Chasing and Repousse Metal Art

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About: We're two college guys who love to make things and want to bring you along for the journey. Instagram @lakecitiescraft

If you're exploring the world of sheet metal craft, you'll be facing two issues: sheet metal articles can look a bit plain, and using a thinner/cheaper sheet of metal can result in a flimsy end product. These issues can be addressed with chasing and repousse. These techniques gradually deform the metal to create shapes in relief. While they are primarily artistic techniques, the designs they produce add corrugation to a piece which makes it more rigid.

the primary difference between the two techniques is that repousse pushes metal out relative to the show face, whereas chasing pushes it in. Both techniques frequently employ a backing to support the work material and confine the movement of the metal to the immediate area around the tool.

I have three projects lined up which demonstrate different applications for these techniques, followed by a set of tips on getting started on your own chasing project. For each project, we'll look at the substrate situation, the tools and material used, the design and how that informed the above, and what design changes might make the decoration more effective.

If you want to skip straight to instructions on starting your own chasing project, go to step 5.

Step 1: Materials

To get started in chasing, you'll need just a few things:

  • sheet metal, heavier gauge sheets will yield a better finish
  • small hammer. metal is best, I used a 1/2 lb ball peen
  • chasing tools, companion instructable
  • backing material

For the backing, I've been able to use a hard candlewax, but there are blends of pitch specifically formulated for this sort of work. These kinds of pitch will adhere to the work better and have plasticity where the wax would shatter.

Very quickly, I'd like to define some terms:

Ball punch: a tool with a nearly spherical, highly polished tip

stippling: a very tight pattern of small points giving texture to the work

stippling point: A ball punch with a head roughly the size of a period.

lining tool: like a flathead screwdriver with the end polished.

Now that you have tools and materials together, let's look at some projects

Step 2: The Leaf and the Flag

These are very basic exercises which I did with no more substrate than a plain wood surface.

backing:

Both projects were done on a soft, wood, substrate... a 4x6 from the hardware store

Tools:

1/32" lining tool on both projects

3/32" ball punch for the stars on the flag

1/16" stippling point for the leaf

Materials

thin sheet aluminum

design

I laid the flag out using real measurements for scale. I used the lining tool to recess the red stripes, punched the stars forward with heavy strikes of the ball punch, stippled the background for the blue field, painted everything, and wiped the paint off the top of the stars.

The leaf is a nice freehand project, I used the lining tool to add some veins and sparsely stippled the background. the shape is loosely based on the Bradford pear leaf.

Changes

On the flag, while the 1/32 lining tool did effectively create relief, it significantly marred the work and left very prominent tool marks at every stroke. I did these projects with my first lining tool, and fixed the harsh corners on the next tool iterations. The stars were also round and not as well defined as I would've liked. If I make another flag, I'd likely try to make a new tool for the stars

On the leaf, it was difficult for me at this point to get the vein structure right. That's likely just a matter of skill and artistry which will come with practice.

Step 3: The Copper Cup

This is my favorite project. The chasing on this piece was the capstone of the five days that it took me to raise and form the cup.

Backing:

I placed a few blocks of wood in the cup to take up volume, and filled the remaining space with hard candlewax. The blocks of wood also allow it to mount in a bench vise.

Tools:

1/32" lining tool

3/32" ball punch

Material:

22 gauge copper

Design:

A Texas Star provided a simple, tight, focus to the piece. the five-point star is bordered by a circle, with the space between stippled heavily into the background and the surrounding area pushed back slightly and faded into the rest of the work. I liked how the stippling created a slightly darker background and makes the emblem stand out.

Changes:

Frankly, I like the design and wouldn't be quick to change it. Although, I would have taken more care in laying out the design to make sure it was closer to a perfect shape.

Step 4: The Hand Mirror

This piece is my most recent and was difficult to keep seated in the wax due to the shallow profile.

Backing:

I used a wax substrate on the show face of this piece so that any lines project forward into space.

Tools:

1/16 inch lining tool

1/8 inch ball punch for the center boss

Material:

0.01" brass sheet

Design:

I pushed the design on this article as close to the edges as my skill would allow in the hope that it would create something of an arabesque impression. The elements are a vine in the center surrounded by triangles defining an octagon to fill the rest of the space.

I chose the wide lining tool as it will leave a rather bold mark even when the work is flipped over.

Changes:

The boss in the center didn't turn out as well as I would've hoped. I should have outlined it first, and then used a larger diameter ball punch to more clearly define the shape and end with a better surface finish.

Step 5: Starting Your Own Project

Enough of my projects, let's get you chasing success...

get it?

Chasing?

I digress.

You can use these techniques to decorate and bring a piece to a higher level, or you can make an entire piece centered around your chasing or repousse. As with any endeavor, the most important thing here is that you have an idea of the impression you want the design to create.

Start by quickly sketching out your thoughts. Do you want to fill the space or create a focal point with negative space around it? As you brainstorm, see what works, analyze what doesn't, and try to work out your intent behind the design.

Once you have a reasonably clear notion of what you want on your piece, start laying it out. A sharpie will create a very visible mark which will clean off with acetone or alcohol. Do you like how it looks in the context of your work?

Start your chasing with a lining tool. This will allow you to set the defining features of your design with clarity. This step will set the borders of any background region as well as create the line features.

As you set your first marks, hold the lining tool about an eighth inch above the work. This will allow you finer control of where the tool ends up marking. Resting the tool on the work can sometimes cause it to slip or shift down into a lower point.

Use light taps to set your initial marks, and when you have a groove to follow, rest the lining tool lightly in it and use harder strokes to form the feature fully.

Once you have your lines set, you can push background in and add any stippling/detail features. A larger ball punch or lining tool can be effective to move material quickly, but it will leave a coarser pattern on the surface. A combination of large tool and stippling punch will allow a deep pattern and a finely stippled surface.

Step 6: Explore!

Once you get a feel for how metal moves under your tools, the directions you can take this craft are virtually endless. You can delve into the realm of complex geometric figures, or explore more organic forms. For your inspiration, here are a few of the top image results for "Repousse"

As always: explore, imagine, create...

And if you want to see us do the same,

follow us on Instagram @lakecitiescraft

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    4 Discussions

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    sconnors

    4 weeks ago

    I'd like to know how you made the cup!
    Also, do you find you have to anneal the metal due to work hardening?

    2 replies
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    LakeCitiesCraftsconnors

    Reply 4 weeks ago

    I tended to anneal about every other pass when raising the cup. As weish mentioned below to prevent cracking, but also just because the metal is easier to work. There's a reason annealed copper and brass are called "dead soft".

    I'll be making a tinsmithing instructable in the near future, but if you're curious and want to get started, check out Sage Reynolds youtube video on raising a copper cup.

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    weishsconnors

    Reply 4 weeks ago

    with some materials, like copper, you will need to anneal periodically to prevent cracks from forming. the cup could be raised from thick sheet using various hardened steel stakes to back the work and a soft hammer to raise and shape the sheet. that sort of raising does thin the metal considerably, so you want to be careful not to overwork an area and get cracking and splitting.

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    seamster

    4 weeks ago

    Great follow-up to your instructable on making chasing tools. This is great! Thank you!