My local gallery is putting on an exhibition of hand-made toys done by it’s member artists, So I decided to make a top. This turned out to be a bigger challenge than expected, because a top, to spin well has to be well balanced, not an easy achievement on something that is hammered out by hand. I decided to have an axis through the center, a stainless steel bolt, which I modified slightly so the head doubles as the point on which the top will spin. Having that rigid central shaft would make it easier to get the rest of the top concentric from top to bottom. It worked out pretty well, except I found out that even with the aid of a lathe, getting a hand hammered piece as perfect as a machined piece is not going to happen.
I wanted to use two contrasting metals for this project, and settled on bronze and silver, because they would provide the best contrast, and the bronze is very hard and durable. I used almost every possible means of connection on it, including welding, silver-soldering, soft soldering, and nut and bolt.
Now for the process. The first picture shows three pieces of silicon bronze sheet, cut out and ready to go. Next, they have been formed, ready to be joined together. It was very tricky just getting the three pieces held together enough to get them tacked together. The next picture shows them having been welded at the very end, just enough to make them stay together so they could be welded the rest of the way, as shown in the fourth picture.
The silicon bronze welds really well, and makes it possible to have seams that don’t show at all. Also when silver-soldering on the rest of the piece, I didn’t have to worry about melting solder on the other seams. The next picture shows the sterling silver cutouts, shaped to fit in their respective spaces. Then next is the top piece with silver inlays silver-soldered into place, and the two brass pieces that will be silver-soldered into the top and bottom of the stem, through which the central bolt will go.
Now on to the bottom half. Pretty simple. The first picture shows the bottom piece after the one course of raising, then the next picture shows it after planishing.
Then it gets a little more complicated. I wanted to have a rubber O-ring on the outside of the top, to act as a bumper. For this I decided to make a ring, conical to match the curvature of the bottom, so that when soldered on, it would form a groove to hold the O-ring. I decided to soft solder this piece for a couple reasons: I didn’t want to anneal the bottom piece, and I figured that warpage of the ring was a distinct possibility with that much heat. Clamping the springy ring on proved to be a challenge of it’s own, and I ended up spending a couple hours devising some homemade clamps to do the job. I applied the solder in the groove where it wouldn’t show, to prevent having a big cleanup job on the part that does show.
Then finally the sterling silver cap that goes on the end of the stem. At this point I was getting pretty impatient to get the project completed, so I didn’t get many pictures. This one shows the final stage of forming having been forced through a die I made from an old bearing race and a piece of pipe. I finished it off by planishing on a very small stake. It then got a round brass nut, which I had made on the lathe, silver-soldered into the inside of it. This can be seen in the next two pictures, which also show the 3/8″ pipe spacer and the 3/8″ x 5-1/2″ stainless steel bolt.
Then, the top fully assembled. It’s 6″ tall x 4.75″ in diameter.
In case anyone is interested, the exhibition will be at Artlink Gallery in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Oct. 29 – Dec. 1, 2010.
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