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Repousse’ XI: Wood Forming and Misc. Tools for Repousse’

Posted by bighornforge on February 13, 2015

This is s continuing series, consisting of the writings of French repousse’ master Nahum Hersom.

I have transcribed exactly as Nahum had written, unless indicated by ((double parenthesis)).

I photocopied his 8-1/2″ x 14″ workbook at a Kinko’s in Boise, Idaho in 1994.  Unfortunately, some of the information is missing, as the copy “runs off the page”.  As my scannercan only scan 8-1/2″ x 11″ pages, I have split the pages into two parts, i.e., 1A + 1B, 2A + 2B, etc.

There is no typed verbiage to accompany the following copied images.

Wood Forming  and Misc.Tools for Repousse’

Hersom's Written Wood Forming Tools 1A

Hersom's Written Wood Forming Tools 1B

Hersom's Written Wood Forming Tools 2A

Hersom's Written Wood Forming Tools 2B

Hersom's Written Wood Forming Tools 3

Miscellaneous Repousse’ Tools 

Hersom's Written Misc Forming Tools 1

((My two cents worth on making wood tools:  I have found that laminating wood together, by gluing several smaller pieces together, helps to prevent cracking, as opposing grains keep the neighboring piece(s) from readily cracking.  I also drill a hole through the wood, then glue and insert a wood dowel  of the same diameter as the hole.  Sometimes I’ll add two or three dowels at different levels. This also helps to keep the wood tool from cracking.  DN))

((End of this Section))

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Repousse’ X: Under Tool (Stake) Designs for Repousse’

Posted by bighornforge on February 13, 2015

This is a continuing series, consisting of the writings of French repousse’ master Nahum Hersom.  I have transcribed his words exactly, unless indicated by ((double parenthesis)).

The following pages are from 8-1/2″ x 14″ pages.  However my scanner can only scan 8-1/2″ x 11″, so I have split the pages into two parts, i.e., 1A + 1B, 2a + 2B, etc.

Under Tools (Stakes)

Hersom's Written Under Tool Designs 1A

Hersom's Written Under Tool Designs 1B

Hersom's Written Under Tool Designs 2A

Hersom's Written Under Tool Designs 2B

Hersom's Written Under Tool Designs 3A

Hersom's Written Under Tool Designs 3BHersom's Written Under Tool Designs 4AHersom's Written Under Tool Designs 4B

((The following text is transcribed.))

Under Tools

Stakes:  Made of tool steel ((a.k.a. high carbon steel)) and tempered to a brown with purple spots.  Mils steel tools are ok for one time tools.  Can be tempered with lye solution or Shaklee solution.  ((As the latter methods of tempering can be dangerous to your health, I do not recommend attempting to use chemicals to harden steel.))  Best for forging forming tools, grapes, etc.  Spring tools for power hammers.

Case hardened tools will die mark where tempered tool steel will resist this.  (( Here again, I do not recommend case hardening either, as the chemicals can be very dangerous to your health.  Find a commonly available high carbon steel such as W-1, learn its properties, and then you will not be concerned with alternative hardening methods.  Get on with the business of repousse’.))

When welding tool steel, i.e. ball bearing to mild steel shanks, use stainless steel welding rods.  I heat to dull red and let cool.  Removes welding strains.  Sometimes I cool tools when at black heat in oil, otherwise, do not temper.  Lots of times they crack.

After forging ends of under tools, anneal and shape, file, grind, etc.  When using sanding belts, which  usually are better for shaping tools, start with a medium grit belt, not a very coarse one.  Coarse belts, like coarse grinding wheels, put in deep scratches which take a lot of time to remove.  If you use a file to shape end, again, use a medium tooth file and then a fairly fine one.  Afterwards, use shop roll paper ((fine grit emery cloth)) under file to remove deep scratches.

When using a sand belt, using the directional scratches made by belt, first one way, then across it, helps to define the shape of tools.  Also, watch carefully the shape of the tool, to keep it symmetrical on contoured surfaces that you want.  It is easy to distort the shape, especially on intricate and compound curves.  Sometimes, the true shape is hard to define without a keen eye and this contrast crossing grinding belt lines is a good background to look against for corrections as you work on tools.  Curve of ends of tools to correspond to radius of hammered piece – Tools to fit design, size and shape for more accurate convex or concave work.

By wrapping leather over end of stake, tool marks can be avoided on some work, especially if the piece being worked is turned over, as you work both sides on the same stake.  On some jobs where soft metals are used, wood under-tools eliminate eliminate under-tool marks.

((End of this section))

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Repousse’ IX: Repousse’ Hammers, Repousse’ Hammer Patterns, and How to Make Them.

Posted by bighornforge on February 12, 2015

This is a continuation of the writings of French repousse’ master Nahum Hersom.  All text that I have transcribed is as how he wrote it.  (( My edits are in double parenthesis.))

In this section on hammers, much of what Nahum wrote was by hand, accompanied by sketches.  I chose to scan and publish these pages, rather than try to re-write, as seeing exactly how he presented these teachings might just endear you to him somewhat…as a grandpa might endear his grandchildren.  The last section is transcribed, as you will see.

Since Nahum wrote these out on 11-1/2 x 17″ paper, I have split these pages in two, as my scanner only handles 8-1/2 x 11″ sheets; i.e. 1A and 1B, 2A and 2B, and so on.

If you wish to see a larger image, simply click on the image.  You may also download the image and print it out for better reading.

Scanned Pages of Nahum Hersom’s

Repousse’ Hammers,  Hammer Patterns and How to Make Them

Hersom's Written Hammer Designs 1A

Hersom's Written Hammer Designs 1B Hersom's Written Hammer Designs 2A

Hersom's Written Hammer Designs 2B

Hersom's Written Hammer Designs 3A

Hersom's Written Hammer Designs 3B

Hersom's Written Hammer Designs 4BHersom's Written Hammer Designs 4AHersom's Written Hammer Designs 5B

Hersom's Written Hammer Designs 5A

((These next two pages might be a bit redundant, but they also contain more info.))

Hersom's Hammer Designs 1

Hersom's Hammer Designs 2

Hersom's Written Hammer Designs 6A

Hersom's Written Hammer Designs 6B

Hersom's Written Hammer Designs 7A

Hersom's Written Hammer Designs 7B

((The following is transcribed))


Handles made too small will force squeezing or gripping which will tire the hand and stress finger tendons in palm.  Hammer handles should fit comfortably and loosely in hand.  Then size the eye in the head proportionate to the head, weight, and size of the handle used.  Temper hot, forging hammers a medium blue.

Draw Repousse hammers and under tools to a brown color ((bronze?)) with purple spots.

Use carpenters glue to hold heads plus wood and iron wedges.  Use 1/8″ soft aluminum plate to check head marks or as we say “track marks.”  To make heads same shape but different weights, have same contour marks.  You can also press the head into plasticine clay.

Use radius gauge to check head shapes.  Again, different sizes, different weights, but same head shape.

I make my hammer head eye splitters of roller bearing races.

Curve of head to correspond to wrist, elbow, or shoulder hammers.  Make templates to check curve of heads.  Faces of hammers heads to be flat and square to work.  Flat face hammers or curved face hammers have different uses.  Flat face on convex areas and curved on concave areas.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter so much the shape of the hammer one uses to make a small change or bend, but what you can do with the hammer you have in your hand.


Wood, wood and silver for silver work.  Rawhide, Micartes (Phenolic resin) filled linen (finer texture than cotton cloth and harder).  Extra High Density Plastic or other plastics.  Fiber board.

Snarling Irons

I use auto spring leaves (torch cut to a taper) about 2″ to 22″ long depending upon depth of work (thickness from 1/4 – 3/8″ and 3/4 – 1-1/4″ wide in main arms.)  My best one is 1-1/4″ wide at the base and 3/4 at the tip with a 7/16″ nut welded on the end.  Use auto head bolts, as they don’t break off at lock nut (to secure bolt) weld balls or other shapes larger than bolt heads on to bolt with stainless rod.  Temper end if needed;however, if tool steel is used, it often doesn’t need tempering.

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“Work Book of Patterns” (For Repousse’)

Posted by bighornforge on April 18, 2014

Acanthus Leaf Pattern #1

In continuing with my tribute to the late repousse’ artisan Nahum Hersom, I am including some of his repousse’ patterns in this blog.  I do this as Nahum, as well as his mentors Steven Molnar and Valentin Goelz, wanted this process to be carried on.  Here is Nahum’s dedication statement (I will both type this, as well as provide a photo of his actual hand-written statement):

“In fond memory and much appreciation I dedicate this book to these two men who dedicated their lives to this great art of repousse.  Mr. Steven Molnar   Mr. Valentin Goelz.  Both were European Craftsmen of the highest caliber, and the most patient of teachers.  Their motto “If we don’t teach the young craftsmen who will carry on.”  Sincerely,  Nahum Hersom.”

Hersom's Dedication Statement

This dedication was contained in a loose-leaf “book” that I bought from Nahum for fifty bucks back in 1994 when I was under his tutelage.  I believe that Nahum, as well as Mister’s Molnar and Goelz, would wish these patterns, and Nahum’s instruction, saved for posterity…and for all those young craftsmen Nahum spoke of in his dedication.  As I have stated before, I wish to continue in their tradition of sharing and teaching the processes of French repousse’ through this blog.

Please note:  This loose-leaf book was printed at a Kinko’s in Boise, Idaho in 1993 on 8-1/2″ x 17″ paper.  Since my scanner cannot copy anything over 8-1/2 x 11″, some of the patterns may be cut-off.  I will try to provide as many complete copies of those patterns that were cut-off as possible.

This next entry is on the backside of the dedication page, and reads:

“To the Craftsmen”

This “Work Book of Patterns” is a compiling “as not yet complete” of patterns which I have in my shop.  Some of these patterns are approx. 80 years old, others not that old, and a few as new as a month ago. However the design behind these patterns is hundreds of years old going back to Jean Tijou 1690-1710 a French Ironworker, repousse seems to have been developed in France, where it spread throughout Europe.  These patterns are representative of architectural styles and periods of history, and those Craftsmen I have known.  The style of the tools herein lend themselves to making, fine jewelry, to the largest of architectural embellishments or ornaments.  After all all metal work started with the hammer and anvil or stake.  Perhaps ornamental decoration is now in a revival, beauty in iron is a work of art, I for one hope it grows and lasts for a long, long, time.  “Nahum Hersom””   (Circa 1993).

Hersom's To the Craftsmen Statement

I will finish this post with a few more patterns.

…Dan Nauman

Hersom Patterns #3

Hersom Patterns #2

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More Forms For Cleveland Driveway Gate Restoration

Posted by bighornforge on February 8, 2013

Rosette #2 unpainted

The form above, 1-1/2″ x 5″ x 5″, was made of 18 gauge mild steel.  There are 64 of these to be made for the continuing two driveway gate restorations in Cleveland, Ohio.  Below, you will see the machine stamped fragment (on the right), and this piece on the left, both painted black for better comparison.

Rosette #2 Repro and Original

There is about 4-1/2 hours needed to complete this form, including the small husk in the center of the rosette.  Below is another, more simple rosette.  Though a  composite of three pieces, since the features are less demanding, the total time it takes to make the entire composite (below) is about 45 minutes.

Rosette #1 Repro and Original

Again, the machine stamped original is on the right, the hand-made version is on the left.  There are 50 sets of these per gate.  I had two helpers on the latter rosettes…Mackenzie Martin, an intern we had here last spring, and also Jeremiah Backhaus, an apprentice currently working here at the studio.  Mackenzie made the bottom piece, Jeremiah the second in the stack, and I made the ball husks. Again…all are of 18 gauge mild steel.

Below is a shot of a bunch ready to be shipped to Cleveland.

Rosettes #1 and #2

Since I have been working on this project for almost a year now, and am about at the midpoint, I have changed and adapted the studio to better suit me for this task, i.e. a dedicated repousse’ station, complete with three vises, two stakes, and a dedicated tool stand, with an integral high intensity lamp.  Perhaps I will photograph this station to show in a later post.

…Dan Nauman

“A peacock that rests on his feathers is just another turkey”…Dolly Parton.

Posted in Bighorn Forge/Nauman Ironwork, Decorative ironwork, Repousse' | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Recent Repousse’ Forms for Cleveland Driveway Gate

Posted by bighornforge on November 30, 2012

Leaf #12

Here are a few more additions to the driveway gate restoration in Cleveland, Ohio.  The above leaf (or husk), is 3″ x 12″ x 2-1/2″, of 18 gauge mild steel.  There are two, and they are mounted high on the gate piers.

Leaf #12 two

The image above shows the two husks together.  The husk on the left was the first piece made.  The first piece made of any form offers a learning curve, and this one was no different.  As the gates original ornament was machine stamped, I must reproduce them the best I can by hand.  The most difficult aspect is getting the volume that the machine stamped piece achieves. Thus, I sometimes need to alter the look of the piece to accommodate the hand-made aspects, getting as close to the original form as possible to achieve the basic feel of the leaf or husk.

Since a machine can apply pressure and shape much of the piece often in one step, some veins made by hand cannot be achieved without much difficulty, and sometimes it is not practical at all to attempt an exact replica.  However, in this case, I learned on the first piece…after folding it into the final husk form… that I could likely reproduce the machine stamping in all aspects.

If you look closely at the two reproductions above, you will notice how some of the veins do not relate to each other as they terminate. Below, you will see the original husk, and the second reproduction, and how the second piece relates almost exactly to the original.

Leaf #12 original stampingLeaf #12

This aspect of reproduction is challenging, though rewarding when one learns from the process of recreating.  It expands the knowledge base, and adds confidence.  Below is a bird’s-eye view of this form.

Leaf #12 Birds Eye

To achieve this form, all the veins and shoulders were drawn in when the piece was in a semi-finished primary shape.  Then, the main center veins were applied, but stopped short of the center, so they wouldn’t be destroyed when folding into the final husk shape.  After the final shape had been established and planished, then the center veins were connected and finished…unlike the first piece.

Since these pieces are elevated roughly 14 feet from grade, these two pieces appear identical by the audience.

Leaf Composite #3

Shown above are four rosettes, 8″ in diameter, and full of volume.  These will be mounted back to back, i.e. counterclockwise/clockwise,  on opposing faces of the gate.  There are four of these pieces per gate.  Here again, several pieces were made before the process was established to provide the best representation of the original machine stamped form, as seen below.

Leaf Composite #3 original stamping

In this case, it was apparent that the exact shape could not be achieved by hand.  The form was revised to achieve the primary visual aspects of the original, as applied by hand using the hand rendered repousse’ process.

The next phase of this restoration will be to reproduce the remaining rosettes, and there are a lot of them.  There are 50 more composite rosettes per gate, of which there are three elements each, comprising 150 pieces total.  There are also an additional 32 composite rosettes, of which there are two elements each, or 64 pieces total.

Finally there are two fine ribbon forms, of which I am saving for last, as there will be quite the learning curve on these forms.

I will keep you updated, as this project continues.

…Dan Nauman

“Temper is the one thing you can’t get rid of by losing it.”….Jack Nicholson

Posted in Bighorn Forge/Nauman Ironwork, Decorative ironwork, Repousse' | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Repousse’ VII: Leaf Process

Posted by bighornforge on June 26, 2012

This is a continuation of the writings of Nahum “Grandpa” Hersom. I am editing where I see fit. My changes/additions will be in parrethesis with “d.n.” This installment, as in some others, seems to be fragmented. I believe these writings were a “work in progress” for Grandpa, and thus some thoughts and processes seem incomplete. That said, I am not eliminating, or re-organizing any of his writings…simply writing verbatim, and only adding words for clarification where I see fit.

(Note from Dan Nauman…the above image shows some of Grandpa’s tools. The image at the top are just some of his hammers. To the left are stakes and punches. To the right is the mechanical veiner. At the end if this installment I will have an image drawn by Nahum showing specifics.)

Since this process of repousse’ is not readily practiced today, since there are few who do practice, and since there is very little written on the subject, these writings are an important link to those men who did so regularly. This is an attempt to preserve these processes, and to pass them on to aspiring artisans.

Leaf Process

On all work the first step to the forming process is to put in the primary shape. This shape may, as acanthus leaves, fit over a scroll or other piece of metal work, or in other cases, be a decorative piece as grape leaves, wall sconces, etc.

This primary shape can follow the lines or shape of a drafted drawing, or fit to a previously shaped form, like scrolls. As you put in the primary shape, folds will form in some areas. Keep these hammered down. If a fold happens, it cannot be removed and may cause a large crack to form in the work. In work on heavier metals, spot annealing (normalizing d.n.) and or working while hot may help. Make corrections as difficult spots appear, not later.

When hammering leaves etc., always prepare metal for next step that follows. Remember, the steps to form a leaf go from “1 to 10″, and if you miss any in-between step, you’ll have a high loss of time making corrections, or a piece could be (end up as d.n.) junk. Hammer leaves from center out to edges. Configuration or definition lines can be put into leaves either by the use of a (mechanical d.n.) veiner or by free style hammering over an under tool of appropriate shape.

On some work, armor or medallion faces, after a primary shape is formed or raised, lead or pitch is poured into the work for the next forming steps. When working alone, sometimes the workpiece is so large, the above has to be done using punches, as one cannot hold the work steady over stakes for forming.

Sometimes, when copying leaves from a picture, you might get the center section between segments too wide to form easily over scrolls made of, say, 1/2” material: by either taking a long V out of the center of the leaf, or by redrawing segments closer to the centerline to narrow the section, it will be easier to form the primary shape into the leaf as well as get the reverse ball end that is part of the acanthus leaves.

Half Leaves Half leaves that are attached onto only one side of a scroll.

A “half leaf” – two can be made opposites, and can be attached to each side of a scroll-can be laid out with its outer rim of a larger circle than the scroll. When attached to the scroll, it will assume a cone shape. This shape need not be very deep, but will facilitate the hammering of the segments if they are to be rounded out from the scroll instead of lying flat against it. In either case, a template or templates are made of cardboard, masonite, or tin, to conform to the shapes desired, since any work is shaped to complex and multiple contours. Many templates may be needed for different areas.

Further hammering to put in lines or configurations on leaf segments, which can distort the primary shape, sometimes make the primary shape deeper, wider, or even narrower than the finished leaf, thus it may be necessary to have two sets of templates to work to: one for primary shapes, and one for finished leaves.

As hammering progresses, constantly check the overall shape with templates. It is easier to make corrections as one goes than at the final stages of completion. This is especially important when doing husks or other folded, overlapped, or closed shapes. Getting the original tools into these shapes to make corrections is generally impossible.

Templates are necessary when forming multiple same size and shape leaves. When doing more than one leaf, apply one step to all the leaves, then the next step. Otherwise, the Smith has a constant and time consuming labor changing under tools and hammers which collect (and hide) around the vise or bench in a tangled mess and must be constantly hunted for.

Places on leaves as gores, V areas, and certain raised areas can be used to reshape a leaf back to its intended shape. Practice hammering using vein or table stake or liner stake to raise adjacent areas-both sides of vein.

Raisig on table stake, not using veins as guides, on a rounded edge forming table stake.

Use of lead block for contour forming and to make corrections.

Be sure your overhead lights will show contours and irregularities while you hammer, so corrections can be made as you work that area.

To raise hollow spheres-faces-bowls-thinner metal can be used. The process is called “Dutch raising over a stake.” Cut metal sheet, diameter of finished bowl plus depth of finished bowl. Same method used to raise helmets for knights, vases,cups, and silver work.

Leaves: Installation:

Place quality work at eye level, poor (work d.n.) above or below eye level. People only see about 25% of what they look at.

(Note from Dan Nauman…The above images were drawn by Nahum himself, and show his mechanical veiner, as well as a spring loaded version.)

(End of this installment.)

…Dan Nauman

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Repousse’ VI: Leaf Processes

Posted by bighornforge on June 5, 2012

This is a continuation of the writings of the late repousse’ artisan Nahum “Grandpa” Hersom. Nahum gave me a plethora of notes and drawings. I feel compelled to share his knowledge, to honor Nahum and his life’s work. Plus, there are few books on this subject. These writings should be preserved, for those who wish to learn, and also for the ages. I am transcribing verbatim unless otherwise specified.

Leaf Processes

1.) Design and lay out leaf, using ABANA (ABANA’s 10th Anniversary edition of the “Anvil’s Ring”, Spring 1983, Volume 11, Number 1-edited by D.N.) and Metzger’s books (“Die Kunstsclosserie” 1927-edited by D.N.) as guides. Use Hersom’s layout “T” tool to help design leaf patterns.

2.) Use copy machine to enlarge or shrink size of leaf if not correct.

3.) Make and cut out paper pattern. I glue copy machine paper patterns to manilla file holder card and cut out. Punch corners of leaf pattern before cutting out to have good round corners.

4.) Double check segments of leaf to see if they will clear or overlap when leaf is bent to fit scroll work. Make corrections to open or closed leaf segments to fit design. You can use cut-and-tape “quicky” methods of revamping leaf segmnets of pattern.

5.) If pattern is incorrect, determine method to cut out leaf: shear, band saw, chisel cut, plasma arc or laser cut. Shop bench shear work is OK for a few leaves, but if hundreds are to be cut, check laser or plasma arc, depending on outline of the leaf. Laser cuts very clean and sharp points. Plasma makes 1/8″ cut, so is more crude, and needs extra grinding of edges (with 1/8″ grind wheel or sanding belts. 2″ belts do fine.) Laser or plasma cut leaves-anneal (actually should read “normalize” rather than “anneal”-edited by D.N.) edges before hammering. Cold roll leaves have to be annealed (“normalized”-edited by D.N.) -see welding heat treating notes for recommended process.

6.) To shear leaves if more than one or two, cut tin pattern, as edges of paper patterns tend to shred away. Use cheap flat black paint on surface to see scribed line.

7.) To band saw, make multiple copies on copy machine and glue to metal with rubber cement (stationary store) (see band saw blade in supplies) Set saw blade and speed for cutting metal. Use a 1″ high pedistal when cutting out leaves. See drawing and information in workbook.

8.) Before cutting leaf, the inner corners must either be punched out or a hole drilled through leaf to protect corner from splitting when hammering, called “xyz” marks.

9.) A jig saw with fine blades or air craft snips do well on some metals of various thicknesses (see supply sheet for tool catalogue.)

10.) Use red sharpie pen for marking leaf work. For some work I make tin segment patterns so I can duplicate the lines on work from leaf to leaf.

11.) Tools used to form a leaf are separated from other tools and put in cans near vise. Also, I sometimes mark tools 1, 2, 3, with felt pen in order of sequence in use. Tools laid on bench tend to pile up and seem to get lost.

12.) Before hammering, file edges of leaves and corners to remove all burrs, as these will start splits and may ruin leaves.

13.) Also, by filing edges of leaves, one cleans up contours on segments to make both sides of leaf symmetrical and even. To be able to file all segments and recesses on leaves, you bend segments of leaf out of the way. (You can file corners better if you grind gripper teeth off a pair of simple pliers and round jaw parts. Grind smooth. This prevents scratch marks on leaves-especially on non-ferrous metals.) After filing edges, wire brush to remove filing burrs. Use fine wire brush as it makes a smooth velvet like finish. In fact, I wire brush as I hammer lines into leaves so I can better see edges and contours. (Wire brush removes some hammer marks and layout pencil lines and smudges.) (Nahum is talking about a “power wire brush”, mounted in pedistal grinder-edited by D.N.)

14.) Punch paper or tin patterns with small rectangle slots that will follow lines and configurations, that will later be hammered into shapes or designs. Place pattern on leaf, after it has been filed and wire brushed to remove sharp burrs. Scribe all slots through pattern, remove pattern and connct spots with scribe or red sharpie pen.

(End of this installment.)

…Dan Nauman

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