Metalsmithing: Repoussé Tools — Repurposing and Alternatives
Commercially-made, high quality chasing and repoussé tools are now readily available from a number of different suppliers. A quick Google search results in many options ranging from $25 upwards for each individual tool. These prices may cool your enthusiasm about purchasing a complete set. We suggest and encourage you to seek a less expensive pathway to obtaining them.
Chasing and repoussé tools are divided into several different categories but today’s topic is repoussé tools. Repoussé is French for “push from the back” and it’s generally performed with large, smooth tools. We find it easier and a lot more fun to alter and repurpose existing tools and hardware into repoussé tools.
Out and About
Garage sales and flea markets are often opportunities to find low cost tools:
- Keep an eagle-eye out for used cold chisels and punches for a fraction of the cost and you only need to grind them to the shape you desire. Also be on the lookout for large, long Allen hex wrenches which can be ground into wonderful tools that are very comfortable to hold.
- Drift punches and center punches also are great for texturing and patterning.
Hardware Stores Delight
Your local hardware store presents many repurposing options:
- Fastening hardware such as carriage bolts and acorn nuts mounted on a long bolts make very serviceable circle and spherical repoussé tools.
Our best find ever is when we discovered large landscape spikes used to secure railroad ties and landscape timbers.
- These spikes are huge, about 3/8″ in diameter and made from a good grade of steel and they are very inexpensive. We love grinding these spike heads into small ovals, teardrops, marquise shapes, hearts and circles, whatever we can think up. These spikes are made of a good quality steel usually fairly long, about 12″ so we can make several tools from each spike. It is a good idea to avoid any galvanized coated spikes as you don’t want to breathe in zinc dust when you’re grinding them. If you must use them be sure to wear a face mask.
There’s a plethora of large nails other than landscape spikes in the hardware department that can be shaped to fit many needs.
- One specific nail we like but sometimes have trouble locating is a spiraled nail that is designed to have superior holding force in wood. We find them to be attractive as well as comfortable to hold for long periods of time. An added benefit is that their unusual shape makes them easy to spot in a large container of tools. See the last tool on the right in the photo.
There is no set rule that requires the tools be made from steel, we often use brass, aluminum or plastic rod stock and even hardwood dowels for some situations. In fact practically any fairly hard material can serve as a repoussé tool.
In your flea market and garage sale outings you might also keep an eye out for old nail sets as they are great for texturing and patterning. If you can buy 2 sets one set will make perfect circles of various diameters. Another can make C-shape stamps if you grind away half of the tip.
We hope you enjoy your visits to the garage sales, flea market and hardware stores as much as we do. Happy Shopping and Repurposing!
Tom & Kay
For more on chasing and repoussé check out these other articles:
- Intro to Chasing and Repousse: Create Dimension in Metal With or Without Pitch
- 10+ Excellent Things To Know About Chasing Metal
Tom & Kay Benham are Contributing Editors to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and author its Ask the Experts column. Have a question for them? Please leave a comment below.
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