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Art Metalcraft

( Originally Published 1932 )

The object of this chapter is to give the reader a working knowledge of the basic steps encountered when working metal into various objects other than jewelry. It is really a continuation of the chapter on jewelry making, as the tools, apparatus, and materials are much the same. Many of the steps in the work are also alike, and when this occurs, they will not be discussed in detail here, but simply a reference made to them in the jewelry chapter.

For this reason, the preceding chapter should be carefully read and completely mastered before undertaking the making of the articles given here. Even though the reader may not be interested in making jewelry, she should read the chapter, and acquaint herself with it before attempting art metalcraft.

Book ends, desk sets, ash and pin trays, boxes, candlesticks, tongs, kettles, and many other beautiful and useful objects can be made in metal. While instructions cannot be given in one chapter for making all these articles, practically every step necessary for their construction will be discussed.

To accomplish this, three objects have been chosen which embrace most of the operations used in any metal work. When the construction of these has been thoroughly mastered, together with those given in the jewelry chapter, any girl should be able to create from metal practically anything her heart desires.

The instruction objects chosen for this chapter consist of book ends, ash or pin trays, and an etched letter opener. They will be considered in the order named.


The book ends shown here are worked up in a combination of brass and copper. The usual drawing of the design is made and is then traced on the metal. (See pages 189, 193—Art Metal Jewelry.) Obtain a piece of twenty gauge brass, measuring six and a half inches wide and eight inches long, lay your drawing on it with graphite paper between it and the brass, and trace the outline. This is shown in Figure 48, A. The areas shown in black are removed. This is done with the saw assisted by holes made with the hand drill. When completed, the entire surface is planished with a ball-pein hammer. Both the sawing and planishing work are fully explained on pages 192 and 198 in the preceding chapter on "Art Metal Jewelry." When completed.

At this time, all its edges should be filed smooth and round, and the entire surface scrubbed with No. 00 emery cloth. This completes the design. As can be seen, this type of book end consists of a single sheet of metal which has a portion of it bent at right angles to form the base on which it stands.

Sixteen gauge, sheet-copper is used for this piece. Obtain a sheet seven inches wide and twelve and a quarter inches long. Four inches from one end, draw a line across it, as shown in Figure 48 C. Later on in the work this is bent to form the base, while the de-sign is riveted on the larger part.

Center the design piece on this larger part now, placing its straight edge along the line just drawn. If the copper sheet has been cut the right length, a quarter of an inch of it should extend beyond the design and have the same extension on both sides of it at its widest point. When in this position, trace the outline of the design on the copper with any sharp instrument.

Another outline a quarter of an inch larger is now drawn around this first one. The copper is cut along the larger of these two outlines. Its entire surface is now planished with the ball-pein hammer. When doing this, make fewer and larger hammer marks than was done on the design. This gives an interesting contrast between the two metals.

When the planishing is finished, file all edges smooth and polish in the usual manner. The design is now attached with rivets. These may be purchased in iron, brass, or copper from your nearest hardware dealer. They come in a number of sizes and lengths. Their size is measured by the diameter of the head, while the length is measured from under the head to the end of the stem. On our book ends, we use brass rivets.

Holes must first be drilled in the design piece. Their positions are shown in Figure 48, E in black. When these eight holes have been drilled, the burr, or rough edges of the metal left by the drill, should be removed with a countersink or a small round file. The design is again placed in position on the copper sheet, and the location of the rivet holes marked on it. Drill the center-bottom hole in the copper, but do not make the other holes at this time. These are made later.

The diameter of your drill holes is now measured, and brass rivets obtained to fit them. Drop one of the rivets into the bottom-center hole when the design is in place on the copper sheet. The head of the rivet must be on the right side of the book end. Holding the design and the copper sheet tightly together, cut the stem of the rivet with a pair of nippers or cutting pliers, so that about a sixteenth of an inch projects through the reverse side of the copper.

Fold a cloth on your bench and place the anvil beneath it. Turn the metal over on this, so that the head of the rivet rests on the cloth. With your hammer, flatten the stem of the rivet until it becomes tight and draws the two pieces of metal together. The cloth will prevent any scratching on the surface of the de-sign.

Turn the work over, straighten the design on the copper sheet, bore the top hole by placing the drill point through the hole in the design, and rivet. Each of the remaining six holes are now bored and riveted in the same manner.

All the holes are not drilled at the same time be-cause of the possibility of error. The holes in the de-sign and those in the copper piece must coincide perfectly or the rivets will not fall in place. For this reason, the beginner should follow the method suggested here. The base is now bent at right angles. Use your mallet for this. The second book end is now made in the same manner, and our project is completed. They may be polished in the usual manner any copper or brass is cleaned. It will be seen a suggested way of bending the book end over the edge of a table. When using them, place books over the turned-up base part.


In making the pin tray, a drawing showing the de-sign, as well as the desired contour of the finished piece, is first made. Such a drawing is shown in Figure 49, A. At the right will be seen a top view of our tray showing the design with which we wish to decorate it. The two drawings at the left of this require a little explaining. At the top is a drawing of the side view of the tray as it would appear if cut in half. The curvature is a question of choice on the part of the designer. The part blocked out in black represents the tray.

In work of this nature, it is best for the beginner to make a template of her desired curve. A template is merely a guide by which the curve of the tray may be tested when the work is in progress. From the top drawing, cut away the part shown in black and discard. Trace the remaining piece with its curve on stiff cardboard, cut its outline, and a piece similar to the bottom drawing will result. This is the template.

By holding it against the bottom of the tray while it is being bent to proper form, we can test the correctness of our work at a glance. The curve of our tray must coincide at all points with the curve of our template, when it is placed against the bottom in any direction.

To determine the necessary size of the original sheet of metal, we must first decide how wide we wish our tray and how high its side. This width plus the height of both sides gives the approximate width of the metal sheet. For example, let us say we wish our tray to be two inches wide and have one-inch-high sides. We must then add one inch (side) plus two inches (width) plus one inch (side), which would make our metal four inches wide. In this case, our metal should be four inches square.

Our ash trays may be made from twenty gauge sheet-copper, brass, silver, pewter, or German silver. Obtain a square piece the desired size and draw a circle on it as shown in Figure 49, B. The parts shown in black are now cut away, and the entire piece planished with a ball-pein hammer.

In hammering up from a flat sheet of metal any particular shape, it is necessary to obtain or make a block on which this work may be accomplished. Such a block is shown in Figure 49, D. A shallow cavity is gouged out of it, as shown, as near the form of the desired tray as possible. Such a block can be easily made by cutting a six-inch-thick piece from the end of a log. The cavity should always be made on the end grain of the wood. The process is usually done with the ball-pein hammer, but the beginner would do bet-ter to use her wooden mallet. The latter is used to eliminate all danger of marring the metal.

Hold the metal disk over the cavity in the block and deliver light blows on it—moving the disk around as the tapping continues, as shown in Figure 49, E. Care must be taken, as the edge gets wavy, to see that no overlaps occur in it, which might result in a crack along the edge. Test occasionally with the template, and when the proper curvature has been obtained, remove it from the block and file its edge round and smooth. We are now ready to make our design on the tray.

This is a combination of chasing and repoussé work. The latter is first done, and a small block of hard wood, no larger than the bottom of our tray, is needed for this operation. Note that the end grain of the wood is used as the working surface. Such a block can also be made by melting lead to the desired shape.

Trace the design on the bottom of the tray. The five small balls are raised by using dapping tool "C" shown in Figure 46 in the preceding chapter, "Art Metal Jewelry," This is repoussé work, and must therefore be done on the reverse side of our tray. Both repoussé and chasing work are thoroughly discussed in "Art Metal Jewelry." When raised to proper height, the balance of the design is done by chasing.

The chasing of our design must be done on our steel block, or anvil, and the design must be traced on the inside of the tray before work is started. A careful study of the design will show that the connecting lines between the four small balls, as well as the two outer circles, are all made with the same tool. This is chasing tool "Art etal Jewelry." Place the tray on the steel block, as shown in Figure 50, B and chase these connecting lines and circles.

Chasing tool "G" is used to accentuate the round balls, while the stippling around them and the inside of the smaller circle is done with chasing tool "E," both of which appear in Figure 46 of "Art Metal Jewelry." A scrubbing with No. 00 emery cloth, and the usual polishing finishes our tray.

There are three popular methods of producing de-signs on metal surfaces—repoussé, chasing, and etching. The first two of these have already been explained in our chapter on "Art Metal Jewelry," and we are now ready to consider the third.

Etching on metal is done by employing an acid which will bite lines and areas in the surface. To guard the portions of the surface which are not to be etched, a substance which resists the acid is used. This is called a "ground."

A simple letter knife is used for instruction purposes. The usual drawing is made and traced on a piece of sheet-copper or brass. The parts shown in black are now cut away. With a flat file smooth all edges—rounding those of the handle and tapering to a sharp edge those of the blade.

Clean the knife thoroughly, which prepares it for the "ground." For this purpose, a small amount of "Asphaltum" in liquid form should be purchased. With a small brush, apply it over the entire knife, except the design, which must be left "open's ready for the acid.

The result of this method of painting the "ground" will be to lower the design in the surface. If the opposite effect is desired, which will leave the design raised above the surface, only the design should be painted with the asphaltum. The acid will then eat away the main surface of the knife and leave the de-sign in relief. These two methods of producing the design are largely a matter of choice on the part of the worker.

WARNING.-The handling and use of any acids is dangerous, and the writer cannot stress greatly enough his warning to those using them. Before handling even the bottle, obtain and wear a pair of rubber gloves, which can be purchased at any five-and-ten-cent store. Keep it away from all parts of the skin and eyes.

Nitric acid is used for our etching. A solution of thirty percent acid and seventy percent water will serve, although if deep etching is desired, a fifty-fifty mixture can be used. Place the solution in a glass, agate, or china container large enough to allow the knife to be submerged.

Tie a string around the blade and another around the handle, and holding them in one hand, submerge the knife in the solution. With a small feather, brush away the small bubbles which will appear over the parts being eaten by the acid. If this is not done, these bubbles will prevent the acid from reaching the metal.

Hold the knife in the bath until the acid has eaten as deeply as you desire. When this has been accomplished, remove and rinse in clear water. A little varnish remover or turpentine is now used to remove the asphaltum. The knife should have the appearance shown in Figure 51, E when completed this far.

The surfaces which have been eaten by the acid are now stippled with the chasing tool "E" shown in Figure 46 of "Art Metal Jewelry," page 217. Note this in Figure 51, F. When this is completed, the connecting lines of the design are made with the chasing tool "J," and the stippling tool "E" is again used to continue them, as shown in Figure 51, G. The small balls of the design are now made with the chasing tool "F," and any other designing desired should be done at this time.

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