Women and their Work

Metal Work as a Handicraft

Many women are finding the art of metal design both pleasant and profitable

ALICE COOPER October 1 1927
Women and their Work

Metal Work as a Handicraft

Many women are finding the art of metal design both pleasant and profitable

ALICE COOPER October 1 1927

Metal Work as a Handicraft

Women and their Work

Many women are finding the art of metal design both pleasant and profitable


THERE are symptoms everywhere of a revival of interest in handicrafts. A well known writer once remarked upon the soothing influence of a ‘long seam’ upon the temper of a woman. That was before sewing machine days, Doctors have come to the conclusion that there is something very helpful to tired and ragged nerves in keeping the hands occupied, and the mind interested in constructive work. It is also conceded now, by even the most academic of educationists, that training in technique also trains the mind.

Any handicraft, intelligently pursued, opens up new vistas, creates new interests, that are absorbing, yet not fatiguing. Metal craft has many things in its favor. It is one of the oldest of handicrafts, indeed, six metals are mentioned in the Old Testament, and at least seven by ancient historical writers. This craft opens up many avenues, but almost any one of them affords the worker scope for originality in design. Metal craft design, in itself, is a very fascinating study.

As a Practical Art

TO a practical woman it makes a special appeal, because so many things that are useful and decorative in the home can be designed, and carried out. A worker who has acquired a little facility can make book ends, desk fittings, paper knives, candlesticks, bowls, jars, vases for flowers, and plants, jugs, drawer pulls, plates, trays, spoons, ladles, finger bowls, napkin rings, hinges and calendars. In thinner sheet metal, boxes, book ends, and other objects can be mounted, and studded with imitation, or semi-precious jewels. Enamels can be used by the ambitious worker, who may also proceed to jewellery, which opens up further possibilities, for the

hand-made jewellery of to-day is both original and beautiful.

In ordinary craft work, copper is perhaps the most important metal. Spain and the Island of Cyprus supplied the ancient world with it. Some of the best copper is now obtained from mines in the neighborhood of Lake Superior. It also is largely used in alloys, the common definition of which is a combination of two or more metals mixed together, in varying proportions, when melted.

Brass is the most useful, and common of the alloys of copper, being a combination of that metal and zinc. That is one reason for considerable variation in the color of brass. Benares brass, which comes from India, is a redder, deeper color than much of the brass used in Chinese craft work.

Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. The ancient Phoenicians and Romans brought their tin from the mines of Cornwall, in Britain.

Pewter, or Britannia metal, as it is sometimes called, is an alloy with tin as the predominating metal. This long has been a favorite metal with British workers. It formerly was in general use for plates, bowls, spoons, tankards, teapots, ink wells, and measures.

These metals and silver are those most commonly used

by craft workers. Naturally the last is much the most'expensive. These can all be had in sheets or rolls of various sizes, and thickness. The thickness of sheet metal is measured by a small instrument called a gauge. As there is more than one standard gauge, many workers keep small samples, and match one of these when they require more material.

Metal Variations

THESE metals are all of different colors, but a still greater variation of color can be obtained by the use of acids. In copper, many beautiful colors readily can be produced. If it is cleaned and exposed to the air for a few weeks, it assumes a dark color, called the ‘patina,’ caused by the action of the air.

Many chemical acids are in use for this varying, and darkening of color, but before using any one of them the metal must be perfectly clean, and free from grease. Even the moisture of the hand may neutralize the action of the acid. The usual way of cleaning a metal is to wash it over with, or dip it into sulphuric acid, or a mixture of equal parts of that acid and nitric acid diluted with water. This must next be thoroughly washed off by rinsing in coldrunning water.

Oxidizing may be briefly described as the diffusion of color over a metal surface by the aid of chemicals.

For the oxidizing process, different metals respond to different chemicals. A small piece of potassium sulphide dissolved in a cup of water, and the liquid applied to copper, will turn it dark, almost black. The design can then be burnished with emery cloth, and the background left dark. There are various acids in use for brass, accord-

ing to the finish desired. Brown to red shades may be had by dissolving equal quantities of nitrate of iron, and hyposulphite of soda in water, and brushing it on. For a dull green finish, sulphate of copper is dissolved in boiling water, and applied with a stiff brush. For darkening silver, or pewter, a pinch of ammonium sulphide dissolved in a cupful of warm water can be applied. After the desired color has been obtained, and the metal polished up, leaving high lights, it must be protected, except in the case of silver, with a coat of lacquer, banana oil, or wax. Needless to say, metal so treated should not otherwise be cleaned, as this would rob it of much of its beauty.

Design in Metal Work

Ayf ETAL work affords scope for design, ^-*-not only in the shape or outline of the object that is made, but in the decoration that is applied to it. The subject of design is so big and fascinating that one is tempted to linger over it. To come quickly to the point, however, the simple rule is, that the design must first be carefully drawn, and it must fit the space for which it is intended. That space must be carefully measured, and for this purpose a good flat ruler, marked in sixteenths of inches is indispensable. A triangle and a compass are also desirable. For preparing small designs the cartridge paper drawing blocks that are sold are very useful. After the design is drawn on the paper, it is traced with tracing paper. This last is placed over the metal, with a sheet of carbon paper beneath it, and the design gone over with a pencil, or pointed tool. The papers must be kept perfectly firm, or the production will not be correct. If the design has not come out very clearly, it can be strengthened in places with lead pencil. It is necessary to mention that accuracy, and attention to detail are essential for the production of good work, and this accuracy begins with the measuring up of the space, and the drawing of the design.

Etching the Design

T500K ends, or blotting pad corners, that are very simple in shape, can have the added interest of an etched design. These can be made of brass or copper of suitable strength, and thickness. Tin snips are needed for cutting the metal, and all edges should be filed smooth. After a drawing of the etching design has been transferred to the metal, the whole surface, except that intended to be etched, must be covered with black asphaltum paint. Black hat varnish has sometimes been used as a substitute for this. When the paint is quite dry, the metal is immersed in a solution of one part nitric acid to two parts of water. This liquid is poured into a shallow dish. The dishes used by photographers are good, but an earthenware baking dish serves the purpose.

The piece of metal is left in the ‘bath’ for a length of time varying from half an hour to three hours, according to the strength of the acid, and the depth of etching desired. The acid eats away the metal that has been left unprotected by the paint. Bubbles should be seen rising from the bare metal. If bubbles do not rise the acid is not strong enough. If they are large, and rise too quickly, more water should be added. When the required depth has been eaten away, the metal is taken out of the bath, rinsed, and dried. Finally, a lacquer finish is applied.

It should be said here, that all acids must be kept in a safe place, well labelled, and used with extreme caution. They burn holes in material, and are very hard on the hands. Metal pliers, and pieces of wire, or wood are useful for lifting the metal in and out of an acid bath.

Metal Modelling and Chasing

REPOUSSE work is the art of pro• ducing designs on metal by modelling. The piece of metal is placed on a bed

of pitch, or else a thick square of soft wood well padded with felt. The design is outlined, and then by means of various wooden and metal punches, and a hammer, the metal is raised or ‘bossed.’ The design stands out in low relief on the under side, which is the right side. The background of the design usually is hammered on the right side with various grounding tools. Brass often is used for repoussé, and many beautiful effects can be produced. A thinner sheet brass can be used for candle shades, and the background can be pierced.

A very simple and effective method of treating brass, or copper, is what is called ‘stitching’ or ‘decco’ work. The whole design is outlined with a small punch producing a series of dots. This is done from the back of the metal, and the background hammered on the front. Also the background may be left plain.

For the purpose of mounting on boxes, and frames, and setting with imitation

stones and jewels, pewter is the most pliable, and least brittle of the metals in ordinary use. When oxydized, it has a soft grey finish, that makes an excellent background for colored stones. The sheet metal is cut to the required size, and the design placed on it. The design then is outlined with a tool on the right side, and raised from the back with modelling tools. The metal must be modelled on a thick square of linoleum, or felt, the background being smoothed, and kept flat on a thick piece of glass. Before the piece of metal is mounted, the raised design is filled in at the back with a preparation of wax, or plaster of Paris. Holes for the stones are cut with punches of various sizes. The stones are colored glass, Ruskin ware, or china medallions done with lustre paints and fired, or, in fact, any stone with a flat bottom, of the variety called ‘cabochon’ cut. Silver also can be treated in the way above described.

Many delightful things can be made with silver, such as finger bowls, vases, spoons, and ladles. Pendants, rings, brooches and other comparatively simple

jewellery also can be attempted. Wire work for chains takes up so much time, that many workers who make pendants, buy chains for them. Semi-precious stones combined with silver are very attractive.

Many of these stones, such as blue and red agates, tomsonites, chorastolites, and Isle Green stones, are mined in the neighborhood of the Sleeping Giant and Thunder Bay, near Port Arthur. They can be obtained at most of the jeweller y>toresin any large city, and are both pleasing and unusual.

Chasing is yet another method of applying design to metal objects, but it is usually only employed with silver and gold.

The Necessary Outfit

NONE of the work that has been described requires a very extensive outfit, or a large amount of space. An old fashioned kitchen table with a wood top

is excellent to work at, and old flat irons, and ordinary clamps are useful for keeping the work steady. Wood punches for brass repoussé work can be made by cutting short pieces off the round sticks of wood used for rolling table oilcloth. These can be shaped at one end, and sandpapered smooth. Metal punches have been made of knitting needles, crochet hooks, screw drivers, and nails, of various sizes, by heating the metal, bending it with pliers, and filing the ends into shape.

It is wonderful what some workers can do with a few simple tools, and a great deal of courage and ingenuity. Nearly all women are clever with their fingers, and if they become interested, and have the time, would soon acquire the skill necessary to produce useful and decorative work.

Editor's Note—Drawings showing proper working methods, drawings of the tools required and a few simple designs will be forwarded on receipt of fifteen cents, addressed to the Women's Editor of Macl ean's.