in Copper, Brass, & Aluminum
Tooling is the process
of creating designs in sheet metal by emboss drawing, stamping,
denting, piercing, rub-transferring, folding and hammering.
- The standard thickness
for this is 36 gauge - 5mil sheet metal which is several times
thicker & stronger than household foil. 37 & 38 Gauge
is often used and is slightly thinner.
- These foils are available
in Copper, Brass & Aluminum. They are the traditional thin
sheet metal for Tooling, Embossing & fine craft work.
- This solid raw metal sheeting
has a satin surface that can be finished as desired.
- This highly pure soft metal takes detailed
impressions from tools, easily cuts with a scissors & can
be drawn on, embossed or stamped to create raised designs.(photo
- Copper has been a metal
of choice since the bronze age as it is soft and stretchable,
it takes impressions well and is less expensive than the other
soft metals such as gold and silver which have similar tooling
- Brass which is an alloy of copper and
zinc which, while being a bit stiffer, tools well, is more tarnish
resistant and has a wonderful golden color.
- Aluminum is a newer addition to the tooling
metals. Even though it can be very soft it doesn't stretch as
much as copper but works well if care is taken.
- The easiest metals to
hand tool are thin and conform to shaping and embossing with
little force. The most common thickness is .005 thick also known
as 5Mil or 36 gauge. It cuts easily with a scissors or utility knife.
Of course, thicker metals can also be tooled with the use of
greater force, mechanical presses, etc.
- The 36 gauge is much
thicker and stronger than household foil. Standard household
foil is more than 7 times thinner at .0007 inches thick. Tooling
metal is also soft and workable, less brittle.
- Stiff metal
gives the illusion of being thicker as it is instinctive to think
metal that bends less is thicker. Bending has more to do with
what metal it is and the- or softness and hardness (temper) of
a metal than the metal thickness. Our Aluminum and Copper tooling
metal is the softest. Brass tooling metal is slightly stiffer
and a piece of this feels thicker even though it is the same
thickness as the copper and aluminum.
- Tooling metal is shipped
in a roll. If necessary ripples or curves can be flattened by
rolling it with a smooth rolling pin or plastic pipe section
on a completely smooth surface such as a countertop or glass
table. The tube we ship our craft metal in works well too!
- Drawing into the metal can be done to
create a impressed design which becomes a raised design on the
other side. This is done by placing the metal on a soft surface
such as a foam or rubber sheet or a stack of newspapers and firmly
'drawing' into the metal with a blunt tool or or 'stylus'. (shown
- The pointed
and blunt stylus shown are for drawing, the flat spatulas Shown
are for flattening and the curved tool ends are for raising metal.
- The capped end of a ball
point pen works well to start with. A bit of experimentation
with technique, different styli and pressures will yield and
infinite variety of results. Drawing tools should be blunt so
as not to cut through the metal. Such designs on copper are also
referred to as "Copper Relief". See below for step by step instructions
- Hint: Rubbing
wax paper lightly across the back side of tooling metal will
make tools glide more smoothly when tooling from the back of
a piece. This is especially helpful when doing fine drawing.
Don't do it on the front as it will affect the finishing or patina
of a piece.
- The finished piece can
be easily colored or darkened with prepared patinas. A similar
effect can obtained with paint or stain that has been brushed
on and then wiped off. Subsequent
buffing of the high lights with an abrasive pad can give and
'antique' look. Work in thin foil can easily be cut and trimmed
with a scissors or utility knife in preparation for mounting
- As a piece is worked
it will become stiffer. High relief that may be easily dented
was traditionally filled with plaster or pitch from the back.
A nice modern substitute is hot melt glue. Even Wax will work
if it is not placed in the sun or a hot place. Acrylic paint
poured thickly or in several layers on the back and allowed to
dry for days works well and is a great way to use up scrap paint.
at right: A raised copper creation - Don Quixote by L.Henke age
- Stamping, punching and piercing are similar
techniques in that they all involve striking a tool against the
metal with a mallet or hammer. Stamping leaves only and impression
while punching and piercing leave a hole. The most familiar manufactured
stamps for metal are for impressing numbers and letters. With
a little searching, tools that will create many shapes and designs
can easily be improvised from objects around the home or garage.
Early American lanterns, boxes and pie safes had intricate stamped
and pierced designs created using only a screw driver and awl.
Again, experimentation will yield a wealth of possibilities.
at left: Steel number stamping. (Stamp set shown in first photo)
- Rub-transferring is a
great way to add a texture or an image to the tooling metal.
For example the image of a coin placed under the copper sheet
can be transferred by rubbing or burnishing the metal over the
coin with a rounded tool (the pen cap works well here as well).
Raised images and textures can be found everywhere around the
house and in nature. The amount of pressure required to obtain
a successful transfer will depend on the fineness of the individual
image or texture that you are transferring.
crafters create original drawings trace and and emboss it into
the metal. But designs and textures can be rubbed from many ready
available things. We have heard of rubbing a rubber stamp design
or leaves & plants placed underneath. Even a silhouette cut
out of tag board can be transferred. Or a photo can easily be
traced with a pointy stylus by placing it atop a tooling metal
with a pad below. Then detail can be added to the picture afterwards
with other tools and transferred textures by rubbing the metal
atop textures such as burlap or sandpaper.
- Folding is another possibility
for creating lines or creases in tooling metal. It is possible
to recreate simpler origami designs in copper foil. Sharp creases
or folds have to be rubbed, hammered or burnished along the fold.
- Hammering or Repousse (pronounced rep-o-zay)
is the process of repeatedly denting the metal with a dome shaped
hammer from the back in order to created a shape in high relief.
Hammering can be used to some degree on thinner metal but care
has to be taken as too much working makes the metal hard , brittle
and likely to perforate. The pebble-like texture from repeated
hammer blows can be burnished out by forcefully rubbing it with
a hard rounded object. A small wooden ball or knob works well.
Thicker metal is used on larger pieces and can withstand a
lot of hammering. Once the thick metal becomes brittle, it is
heated to red hot and quenched (this is called annealing). The
statue of liberty is one of the most famous examples of this
and is comprised of many French Repousse components riveted to
a steel frame.
- STEP BY STEP
- 1) place tooling
metal on a pad or stack of news papers.
- 2) place pattern
(if any) on top and trace outline of design. (tape if necessary
to hold pattern in place)
- 3) remove pattern
and turn over the metal on pad.
- 4) Raise inside
the design starting from the edge and working inward. This stretches
the metal out from the back. Best done with rounded blunt tools,
then use whatever tool gives the texture desired.
- 5) Turn metal
over again and flatten background down by starting with the edge
of the design working outwards.
- 6) Mount, frame
and finish piece as you wish.
METAL WITH CHILDREN:
- PLEASE USE
CAUTION when using raw metal especially around children. The
sharp edges can cut . (much as a paper cut) Wearing gloves will
- We do not
sanction the use of these metals with children. By nature these
metals could not be offered any other way.The metals are created
& packaged for adult crafts persons and not sold as "kids
safe". If you have doubts please use heavy household foil,
which although is several times thinner than our foil is inexpensive