Introduction: Making a Metal Bowl From the Battleship USS Texas BB-35

I recently was able to get started with a program with the Battleship Texas Foundation for making art from materials removed from the ship as part of preservation of the ship.

The steel I was given is reclaimed from the engine super structure and was laid in 1911 (that's when the keel was laid along with the engine support super structure) and the ship was commissioned in 1914. The Texas is the last of the remaining Dreadnought Class Battleships. She served in WWI and WWII, before becoming a floating museum. The years have not been kind to the old girl tho! Leaks and salt water have taken their toll, and the engine support ribs were in bad shape and threatened to collapse. The old steel was removed and new steel was laid. This old steel is being given to artisans to create art with and sell to raise funds for the preservation of the Texas! The bowl is up for sale on eBay here, so, if you want to own a piece of the Texas... bid early, bid often! :)

Update: 12/25/14: The winning bid was for $200 by MIKE S******* (v10charger). I've contacted him and checked if he's an instructables member... and will send him the donated 3 month pro membership generously donated by MoTinkerGnome. Thank you all for your help supporting the preservation of the Texas.

If anyone is interested in seeing other works created from and for the Battleship Texas, you can follow along at:

Helping with the preservation of this historic ship is something I was very excited to do... and making art out of this precious material is an honor! So, this is one of the first pieces I have made from the metal from the ship!

Step 1: Layout

With any metal project, layout is the most important step of all. It's a lengthy and sometimes complicated process, so most of this Instructable is dedicated to layout of the bowl.

To start with the layout out your bowl, you need to know your target finish dimensions. The diameter of your circle is calculated as: Width + Depth + 1 == Full diameter.

In my case, I wanted a bowl that would be ~8" wide by 3.5" deep, so, 8 + 3.5 + 1 == 12.5"

So, find a part of the steel you want to work that is large enough for a circle of that diameter. Start with making a square by layout out lines on the outside of the diameter the circle will fit into. Then, draw an X in the center by scribing a line from opposing corners. The, center punch this center point. The punch needs to be deep enough for your scribe calipers to fit easily inside of and not come out of, but not TOO deep that you'll have to worry about it showing later. You want a deep dimple basically.

Step 2: Scribe Your Lines

Next, you will set your calipers to the radius (half of the diameter) of your circle.

Check that the circle will fit by checking the distance to your corners and edges, and that it fits inside of your square.

Scribe the circumference (aka outside diameter) of your circle. You want the scribed line to be clearly visible but not too deep, just scratch it enough that you can see where the line is.

Step 3: Mark Your Inside Lines

To make a bowl, you perform a series of hammerings working from the outside, in. You will complete one pass around the entire circumference, before moving to the next part in, so you need to know where to work.

Generally, for bowls, I work in 1" passes. So, starting on the outside, moving in, make a mark every 1".

Step 4: Scribe Your Inside Lines

Now, set your scriber from the center marked point, to each of these 1" marks, and scribe the internal diameter rings.

Step 5: Chalk Your Layout Lines

Once the metal gets hot, your lines will disappear! So, you need a way of seeing them! So, mark over your layout lines either with white chalk or soap stone. Welders use this in spades, so if you don't have some already, you can get it wherever welding supplies can be found. Most hardware stores have a section for welding supplies, so swing by Home Depot, Lowes, Ace... or TSC / Tractor Supply in a pinch.

Step 6: Make Some Fire!

Now, cutout your outside diameter!

There are MANY means of cutting metal. Cutting torch, plasma cutter, bandsaw, scroll saw, hacksaw... these all work! Just get your outside circle cut out.

Step 7: Heat and Beat!

Now, start applying heat!

You want to heat where you are going to hit. If you don't have your own, or access to, a blacksmith forge, that's fine. You can use a rosebud from a welding torch to heat. This actually works a little better than any other means I've found, as you can really control the area of heat. You never want to strike black metal... so, take your rosebud and heat up an area about 4" square from your starting point, going 1" away from that center. So, your first line was cut out. Your second line is your first pass line, and so you will heat from the point on that line, to the outside edge, to the next line in, and 1" to either side. Don't heat everything. You are looking to dish down that one point. You aren't going to make the whole bowl in one pass. You will probably have to make at LEAST 3-4 passes around, re-applying your chalk between passes.

If you don't have a swage block (a blacksmiths tool) you can always make a depression in a stump. Basically you want a dished out area about 2X the size your are working. Position the heated up area on the edge of the dished out area, and hit STRAIGHT down with a ballpeen hammer. You'll want to be using probably about a 24oz ball peen hammer. You can go lighter for your finishing pass, but for these first few trips around the perimeter, it's gonna take some serious energy on your part to move that metal even with it at a bright red to yellow heat.

Once you finish going all the way around that first inner line, then heat up the second, and repeat! Each pass, the bowl will raise up, and take more of the bowl shape. Don't worry if it starts to look like a pringle chip half way around, it'll fix itself once you complete the circle. Really. Just keep going.

Your first few passes are going to look really bumpy and warty, that's OK. It'll get fixed on the next pass around. You aren't going for final shape... just get it moved. Each pass will further refine the shape and smooth the warts and bumps into a smooth(er) surface. Just trust that it'll get there, and keep working.

Stay hydrated, be careful of that hot metal, and keep working it. It'll get there! This bowl in the example here took over 8 hours to make and 4 full passes.

Step 8: Finish

Once you finally have made enough loops around, and smoothed it to your satisfaction, it's time to finish!

To flatten the bottom, apply a light red heat to the bottom of the bowl, turned upside down on a flat surface. Now with the flat of your ball peen, hammer the bottom flat. You'll need to make a few passes, and turn the bowl over to work the bottom flat from the inside of your bowl as well. If you can use an anvil to assist, great, but anything flat, smooth, and sturdy will work.

You can then also do one final pass, if you want, with a lighter finishing ballpeen, in the 8 to 12oz realms. Me, I like the more hammered finish, and this historic metal called out wanting to look like it'd been through war, so I was happy with a "less that perfectly smooth" final texture, but to each their own.

You will need to seal your metal to protect it from rust. You can do this with used motor oil (assuming you aren't planning on eating out of it) by heating the metal to a low red heat, and dunk it in the used motor oil. This will give it a dark surface and protect it. You'd need to hand rub it occasionally again to reapply the finish, but this works quite well.

I also then sealed the bowl with a clear gloss acrylic spray paint. This will provide a LONG amount of protection from rust, and looks great.

There is a YouTube video at showing the making of this bowl.

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