A not-so-simple Copper Bowl
I signed up for a weeklong course in Basic Silversmithing in July and had a terrific time, in the process gaining a whole new level of respect for work done in metal. Brigitte Clavette, head of the metals department at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, and her friend Mary (whose last name I have lost at the moment) took six of us through a noisy, frustrating and fun journey for five very full days.
We started here, with a six-inch square of sheet copper, upon which we drew as big a circle as possible, and then cut it out using many many tiny sawblades.
Below is the start of my large collection of broken sawblades. We each got a dozen at the start of the week, and only one of mine survived the experience.
The corner scraps from my bowl didn't go to waste. I used them later on in the creation of my bowl.
Read on!
That Sinking Feeling!
After we got our circles of copper cut out, we filed and sanded their edges, then heated them to dull red hot – a process called annealing – then cooled them in water and popped them into a "pickle" bath to remove some of the oxides created in the annealing process.
Annealing makes the copper more malleable, so that when we started hitting it with hammers, it would move around a bit.
And hit it with hammers we did! Again and again and again. The first stage is called "sinking" where you hit the bowl from the inside against a small dent in a wooden object.
After we had done that for a while and the thing started to look more bowl-shaped, we "bouged" it, a process of banging it on the outside with a nylon hammer against a metal form (a stake) to take out the unnecessary bumps and irregularities. Then we "upset" the edge by hammering it with a narrow hammer to create tiny grooves and thicken the edge
Then we annealed again, did more sinking, more bouging, another annealing, another sinking, and another bouging.
The selection of hammers was quite impressive. This is a small section of the wall of things made specifically to hammer metal into shape.
After three sinkings, three bougings and three annealings, my bowl was looking like this.
Raising a whole new set of problems
Raising involves banging on the outside of the copper bowl, with a different assortment of hammers, starting at the bottom and working up toward the top. In fact, you can think of the entire process as putting lots of
dents in metal, and then methodically taking the dents out again. With raising, you also bouge after each go-round, and again also upset the edge, anneal, pickle etc.
As you can see at the right, my bowl developed some very distinct irregularities during the raising process. This in fact, is the outside of the bowl as seen on the inside on the main page, so if you want to go back and see that inside view, you can click here!
Lots of bouging to get this baby round again. Then another round of raising!
Midway through the course - late afternoon on Tuesday, we're all pretty pleased with the way our bowls are developing. They are so much more alive than the flat metal we began the week with. The feeling is completely different.
But it's not clear sailing yet. The next round of raising gave my bowl a very nice ruffle around the edge - not exactly what I had in mind. A lot more raising on the outside banging those frills into submission, and – you guessed it – a whole lot more bouging too.
After the sinking, using sinking hammers of course (though I suspect NONE of those babies would have floated – except maybe the nylon-headed bougers), and the raising, using the raising hammers, we moved on to planishing, using – you guessed it – the planishing hammers. That's one beside the bowl with its fairly flat hammering face. Planishing essentially polishes the copper by banging it against another piece of steel (after annealing of course and before upsetting its edge again.
By this time Brigitte says my bowl is so thin that if I try to solder a base on the thing it will just collapse, so I have to make some sort of support to keep it from wobbling around. I find a bit of scrap copper in the waste bin that will work, and I cut a series of little leaves out of those corners from my original six-inch square of sheet metal.
More saw blades bite the dust!
I bang the strip of copper into something approaching a napkin ring, and Brigitte demonstrates soldering to bring the two ends together in a permanent way.
If you look behind me in the picture above you will see a series of iron things that look like particularly nasty instruments of medieval torture.
I used one of those to flare out the ends of the ring (hammering of course), and worked with sinking hammers to create some texture on my leaf shapes.
The available piece of wire was quite thick, so it went three or four times through a machine that pulled it to progressively finer gauges of wire.
The elements for the base of my bowl, and my tentative sketch of where I hoped to be heading.
The sunk, raised, planished and finished bowl and the finished ring base without its vine and leaves. Still waiting for another soldering lesson to proceed to the next step.
Ta DA!!
My bowl is finished and so is its base.
Brigitte also gave us a little strip of sterling silver to make bracelets. The idea was to imprint something into the silver to give it a bit of texture and design. This was our final piece for the course, so I went back to the beginning and used my pieces of broken sawblades to create the design on my bracelet.
And for added continuity, I have incorporated my bowl in the still life study I did for the oil painting course I just finished.
It's a terrific program the city is running. I hope it takes off and thrives.
I came away with a copper bowl and a silver bracelet, a lot of technical information and respect for metal, metalwork and metal workers.

Not bad for a week's learning.