Today, I have been mostly hitting things with hammers

Jude asked me to make an arm ring like the ones in the Watlington hoard.

This involves tapering the ends of a silver rod. The normal modern approach to this would to be to use a rolling mill, obviously though, the Anglo-saxons didn’t have those, and neither do I (too big, too, expensive, and I don’t have room). With a rolling mill tapering the end of a 6mm wire would take less than half an hour.

I’m doing it the hard/authentic way – with a hammer.

First I cut 25cm of 6mm round wire. The length was a bit of a guess because I haven’t done this before. Also because Jude hasn’t sent me the dimensions of the original -they were pretty common though, and come in lots of sizes, they’re not so much jewellery as a convenient way of carrying currency about one’s person.

I quite enjoyed this because it’s more like proper silversmithing than jewellery making, it involves simply changing the shape of a the metal with a hammer, rather than cutting, filing, and soldering. This way the metal stays in one piece and retains all of it’s monetary value.

I used a raising hammer, which is what I normally use for raising chalices, and my small anvil to start with.

For the first pass I marked 5cm at each end of the rod and hammered it hard into a square (so once on one side, flattening it, then flipping it onto it’s side and squaring it off with another run down the same length). the rounded side of the raising hammer not only shapes, but when used against the anvil it stretches the metal a little – so this first pass stretched the 5cm to 6.

After each pass I annealed the metal to avoid breaking. with each pass I marked 5cm to be hammered, thus both stretching and tapering as I went along.

The thinner the metal became, the more each pass stretched out – so that by the time I got down to about 3mm I was stretching each 5cm section to over 7. However, the thinner it became the harder it was to hold as it really wanted to spiral round – I found this texturally fascinating, but now I want to try more of these to work out how much this was due to my lack of practice.

Once I had it reasonably thin ( I didn’t want to try and go below 1.5mm) I had to take the squareness off and make it round again.

For this I switched to a planishing hammer on a small mushroom shaped anvil. I’m using the domed anvil rather than the flat to avoid denting the metal as I hammer it, as the whole point of planishing is to take the dents out.

Btw, by this point I had stretched my 25cm of metal to a whopping 46 – far more than I’d expected. I began to suspect this arm ring might be a little bigger than I’d originally anticipated.

I always find planishing quite tiring, so I did this in two sessions. I found the most effective method was to roll the wire as I hammered, but this led to my left arm, holding the rod, getting much more tired than the right, which was doing the hammering, as it was quite a strain to hold it still. I did wonder if it might be an easier job with one person twisting and another hammering.

the first round of planishing did a pretty good job, but a second would have brought it to perfection. I decided to leave it slightly imperfect though, because I wanted to working to show a bit as this is to be an object for the handling collection.

Once it was planished I annealed it once more and began to bend it into shape. I had to hold it in the vise to twist the ends into a handclasp.

You don’t have to be an expert in geometry to notice that’s not very round, which is where this thing comes into play

It’s a big lump of metal that I don’t use that often, but when you need it, you really need it. After about 15 minutes with a mallet it began to look more like a thing.

I was aiming for about an 8cm interior diameter, and ended up with ten, which is not entirely unfeasible as it fits quite comfortably around my bicep.

And that was most of my day gone. and a lot of very loud AC/DC listened too. AC/DC is very good hammering music.

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~ by opusanglicanum on May 2, 2017.

12 Responses to “Today, I have been mostly hitting things with hammers”

  1. Just wanted to say that i LOVE reading about your embroidery, shirts, cats, and as i learned today, appropriate hammering music, & your observations thereof.

    You rock!
    Greetings from a Dutch girl in Sweden (:

  2. That ring looks beautiful!

    I have one question though: what does anneal mean? I never encountered this word and my english dictionary is not really helpful. Also, I only know very little about any kind of smithing.

  3. What a fascinating post! It does seem reasonable that they might have worked something like that in pairs. It would be possible to be more precise in controlling the metal if you weren’t also hammering it, I would think!
    I wonder what Anglo-Saxons hammered to? Songs from the Sagas?

  4. A day of hitting things with hammers would be excellent for mental health, me thinks. 😀

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