As I mentioned in my previous publication of December 2014, my Russian art student Olga returned to Portugal past December to participate in yet another workshop.
After her very successful results in jewelry making during her previous workshop (see my post of august 2014), Olga’s goal this time was to learn some of the basic techniques in the great art of the silversmith handicraft.
The objective of this workshop:
To manufacture an ornamental pillbox of cylindrical shape, 5 cm x 3,5 cm. The pillbox will be made out of copper which for beginners is easier to handle than silver.
We start with the manufacturing of the ornamental lid:
The sawn-out round copper plate has been annealed in order to soften the metal.
Then the design of the ornaments has been applied.
After that, the copper plate has been fixed to chaser patch to secure it tightly and, at the same time, to allow the metal to be manipulated without deformation.
Then the embossing work can start:
Using special embossing punches of different sizes and shapes the ornaments are hammered into the copper, starting with the backside of the design.
Once the negative shapes are completed, the copper plate is removed from the chaser patch, again annealed to soften the metal and then re-fixed to the chaser patch with the positive side up.
Then, the planishing work starts in order to fine-shape the half-round ornaments and flatten the base part of the copper plate. After a very time-intensive work the first part of the lid is finished.
The next step is the manufacturing of the lid’s rim:
A copper strap has been sawn out, bent round and hard soldered. The ornamental plate is annealed again to relax the metal structure.
After a dip into sulfuric acid to remove the oxidation of the metal which occurs during the soldering process, the ornamental plate and the rim are fixed together with binding wire.
All around the border between the two metal parts small bits of silver solder are applied using flux to avoid any oxidation during the soldering process.
Then the two copper parts are joined via hard soldering.
The next step is the manufacturing of the bottom part of the pillbox:
Again a copper strap has been sawn out, bent round and prepared for the hard soldering. The two edges of the solder seam have to be utterly parallel to guarantee a clean flow of the silver solder.
Now the work-intensive forging part can start:
Using a special chasing hammer, the copper cylinder is forged over an anvil in circular rows to achieve a perfectly round shape.
This chasing process is very difficult for a beginner because both of the hands, the copper cylinder, the anvil and the hammer must always be in perfect harmony to control the exact spot of the hammer impact. Otherwise, the cylinder will become deformed and useless.
Since the metal is becoming very hard during to the forging process, it has to be annealed from time to time. The forging and annealing has to be repeated various times until the copper cylinder has reached its perfect shape and size.
Finally the cylinder fits accurately under the lid, but, at the same time, allows an easy opening and closing of the pillbox.
And here we have the finished ornamental lid, the finished forged cylinder with the beautiful characteristic texture of the hammer marks and the already prepared ground plate for the bottom part of the pillbox.
Since the ground plate of the pillbox should not be flat, but slightly raised up, Olga is learning yet another forging technique:
By using a special raising hammer on a flat anvil, she embosses the flat plate in circular rounds, starting from the center point, and doing so, gives it the desired elegant shape.
Now follows the very complicated hard soldering process to connect cylinder and ground plate:
Again, small pieces of silver solder are applied with flux all around the border of the two connecting pieces which before had been fixed with binding wire.
Then, the entire copper piece, i.e. cylinder and ground plate, are slowly and evenly heated until a temperature of about 900º C has been reached. The silver solder starts to melt now and flows into the solder seam.
After the hard soldering is finished and the metal has cooled, the lower part of the pillbox takes a long bath in sulfuric acid to get rid of all the oxidation and the remains of the flux.
The most difficult part is done.
And now follow the final steps of the manufacturing:
Fine-sanding, pre-polishing and fine-polishing
And here comes the greatest moment in every silversmith’s life:
The fruit of our passion…
Well done, Olga, and keep on going like that!!!
Oh my God, what a terribly exhausting workshop that was…