ABOUT ANTIQUE SILVER SMITHING
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The basic equipment required by a silversmith to produce hand-made items of high quality and sophistication has not really altered that much in over 300 years. Basically, any hand-made silver item produced in this country today is made in the same time-honoured traditional fashion that was being utilised by famous silversmiths such as Paul de Lamerie and Paul Storr. This has allowed a continuity of craftmanship that has lasted down the centuries and has provided British silverware a lasting appeal based on quality.
Silver Tools & Equipment
No more than ten major items are used:
- A wooden work-bench with a leg-vice for holding metal to be worked and a jeweler's skin (for catching silver filings)
- A hearth for annealing the silver, filled with charcoal, and fitted with an air-bellows.
- A vat containing dilute sulphuric acid for ensuring the metal is chemically clean before soldering.
- A range of hammers with various head sizes.
- A selection of iron anvil heads in various sizes and shapes, used to hand-hammer a wide variety of forms.
- A steady-block, usually a tree-trunk section, that small anvils may be attached to so that the metal may be shaped.
- A general selection of tools used for engraving, chasing, drilling, filing, and sawing.
- A draw-plate with a row of holes gradually decreasing in diameter, attached to a hand-operated windlass, and used for making wire.
- A sink with water and a drainer board for washing and scouring work.
- A selection of burnishing, polishing, and cleaning tools.
Hand-made silver items are created using a variety of techniques that have not really altered for thousands of years. All of the techniques described here are used to create parts which are then joined together using soldering and/or riveting to form the desired object, which may then go on to be decorated and polished.
Basically, the process of casting involves pouring molten silver into a mould. Once the metal has solidified then the outer mold is removed and the item is finished off by hand. This method is described below in more detail.
The object to be cast (in this case a holly leaf) is modeled by hand in wax.
The model is then placed in a container and covered with plaster of paris (leaving a hole at the top for the next stage).
After the plaster of paris mold has dried, the whole container is heated, melting the wax, which is then poured out.
Then the molten silver is poured in and, after it has solidified, the outer mold is broken open.
The cast item is then finished off by hand and is then often applied by soldering to raised silver parts. The technique of raising is described below.
The technique of raising involves hand-hammering silver when it is cold using gradually decreasing sizes of hammer head over varying stake shapes to create the desired effect.
Starting off with a disc of silver the smith uses a large headed hammer and the natural malleability of the metal to form the general shape.
Then smaller headed hammers are used to fold and raise the metal to the desired form, without making the metal any thinner.
But this process of constant hammering changes the nature of the cold metal so that it becomes brittle. It therefore has to be heated up again (or annealed), which restores its malleability, and then allowed to cool before any further work.
There are many more techniques which are used including spinning, die-stamping, chasing, applied decoration, and engraving. If you want to learn more about the art of silver-smithing then we can recommend the book 'The Thames & Hudson Manual of Silver-smithing' by Frances Loyen, 1980.
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