More Metalworking Techniques and Making a Steel Bird




Due to an impossible urge to make things, I've done another project that utilizes some more simple metalworking techniques, and uses the ones that I discussed in my two previous Instructables, found below:

So, in this instructable I will show you how to rivet two pieces of metal together (an instructable already exists, but this isn't my focus) and how to give metal a decorative hammered texture. Also, my design might get your head whirling about how to make simple 3D shapes using 2D materials, keeping your project simple but still looking elegant.

I hope you enjoy reading.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Things are made of Stuff. Therefore, Stuff is needed to make Things. Lets get started:


- 22 gauge sheet steel
- A rivet

Safety Gear:

- Gloves
- Goggles
- Ear protection


- Anvil
- Ball-pein Hammer
- Needle-nose pliers (the kind without teeth are best)
- Heavy duty cutters
- Blowtorch
- Drill
- Bit the diameter of your rivet
- Tin snips
- Vice
- Tape
- Scissors
- A nail, thumb tack or other scoring tool

You can see the main tools below. The ball-pein hammer is very important since we will need the ball side a lot for this project. The tin snips could be replaced with a fine-toothed jigsaw.

As always, you can improvise your tool selection, but we need to work the metal while its cold, so keep that in mind.

On to the next step: Our Pattern!

Step 2: Hey Robin, Jolly Robin...

...tell me how thy lady does?

A good project starts with a good plan, and in our case the plan is a bird template. This we will transfer to metal, cut out, and beat mercilessly.

The design I made is a compilation of clipart and photoshop. I set up the feet so that they could be easily bent outwards and serve as useful standing feet. The tail is meant to be twisted 90 degrees so that it is horizontal instead of vertical.

We're going to print out this design and cut it out with scissors. Next, take your tape and tape the cutouts onto the steel so that no tape protrudes from around the cutout. If you just put strips of tape over the paper, they will get in the way of our marking tool.

Use your scribing tool (a sharp nail or thumb tack, or even a knife works fine) and scratch an outline of the cutouts onto the steel. You can now peel off the paper and discard it.

Step 3: Wing Clippin'

Now that we have our design all set, we can cut it out. Take the tin snips and carefully cut around the shapes. Don't use the snips all the way to the end of their mouth, as that tends to leave dents behind. Also, its much easier to cut roughly around the shape, then cut in closely to get it to the exact size. This way, the excess that you are snipping off will be able to curl out of the way of the snips. Don't worry about imperfections, and be VERY CAREFUL about sharp edges and points. This stuff will slide into your skin like its butter.

When cutting difficult spots like between the toes, make a snip along one line of the toe, then along the other, and then twist the remaining bit of metal out of place with needle-nose pliers. Remember to not close the snips fully if you don't have to.

When thats done, admire your work. Now the fun part begins!

Step 4: Hammar Away!

This is the fun part.

We're going to start by hammering the edges of the shapes so that the sharp edge and imperfections left by the snips are diminished. Put the piece on the anvil and start hammering around the edge. The soft steel will flatten out slightly and the sharp edge will smooth out.

Do this on the other side if necessary. When you're done, the edge shouldn't be so sharp that running your finger along it causes considerable bleeding.

Now, here's how to add a decorative dented finish to sheet metal.

Take a piece of paper towel, fold it into 8ths, and use some tape to hold it down onto the top of your anvil. This will give us a slightly more forgiving surface to texture the metal on, and will help protect your anvil. We're just going to use the ball-pein side of the hammer to beat dents into both sides of the bird. Strike the bird with moderate blows, keeping the hammer straight to get consistent dents. The bird will bend as you do this, so keep flipping it over and hammering the opposite side to straighten it back out. Just keep doing this until its dented the way you want it.

Same deal with the wings. Use that metal curving to your advantage, and curve your wings so they stick out and away from the body of the bird.

Once everything is the way you like it, fit the wings together as well as you can and drill a hole slightly larger than the diameter of your rivet through both of them. Now, place them on the bird and figure out where you want to drill the hole in the bird that you'll put the rivet through.

The reason we didn't mark this earlier is because the hammering would have obliterated all trace of our marks, and also would have deformed any holes drilled earlier. I just prefer to do it after hammering. You would have to re-drill the holes after hammering to get them back to their original diameter.

Step 5: The Bends

Now that our bird is well-dented, we need to make him 3D!

Start by grabbing a leg just below where it connects to the body, and bend it 90 degrees to one side. Bend the other foot in the opposite direction 90 degrees. We don't need to worry about the bird standing up right now, because once the wings are in place the weight and balance will change dramatically.

Next bend is the tail. The way I did it was to grip the tail with my hand and the the body of the bird, just before the tail, with pliers. Then I just twisted the tail 90 degrees. Try to disperse the twist evenly between the tail and the body, so that equal amounts of the twist are on each side. Try to twist it as tightly as possible, using the smallest amount of material from both sides. Once the tail is twisted, bend it upwards after the twist until it is sticking up at the angle you like.

The direction you twist is not important, but twist it so that the side you think looks better is facing up.

Step 6: BBQ Time

This part incorporates the skills discussed in a previous Instructable of mine, titled "Flame Coloring and Making a Steel Flower." The link is below if you want a more thorough detailing of the process.

Place the beak of your bird firmly in your vice. Light your blowtorch and keep it at a fairly low setting. We want to keep very close control of the heat, and we need to watch constantly for the color changes. Adequate lighting is very important, and if the lights aren't bright enough you won't see the color changes happening until its already too late. To get the gold colors, pass the torch back and forth across the area, making sure to heat as evenly as possible if you want the color to be uniform. As you start to see the changes, ease off the heat. The color tends to keep changing for a few seconds after you remove the heat, so be very careful to take the heat off before you reach your desired color. Trying all this out on a piece of scrap is definitely recommended.

I did the birds body a nice golden color through the middle, and the tail I heated carefully in specific spots to get rainbows of gold, purple, red and blue.

Repeat this step with the wings, placing the very tip of the wing into your vice to hold it. If you don't have a vice, you can hold the parts with pliers.

Step 7: Approaching a Riveting Conclusion...

Sorry for the terrible pun.

Anyway, the next step is to rivet the wings on. Once everything has cooled down, we can rivet the wings in place.

Start by threading the rivet through one wing, then the body, then the other wing. The rivet will probably be too long, and if it is we need to snip it shorter. Clamp the pieces together with needle-nose vice grips so that they are tight, like the way they will be when the rivet is finished. Then, cut the excess off the rivet so that what remains protrudes about 4mm (5/32s of an inch) from the bird.

Place the bird on the corner of your anvil, so that the pre-formed rivet head is right on the anvil. Try to keep the rest of the bird off the anvil, so that you don't scratch it.

Begin hammering with the flat side of the hammer, until the rivet begins to flatten out and become wider. Then, switch to the ball side and strike around the flattening rivet so that it becomes domed. Keep doing this until the the unformed side of the rivet starts to look like the pre-formed side of the rivet.

Remove the vice grips when the pieces are fairly well sandwiched together. Make sure your wings are positioned just the way you want them, and continue hammering. Flip the bird over and hammer the pre-formed side too, so it snugs up against the material. When you're done the rivet should look like the picture below.

Step 8: Clear-Cut Coated Completion

The only thing left to do is to clear-coat the piece!

If we don't clear coat it, the colors can fade and the bird will rust over time. I used Tremclad Gloss Clear Coat, and applied a coat over the whole thing. This makes it smooth, shiny, and permanently protected!

24 hours later, your bird has cured and he is complete. Feel free to name him.

You could stick one on a pole and put it in your garden, glue one to a bird-bath or feeder, place them in your Christmas tree, or spread his wings more, add a thread hole and hang him from the ceiling.

Sorry about the poor final product pictures, the clear was still drying in my garage and I couldn't capture the colours very well with or without the flash.

I hope that you found some useful and interesting information in this guide. Thanks for reading!



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20 Discussions


I have been a watcher and not a doer for too long so I gave this a go with what I had available. I only had some old galvanised sheetmetal from some old roof flashings.

I tried doing some colouring using my new Butane torch but it did not work. I will have to get some sheet metal I can colour.

Bird Trial 1.jpgBird Trial.jpg
1 reply

As a public safety announcement, you shouldn't try to colour galvanized steel as it releases toxins when the zinc coating burns off.

Great job!

Wow, I'm really glad to see people being inspired by my work!  Honestly, really really great work. 

Galvanized steel is coated with a thin layer of zinc, which is why it was not affected by the blowtorch.  I hope you had fun and learned a bunch along the way though. :)

Thanks again!

1 reply

Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

Galvanized steel gives off highly toxic fumes when heated I think you should make readers aware of this


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

I most certainly would if I had a venue. Right now I just make stuff as presents for my girlfriend, but her house is getting cluttered up so selling this stuff is a very good idea. Are you asking because you want to buy? I should speak with the local arts group and see how and where they sell their stuff.

I could certainly try. I will have to make a bunch of stuff specifically for selling though, and that will take a while.


9 years ago on Step 8

I decided to make this for my girlfriend for the holidays and it turned out great! I spot-welded the wings on instead of using a rivet.


9 years ago on Introduction

a cross-peen hammer could be used instead of a ball-peen to creat more feather like patterns

1 reply

Definitely, but keeping them relatively straight might be difficult. It would be a good alternative, and if you did it right I think it might look even better. The ball-peen is just a little safer because you can't hit wrong with a sphere.


9 years ago on Introduction

In step 4 a lead shot filled leather bag or wooden forms may be more suitable than paper towels taped to anvils. In step 7 When I trim rivets I trim them flat. Makes the head I shape come up much better formed. Really I can't imagine trying to shape a rivet that was snipped. Well after looking at your picture maybe now I can! I mean how can you deflect on the edges when they are sloped? Anyway ... I usually just use common soft iron nails too, which work well for me. Now I have to find this instructable you mention that focuses on riveting. So I can add it to the pages I've already read on the subject.

1 reply

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

The rivet Instructable:

You're right about the paper towel not being the best thing, it shredded pretty bad by the time I was done. However, I also tried using my wooden workbench for the hammering and it didn't give me the cushioning I wanted. Next time I'm going to use a folded square of cloth that I think will stand up to the abuse longer, and if that fails, leather.

Thanks for the comment though. In regard to trimming rivets, this is just what I did. You're right about the edges being sloped, and thats why I hammer the rivet with the flat end first, to spread it out a bit. Once it starts looking like its got the head of a nail on it, then I can start shaping it into the finished dome. I've never tried using soft nails as a rivet, but I have this big bin of actual rivets so I don't think I need to.