Sometimes when only a rounder shape will do,what’s a fabricator to do? I work with flat sheets of metal. How to make it bend evenly in all directions?
Fortunately there’s a tool for this challenge.
More edifice then a tool my solution sits in the corner of my studio waiting to wield its amazing strength. Technically its called a hydraulic press. But more often then not its referred to as The Poofer.
It sits 18″ high with 3 thick steel plates. The driver of this tool is a house jack that can and exert many pounds of pressure on metal. The essential ingrediant are my urethane spacers whose special characteristics allow them to flow into voids of my dies.
From the top without the metalsmithing terms.
Metal is ever bendable. And will yield to force. The hydraulic press has been designed to take advantage of that but needs a few more special pieces of equipment to make it work, besides thick steel and a house jack.
The first is a die, a hole if you wish, that is cut into the shape one wants the metal in. These dies are made of a variety of tough, dense material so they can stand the amount of pressure exerted by the press. Mine are made of brass and a filler to so I can reuse them and I can make double-sided poofed shapes. It takes time and precision to make these dies. I want to design pleasing shapes I can use in a variety of ways before I make any new die.
The next item needed is something to push the metal into the void in the die. And not any material will do. Most rubbers and soft plastics will just thin out (squish flat) when put under pressure. That is where urethane has unique properties that have it flow into the void distributing the force into the unsupported metal.
Once this is all assemble its time to “poof” or press the shape. It would be simple if I could simple take the press up to full pressure, but it requires many smaller steps. Because if one goes too fast the metal will not bend, but tear. It is a combination of annealing (make the metal more malleable) pressing a small bit, annealing-pressing, etc until the proper depth is achieve.
This process also requires extra metal around the edges of the shape-a flange – so this process is both labor intensive as well as expensive in metal usage.
From here the piece is cut free of the & the fun begins. What to do with the shape? Sometimes as in the Yin Yang Earrings above I have a specific idea. Other times I just start to play.
Below is a variety of hydraulic pressed pieces that have been incorporated into my work or is just an idea I’ve been working on. Mostly these are older pieces. I haven’t done much “poofing” lately.