Metalsmithing: Tool Makers, Legends, and Insight on Hammering from Bill Fretz, Part 2

Continued from part one of Metalsmithing: Tool Makers, Legends, and Insight on Hammering from Bill Fretz

On a recent trip to Tucson, I had the pleasure of spending time with another metalsmithing toolmaker and legend, Bill Fretz. I’ve visited Bill’s booth before, but this time I was able to spend more time with him and watch him demonstrate hammering and forming. He also gave me a lot of great metalsmithing pointers, help in picking out some hammers and a new stake. It was my last day of my Tucson trip and a wonderful way to close out the week.
Metalsmithing: Tool Makers, Legends, and Insight on Hammering from Bill Fretz

Bill has an amazing command for what is needed to move metal this way or that way. And he has a way of translating his knowledge into his tools so they do the work for you, with professional and amazing results. After coming home, I spent some time watching his videos again. My take-aways include:

  • Any hammer can form metal or texture metal–depending on how you use it. Every single hammer can do both things, and Bill explains both texturing and the ins and outs of planishing, raising, embossing, and blocking–the four essential processes of metal forming.
  • There are three categories of Fretz hammers. The jeweler’s hammers are coded HMR 1, 2, 3 etc. HMR stands for hammer and then, there is just one number. For the most part, these are the hammers jewelry makers will use the most. The larger silversmith hammers are coded HMR 101, 102, 103, etc. These are for bigger work–bowls, sculpture, and other large forms. The precisionsmith hammers are coded HMR 401, 402, 403 etc., and they are daintier than the silversmith hammers.

Bill Fretz hammers hammering metalsmithing

  • The faces of the Fretz forming hammers are curved. They are intended to create curves when you want to transition from flat to formed metal against a stake. If you don’t want to create 3D forms, those hammer faces will create marks–or texture–on the flat sheet. So, that narrow raising hammer can also be used to create comet-shaped marks on flat sheet. Change directions while you are making the marks, and you can create starbursts, waves, or swirls!
  • There’s more of a science behind what kinds of hammers create which kinds of effect on metal. Here’s a list from Bill:
    • Rounded raising or cross-peen hammers make it possible to form curved, concave lines.
    • Dimple shapes are produced with different sized embossing hammers.
    • Flat areas need a light planishing hammer.
    • Like a chasing tool, a rounded raising hammer makes a good tracing tool to mark the edges of a design or to form ridgelines while working metal from both sides of the line.
    • You can also hammer curved, concave, fluted shapes. Picking the size of the hammer depends on the width of the flutes being formed and how noticeable the hammer marks are meant to be.
    • A broader, rounded raising hammer will leave the metal smoother, while the narrow rounded hammer will leave a sharper mark.
    • Use embossing hammers to push domed areas into concaves. A small planishing hammer will create the fewest marks on convex areas.”

Bill Fretz hammers
Too bad I only bought a few hammers this trip. Well, there’s always BeadFest Philly this August.


Have a hammer and need more on the how to use it? Be sure to check out one of Bill’s great videos. They are each wonderful, presented with great insight on the hows and whys, done at a great pace, and you can see exactly how to use your tools and the results you’ll get.

For more, read an exclusive interview with Bill Fretz

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