Introduction: Elven Penannular Brooch
Are you going adventuring? You need something to keep your cloak fastened! That "thing" is called a "Penannular Brooch" and has been used and manufactured by just about every human civilisation that ever existed.
Myself and a group of friends recently decided to go on a hike where we would wear cloaks. Of course, this meant that we needed a bunch of brooches. A friend was inspired by "Lord of the Rings" and made an amazing movie-based version of the Leaves of Lórien. I was browsing the web for more traditional brooch designs and stumbled upon Hannah's blog: Making Rivendell in the Desert. In it she has a post on the topic of Elven brooches, and says:
I was thinking about Elven Brooches. While the brooches in the movie are beautiful, they never struck me as being hugely functional. Because, basically its a glorified brooch pin. Which works great to hold lightweight fabrics together. But brooch pins aren't the sturdiest thing to hold a heavy wool cloak shut. I found this out using another brooch pin to hold my heavy wool cloak shut in the Philadelphia winter.
She then went on and posted a set of designs for some elf-inspired brooches. Looking further on her blog revealed that she had been unable to make these designs as she had drawn them.
Anyway, I made a bunch of brooches (some of them inspired by her design), and we went on our hike (and had an epic adventure). Upon returning I posted on her blog to see if I could make one to send to her. To my delight she responded and so this instructable documents how I made the one that has now been posted half-way around the world!
So here we have it, a Leaf of Lórien: Dreamed up by Tolkien in the 1950's, designed by a person I've never met in the US in 2013, and made by a guy they've never met in New Zealand in 2022.
Oh yeah, and as bonus street cred, I spent last year doing some work as a forest ranger - in the forest Aragorn led the hobbits through on the way to Rivendell.
This is a nice Saturday morning project and takes ~2-4 hours beginning to end.
When making these I didn't think there were that many tools required, but when I put them all on a bench and tried to zoom out far enough to take a photo, I realised it actually does require a fair few.
- 3mm Brass Rod
- 1-2mm brass sheet
- A design
- Hammer + something to hammer onto
- Fretsaw (or jewellers saw)
- Marker Pen
- PPE (gloves, safety glasses, earmuffs)
- Dremel and bits (diamond burr, shaped tooth cutter, wire brush). There's nothing stopping you doing this by hand with needle files and a graver, but a rotary tool makes things a lot faster.
- Source of heat (gas stove, butane/propane torch, windproof lighter, anything more than a candle)
- Small modellers vise
Bonus points of awesomeness are issued for:
- Wearing a cloak
- Drawing your own design for the front-piece
- Having a workshop in a forest or on a mountaintop
- Having pointed ears
Step 1: Forming the Ring: Flatten the Ends
Cut a length of 3mm brass rod to ~13cm length. Longer will result in a bigger brooch, shorter in a smaller one.
When brass comes from a factory it is often rolled or extruded. This makes it quite rigid and hard. While we could form the ring by brute force, it is much easier if we anneal the brass first. This makes the brass softer but it is also (somewhat) irreversible. As far as I can tell the only way to harden brass is to work it. Fortunately the 3mm brass rod, even in it's annealed state, is rigid enough to hold a pretty solid cloak shut. And if it ever bends open - you can always bend it shut again and then it will .... be more work hardened and therefore strongers.
So anyway, metallurgical note aside, get that brass rod hot. It doesn't need to be glowing, but there iss a bit of a color change that I look for: it kind-of goes whiteish - as though it had been polished. To be honest I don't know why it changes color like this (oxide layer?), but it seems to indicate it's at about the right temperature.
Anneal the whole bar, hammer the ends flat, and anneal it again. Remove any discolouration with sandpaper. I used my dremel to speed up the cleanup.
What's that funny sanding wheel in the picture? It's a felt polishing wheel with a strip of sandpaper white-glued to it. The strip is wound around multiple times so if it "gets blunt" I can just pull some off to expose a new layer. So long as you don't spin it too fast, it works a treat. Way cheaper than official dremel sanding drums, and you can make them all the way up to 1200 grit if you so desire....
Step 2: Forming the Ring: the Shaping
Curl the ends with a pair of round-nose pliers, then bend it around into a circle. I bent it into a circle by hand as much as possible to avoid denting the metal, but this gets very hard near the ends. So for the final tweaks I put some cloth around the round-nose-pliers so that I can tweak the tips.
You can spend an infinite amount of time getting the ring rounder. At some point you just have to declare it done.
Struggling to bend the tips? You did anneal it a second time after hammering them flat, right? If you are really struggling, you can form it while hot.
In this design I've curled the ends inwards. You can also curl them outwards, leave them flat, tie them in knots or form them into leaves. Heck, do a search for penannular brooch on google images and be amazed. I ended up making nine brooches for the hike - and they pretty much all had different styles on the ends. Go nuts!
Step 3: The Pin: Cutting the Profile
Draw the shape you want onto the brass sheet. Take as long as you want while doing this, because it's far easier to alter the shape of a line in ink than it is to reshape metal. Then cut it out with a fretsaw or jewellers saw. Erase the marker from the brass (so you can see what you have actually made) and refine the profile with some files.
This is the slowest part of the project and takes maybe 1-2 hours.
See those two extra tabs beside the main pin? Those are highly important. Have a look into the future steps to see how the pin is joined to the ring to understand. They should be ~1-1.5cm long. Err on the side of length and cut them down if needed.
The pin should be longer than the widest part of the ring. It should be narrower than the opening in the ring (but should still be ~4-5mm wide in order to be strong enough).
The more of the brooch that the design covers, the harder the pin is to use.Ideally you want to be able to rotate the design all the way through the ring. This design doesn't quite allow that due to how sticky-out the leaves are, but it's OK. It's a tradeoff between practicality and beauty, and one doesn't typically take off a pin once it's in a cloak so I think it's OK for it to be a little harder to put in.
It may be tempting to cut your shape separate from the piece of metal first and then work on the details. I find this to be a poor approach because it makes the piece harder to hold and weaker (risks bending). So instead, cut out the parts closest to the edge of the sheet first.
You can support the brass sheet by cutting a notch in a piece of wood. This reduces the risk of it bending and means you can saw from more angles. I also use this wood sacrificially to help start cuts in precise locations: cut a little way into the wood and then you know exactly where the blade will be and you can put the metal in front of it and not risk the blade jumping sideways.
My fretsawing skills aren't amazing - I struggle to cut the pin super-straight. To fix this, mount the pin in a vise and use a file to make it straight. At this point you can also clean up any other imprefections - make curves uniform, make the tip of the pin symmetric etc.
Step 4: The Pin: Smoothing the Pin
The pin needs to be pushed through fabric, so the smoother it is, the better. This extends to rounding the "corners." Which corners? When you cut a profile the sawblade is vertical, so the pin viewed from the end is rectangular. We're going to turn it more into a pill-shape when viewed from the end.
To do this, use a shaped tooth cutter on the dremel to bevel those corners to 45 degrees, and then finish smoothing it with 120 grit sandpaper. You should smooth as much as you can - including the parts up inside the "tabs" as shown in the picture.
You don't have to get it all perfectly smooth now as you can work on this later, but the more you do now the less you have to do when the front face is all nicely polished and finished (and hence a lower risk of damage to it)
A note on the dremel bit
The dremel bit I used (#194) is nominally designed for cutting wood. Brass is soft enough that it probably doesn't reduce the operational life too much. Why use this cutter rather than, say, a diamond burr? Well, it cuts a lot faster and has a very sharp "corner" to it. This means you can create very clean grooves with sharp "bottoms"
At about this point I dropped my camera (Canon EOS M50) on the concrete floor of my garage. I knocked it clean off the workbench and it fell with one great, uh, bounce? There was no damage - not even the corners were marred. I have no idea what indestructium this camera is made of, but whew!
Step 5: The Pin: Carving the Leaves
It's time to add some detail to our profile. With this design I elected to first cut out the main leaf bodies from each other. Then I beveled the edges of the leaves. With a shaped-tooth cutter (#194) this process really doesn't take that long, but you have to be careful because a single touch in the wrong place will leave a scar. So go slowly and carefully and make sure you're sitting comfortably at your workbench, with nothing in the way of your elbows.
For cutting the veins of the leaves, you really want to do it in a single deep pass. The edge of the cutter is a 90 degree angle, so you should be able to get a nice deep groove.
The carving can then be finished with a diamond burr to smooth the ends of the cuts so there are no longer quite such distinct lines where the shaped tooth cut line started.
1mm brass doesn't sound thick, but you've actually got heaps of material to play with. The deeper your carving the more amazing the result will look. In the end step of this instructable I show three other leaf brooches I made all with varying levels of depth as I got more confident with the dremel. Deeper = better in my opinion.
Why do we use a square shaped-tooth-cutter for the veins rather than something with a point? Well, a tool needs motion to cut, and this motion comes from the spinning of the tool. The tip of a cutter with a point has (at the tip) almost no motion. It's still spinning but the distance that the tool moves against the material is very very low. This means that the tip of a pointed tool has almost no ability to cut.
Step 6: The Pin: Polishing and Doming
Now all the shaping is done, it's time to polish up those leaves! At this point I got excited and didn't take too many photos, but the basic idea is to use a couple stages. I did 120 grid sandpaper followed by 400 grid sandpaper followed by the wire brush in my dremel. You can always spend more time polishing, but this worked pretty well for me. There are still a few tooling marks from the cutter and diamond burr, but you have to know where to look.
At this point the pin still a flat piece of metal. It's got some nice carving in it, but the way it reflects the light is still as though it was almost flat. I can't think of much of a way to describe this, but perhaps it's because it acts like a mirror, and so it tends to reflect one thing at a time. By giving it a curve across the whole shape it's reflection becomes more "rounded"? It's hard to describe really.
Anyway, the process for doing this is to place it face-down on a block of wood and hit it gently with a hammer. You really want a ball-end hammer, but I don't have one. So I used the corner of my regular hammer. It did mar the back, but, well, it's the back.
The curve isn't much, but it does improve the look a lot considering how little effort it is to do.
Step 7: Join the Pin to the Ring
Remember those two tabs I mentioned way back in the design stage? Here's why they're so important. They're used to join the pin to the ring. You can curve the whole pin through 180 degrees to that it's wrapped around the ring, but then it can still be pulled off. You can continue bending those tabs further around so that the pin is permanently mounted.
Getting this bend where you want it is more an art than a science. Putting the pin face-down and bending up is the best way I've come up with so far. Make sure to put something protective (eg paper) over your nice polished pin so it doesn't get marred.
(I forgot to take photos of this stage, and the brooch being made here is now wrapped up in a parcel, so I've used a picture of another brooch I made with only a single leaf).
Step 8: Go on an Adventure
You're done. Thread it through some fabric and twist the ring to lock. I've attached a video of how to fasten it to this step, or you can watch it on youtube.
I've chucked a few photos of brooches made with this technique here, and you can clearly see how I became more adventurous with carving. The first one (single leaf) was just a profile with veins, no doming, nothing. And yeah, it looks cool but it also looks like a shape cut out of brass sheet. The second one (with three leaves and outwards curls) has a little bit of carving and some doming, and already looks way better. The bird was the third I made, and has more shaping on the wing than I'd done before. The one made during this instructable is (in my opinion) the best yet.
So grab your cloak, pin it up, and head off into the distance.