Moving, Stretching, and Fold-Forming Metal, Plus How to Fabricate a Metal Leaf

The more I learn about metalwork and making metal jewelry, the more intrigued I am by how responsive it is. I seem to come across a new method or tip every week for manipulating metal–how to stretch it, to shape it without stretching it, to texture it without shaping or stretching it–but one I haven't tried before is fold forming. 


Until now! With the release of our video workshop, Basic Jewelry Fold Forming with Travis Ogden, I've gotten a great opportunity to add fold forming to my metalworking toolbox. For those of you who aren't familiar with fold forming, let's learn a little about moving metal with these tips and reminders, plus a quick fold-forming tutorial, by Helen Driggs. (Originally published in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist April 2010.)

Moving, Stretching, and Fold-Forming Metal  

  • "Steel makes jewelry metal move better, stronger, and faster than anything else." Use a steel block under metal when stamping, texturing, or forming.
  • Stretch or move? "There are two basic ways to form metal: you can stretch or compress it by deformation, or you can move it without deforming it. Anvils and blocks are usually wood, plastic, or steel, and you can use steel, wood, hide, or plastic striking tools (hammers, punches, or blocks) with them." To help you figure out which combination of tools will help you achieve the results you want, remember these two rules: steel + steel = stretch, and steel + wood, plastic, or hide = move.
  • "Metal will generally take the shape of whatever the harder surface is." If you strike metal on a wood block with a steel hammer, that metal will typically curl up toward the hammer.
  • Do the opposite: Strike curled metal on a steel block with a rawhide, wood, or plastic mallet, and the curled metal will flatten toward the steel.
  • Consequently, "If you strike a flat piece of annealed metal with a steel hammer on a flat steel block, the metal will move away from the hammer without curling up, depending on the shape of its face. The force of the strike and the shape of the hammer face determine how far and deep the metal moves."
  • "You can gently refine a curve or cupped form in metal without stretching it by using a flat wood block and a curved wood or plastic hammer on the inside of the curve or cup."

Simple Fold-Forming Exercise: Make a Metal Leaf

Now that you know how to make metal curl up, stretch out, or drape over, you're ready to capture all those fluid lines from nature in a metal leaf. Here's Helen's tutorial using a scrap of copper sheet. 


1. Start with a roughly symmetrical leaf shape. This is 24-gauge copper that was rollprinted.

2. With bare hands, bring the edges of the leaf shape together, trying to position the fold as centrally as possible.

3. With a rounded cross-peen or other forming hammer, hammer along the unfolded edge of the leaf as evenly as possible. Aim for well-spaced hammer strikes, matching the contour of the edge as closely as possible. Anneal and cool the metal on the solder block. Do not quench or pickle–moisture will cause rust to form on the anvil and hammers.

4. Flip the form to the other side and hammer another course along the unfolded edge with the cross peen. Anneal and cool as before.

5. Flip the form back to the first side you hammered. Hammer another course along the unfolded edge. You will notice the metal stretching into a very pronounced curve by the third course of hammering. Anneal and cool.

6. To expand the widest part of the leaf, hammer the fourth course along just the widest part of the shape. I leave the ridges intact for the texture, but you could planish them away with a smooth rounded planishing hammer if you wished. Anneal and cool.

7. With a small knife, open the edges of the leaf to expose the inner surface of the fold. Gently coax the leaf into a graceful shape. Pickle and gently brass brush the metal to remove excess oxides.

8. I was delighted to discover that most of the roll-printed texture on my sheet remained intact. It suggested veins to me and, along with the rippled edges of the leaf shape, appeared to be a very natural form.


Ready to see what other shapes you can coax out of a sheet of metal? Then order the DVD or instantly download Travis Ogden's new video, Basic Jewelry Fold Forming. He shares how to create dimensional, organic shapes using metal sheet and basic tools in 11 lessons, including the T-fold, quarter folds and their variations; synclastic and anticlastic folds; and more. Watch and learn along with Travis and you'll master another fun metalworking technique in no time!

About Travis Ogden: As an independent jewelry artist with over 40 years of experience, Travis holds both a BFA and an MFA. His award-winning, superbly crafted jewelry is currently represented in three Colorado galleries. He taught metalsmithing at the university level for more than 15 years and currently teaches at the Denver School of Metal Arts, which he owns along with the Naja Tool and Supply in Denver.

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