Good blacksmithing and armor-making tools are hard to find, you often have to make your own. In this tutorial, we quickly make a simple but extremely useful tool to use with blacksmithing and armor-making. We'll learn how to use this tool to roll and emboss sheet metal.
I made it in TechShop. You just need to take the MTL103: Basic Metal Shop SBU class in order to be qualified to use the tools in the TechShop for this piece.
Step 1: Getting the Base Material and Making the Tool
We start with a tempered chisel as the base, so 99% of the work is done for us. The hardest part is finding the right chisel. You want the longest chisel you can find, 12-18", so you can use the tool for longer pieces like helmets, vambraces, and shin guards. Unfortunately, Lowes and Home Depot don't usually carry the longer chisels, only the 6" versions. I found mine at True Value and "mom-and-pop" stores who survive by stocking products that the big-box stores don't usually carry. Some people have also used a jackhammer chisel for great effect, but they are more expensive than a chisel. The 18" chisels are only around $5-8, whereas the jackhammer chisel is around $20.
For the width, you may want to buy a variety for different tasks. For example, a 3/4" width is great for longer embossing lines and long or shallow-curved rolls. The 1/2" width is better for rolls in tight curves, like the wrist cuff of a vambrace and for embossing short lines.
Once you've got the right chisel (or chisel-shaped-object), you need to grind down the sharp edge with the grinder. You have to pay attention to this because the grinder will gobble up a lot of material quickly, so go timidly. You just want to grind off the sharp edge and round off the surface of the edge and corners so it doesn't gouge your piece while you are rolling or embossing.
Once it's ground down, then it should be sanded on the sander. You might even want to polish it on the buffer so you can easily spot any scratches, nicks, or other imperfections. Any imperfections in the surface will be stamped into the piece while embossing (although it won't matter for rolling as those imperfections would be hidden inside the roll).
That's it. Click through to the next steps and we'll cover how to use this tool to roll and emboss metal.
Step 2: Rolling Sheet Metal
Rolling sheet metal serves two important functions for armoring: it strengthens a piece where it's most vulnerable (the edges) and it protects the wearer from getting gouged or cut by their own armor.
In the photos, you can see that we start by folding the sheet metal over a sharp edge, such as the edge of an anvil or sander stand.
Next we clamp our tool in a vice, and hook the folded sheet metal over the tool. Using a plastic mallet or planishing hammer, hammer down on the fold until it's bent over in a U shape.
Once you've got your U shape, place your piece on a work table or anvil and finish the roll by tapping the edge down into the sheet (for a simple flat fold) or back into the roll for a thicker beaded roll. You'll need to be careful with your blows here, as it's easy to ding the sheet metal and create divots and gouges. These gouges look ugly and are difficult to grind out, so use a hammer without sharp edges and go slow.
That's it. Click through to the next step to see how to use the tool to emboss sheet metal.
Step 3: Embossing Sheet Metal
Embossing sheet metal is a simple way to add dramatic decoration as well as increase the strength of a piece.
Using the tool and a hammer, simply place the tool edge on the sheet and bang the hammer on the other end to stamp the piece. Create a line of these stamps as long as you need.
Once you've got your rough line, you'll still be able to see the impressions of the tool as a jagged line. To smooth out that jagged series of impressions, you'll want to start at the top of the line with the embossing tool, holding it at a slight angle, and as you tap it it will slide down the line, smoothing it out. Don't cut too deep as you can weaken or tear through the metal.