Lessons learned in jewelry class came fast and furious. Previously, I'd had teachers who slowly taught the skills and kept all practice pieces very simple, with little patience for a student who wanted more. The college level class was another thing entirely. Just amazing.
One of our first lessons was in forging. I went in thinking we would be shaping sheet or hammering texture, not at all realizing how specific the term was.
Forging is the thinning and elongating of metal by hammering it with a narrow edge of a hammer. Initially I thought it was a very limited idea- one could create tapers and give them a bit of a turn. However, it's amazing how often the technique comes in handy. You take a round piece of wire and hammer crossways from where you want the thickness to begin tapering to the end or where you want the taper to increase to. Then you turn it one quarter turn and do the same along the same area. This results in a square and slightly thinner cross section to the hammered wire. Then you planish away the marks and round the wire again with the flat side of the hammer. Anneal, move down a bit and repeat the process.
It can be a bit tricky to keep the squaring even, sometimes the wire will squash and you need to resquare with the hammer or file away angles that are too acute. It's easiest to start with a very thick wire-the copper in the dragonfly piece is about 8 guage. I worked the softer, more delicate silver later, once I was used to the process. It takes some time and patience, annealing and pickling when the metal won't move any more.
A side effect I found in working the copper so hard was the discoloration. I love it! All the handling and annealing gave it a dark, weathered look. A wonderful contrast with the brightness of the silver.
The most fun I had was creating a blade of grass and the delicate body of the dragonfly. Tapering here and flattening there to create dynamic shapes.
I quickly got a new forging hammer, the one above, that still needs a name. It quickly became one of my favorites, with a convenient place just over the bench. And I use it all the time for very basic things. As we get to know each other better, I'll probably grind down the hammer's edges a little to make it friendlier to my finished pieces. For now I'm getting to know it, as is, and appreciating it's roughness and angles.
Before, I made a mess of filings trying to get a nice taper for accenting. This is much more conservative of the metal in a piece.
It's not always the perfect solution, for example on the Dragonfly's wings, I went with piercing and light hammering instead. This was the original idea:
I had very thick sheet and loved the idea of hammering it down to thin enough to be dragonfly wings. I hammered an awful lot and still felt way to heavy to begin. Thinning sheet is something I've yet to do really successfully. I've heard recommendation of using a rolling mill to apply even pressure. But I'll inevitably try with the forging hammer. Sometime when my eardrums are feeling very strong.
Still, the forged lines were very expressive and moving the metal extremely satisfying. I think it offers much better control of the taper and it makes measuring a piece, for example a ring, much easier. The result feels very raw and can be very delicate at the same time. Flattening parts or all of the forged element gives you room to drill holes and add elements with solder.