Simple Metalworking Techniques and Making a Steel Butterfly




Blacksmithing and traditional metalworking are ancient crafts and techniques that are quickly disappearing from society. Regain some of that simple-times joy by learning how to make things with a hammer and anvil! Creativity is the name of the game, and beating things with a hammer all day is both rewarding, stress relieving, and terribly fun!

This instructable demonstrates the simple metalworking techniques I used to create a steel butterfly, using tools that most household handyfolk have readily available and materials that are inexpensive. The process is relatively safe because all the work is done at room temperature. Goggles, gloves and some earplugs are a good idea though. These methods let you create beautiful objects for cheap that have a great personal feel. You could even sell them.

Today I'll show you how I made a small steel butterfly.

Here is a link to the free clipart image I used. Please respect the site rule of Personal and Classroom use only.

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Step 1: Materials and Tools

Not too many materials that we need for this job.

- 22 gauge steel sheet
- Butterfly picture
- Solid-core wire

Safety gear:
- Gloves
- Goggles
- Ear protection

One of those steel thumb protectors would be a good idea.

- Hammer (8oz to 16oz weight hammer will give the best control, make sure the face is flat and smooth)
- X-acto knife or craft knife
- Tin snips or equivalent
- Anvil ( or a carriage bolt as I'll later describe )
- Vice
- Pliers
- Scotch tape
- Assorted metal files ( needle files and larger )
- Drill and small bit ( 2mm diameter or around 5/64ths )
- Soldering Iron ( optional, but makes life prettier )

Step 2: Cutting Out the Basic Shape

Our picture of the butterfly is pretty, but we need it on the metal. Cut out the butterfly with the knife or with scissors.

Put loops of tape on the back of the shape, staying within the boundaries of the cutout, as we can see in the pictures below. Stick the butterfly to your steel sheet.

Use tin snips to cut a very rough (almost square) cutout of the butterfly, to get it off the main sheet of steel so we can work with it easier. We need to cut around the shape getting as close as we can. Don't worry about tight notches like around the head and abdomen, or the tiny notches in the middle of the wings.

Now, cut those tiny notched spots, and use pliers if you can't snip the tiny bits out completely. Twist and pull the small pieces of unwanted steel off until the shape is almost what we want. Don't worry about how flat the piece is yet, or if sharp spots stick up. Remove the printed butterfly picture.

Step 3: Smoothing the Edges

If your tin snips have tiny teeth-like textures on the jaws, then your cutout edges will end up being shiny, bumpy and very sharp. To fix this, just hammer around the edge of it on a sturdy metal surface. This will bend the metal and clean up these sharp bits that we dont want. Its best to remove them while the piece is flat.

VERY CAREFULLY run your finger along the edge of the cutout. If you encounter any sharp bits, file them off gently. You can feel the spots that you'll need to file. Try to not remove too much material and change the shape of the piece, unless intentional.

To file the piece without bending it, place it on the edge of a table so that little more than the edge you are going to file is sticking over the edge. Then hold the piece down firmly as you file.

Do any major filing that you need to complete to make your piece the shape you want. Once you're happy with it, move to the next step: shaping!

Step 4: Hammer Time!

If you don't have an anvil, you can make a makeshift one using a steel carriage bolt from a local hardware store. Smooth off the end and grip it in a vice so that it sticks straight up, then place your piece on top of it and hit it with a hammer. Its not elegant or very good, but its better than nothing. See the photo below to see what I mean.

Start hammering by going back and forth on the wing on the curve of the anvil horn. After a slight bend begins to form, move the piece and keep hitting so that it bends smoothly, but doesn't kink or develop sharp bends unintentionally. You may want to practice on a scrap piece if you've never done this before. Its very intuitive, and you need to "feel" what you're doing, so I'm not going to try to describe it further. Feel the bends with your hands, and make decisions based on that. Its hard to screw up, so just keep working the metal until you're satisified.

Use more of the anvil curve to curve the wing tips more sharply.

Next we're going to bend the wings up. Grab the body of the butterfly tightly with needle-nose pliers. Grab each wing and bend them upwards by hand. Try to bend it with your hands as close to where the bend is happening, so that we dont deform the wing shape.

If you're satisfied, the hard work is done!

Step 5: Adding Antennae

A bug isn't complete without antennae, so we need to drill a hole and make some wire antennae for our little butterfly. Drill a hole in the head of the butterfly using your small bit. The hole shouldn't be very big compared to the head, and the head shouldn't suffer structurally.

Strip some solid-core wire to use for antennae. Make sure the wire is stiff enough to pose. Cut the lengths about 2x longer than how long you want your antennae to be. Feed the wire through the hole and then loop it back through, and pull tight. Solder them in place and cut off the access.

Now, we need to shape them. Grab the end with needle-nose pliers nad make a sharp kink around on itself. Squeeze the kink so its near 180 degrees. Now, grab the kink and turn it in such a way that you gently bend the wire around into a small coil. The pictures should give you the idea.

Step 6: Complete, But What Now?

So the butterfly is complete. What now?

This is only limited by your imagination. Its steel, which means magnets can stick to it, so have fun. Here are some ideas:

- Magnetic broach.
- Glue on a hairpin to make a butterfly hairpin.
- Mount on a stick and place several butterflies around your flower garden. (Spray with clear coat to prevent rust in the rain, or use stainless steel)
- Glue on a magnet to use as a fridge magnet.
- Paperweight.
- Christmas tree decoration.
- Make a windchime out of a bunch of butterflies.
- Paint it pretty colours and repeat the list.
- Adorn with plastic jewels and stones and repeat list.

Experiment with the whole process. Try polishing the finished product a little, or use a center punch or nail to make decorative dents and other textures. Go nuts, the sky is the limit here.

I hope you enjoyed reading.

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    33 Discussions


    Probably, but it won't be very strong. I'm pretty sure there are coke can flowers and such on this site somewhere.

    Very nice! I have been blacksmithing for ten years and I am partial to the many natural patinas of raw steel. However, I have found a wonderful product for coloring metal (it also works on many other materials). I have made grape leaves and roses and coated them with Baroque Art Gilders Paste. Link to

    Another technique you should try is to heat the steel to a black-red and begin brushing the piece with a fine bristle brass brush! It will leave a fine residue of brass on the metal. Brass actually produces a mechanical bond (rather than a molecular bond as in welding), which sets it off nicely.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I really like this. I'm going to have to give it a try. Thanks.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Good make, I like the slightly beaten finish. Any thoughts on heat-treating this (for colour)? L

    13 replies

    It looks pretty cool when flamed! I hammered a heart shaped keychain and then torched the center until it glowed red-hot, and then quenched it. Heres the result:


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, that's quite a difference, I was thinking of heating to the stage where you get the blue-ish colours? L


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    It is quite blue. The picture is tough to capture but the result is a definite "steely blue". I was going for more colour but the first colours were all dark and ugly, and then this blue was the final heated colour. I think it looks okay. It would have been cool to get a reddish colour but I have no idea what kind of heating technique would be required to get much other than blue out of it.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I see it as a bit black, but it could be blue - heating just the edges or just the centre was my original thinking, but the dark finish does look good. Gun-blue is a chemical-option, but perhaps not as easy? L


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    It is a dark blue-green, I just couldn't get a good picture of it. Charcoal dust bluing might be interesting, but gun-blue is a very dark blue, it looks black in most light. When doing my heating I tried out heating the edges, the problem there was that the center of the flame was needed to get any real heat, and the outer flames were just in the way, and when heating the flames would move outwards when hitting the piece, so getting a small spot heated is difficult.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I learned some of this in gunsmithing school,Im glad you posted this,I have a book showing heat treatments as well as blueing,parkerizing,even slow rust blueing which is really a mellow brown color,now I just need to find my book.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    This is a color guide for tempering steel ... completely different than the actual temperature of steel based on its color. The temperature of steel and its color will vary on different pieces of steel, based on the type of steel it is (carbon content, etc). Mild steel can be black but still be over 1000 degrees F. BTW ... blacksmithing is alive and well ... check out There are regional groups in many areas of the country that are keeping the craft alive. Modern blacksmiths use traditional (and non traditional) methods to create anything from campfire tools to artistic works. There are still people making a nice living by creating hand-forged railings, table, lighting, etc.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    If you follow the thread, that was the point (developing heat color). If you follow the signs, you can visit my blacksmithing shop : )


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Yes that's what I was thinking of, might ~~boolmar~~ save it. thanks L


    10 years ago on Introduction

    ive just started blacksmithing thankyou this will be my next project