Dapping and Forming Blocks: Jewelry-Making Tools to Help You Shape Your Sheet with Ease

Photos by Jim Lawson.

I have a shameless obsession for hammers, but that’s only the half of it. If I have a hammer in one hand and some sheet in the other, the next logical tool I’ll look for is something to strike against–like an anvil, stump, stake, or forming blocks. Most metalsmiths are introduced to forming blocks at about week four in Metals 101. First, you’ll make friends with jewelry-making tools like your torch and your saw, and once you’ve played around with piercing, cutting, and piecing sheet, you’ll hunger to venture beyond flat.

That’s where the blocks come in. With nothing more than a hammer, some daps, and a good block, you’ll be able to spend hours and hours forming shallow hemispheres, domes, donuts, bossed sheet, dimples, and dents. With the grooved tubing block, you can form sinuous tubes, pods, tapers, and tendrils using just a hammer and the block–but don’t get so engrossed you forget to anneal. If you’re ready to move past flat, get yourself a couple of forming blocks. They are much cheaper than silversmithing stakes and are almost as much fun.

Plus, you’ll be building a good skill set for when you do decide to get some stakes, because you’ll be learning how metal behaves as you form it with jewelry-making tools. In case you partied too hard and didn’t get to week four in Metals 101, here are the Cliffs Notes.

Using Forming Blocks for Dapping a Hemisphere (Dome)

1. Cut out a metal circle. Refine edges, sand, and prepolish metal surface. Anneal.

Editor’s note: After you’ve learned to cut out those circles–and you should–you can also buy pre-cut circles and dome them this way as well.

2. Choose a dimple in the die that is a bit larger than your metal circle. Choose a punch that will comfortably fit in the dimple and still make contact with the metal. Your choices will depend on the gauge of your metal–thicker metal calls for a smaller punch.
3. Strike one or two gentle blows straight down into the dimple. Stop when the metal makes contact with the bottom and sides of the dimple.
4. Move the dapped metal hemisphere to the next smallest dimple and strike again, using a smaller punch. Stop again when there’s good contact in the block.

Proceed in this fashion until desired depth is reached. If you begin with thin-gauge, well-annealed metal, you can usually dap a hemisphere down two or three sizes before needing to anneal again.


Using Forming Blocks to Form a Tube


1. Cut a metal strip to the desired length with extra for cutting a point on the end. Refine edges. Anneal. Mark a lengthwise center line from the point to the other end.
2. Lay the strip in a groove in the forming block. Set a round mandrel or rod along the line. Strike the mandrel with a mallet.
3. Move the metal to the next smallest groove in the block, and with a smaller mandrel or rod, continue to form the tube with the mallet. Ensure the point is well formed and centered. Anneal. Continue forming until the metal is in a C shape. Anneal.
4. Pull the metal through a drawplate by grasping the point. Continue pulling until the edges of the metal meet; do not allow them to overlap. Solder the seam if desired.

Make Your Own Forming Block

If you don’t have a forming block, don’t despair! It’s easy to improvise one with a block of wood and a round rasp. Just file an angled groove in the edge of the wood block (or the edge of a stump) and hammer away. If the block is small, you can clamp it in a vise to hold it steady.–Helen

This jewelry-making tools tutorial was first published as Helen’s Cool Tools article in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine. Get all of her Cool Tools articles–and learn how to use those tools to make jewelry–in Lapidary Journal. Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry back issues (print and digital) are on sale now through August 17, 2012, half off, in the Jewelry Making Daily Shop!

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