Hitting things with Hammers

A few weeks ago I made a post about my genderbent Slave Leia costume. I had some requests to explain my process. I didn’t document my progress on that project, but I just finished a project on which I did. The following is my process on a Tywin Lannister pauldron from the Game of Thrones TV series.

The first step in armor smithing is to create a pattern. This can be time consuming and often requires experimentation to get right. Fortunately this piece has a pretty simple base shape that I’ve done before.

Next, cut the shape out of metal. There is too much to say about the possible alloys and thicknesses of sheet that you might use to address here. In short I tend to work with roughly 22 gauge brass and cold rolled steel just because they’re easy to work with, relatively inexpensive, and easy to find in non-industrial quantities.


Step three, clean up the edges. Pretty much any bastard file will do for this. At this point all you’re looking to do is to bleed less later in the process.

Now, hitting things with a hammer. This is the fun and surprisingly fast. I typically use an autobody hammer, although it’s a bit light for steel, and I work into a shallow depression in a tree stump. The process is called dishing and is basically stretching the metal by hitting it into a recess. There is another process called raising which is roughly the opposite. The benefit to dishing is that it is easy and requires very little specialized equipment. Unfortunately it also thins out the metal rather badly. More on that later.


Once the shape is roughed out, the chasing starts. In this case, I drew the pattern on with Sharpie. For very precise work, I use a scribe and sometimes a stencil.

Chasing basically involves trecing lines by hammering tools that look like blunted and deformed blade screwdrivers into the metal. Below are some of my tracers and some repousse punches that will make more sense later.

In order to do this without ripping through or denting the piece in ways that you don’t want to, you need a backing material. You can work into wood, leather, or rubber, but if you want to do anything deep or complex, you probably want to get some pitch. Pitch is a tough, malleable substance with a high viscosity and a relatively low melting temperature. I have most of mine attached to bowling balls because that gives me something heavy and sturdy to work against.

Once the chasing has been done on the front of the piece, I typically flip it over and then work it from the back using a whole variety of smooth-faced punches. This gives most of the shape to the piece. Not all the work is done from the back, there is a bit of pushing back and forth. The next few images show a bit of how it develops over time.

Through all of this, the metal needs to be annealed regularly. As metal is worked cold, it becomes stiffer and more brittle and will eventually tear or shatter. By heating it up, most alloys can be softened again. Each alloy has a different heating and quenching method so look it up before you start. Ordinary steel is pretty easy, you just need to get it to the point where it’s glowing orange and let it cool as slowly as possible. This can be done with a decent propane torch.

Something terrible can happen if you get a little eager and don’t anneal often enough, you can tear your work of art.
This made me cry while kicking myself. I welded it up, but you can’t really work a torn area anymore.

In this case, I riveted on a brass rim to match the original. The things holding it in place are called Clecos. They’re used for alligning rivets on airplanes. Unless you plan on doing a lot of riveting, you don’t need them. Screws work fine and are much easier to get.

After that, it’s just a matter of cleaning up the surface. In this case I blackened it with a torch and then used a brass brush to give it a slightly golden sheen.


Ryan is a professional nerd, teaching engineering in the frozen north. Somewhat less professionally, he is a costumer, author, blacksmith, juggler, gamer, serial enthusiast, and supporter of the Oxford comma. He can be found on twitter and instagram @studentofwhim. If you like what I do here, feel free to leave a tip in my tipjar.

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