Authored by Bill Fretz
The three main areas of jewelry design are shape, color and texture.
Shape is the foundation and sets the backdrop for color and texture to add their magic. Hammer texture can be bold or subtle and is often the element that completes a piece of handmade jewelry.
Hammered or hand-wrought jewelry is appealing for its decorative quality and for revealing how the piece was made. Hammer texture is a primitive way of forming metal and also vital to the contemporary jeweler, as it conveys the process of the craftsman at work. Working a piece by hand is an aesthetic statement in contrast to work that is produced by machine or computer.
Making and keeping samples for various hammer shapes is a good way to have a reference for future designs. It will soon be obvious to the craftsman what is possible but not necessarily to your potential customers. Showing them the variety of textures with samples will give them a chance to participate in the design process and will greatly enhance their experience with custom design work.
Simply cut out a circle, dome it, and mark the hammer number on the blank for future reference. It is a good idea to buff the blank to a scratch-free surface before the texturing begins.
At Fretz®, we code our hammers to indicate their purpose. HMR-300 Series hammers are the largest. HMR-100 Series are silversmithing-sized hammers. HMR-single-digit hammers are scaled for jewelry. HMR-400 Series hammers are designed for very small projects. It is important to remember that each hammer produces two textures. Other hammer companies will also have hammers scaled for different sizes of projects.
The brass blanks are stored in plastic gem boxes to keep the textures from tarnishing and for easy presentation. I use two-inch brass circles for the larger hammers, 1-1/8″ circles for the jewelry hammers and one-inch circles for the very small hammers. The disk size helps remind the viewer that the scale of the hammer is relevant to the size of the hammer marks.
The Fretz® planishing hammers, like most brands, come in different sizes. The largest is the HMR-101; it is suitable for hollowware or larger jewelry projects. The HMR-1 is the middle size and is heavy enough for most jewelry projects. The smallest is the HMR-401; it is used for delicate bezels and fine texturing. Each hammer has a flat face with rounded edges and a domed face with rounded edges. The flatter the face, the more subtle the texture. This group of hammers will not work on concave shapes because the face will not fit into a hollow curve. The domed hammer face will leave a deeper texture and more obvious planish marks. Planishing is intended to leave even marks that overlap to refine the surface shape. The domed brass shape in the photo above was planished over a mushroom stake while the hammer struck the middle area of the stake; the metal was moved under these repetitive blows. The hammer is held very lightly, so its weight does the work.
Round and oval embossing hammers come in at least four sizes. The very large rounded HMR-301 is six-inches long and leaves a large oval mark. A hammer with ball ends would fall into the category of an embossing hammer and leave a round dimpled mark. The curvature of the hammer’s working ends will determine whether the texture is bold or subtle.
The cross-peen hammer’s faces can be broad or narrow. The broader faces will work well in a concave bracelet shape where the desired marks are meant to be minimal. As the face becomes thinner, the marks will become more pronounced. If the marks are overlapped, they will appear long and parallel, much like rippling water.
Sharp cross-peen hammers, such as the HMR-12, will give a texture similar to engraved lines. This type of hammer is intended for texturing and will not be useful for forming operations like most of the hammers discussed above.
The riveting hammer can make a superb texturing hammer for small-scale work. It may be necessary to modify the hammer so the flat face is slightly domed and the sharp cross-peen is made to have a curved face like the HMR-406 pictured above. The domed end will give a very small planish mark on rings and earrings while the cross-peen will texture a line pattern. Texturing flat metal with a flat cross-peen is not very successful, but a slightly curved end will work well without the corners catching for an uneven surface.
The HMR-21 goldsmithing hammer is like the riveting hammer but larger with a flat, round planishing end. It is possible to get an attractive line pattern with the cross-peen end. A swirling pattern is also possible. Draw a line with a thin black marker pen and follow the line with the curved cross-peen end. This is only possible because the end is curved and can follow a wandering line. Continue following your first line and the result will be hammer blows similar to Van Gogh’s brush strokes. The very small HMR-413 will give the same results but in miniature.
The HMR-14 raw silk hammer is part of a group of hammers with faces that are either raised or etched for the purpose of achieving interesting surface enrichment by striking the metal directly with the hammer face. They are dedicated to texturing and are not intended for forming. The domed face imparts the texture and the flat surface can be used to burnish the surface for a multilayered effect if desired. The hammers are best used on the final form so they will impart the most defined texture.
The round face of the first raw silk hammer could not reach into a concave or anticlastic form. A new hammer was required, and the HMR-14A was designed for these projects.
The shape is first formed with a nylon hammer over curved stakes and then textured over the same stake. This hammer applies the texture very quickly by matching one of the two faces to a concave metal surface.
The HMR-22 looks like a miniature meat tenderizer. The round flat face is for convex work and the domed hammer face is for flat metal texturing. By repeated blows the metal takes on the texture of a broken piece of sandstone.
Delicately curved textured flutes are possible with a rounded oval hammer like the narrow HMR-8. The curved profile makes both forming and the resulting texture possible over specialized stakes or by filling the form with pitch. The broader HMR-9 hammer will give different results on wider curves.
For a robust texture on a bracelet with compound curves the larger HMR-109 is a good choice. If different hammers are used for the domed shapes and the concave shapes, the marks will not match. This hammer makes it possible to do both shapes and get a uniform texture as the hammer follows the curved contours. Hammering or upsetting the edge is a good way of thickening the rim so it relates to other textured areas.
Bold texture is sometimes more effective when contrasted with smooth or lightly textured areas. For the wedding ring in the photo above, round wire was first hammered with the HMR-22 texturing hammer and then placed next to smooth half-round wire. Sometimes less is more.
One of the pleasures of jewelry is to rotate it in the hand and find unexpected designs or textures. Working the sides of a wedding ring, as shown above, can accomplish this.
The MKR-7 hammer can be used for a variety of tasks, including direct fluting of metal on a very small scale and forming metal embedded or filled with pitch. An unexpected benefit of the MKR-7 is that it makes seven really interesting textures with just one hammer. The ends are interchangeable and held with a set screw. Another “after it was designed” discovery is that you can rotate the heads and get textures in different directions while still holding the project in a comfortable position.
The warm quality of hammer textures varies by the hammer shape, the force of the blow and the size of the hammer. Hammer textures used should be scaled to the form and relate to the design by adding a handmade quality to the overall shape.
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