Information on Copper Tooling Foil Art

Updated April 17, 2017

Tooling copper foil to produce art and decorated surfaces is an ancient practice used since the bronze age. The metal is favoured as it's much more inexpensive than gold. Various techniques and tools are used to form and work thin sheets of copper. Manipulated copper foil has been used throughout history and across many cultures to make utilitarian and ornamental objects. The tooled metal foil has been traditionally been used to make jewellery, architectural panels and two and three-dimensional artwork for display.

Copper Foil

Copper is sold as thin 36 gauge or 5-millimeter thick foil in sheets and rolls to be used for crafting. The foil is much thicker and stronger than the aluminium foil commonly found in kitchens. Copper is a popular metal choice for tooling as it is soft and easily worked with hand tools. The metal lends itself readily to shaping and can be cut with scissors or a utility knife to any size. The foil is often heat tempered for extra strength and durability.


Many different tools are used to work the surface of the copper foil. Small metal hammers and rubber or wooden mallets are used for striking punches or stamps into the metal. The stamps leave impressions while punches and piercing tools produce holes in the metal as in a pie safe. Tools with little metal wheels are rolled around on the copper foil to make dot patterns and wavy or straight lines. Many different objects and tools are used for drawing, burnishing and incising designs on and into the metal.

Copper Relief

Copper reliefs are made by placing the foil face down on a soft surface and pressing down with a stylus or other blunt tool to draw designs and patterns. A ball peen hammer can be used to gently pound out the drawn design in a technique known as repousse, a French term meaning "pushed up." A rounded or blunt tool is used to prevent cutting or the copper. The impressed design shows through on the opposite side as a raised or high relief design.


The completed piece of tooled copper foil art can be further decorated with painting or staining. Prepared patinas applied to the foil darken it and impart an antique look to the copper. Buffing out the upraised highlights with steel wool or an abrasive pad adds to the look. Often the concave back of the foil is filled in with plaster for extra stiffness and stability. The copper foil art is then ready to be framed and displayed.

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