The Making of a Hammer-formed Brass Dog Sculpture Urn

by shelbyvision on January 13, 2009

I have had many people tell me that they would like to see how I make my brass sculptural pet urns. I finally got around to photographing myself at work on a dog urn, and have put together a pictorial chronology of the process. I have divided the process into “stages” with the piece being annealed before starting each consecutive stage. Stages 1-6 are raising the simple dome form. Stages 7 and 8 are the transformation of that simple dome shape into a sculpture.

1st Stage: This piece started with an 11 in. diameter circle of 16 gauge brass, annealed. I have drawn, with a compass, concentric lines to serve as a guide for uniform raising. The first step is radial crimping, done with the raising hammer on the special wood block shown in the first picture. Next is the stake I made just for this purpose, 2-1/2 in. wide and 12 in. long, the raised part on the right end has a special purpose that will be shown later. The hammering starts at line 1, 2-1/8 in. from the center. The lines are 1-1/8 in. apart, and I hammer a course on each line and halfway between. The resulting diameter is now 9-3/4 in.
Tool 1CrimpingTool 2RaisingStage 1 Finished

The next four pictures show the results of stages 2-5. The piece is annealed between each stage.

Stage 3Stage 3Stage 4Stage 4

6th Stage: Annealed again. Now the metal gets bent over to 180 degrees from where it started. This is where the special part of the stake comes in. A line is drawn 7/8 in. from the edge for a guide. Resulting outside diameter is now 6-7/8 in.
Tool 1Start Bending OverFinish Bending OverBottom ViewTop View

7th Stage. Annealed again. Now it starts getting interesting. I have tried to picture all of the tools used, although I may have missed some. I have arranged the pictures so that the tool is pictured before the process for which it is being used.
In the first picture, there is no tool other than the hammer. Next, tool 3 is an all-purpose slightly domed stake which gets used more than any other. In the process shown, I’m creating the the separation between the dog’s nose and rear. Next, tool 4 is being used to push out the ears at the place where they fold over.
Step 1Tool 3Using Tool3Tool 4Using Tool 4

On to the next group of pictures, still stage 7. Tool 5 is an almost-flat stake with a straight part to make it useable at the bottom edge, as shown. Tool 6 is a special little stake to form the dog’s muzzle. I have four of these for different sizes and shapes of dogs, and one for cats. Tool 7 is for flattening out the bottom flange, which has gotten all wavy and distorted in the previous processes.
Tool 5Using Tool 5Tool 6Shaping MuzzleShaping MuzzleTool 7Using Tool 7

The next pictures deal mostly with what I call rough planishing. There are also some other types of refinement going on. With a big hammer I smooth out all the bumps, dents, and irregularities created in the raising process. Tool 8 is used for rough planishing around the bottom. Tools 9 and 10 are different size balls used for rough planishing the rest of the piece. Smaller tools, such as tool 3, are used on the head and other places where the curvature is smaller. Tool 11 is for tight areas down against the bottom flange. At the end of stage 7, it looks like a dog, but still pretty crude. It can’t be refined any more without first being annealed.
Tool 8Using Tool 8Tool 9Tool10Rough PlanishingRough Planishing

Rough PlanishingPushing Out from InsidePushing in from OutsideDefining the EyesRough PlanishingTool 11Using Tool 11End of Stage 7

8th Stage: Annealed for the final time. Much of this stage is further refinement of the same steps taken in stage 7. Tool 12 is used to further define the line between head and rear. Tool 6 is used again to refine the dog’s muzzle. Tool 13 is for giving the ears more definition.
Tool 12Using Tool 12Tool 6Using Tool 6Tool 13Using Tool 13
The next two pictures show the final planishing, done with a small planishing hammer with a very flat, highly polished face. In the third picture, all the refinements are complete.
PlanishingPlanishingPlanishing Done
The next tool, #14, is very special. Made from a found shaft already bent to that shape, it is ground in a way that allows me to recess the bottom flange in order to accept the cover plate properly.
Tool 14Using Tool 14Recess Created
Next, I buff the piece with tripoli to get rid of any small scratches and to expose any defects that need to be fixed. I don’t leave it with the polished finish, however, preferring a satin finish. I apply a patina to darken the brass, and then rub it with steel wool. The resulting finish is very stable, and is the most practical for objects that get handled a lot. In the next picture the holes have been drilled and tapped and a rubber gasket set in place. Next, the cover plate is screwed into place, then it’s done.
BuffingBuffedRubber GasketCover Plate in PlaceFinished!

Putting this pictorial together turned out to be a bigger project than I expected. I hope that it will be educational and helpful to someone. If there is anything that I have not made clear, please let me know and I will be happy to answer any of your questions.


{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jerry Fowler January 25, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Wonderful work and a truly amazing graphic of how it is done. I have 17 dogs in little plastic boxes so I susspose that I had better get start ed practiceing on making some container for them. They deserve better then plastic.

georgeingraham January 20, 2009 at 1:26 am

Just wanted to say how informative and interesting your blog is. Being brand new to silversmithing, your information is exactly the kind of reading I am looking for and the reason I joined this blogging community.
I am just now bidding on some stakes and ordered my first hammer. I am getting on track slowly !
Going to add you to my blog roll too!

Michael Johnson January 18, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Very nice!!! I enjoyed reading and absorbing that, Steve. Great job!!!

msadesigns January 17, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Beautiful sculpture! You’ve done a fantastic job with the work-in-progress photos!

David Huang January 15, 2009 at 9:44 am


I should probably take some inspiration from your actions as I usually opt for not breaking my momentum and just make do with what tools I have. I generally say I will remember and make the tool later, but rarely do.

shelbyvision January 14, 2009 at 2:08 pm

David, Hans, your websites were both an inspiration to me in creating this pictorial. My collection of home-made stakes and punches is constantly growing. I keep running into situations that require something with a particular shape that I don’t already have. So I make it. Usually I hate losing my momentum to take all the time required to make a new tool, but I’m always glad later, since I can use them again and again, except for a few that I can’t remember what they were for ;)

hansmeevis January 13, 2009 at 10:53 am

Absolutely freaking brilliant, Steve. You’ve given me long inspiration to try something like that on a tiny scale in silver, come low season.
From one lefty to another….
Cheers, Hans

David Huang January 13, 2009 at 10:15 am

Wow! Great job Steve. Thanks for taking the effort to put together this pictorial. I certainly do know how much effort it takes to try to illustrate and describe a process. I especially enjoyed seeing all the various stake forms and tools you are using. It makes me think I should perhaps look into expanding the really rather small selection I have.

I’m also impressed with how well you do a controlled deformation of the symmetrical vessel form. I wouldn’t have thought you could come up with such an end result without some degree of chasing work using wax or pitch. I may have to play around with this sort of deforming and then refining over stakes of the base vessel. Seeing this opens up new thoughts of ways to create form.

Thanks again for sharing your technique!

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