Lately, physical exhaustion comes over me quickly and without warning, like summer thunderstorms in Maryland. I hear it’s a common symptom of being a pregnant version of oneself, yet this feels rather different from regular fatigue. It doesn’t build up over a day’s hard work; it doesn’t culminate as muscle pains or mental zombie-ism. Instead, it swiftly voids. One moment, I’ll be functioning on what feels like full energy reserves. Then a breath later, the strength will recede like draining water. I’ll feel breathless. I’ll have to sit down. Sometimes, I’ll find myself waking up from unintended naps!
This new need for breaks snuck up on me midway into Michael’s Creative Metalworks Studio Spring Semester, when I was practicing anticlastic raising by working a square of copper into a hyperbolic paraboloid. (It looked so straightforward in pictures!) There I sat in frustrated determination, hammering away the first hour of class over a sinusoidal stake, when my stamina shakily dropped its arms, wheezed “I’m done!” and shuffled out, rendering me useless for the remaining two hours. I mean, at first I tried to inconspicuously wander the studio under the pretense of checking out people’s projects, but that only made them suspicious that I wasn’t contributing to making noise. Seeking to project purpose, I grabbed a textbook from Michael’s shelves and settled into absorbing it: Creative Metal Forming.
You guys, if I felt rich enough to supply my home studio with tools for anticlastic and synclastic raising, this book would be mine. First of all, it’s got sexy photos of sexy metal shapes (like the Rockpot by Cynthia Eid. Droool. I waaant one). Second, it features an extensive progression of exercises with demonstration images and detailed instructions. Third, did I mention the sexy metal shapes?
One of the book’s exercises promised straightforward assembly and minimal hammering – a welcome project to circumvent my swift fatigue. The authors called it a “simple lentiform”, which I think we can refer to as “making a bead out of domed disks”. I decided to incorporate the exercise into a pendant design: a bronze top with a pierced off-center sun; a copper bottom, for color contrast; potential last minute addition of a bezeled moonstone cabochon as the sun’s core; and a to-be-decided bail. At this point, I’m 6-8 hours into the project, and so far – so good. As usual, I’ve walked into a couple of unexpected setbacks. In contrast to my prior endeavors at Michael’s studio, I was able to address these without feeling like the work was getting away from me. Here are some of the highlights.
Michael’s studio is full of tools, and he always seems to have at least three options ready to achieve any particular result. For example, I needed to dome a disk that was too large to fit into any of the standard dapping blocks, so my choices were: a) chasing the metal over a steel ball; b) synclastic forming into a domed indent, formed on the spot in some pine wood block; c) using the hydraulic press (to which I was like, “Isn’t that super cheating?!” And apparently, it is. Just really really cool cheating).
For this instance, I chose to play with Michael’s extensive collection of dapping blocks, standard dapping punches, and huge steel balls on large screws that perform as non-standard dapping punches.
When using the standard punches with the smaller top disk of the pendant, I worked with a ball peen hammer (large and hefty, they are designated for hitting other steel tools). When synclastically raising the larger bottom disk of the pendant over a steel ball, I used a chasing hammer to dome the metal. (Since this type of hammer is used in application directly on pieces of softer metals – copper, silver, gold – it must have a smooth surface without marring. In other words, never hit steel with a chasing hammer).
Breaking the Sun Dome, Twice
I started this project at home. I’ve cut out the disks from flat sheets, and pierced out the sun design. But I had not prepped them for forming – I was yet to anneal them. In that state, I brought the disks to Michael for approval and best approaches to doming. So when Michael set the sun disk into a dapping block and punched it, I wasn’t surprised to hear a “well, f***”. The bronze was too brittle to take the pressure – and one of the rays broke.
Now, I think that my visual design choice contributed to the break. When the dapping punch was hit directly down, the force applied didn’t stretch the “sun” in the design; that’s because the sun’s core is off-center, at an angle. Instead, dead center was the connection of the sun to the ill-fated ray. No wonder it broke.
Michael remedied the break quickly and efficiently. After an annealing session, he used a riveting hammer to stretch the bronze from the base of the ray, elongating it until it once again connected to the sun. (In the left portion of the photo below, you can see the ray soldered back).
Except, I wanted the dome of the disk to be fuller. And I wanted to use the dapping block for myself. So I did. I was good apprentice about it too – I started with the largest diameter recess, and annealed almost every three applications of force. Nonetheless – Dum DUM DUM! – I still broke the damn ray in the same exact spot. In addition, it got inexplicably misaligned!
To correct the break and the left tilt, I adjusted the technique Michael showed me; I took care to stretch the metal more along the left edge of the ray, as this pointed it back toward the right. (I admit that I learnt this best while slaving on that hyperbolic paraboloid. And that it feels pretty awesome to have the skill to fix a break like that).
Once fixed and sanded to a flat bottom, the sun disk revealed another issue – in dapping the dome deeper, I had also made the sun design oval. Eek! I hope I can remedy this by filing the ray ends rounder.
Also, a thing to try out in the future – FIRST dome the disk, THEN pierce out the shape? Maybe that’s doable, and would keep the metal structurally sound during forming.
Deadly Cute Bezel for the Moonstone
*Boasting Warning* I totally conquered making a bezel for the moonstone cabochon. It rocked, I rocked, let me make five more!
I formed the bezel wall with a strip of silver that was taller than the stone. To make it functional, I needed to cut it down to 4mm. One approach would have been to sand the wall shorter, either on a sanding belt or just some coarse sanding paper. A way cooler approach was to just… saw it in half. Wait wait, you say, won’t the sawing alter the shape of the bezel? And how will you even hold such a tiny thing steady while sawing?
Ta-DA!! You use a wooden rod for support! (*Blissful sigh*. Don’t know about you, but that answer totally blew my mind).
And look at how tiny and cute the resulting bezel is! It’s so round! And shiny! Since this project called for an open backed bezel, I pierced out most of the bottom with a jeweler’s saw and then used a diamond burr attachment on the flex shaft to smooth out a round shape. I then used shears to remove the majority of the square edges; shaved down the irregularities using a cuttle sanding disk; and finished the outside with s fine needle file.
I basically love it – it’s my first small bezel and it’s beautiful. I am soo excited to work it into the domed sun disk!