Move Your Metal: Intro to Essential Metal Forming Techniques

From Anastasia Young’s Workbench Guide to Jewelry Techniques, here’s an introduction to two of the most basic and essential ways to create dimension in metal: dapping and swaging.
Learn about dimensionally altering metal from expert Anastasia Young.

Metal Jewelry Forming Techniques

By Anastasia Young

Dimensionally altering metal can be a challenging process, but this range of techniques provides invaluable ways of creating structural and voluminous forms from wire and sheet metal. Many of the techniques require the use of formers and hammers to aid the shaping of the metal, and are “organic” requiring the gradual change of dimension in a metal surface, using small incremental steps to achieve the outcome. This can mean that there is more room for error, but these techniques allow so much more freedom of form than basic construction techniques that it is well worth exploring the effects that can be achieved. The way in which these forms “grow” will greatly influence the design of a piece and the subsequent ways in which it is constructed and finished.
 
Specialist forming tools can be used to quickly curve or bend metal to set specifications, allowing fast replication of component parts.

Learn about dapping and swaging metal jewelry making.

Dapping and Swaging

Dapping blocks and punches: Dapping blocks and cubes are usually made of steel or brass, and have concave depressions in the surface that get incrementally smaller. Dapping blocks with oval depressions and matching punches are also available. Dapping punches are made either from steel or boxwood. Steel punches will work more quickly, and with less force, but hardwood punches are less likely to mark metal. Use a mallet to strike the punch.
 
Dapping metal forms: Dapping is used to make hemispherical components, which can be soldered together to make a sphere (or bead), or used in a variety of ways. Most metals can be dapped, but it is important that they are annealed, cleaned, and dried before dapping. The form being dapped does not have to be circular–practically any shape can be dapped as long as it will fit into a recess in the block. Take care when dapping forms that have large holes in them, because the punch is likely to stretch the hole rather than dome the surrounding metal. It may be necessary to cut the hole in the domed surface after it is formed. The small holes in fretwork should not cause this problem, but it is advisable to use a wooden punch so that the form is not distorted.
 
Making domes: Working with the dapping block on a sandbag will greatly reduce the volume of mallet blows. Ensure punches and blocks are clean and free of grit or the stamped metal will be marked.
 
Select the correct size of punch for the size of depression that is being used–this should also take the thickness of the metal into consideration. Disks that are too large to fit into the available dapping block can be “sunk” first–this technique uses a bossing mallet to hit just in from the edge of the disk, forcing the edges up. Support the disk on a sandbag while you are hitting it and keep rotating it to form an even line of mallet marks. Small, very curved dapped forms should be started off larger than is necessary and gradually reduced in size, working sequentially down the depressions in the dapping block. Making the dome too small too quickly will cause it to wrinkle.
 
Regular annealing will be necessary—use the change in sound quality of the mallet blows as an indicator—as a rough guide, the metal should be annealed every three or four holes.

Learn more about swaging metal jewelry making.

Photos courtesy of Quarto Publishing.

Swaging

Cylindrical punches are used to force metal down into the curved troughs of a swage block. Swaging can be used to make tubes and other cylindrical forms, and to curve metal forms in one plane. The swage block can also be used to make “D”-section wire–use a metal hammer to hit a round-section rod down into the channel of the block, taking care not to let the hammer hit the block.
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Workbench Guide to Jewelry Techniques is one of the most complete jewelry resources I’ve ever seen. This one section continues with forging, fold forming, anticlastic raising, chasing, and more metal forming techniques, with step-by-step tutorials for each. Then, in addition to nearly 100 pages of jewelry history, a gallery of design inspiration, work space and jewelry-making tool information, reference guides covering everything from gemstone types and shapes to conversion tables and measurements, a jeweler’s glossary, and information for selling and photographing your jewelry, there’s nearly 200 pages of jewelry-making techniques.
 
The techniques section covers everything an aspiring or experienced metalsmith should know. Presented through step-by-step instructions and photographs are jewelry-making techniques such as sawing and filing, piercing and embossing, soldering, creating patinas and textures, etching and carving, making clasps and findings, casting and mold making, chain making, gemstone setting, bezel making, stringing and knotting–even inlay, fold forming, and enameling! No bench or jewelry studio is complete without this incredibly thorough educational resource. And because it’s such a valuable book, we’ve bundled it with other metalsmithing resources and wooden jewelry-making tools in two special collections. Learn more about what’s in our ultimate and deluxe wooden jewelry-making tool collections and get the one that’s right for you!

 

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