Hammer Your Own Copper Hardware

Hammer Your Own Copper Hardware

By David Olson

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Hardware doesn’t have to come from a catalog. You can make your own. The raw materials are inexpensive and you won’t have to buy lots of special metalsmithing tools, because most of the things you’ll need are already in your shop. Learning the techniques for working copper can be rewarding and fun. Annealing and work hardening were new to me, and may be to you, but cutting, hammering, and drilling are familiar to woodworkers.

Working copper is a blast!

I was pleased with the very first copper piece I made, and my results kept getting better the more I practiced. Once you’re familiar with the techniques, you’ll be able to make all the hardware for the AW Stickley-Style Sideboard project (available from awbookstore.com)—or just about any Mission or Arts and Crafts style piece of furniture in a couple of weekends. If you decide to try making your own, I guarantee that you will enjoy the process and be thrilled by the results.

Materials and sources

For the AW Stickley-Style Sideboard, you’ll need 2 sq. ft. of 48-oz. copper sheet stock (.064 gauge) for hinge straps and backplates, 3' of 5/16" copper rod stock (AISI grade #110) for bails, 10" of 1/2" x 1/2" copper bar stock for posts, and 10" of 4-gauge copper grounding rod for post pins (Photo 19). Sheet metal and architectural metal fabricators are often willing to sell the small amounts of sheet stock you’ll need. Rod and bar stock is harder to find. Try salvage yards or order through the mail (see Sources). Grounding rod is available anywhere electrical wiring supplies are sold. You’ll also need pickling flux and silver solder, and perhaps a patinizing solution (see “The Look of Aged Copper”). All of these things are also available through the mail (see Sources).


The only specialized tools you’ll need to work the copper are hammers and a punch, something to pound on, a heat source, and places to heat and cool the metal.

You can buy real metalsmithing hammers (see Sources), or use some elbow grease and make your own from inexpensive 16-oz. ball peen hammers. Be sure to wear eye protection when you try this.

Reshape one flat hammer face into a shallow dome (Fig. A, Planishing Hammer) using a disc or belt sander. The shape of the dome determines the size of the mark. I found a 5/16" dia. mark the most attractive. Some areas that need texture are too small for the planishing hammer, so I domed the tip of a length of steel rod (Fig. A, Mini-planisher). Shape the face of the second hammer into a shallow-domed rectangle that slopes toward the handle (Fig. A, Forming Hammer). To quickly get the rectangular shape on this one, I cut away the unnecessary steel with a 4-1/2" cut-off wheel in my grinder/sander before moving to the disc sander for final shaping. You can do this whole job on the disc sander, but it will take longer. A third hammer face remains flat. Smooth and polish all of these faces with an orbital sander, working through sandpaper grits up to 600. Any blemishes left on the hammer faces will be transferred to the copper.

To achieve a crisp texture on the copper you must hammer it on a hard surface. Wood is not hard enough. I used a piece of 1/2" steel plate for the hinge straps and backplates (Photo 2) and a massive steel block for the bails (Photo 13). I bought both at a salvage yard for next to nothing. Raising the crowned shape of the hinge straps and bolt heads can be done using a piece of maple 1-3/4" x 4" x 12" (Photo 5) as a forming block.

You’ll need a high-output, self-starting torch and a tank of MAPP gas to get the copper hot enough to anneal it— propane won’t do. I made my own annealing tray by filling an aluminum cake pan with pumice stones (see Sources, p. 8) and used a plastic container for the quenching bath.

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1. Saw the hardware pieces following paper patterns fixed to the copper sheet with spray adhesive. Copper is soft enough to cut on a bandsaw using a generalpurpose, fine-tooth blade. Centerpunch all drill hole marks on the patterns, smooth all burrs and refine the edges with abrasives or files. Remove paper and adhesive residue, then polish the copper faces with 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper.

2. Create a hammered texture by striking the copper with a planishing hammer on a flat steel surface. Be sure to hammer the face—the side with the centerpunched holes. Practice hammering on scraps so you can get a feel for the metal and develop a hammering rhythm. Slightly overlapping each stroke creates a nicely balanced look.

6. Pound an annealed strap into the forming block to create the raised center. Use the forming hammer. The strap will bend dramatically as it is worked, but you can flatten it by gently tapping its top side with a non-marring mallet. Anneal the copper when it becomes work hardened (see “The Annealing Process").

8. Hammer texture marks onto the convex profile at the tip of the freshly annealed hinge strap. A ball peen hammer held in a vice serves as a stake—an anvil for texturing a curved object. Make sure each blow of the planishing hammer is centered on the stake hammer below. As you work, move the hinge strap, not the hammer, for each blow. Use the forming block to flatten the tip if it distorts.

11. Hammer penny-sized polished copper discs into a spherical cavity in the forming block with the ball peen hammer. Center a steel tack in the concave backside and silver-solder it in place.

13. Pound around the annealed rod with the forming hammer to lengthen and taper it. Work from the center out, and rotate the rod with each blow. It will take four to five courses of pounding and annealing to achieve the final length and the desired taper.

16. Start the bend of the door’s V-shaped bail by pounding it, freshly annealed, over a 1" x 1/4" steel bar clamped so its edge is slightly below the bail’s centerline. Anneal the bail when you sense work hardening. Frequent annealing assures that bends occur where you want them. Repeat the process of annealing and bending until the final V-shape is attained. Make sure the pins align.

18. Drill holes in copper bar stock that has been divided into 1/4" sections, leaving room for saw kerfs between them (Fig. B, posts). These shallow holes, which are centered in each section, will have pins soldered into them. After drilling, carefully saw between each post from the pin end, stopping two-thirds of the way through. This establishes the individual posts, but keeps them connected and easy to handle.

20. Solder the pins in place. First coat all pieces with flux and hammer the pins in place. Place a sliver of solder at the junction of each pin and post. Then heat the bar, holding the torch on the side opposite the solder, until the solder flows into the joints. Heat the metal, not the copper, and don’t overheat. After soldering, sand the pins so they’re slightly longer than the thickness of the backplates. Then drill shallow 5/32" dia. holes in the end of each one to facilitate riveting (Photo 22 and Fig. D).

23. Rivet posts to the backplate. First position posts on the pins at the ends of a bail. If the bail pins are properly bent, the posts will align parallel to one another. Make necessary adjustments before positioning them on the backplate. Work on a softwood block so the bail holes in the posts are not distorted. If you don’t have three hands, get help from a friend.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August 1999, issue #74.

August 1999, issue #74

Purchase this back issue.

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from AWBookstore.com.