Dimensional Metalsmithing: How to Make Tubes, Spiculums, Synclastic & Anticlastic Forms

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing our readers and friends take on new and more challenging jewelry-making techniques–and your excitement when you surprise yourselves by creating artistic metal jewelry. Many of you have shared that you’ve moved from basic techniques to more advanced ones, including wirework, metalsmithing, soldering, enameling, even mokume gane–and vice versa. I have a friend who is a masterful enamel and metal clay artist who recently asked me how to finish a necklace with end caps and crimp beads. There’s always something to learn, no matter how much we already know. So are you ready for a challenge?

Metalsmithing Challenge Accepted!

Master metalsmith Andrea Harvin-Kennington created a video on forming advanced dimensional shapes in metal using hammers and stakes. In Shell Forming for Jewelry Making with Hammers and Stakes, you’ll learn the steps for turning flat metal sheet into dimensional metal masterpieces like tapered hollow tubes or spiculums, synclastic (sunken) and anticlastic (raised) shapes, fluted designs like realistic-looking metal leaves or feathers, and more using careful hammering-on-stakes techniques.
metalsmithing: how to create dimensional and hollow forms

What Is Shell Forming?

Shell forming is a metal fabrication process developed by Heikki Seppä, a Finnish American master metalsmith, and explained in his book, Form Emphasis for Metalsmiths, published nearly 40 years ago. In the book, Seppä explains, “The word shell means the outer skin of any form. The shell form is never solid. It begins as a flat shape, but through the shell-structuring technique, it evolves into a three-dimensional object and finally into a hollow structure.” In Andrea’s videos, you’ll see how to follow nature’s lead and turn flat metal into a three-dimensional object and, as Seppä explains, how to continue to a hollow structure.

In addition to the shells we are familiar with finding on the seashore, consider the shells of many natural things we encounter in everyday life–an egg’s smooth shell, a turtle’s lumpy shell, a snail’s spiral shell, a walnut’s wrinkled shell. All of these “shells” can be inspiring forms to a metalsmith when pulling curved shapes from flat metal. Shell forming metal allows you to turn a relatively hard, solid sheet of metal into something that looks soft, curving, flowing, ethereal, even liquid.

Beyond Shell Forming

In Andrea’s video, you learn to understand and take advantage of metal’s malleability and the working relationship between hard and soft tools and forms–either hard steel tools and relatively soft wooden or nylon forms (stakes and mandrels) or hard steel stakes and mandrels with relatively soft nylon or wooden mallets. She even demonstrates how to make your own metalsmithing forms out of wood and alter them with hammers and files, as well as how to use your hammers in a vise like stakes. Once you understand this relationship and master the techniques for creating spiculums (tapered tubes), synclastic and anticlastic forms, you’ll be able to craft basically any three-dimensional form in metal that isn’t comprised of flat planes–and most of the world is not flat!

What is a Spiculum?

According to Andrea’s video tutorial, spiculum comes from the Latin word spiculae, which means “a tapered hollow tube.” The beauty of using spiculums in metalsmithing is that you can create considerable volume in a design, in a cuff or necklace for example, that also packs considerable impact–but without the considerable weight or considerable cost in materials. Forming simple metal sheet into these stylistic tapered hollow tubes allows you to make a statement with your skill and craftsmanship, not how much you spent on the materials used in a piece, so it’s also a great way to get more bang for your buck when working with metal sheet. Similarly, synclastic and anticlastic forms also pack quite a punch, volume-wise and design-wise, in jewelry creations.

But creating spiculums is just one of the ways that shell forming helps us create more interesting, unique, lively metalwork–and wouldn’t we all like to do that? Andrea, who holds an MFA in metal design, says in her video that every metalsmith should know how to pull metal from a flat nondimensional piece into three dimensions, because it makes for more interesting jewelry. Seppä also wrote that in metalsmithing, artists must create “forms that are inherently freer.”

Free your metal jewelry designs and take the leap from basic jewelry making and introductory metalsmithing to advanced metal forming. Your jewelry designs will burst to life with flowing curvilinear lines, interesting depths, and eye-catching spirals and curls. Get Metalsmithing Essentials: Shell Forming for Jewelry Making with Hammers and Stakes and learn to enhance your metalsmithing designs using some of the most important tools in a metalsmith’s studio.

Download this Metalsmithing Essentials video today!



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