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More information on Embossing & Tooling Copper Foil, Brass Foil

& Aluminum Foil

a basic how-to for artists and crafters
by The Whimsie Studio craftsmen
Fine metal craft for over 25 years
 
Metal Craft Information
 
 
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Tooling 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 at left     
 
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 properties.
 
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 above)
 
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 or framing.
 
 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.
 
Photo at right: A raised copper creation - Don Quixote by L.Henke age 9
 
 
 
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.
 
 
 
 
 

Photo 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.
 
Many 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 BASIC TOOLING:
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.
 
 

 
 
 
 
EMBOSSING 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 reduce cuts.
 
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 and safer.
 

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The entire contents of this site and photographs shown herein are original and copyright protected.
(c) Copyright 2010 all rights reserved -the Whimsie Studio
 
These articles and writings are for our customers personal use only. They may not be copied or published in whole or part, in any form electronically or in print without express written permission of the authors Larry Henke & Ronald Bodoh