Forming and Texturing Metal: 6 Tips for Using Specialty Jewelry Tools with Bill Fretz

When I watch master metalsmith and toolmaker Bill Fretz shape and form metal in his video workshops or at shows, I'm always entranced and sort of amazed at how effortlessly and easily he turns flat metal into curved, domed, and fluted forms. It surprises me each time to see what shapes he can pull out of flat metal, simply through proper placement of metal on stakes and mandrels–first one way and then the other–while hammering the dickens out of it. And who doesn't love hammering?

One of the best things about watching a long-time master like Bill Fretz demonstrate jewelry-making techniques and skills is all of the clever tips that slip out during the process. Imagine how many tried-and-true lessons Bill has learned through decades of making metal jewelry and teaching hundreds of students! Here are six of Bill's great tips and bits of advice to keep in mind while hammering metal on anvils and stakes.

 

1. If you have a scratch on your hammer's face, it will appear on your metal every time you strike it. If you are raising a piece of metal and the mark comes up on your metal over and over again, it will weaken the metal and eventually it will crack. If you get a scratch on your steel hammer's face, remove it with emery cloth on a stick and buff it firmly with Gray Star buffing compound.

2. Hold your hammers lightly. If you grip too strongly, you'll risk getting carpal tunnel. You want the hammer to be able to bounce in your hand. "You want to think of this as a very dainty thing to do," Bill says of hammering metal. "If the hammering takes too much effort, you're not using a heavy enough hammer."

 

3. We've learned from Bill in the past how to form domed shapes in metal by hammering, but did you know you can "hammer" directly onto the metal (on a sandbag) using his domed bench anvils? It's so easy to create a low dome in your metal this way, it seems like cheating. The shape will require refinement later with a hammer, but what a great timesaving way to get some dimension in your flat metal quickly and easily.

4. After doming metal, polish it well before planishing to remove any small scratches that planishing won't fix. The mirror finish also helps you see your metal more clearly as you shape and/or texture it.

5. When hammering on an anvil, move the metal, not the hammer. Keep the hammer bobbing in a straight-up-and-down motion and just turn the metal. Hold the hammer lightly in your palm and let it bounce off the metal in a fluid motion. Hammer each blow with equal effort for uniform marks or textures.

 

6. Be careful not to twist your hand or turn your wrist at all as you hammer; hit straight down onto the metal to avoid creating divots or half-moon marks on it. If you accidentally create a divot with the flat side of a hammer, turn the hammer over and use the round side to hammer it back out.

Learn more masterful techniques from Bill for using over 20 specialty jewelry tools like hammers, anvils and stakes with metal sheet, wire, and rods in his newest jewelry-making video workshop, Hammer Textures and Forms: Master 20+ Specialty Jewelry Tools with Bill Fretz. Who knows more about using hammers and stakes than a master metalsmith who designs and creates them? Learn from the best!

 

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