What Is Planishing?

Written by tyler lacoma
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What Is Planishing?
Planished decorative object, courtesy chestofbooks.com

Planishing is the process of tapping metal into specific shapes with a hammer. This requires specially formed hammers and sometimes a planishing stake topped with a metal sphere to help guide the metal being hammered. Planishing was used in medieval times to round suits of armour, and is a popular current method to produce ironwork decorative objects and handcrafted jewellery.

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Definition

Planishing is a metal art used to form metals by tapping them with a hammer. Planishing does not create new metals, but uses existing metals that are soft enough to be hammered into shapes, designs and textures. Planishing is a fairly complicated procedure requiring time and skill to complete successfully, depending on what is being created.

History

Planishing grew in popularity in the medieval ages as a process for making metal-plate armour and shields. The technique was used to dent in sharp corners of the metal or smooth raised portions. For the more artistic sets of armour, planishing was used to cover up hammer marks; while for pieces such as helmets, planishing tapped out the rougher angles, curving the metal on the inside of the helmet and smoothing the outside to give it a more finished look.

When smoothing rounded surfaces like this, blacksmiths would use a metal ball of a specific size to set the surface on, so the metal would form around the ball and be moulded into a round shape. This practice is still used among those who create modern suits of armour.

Current Uses

Planishing is currently used to create jewellery and "antique-style" decorative objects such as lamps, bowls and plates. Lamps can be tapped into specific designs, and planishing can give plate edges a particular look depending on which tools are used. Planishing is also used to create metal jewellery, where the metal is handcrafted into particular shapes rather than pressed into a mould.

What Is Planishing?
Planished decorative object, courtesy chestofbooks.com

Tools

Many types of hammers are used when planishing, although a specific planishing hammer exists for the most delicate work. Large mallets are used for suits of armour, while smaller versions are used to tap out the hammer marks the mallets cause. Other planishing hammers may have circular or square ends, designed to give the metal a particular look or allow blacksmiths to create designs more easily.

Some planishing techniques use the ball end of a normal hammer to produce certain effects, while others have a slightly curved surface. The ball that the metal is balanced on while being planished is referred to as a planishing stake. Modern planishing systems may even have foot cranks that operate a small hammer while the blacksmith draws the metal through in a process similar to sewing.

Materials

Typically, sheet metal is required for large-scale planishing. Iron is often used when creating lamps or bowls, and when planishing jewellery, softer metals are usually involved, such as silver. Most natural metals can be planished, while alloys such as steel are more difficult to planish because of their resistance.

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