LMM-Repousse-art - 2/21/10
"Leather Mallet Medallion, Repoussé" by Lady Ingeborg bildsbriótr Ulfsdottir.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Nominee for the Blackfox Best Article Award in 2009.
Leather Mallet Medallion, Repoussé
by Lady Ingeborg bildsbriótr Ulfsdottir
Caveat lector: All numbers are a product of Ingeborg's occasionally-faulty memory.
At the Lilies of A.S. XLII, I decided to take Master Grimwulf's repoussé class. Since I didn't have any particular design in mind, he offered some of the kingdom's award medallions as options he had printed out.
I laid the life-size leather mallet drawing on my three-inch square of copper, and used an Exacto knife to scratch the picture lightly into the copper.
Grimwulf took one of the metal bowls full of pitch and heated the top with a propane torch so I could set the copper into the pitch, flush with the top. Then I had to wait ten minutes while it cooled and hardened.
I put one of Grimwulf's chasing tools on the copper just inside the etch marks, and began slowly to move it, tap-tap-taping the top of the tool with a little hammer until I had the field (purpure) and mallet sections somewhat depressed.
Metal that gets worked for too long stiffens up and will eventually snap, so after I was done working one side, I popped the copper out of the pitch, set it on a firebrick (fancy word for "won't burn and is okay to scorch" thing) and used the torch to anneal my piece. To anneal is to heat then cool something in order to relax the metal again after working it. This part was kind of fun, because I was supposed to burn off the excess pitch stuck to the back of the copper (small amounts of pitch spit and flame most satisfyingly) and then chase the rainbows around and across the metal until the pitch-ash turns white, indicating that the metal had been heated long enough. I dunked my copper in the quench (tub of water in this case) until it stopped hissing, then dropped it in the pickle (tub of acid) so that the acid would remove the firescale (dark oxide) that had formed when I heated my piece.
Then I had to wait while the weak acid very slowly nibbled off flakes of firescale. While briefly entertaining, poking and shaking my repoussé while it was soaking didn't seem to noticeably speed the process.
When it was done pickling I dried off my piece (rubbing off the last of the firescale) and put it face down while I heated the bowl of pitch. This time I spooned some of the liquid pitch onto my copper to fill in the depressions I'd made last course, and set the pitch-y side of the piece down so that the other face of the proto-medallion was available to work.
I straightened lines, rounded curves, and increased the relief by tap-tap-depressing the dovetailed pale (argent) section of the design.
Pop, anneal, quench, pickle, melt pitch, spoon pitch, place copper, let pitch harden.
I straightened lines, evened planes, and deepened the purpure and mallet sections. I messed with the annoying dovetailing—oops. I messed up the annoying dovetailing.
Pop, anneal, quench, pickle, melt pitch, spoon pitch, place copper, let pitch harden.
I curved the edges of the mallets, and worked the dovetailing from this side. I asked Grimwulf for advice on the best way to make triangular edges behave. I evened the argent section.
Repeat entire process for six or so more courses.
People who get lines where they want them the first time only have to do a few courses, but as a beginner I appreciated the fact that in this medium mistakes are mostly fixable if you have enough time, patience, and advice. I'm guessing I spent something like ten to twelve hours on this part at war.
When Grimwulf held a working-on-your-repoussé-piece workshop, I spent another six or so hours on this process. I decided I was done. I couldn't manage to get any more of the dents out by planishing (flattening by tapping using a very wide chasing tool), and hey, tooling marks show it was handmade, right?
I'd never polished anything before, and thought wheel-polishing looked faster and easier than hand polishing. I ended up covering my piece with black residue, (though it might have been shiny underneath...); at this point Grimwulf introduced me to Bar Keeper's Friend, a metal-cleaner. I had to use toothpicks to get all the way into the tiny pockets and crevices, but I eventually got it clean.
When I was going to finish my workpiece up at this year's Birthday Bash, Grimwulf "strongly recommended" that I do one more course. Since that's a phrase he uses quite sparingly, I agreed. It was nerve-wracking because with every tap I was certain I was going to spoil my work now that it was so close to completion. But my piece did improve even more, and after I blinked imploringly at Grimwulf and he made a few final taps (because by this point I'd decided I was going to give it to the Crown,) I was done with chasing.
I decided I wanted to put a ring around the outside to give the medallion a more finished look. Grimwulf gave me some copper wire, and I annealed it to make it noodley (his word) and easy to match into the curve at the edge of my repoussé. Now it needed soldering on, so we clamped it, positioned tiny chunks of low-melting-point metal (solder) around the ring, daubed on some flux (material that keeps oxygen from making it difficult for metal to move), and waved the torch around underneath and over my piece until the solder flowed into the join between repoussé and ring.
I cut off the extra metal around the edges of my piece (from the original square) and filed them, and the outside of the ring, smooth and even.
Grimwulf brought his set of graving stamps that each have a tiny backwards letter on the business end. Since I'd no clue how to write "made by" in Swedish or Norse to match my name, I decided to match the name "repoussé" by making it French: fait par. The stamping left small but noticeable marks on the opposite side, so I needed to sand them down.
The idea of sanding was no longer foreign and intimidating, as Francis Bean had guided me in making a knife a few months ago, and polishing had been part of the instruction. (He'd also given me some very high grit sandpaper when I discovered I liked polishing and determined to make my knife as shiny as possible.) Since the only substance I had tried polishing was 1095 steel, I was flabbergasted by how quickly I could smooth away the bumps left by the stamping. Since it was so fast, I kept polishing the copper until I'd gotten rid of the dents on the purpure section that I'd despaired of eliminating through planishing. I used 220, then 400. I decided to save further polishing until I'd completely finished. I still needed to put on a way to attach the medallion.
When I asked, Master Grimwulf (careful to give no hint of praise or criticism to either approach) offered that the piece could either be prepared for suspension on a cord as is most common for Calontir award medali.ons, or given a fibula as was more common throughout much of our period. Intrigued, I went with the idea for a fibula ("Yes!" came his happy exclamation). Now I had to make this "medieval safety pin." Sharpening the end of some copper wire and twisting in a mini spring wasn't difficult once I'd had it demonstrated, but the actual catch gave me a bit of trouble since my brain isn't naturally good with angles (moulinet? no way.) After I'd bent it the wrong way once or twice my first fibula began getting stiff and refusing to bend where I asked it to; still, I finished the lumpy thing before trying again. The second attempt went much better, and I was ready to solder it onto the back of my repoussé piece. This time I got to do all the torch work myself.
I reenlisted Bar Keeper's Friend to clean off the residue, and got down to final polishing. 600 grit, 800, 1000, 1500, 2000, and finally 2500 (bless you, Francis.) I discovered that a thumb print on polished copper will oxidize more quickly (or maybe just a different color, I'm not sure) than the rest of the copper. I sanded some more.
I'm pleased with the results of my work. While it was fun, I don't know if I'll play with repoussé again any time soon because it took so long (I'm guessing I spent twenty-five hours all told on the project) though I suppose it's much more likely than me making another leather mug (stitching thick leather has got to be the most frustrating, boring—ahem.) Anyway, from this repoussé project I learned some basics of chasing/graving/repoussé ("Don't forget the earplugs"), soldering ("Good, now move the torch slowly all around the piece..."), annealing ("No, Ingeborg, I meant stop heating the wire after one revolution, otherwise the copper begins to burn and deform like it did right there. But copper wire is cheap. Let's try again..."), pickling (sigh, "Ingeborg, don't take the metal out of the pickle with the steel tongs."), using a jeweler's saw ("Ingeborg, it works better if you connect the other end of the blade before trying to cut..."), using metal stamping tools ("Nononostop! One hard tap, not several small taps.") and making fibulas ("That should work."). Though obligated to tease him, I am deeply grateful to Master Grimwulf for all the time he spent helping and teaching both myself and the other students, and especially for donating a last-minute Saturday so I could finish this project in time for Crown Tourney. (Eva Grimwulfsdottir, age four, also hung out with us in the shop; she helped keep the mood light by swapping knock-knock jokes with me. Ask me about the frog riddle she inspired.)
Copyright 2009 by Caitlin Johnoff, 2801 Middlebush Dr., Columbia, MO 65203. <alianoraree at yahoo.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.