What Has Your Hammer Done for You Lately? Make Fluted, Domed, Concave, and Convex Metal Designs
I often forget that hammers can do so much more than flatten metal and wire; I forget that they can move metal the other way, to literally create height, depth, curves and recesses where there were none. When used in a particular way, hammers can create three-dimensional metal shapes that look like they're either pressed, cast, or multiple pieces soldered together.
You can even turn one shape of metal into a completely different shape, just by the stretching, moving, and compressing/thinning that happens to it during hammering, by placing your hammer strokes in the right places at the right times with the right base behind the metal.
Whenever I see master metalsmith and toolmaker Bill Fretz's work, I'm amazed at the depth and three-dimensional metal jewelry he is able to build from flat metal, just by hammering. His bangles, cuffs, and pendants are stylish pieces that look like they should take days to make, not minutes. I'm continually fascinated by such work being achieved with just proper placement of metal on stakes and mandrels–and hammering the dickens out of it. And I know we all love to hammer!
Here are some of the ways I've learned from Bill to create that same kind of dimension, to build pretty fluted, domed, concave, and convex designs in metal just by hammering.
1. Hammer a round blank gently with a flat nylon hammer on a flat anvil, turning it in a circle as well as turning it over from time to time and keeping pressure on it with your other thumb and finger, to form a gentle, slight dome. Starting with slightly domed metal rather than perfectly flat metal can prevent warping from the heat if you plan to solder it or fire it in a kiln.
2. You can create a slight dome with a steel (rather than nylon) hammer, too, but be careful not to twist your hand or turn your wrist at all as you hammer; hit straight down onto the metal to avoid creating divots on it. This is important to remember for all hammering in order to avoid creating marks and texture on the metal that you don't want. (See number 4 if you do make a mistake mark.)
3. When hammering on an anvil, move the metal, not the hammer. Keep the hammer bobbing in a straight-up-and-down motion and just turn the metal piece. Hold the hammer lightly in your palm and let it bounce off the metal in a fluid motion. Hammer each blow with equal effort for uniform marks or textures. If you hammer softly most of the time and harder once in awhile, those harder blows will stand out. It might create a look you want or one you dislike–just know that it will create a different and noticeable mark.
4. After planishing with the round side of a hammer, you can refine the surface of your metal and smooth out the slight hammer marks by turning the hammer over and continuing with the flat side. Bill recommends this as a good exercise for creating better hammer control and accuracy. It is a more advanced hammering technique, because you risk errant blows creating unwelcome half-moon marks or divots on the hammered surface. If you do create a half-moon divot while you're hammering metal using the flat side of a hammer, you can turn the hammer over and use the round side to hammer it back out. Then continue refining the surface with the flat side.
You won't believe how easy it is to create the stunning three-dimensional shapes that Bill creates just by hammering the right way on stakes and mandrels. For a fun sampler of designs, many of the projects from Bill's best-selling video workshops are available now in an exciting eBook, Jewelry Making Using Hammers and Stakes: Projects and Techniques by Bill Fretz.