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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Forming Filigree with a Rawhide Hammer

Filigree is very often used in making bracelets and because it is very work hardened by the stamping process, forming the curves can be difficult. The usual tools are the mandrel of choice..you can use any hard object...I like the bracelet mandrel best because it is oval and the result can fit an arm better than a round like a pipe. The second tool I prefer is a rawhide hammer. Any soft face non metal hammer will work...metal ones will dent and flatten the stamping and that should be avoided.

First try bending the filigree over the mandrel by hand. If it forms to the curve you are good to go.This one sprang back.

Hitting it over the edge of the mandrel will give you leverage Watch your fingers..I pinched my index finger with the hammer and it hurts! Striking near the mandrel will give less and may move the metal if it is soft enough.

I was able to get it to this form which was not enough for my project.

Heating with the torch will change the color of plated goods like this copper plated piece. Use the soft end of the flame..not the blue tip. Its hard to see in this photo but the blue flame is about 2 inches from the metal while the brushy flame tip is on the metal surface. Heat until the color starts to chase around on the surface and keep the flame moving.

You can see the copper color has dulled a bit but the metal has cooled on the mandrel and is ready to form.

Again strike with the hammer and remember to reverse the piece frequently to avoid an uneven bend..bigger on one side.

You can see how much more the filigree has curved and yet the surface is still deeply rounded. If we had bent this with bail making pliers it would be all wonky and have flat areas and uneven curves...not very professional.

This thinner and smaller filigree has been formed by pushing down with both thumbs at once. But still it springs back... and because it is raw brass, it goes to the torch and is brought to red hot then quenched.

Here the color is nice and dark which will be a good contrast to the copper of the first piece

Copper peeking through the matching forms gives life to the overall concept. Before construction begins , the filigree should be finished with polishing or coloring.

I had a surprise when I tried to anneal this Tim Holtz watch face. The outer bronze plating reticulated as the cheap pot metal inside melted. This brings up one big important fact...know your materials. This is not a real watch face...they are made of very thin and often porcelain covered metal. Use small ones that don't need bending or change the design to something else.

I decided to go with a strip of leaves in three colors..riveted together. They will be formed with the rawhide hammer and mandrel to fit the first two pieces...more on this piece to come. Next time I will show how to do a real basic..a soldered bezel in brass.


  1. Can't wait to see what you do with the leaves.

  2. Harry... oh my gosh!! The same thing happened to me the other day when I tried to heat a small piece of metal...that I thought was copper plated brass. I've been writing up a blog bit about it myself. The cheap pot metal has such a low melting point...it looks like a globby mess now. I'm glad I'm not alone in this. It really does pay to know your metals and their sources.

  3. Cool. I love to see how other crafters work.

  4. Great tutorial, I have been working with the flame and the brass trying to get a rainbow effect and some turn out good and some don't so I will make sure i am using the very tip of flame, thank you!!! May I ask what you use to attach brass pcs together?

  5. Looks great, Harry. I love that leaf bracelet. Thanks once again! I have had "name brand" metal pieces break when I tried to manipulate them. It's important to buy quality like B'sue Boutiques sells.

  6. We sell the Tim Holtz components, and the watch faces are not brass. Maybe it's my time in the vintage jewelry business, but I can feel over a piece and know it's not a brass base, sort of a second sense about cast metal. I like Tim's stuff but it *is* made in China. It's about the only Chinese metal we carry. Why carry it? Because people want it, and it's well priced and nicely made. I'm not at all big into Chinese metal, I don't like it, but made an exception here. I would not put the Tim Holtz metals under a torch, as Harry discovered! LOL The rest of our metal components, which Harry uses in this blog post, are indeed brass with the best plating I can offer you, all US made from vintage tooling. ;-) If ever in doubt, feel free any time to ask me. I love what Harry does with our brass and so happy that he did this tutorial.

  7. where do you find big fillgree pieces like that?