Copper is fairly abundant and easy to mine. Copper was one of the first metals to be handcrafted into functional pieces and has a history of use going back to 2000BC. Our ancestors worked it with stone hammers on stone anvils, a process similar to what craftsmen use today. Probably the most important early discovery by our ancestral blacksmiths was that copper hardens under continuous hammering but can be softened again by annealing. This allows the craftsman to rework the copper piece until the desired hammered effect is complete.
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Selecting the best copper sheet for hammering is the first step. An ideal gauge for the beginner would be a thickness of .0216 inches, also called 24 Gauge or 16oz. The temper (or hardness) should be “soft material.” This hardness will accept the hammering marks without making you feel like a blacksmith. It will also be soft enough to form by hand. Some suppliers sell sample packs that give you the opportunity to try hammering on different thickness’ of copper.
Copper on Top
Nail your sheet of copper onto a piece of ½ inch plywood with a piece of heavy cardboard between the copper and the board. The cardboard will provide backing that will control the depth of your indentations. Using a rawhide hammer, emboss the surface of the copper with close overlapping strokes. Work your way across the sheet to create a consistent pattern.
Copper on the Bottom
Another approach is to lay a heavy towel or blanket on top of the copper. This attenuates the strike of the hammer and produces a muted impact on the copper. Try both approaches with a small ballpein hammer for yet another appearance. One of the problems with having the material on top of the copper is that you cannot see the pattern develop.
Any textured surface that is harder than the copper can be used as a background for hammering. Many artists like the effect of a concrete surface. You can lay the copper directly on the concrete, and get a distressed look or you can lay a piece of canvas between the copper and the concrete to get a less harsh rendition of the concrete. Corrugated steel plates make interesting patterns. The hammering techniques for copper are limited only by your imagination.
Repousse and Chasing
Chasing and repousse are two more advanced techniques used together in embossing. Repousse is a technique for using punches on the back of the copper sheet. This forms lines and shapes that give the copper a three-dimensional appearance when viewed from the front. Chasing is done from the front and utilises small steel tools to move the elements of a pattern along the surface of the copper.
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