is not stamping. Use the chasing tool to push rather than cut the metal.
- “Hold the tool at an angle, just above the surface of the work. The punch will work like the tip of a jackhammer.”
- “Size for your grip. Use tennis racquet tape to thicken the shaft on a too-narrow punch.”
Into the Pitch Pot
PHOTOS: Tom and Kay Benham
Tom and Kay Benham, who have been answering your questions and offering tips on gem cutting and metalsmithing for many years in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist’s Ask the Experts column, have become huge fans of chasing and repoussé in recent years. As with every task they approach, Tom and Kay have really dived right into this topic and learned as much about it as they possibly could, and continue to look for better understanding and new ways to improve their chasing skills.
The traditional way to work metal when chasing it is to place it on softened pitch, which provides support for the metal with a little give. “One of the first things you need to know before you try chasing,” say Tom and Kay, “is how to prepare your metal before you place it in a pitch pot, how to remove the metal from the pitch, and then how to prepare it to go back onto the pitch for another round of chasing.”
Here is the basic procedure they follow for putting metal onto pitch. “To prepare your metal, first spray a light coat of cooking spray on one side of the silver or other metal and set aside. We prefer cooking spray as a release agent. We’ve tried lip balm and mineral oil, but the cooking spray works especially well with the medium green chaser’s pitch we’ve used for many projects.
“Heat the pitch with the heat gun set on low. Warm the metal, holding it by one corner with pliers. Quickly and carefully lay the metal spray-side down onto the warm pitch. Use the rubber handles of the pliers to press the metal into the heated pitch so it is well set. Use wet fingers or a paint stirrer that has been soaked in water to press the pitch around the silver — but not over the top of the metal.”
What’s the Difference?
What do we mean by chasing and repoussé being twin techniques? They both push metal using the same setup: place a chasing tool face down on your metal and strike the opposite end with a hammer so that the force of your blow is transferred through the tool into the sheet.
The difference is in the effect you will see. Repoussé pushes metal out from the viewer’s perspective, meaning the surface is worked from the back and is seen as embossed on the front, while chasing pushes the metal from the front, which appears pushed in, or in lower relief, than the starting point.
So Start Chasing Now
Discover chasing tools from basic to specialized and more tips on how to chase, learn to get your metal both in and out of the pitch repeatedly, and find inspirational projects that walk you through the creation of a complete piece of jewelry in our chasing and repoussé collection!
Editor, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist