Helen’s 7 Favorite Ways to Texture Metal
Copper is a great texturing metal for the beginner (and advanced) metalsmith because it is very forgiving—you'll need a concentrated effort to really "mess it up." Copper is soft and tough, inexpensive, hard to melt down, takes a beautiful patina, and is easy to find. My favorite thing about it is its malleability—copper takes a texture better than almost any other metal.
In this post, I'll show you my top ways to texture sheet copper and give you some ideas for using the textured metal in your next piece. You don't need any fancy or expensive equipment, just a utility hammer like a ball-peen or chasing hammer, some nails, metal stamps, a forging hammer, a bench block and anvil, a vise, and some coarse sandpaper. The last thing you'll need is outside—warm, dry day and some concrete pavement (more on that later).
Helen’s 7 Texturing Metal Favorites:
My all-time favorite texture is a simple, dimpled hammered surface. I have a fantastic selection of forging hammers to create dimpled surfaces, but you don't need expensive hammers to get the same surface. Sand the ball face of an inexpensive garage sale or hardware store ball-peen hammer to a very smooth surface. Then, polish the hammer face shiny with Fabulustre compound and a felt wheel (or by hand if you don't have a polishing arbor). That dressed hammer face will work almost as well as an expensive forging hammer for creating a dimpled surface on copper.
- Nail Stamped
Ordinary steel construction nails make great metal stamps. I use a crappy old file I bought at a garage sale to file the nail tips smooth and to remove any seams or pits. When the tip is smooth and rounded, use the nail as a stamp; a chasing or ball-peen hammer is the perfect tool to strike the nail. Make sure you've got steel under the copper sheet, either an anvil or a bench block, so you don't dent the metal as you stamp it. I like to draw a design on the metal and use the "stamp" to create a dotted line. Try making different-size "stamps" to vary the diameter of the stamped dots. If you have a torch, anneal the copper first to make sure it is very soft.
Purchased metal stamps can be used to create allover textures on metal. If you've got alphabet stamps, you can use them in an out-of-the-box way. Look at the letter forms and try to combine them in repeating patterns, or rotate the stamps to create designs that do not spell words. Many letter forms can be used to create zigzags, lines, squares, circles, and triangles, or as "fill" patterns. If you don't have metal stamps, you can create designs with a dull screwdriver, awl, or any other steel tool floating around the basement or garage. Use your imagination and play.
Usually, scratches on metal are not something you want. But, if you make those scratches on purpose, you can get some interesting distressed surfaces on your sheet. A sharp scribe makes a great etching tool. When you throw a patina on the metal before scratching it, the contrast between the blackened sheet and the shiny cut lines is very interesting.
- Concrete Imprinted
I live in a neighborhood with nice old concrete aggregate sidewalks. There is one section near my front walk with hundreds of tiny pebbles embedded in the sidewalk surface. I regularly take a sheet of annealed metal outside with a ball-peen hammer, lay it on the pebbled section of the sidewalk, and hammer the sheet to transfer the concrete pattern to the copper. My neighbors think I'm a nut case, but I've gotten used to it by now. Sometimes being perceived as an eccentric is really funny.
- Folded and Hammered
Anneal a sheet of copper. Create a fold by bringing the edges together and then hammer the metal flat. Concentrate the hammer strikes along the fold line. Anneal the metal again and open the metal flat once again. You will see a raised line at the ridge of the fold; hammer down that line with a cross-peen hammer or with your ball-peen hammer. Anneal again. Fold the metal perpendicular to the first fold, hammer again, and open this fold. Now, you have two ridge lines. Texture the second ridge line with the ball-peen hammer. Nice, huh?
- Diamond Burred
Don't throw out those dull or disfigured diamond burs! You can still use them on sheet instead of stone and can create a neat satin finish on metal or even draw designs with them. My sample shows some circles I burred and textured on polished sheet. I think the contrast between shiny and satin is very cool.
So, now what?
Now that you've learn about texturing metal and textured your sheet, I'm going to throw out some quick ideas to jump-start your brain and get you thinking. Ready? Try these texturing metal options:
- Saw it out into a cool shape.
- Use a disc cutter to make circles out of it.
- Drill it and make a pendant.
- Rivet something else on it.
- Solder it to something else.
- Dome a circle of it in a dapping block or on a stake.
- Cut an opening in it.
- Create a bend or twist in it.
- Cut identical shapes in different textures for links.
- Combine two textures on one sheet and go back to number one.
If you love copper as much as I do, check out Contemporary Copper Jewelry, a new edition of the book (now with DVD!) by Sharilyn Miller from Interweave.
How about you? What texturing metal techniques do you prefer? What is the most unusual texturing metal tool you use? We'd love to hear your favorite techniques, tips, and tricks. Leave a comment below!