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Fluting a Pure Silver Cuff with Maker Hammers


By Bill Fretz


  Fluting has a long history in metalsmithing, and is now being used in a contemporary manner.  Traditionally fluting was very symmetrical with even flutes and spacing. By varying the flute sizes and patterns the work changes in mood and speaks to a more contemporary design aesthetic.  Using stakes and hammers made for the process speeds up the work as pitch does not have to be the supporting medium.  A cuff bracelet is a good choice as it affords a large working surface.


The Big Mistake: 

 We’ll start with your worst nightmare. Your favorite hammer was borrowed and abused by hitting steel directly and now you have to deal with the consequences.  It is mandatory that the working surfaces of your hammers and stakes be in pristine condition. Restoring them is actually an easy process.


 Filing the Hammer: 

 The first step is to file the hammer back to the original profile.  In some cases the hammer that is available might be the wrong shape in addition to being marred. Both of these problems can be corrected at the same time.  Use a #2 hand file to shape the hammer.  A file will be harder than most hammers used for non-ferrous metal, and it should only be used with a forward motion as the teeth can be damaged by dragging the file backwards over the hard steel. A plated hammer can be very difficult to refinish as the under lying steel may not be of high quality.

Emerying the Hammer: 

 The file marks are removed with emery cloth.  If the marks are deep use 220 grit followed by 320 grit emery cloth.  Use a motion so the surface is stroked in different directions.  For less wheel polishing it is a good idea to finish with 600 grit emery cloth.


Polishing the hammer: 

 The working hammer surface is finally buffed with grey star compound.  Wear a face shield and a dust mask. As with all polishing operations a vacuum system to collect dust is a very important tool to maintain a safe shop.  The process can be dirty but the results are very fast and the whole repair should take about five to ten minutes.


Starting the Cuff: 

  The Pure silver fluted cuff bracelet is actually started as closed circle.  Solder the 1”x6”x18ga. silver strip closed with sterling hard solder and white Handy Flux in a bed of pumice. Remove any excess solder with riffle or needle files so it is not driven into the metal as the bracelet is worked. Then emery smooth with at least 320 grit paper or cloth.  Excess solder will show up as a discoloration and will mar the final piece if left on the seam. The reason for the shape being closed is the metal will remain rigid as the forming unfolds. If the ends are left open they will dance around during the raising and fluting courses. It’s worth trying to form an open strip, with some scrap metal, to see what happens.


Notching the Blank:

 It is a good idea to notch the seam while you can still see it at this stage.

Keeping track of the seam before it is lost with hammer texture is important for two reasons. First, you want to open the closed circle at the seam so there is no evidence that it was once soldered. Second, the seam will be cut straight and this is useful as the cuff needs a fairly parallel opening to slide on comfortably.  Use a 2/0 saw blade to notch the solder seam so it doesn’t disappear during the hammering steps


Round the Blank:

 Raising a round domed shape is best started from a round blank.  The first step is to even up the soldered form into a true circle. This can be done on a bracelet mandrel but great care must be taken not to distort the form into a cone. The M-117 Insert Stake held in a H-1L Holder is made for this step as it will leave the surface flat and the shape round. Start in the middle and rotate the piece with over lapping blows as the bracelet blank is rotated on the stake. Continue this process as the hammer blows move toward the edge in even steps.


Adding Guide Lines:

 A thin marker pen is an excellent way of marking the round tube for the raising process.  Keeping the hammer blows within these tracks will keep the forming even. Without the guide lines it is easy to hammer unevenly


Raising with a Nylon Hammer: 

 For this project the raising is done on a domed M-111 stake that has the same 2” diameter as the bracelet blank. Because the surface under the blank has the correct curve it is possible to raise the metal in on a curved surface.  This is much easier than angle raising and the future planishing will go faster because the metal is distorted very little.

Because the outer rim is reduced in circumference, the donut hole will become smaller without thinning the center section. The important thing is to angle the metal off the center of stake so there is a small gap so the metal can be driven down to the stake. Using a nylon hammer like the HMR-7 or HMR-107 keeps the metal smooth because the nylon does not leave hammer marks. Start about a third of the way in from the edge of the tube and go all the way around the inner track. Repeat the next track, which is closer to the edge, by going all around and in the other direction.  When you get to the edge, flip the piece over and do the other side in the same order. When the entire piece is covered with hammer blows this is called a course.  It might be necessary to raise another course to get the desired dome.   Raise until the silver conforms to the under lying stake.  With traditional sterling silver it will be necessary to anneal between courses but with pure silver it may not be needed.


Raising with the Wide Maker Crosspein MKR-2 Hammer:

 As with all metal work projects there are multiple ways to accomplish the goal.

An alternate way to raise is with a steel raising hammer.  The MKR-2 Wide Crosspein actually makes the process go very fast but it is important to pay attention to feel and sound. When the metal is driven down and meets the stake there is a solid sound.  That is the signal to stop. If you continue hammering, you will stretch the metal without moving it.  The wide face makes later planishing easier because it does not ripple the metal like a narrow crosspein would.


Raising with a MKR-1 Planishing Hammer:

 Another way of raising is to use  the MKR-1 planishing hammer to raise low domes if the round side of the hammer is used. Again, the metal to be moved must be above the underlying stake with a gap of about 4-5 mm at the bracelet edge.  Don’t be concerned about the marks on the metal from the forming process as they will be replaced by the crosspein hammer’s texture during fluting. 


Roughing in the Flutes:

 The flutes are formed over two special stakes that have the same radii as the M-111 stake, but with peaks that allow the metal to be hammered into flutes. The first stake is the roughing in stake and it is called the M-113A and has a peak with a rounded edge.  There are two angles coming off the peak on either side.  The angle chosen depends how deep the flute is to be.  The lower angle coming off peak, Side 1 is the choice for this project as the flutes will be broad and not very deep. The other angle, Side 2, is for more extreme fluting.  The hammer of choice for straight flutes is a narrow straight crosspein like the MKR-3. Draw the desired fluting lines on the project.  Next, align the stake’s top edge with the drawn lines on the surface of the bracelet. The stake will be seen on either side of the drawn line. Hammer the metal, on one side of the edge, down to the stake’s surface with over lapping blows along the entire line.  The underlying peak of the stake keeps the center area from lowering and the flute is half formed.  Reverse the bracelet blank and repeat on the other side of the newly risen ridge line to complete the roughing in of the flute.  Continue until all of the lines drawn have been defined as rounded flutes.


Finishing the Flutes: 

 To sharpen the flutes it is necessary to switch stakes to one with a sharper ridgeline.

This would be the M-113B with the same profile as the M-113A but with a sharper edge. If the sharper stake is used first, it will bounce around and make sharp lines on the inside of the form.  The rounded inside fluted ridge acts as a track so the sharper stake follows and makes a clean inside line.  The M-113B also has a Side 1 and Side 2 and we will continue using the Side 1 for this project.  The same narrow crosspein  MKR-1 will be used to continue forming the flutes.  Hammering higher and with less force on the flute ridges will sharpen them.  The degree of sharpness is a design choice and the process can be repeated with even lighter hammer blows to refine the over all look.  With fine silver it is not necessary to anneal the metal as the silver needs to be work hardened to hold its shape. 


Tools Needed:

 The tools needed are very few considering how dramatic the effect is.  Each piece can be different depending on the initial drawn lines or the size and shape of the starting blank.

The Maker ballpeins such as the MKR-4 and 5 (not used) would change the overall final texture.  Each variable will add to the creative potential of this metalsmithing process. 


Radial Fluting: 

 If radial flutes are desired running around the bracelet rather than across, the solution is simple. Because the curves of the fluting stakes match the forming stakes it is possible to simply rotate the fluting stake in the H-1L Holder or in a larger T-101 (not shown).

The process demands that the craftsman find the stake ridge with hammer blows because the stake is hidden under the metal. With a few strikes the stake is found and it then becomes easy to follow the drawn line. The round ridge of the first fluting stakes lets you move this line around with out marring the inside surface.  When the final stake is used to define a sharp line the design is then difficult to change.  Another added dimension is the ability to use multiple stakes for more complex forms.  Jewelry can have both concave and convex areas with fluted or ”bone lines”.


 As with all craft projects the main element that makes it interesting is design. Fluting is easily learned, and then the technique becomes subservient to the creative process as it  takes center stage.   

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