following excerpt is taken from Valentin Yotkov's book-in-progress,
'Chasing and Repoussé - a Mystery Revealed'.
All contents copyrighted © 2003-2006 Valentin Yotkov. All rights
reserved. Contents may not be reprinted in part or in whole without
written permission of the author.
CHASING AND REPOUSSÉ
If you have not yet fallen in love with Chasing and Repoussé,
most likely you have never had an opportunity to learn these companion
techniques. Chasing is magic, it is beautiful and exiting, and it is
ADDICTIVE. Chasing is the FINE ART of metalsmithing. Many of us have
stood speechless before masterpieces of Chasing and Repoussé
displayed in museums. We marvel and admire the skills of the ancient
Thracian and Scythian goldsmiths and secretly dream of creating such
beauty with our own hands. At the same time most of the major art-oriented
publications unfairly overlook the increasing growing interest in these
techniques and the demand for more information on the topic. The fact
is that over the past several years, Chasing and Repoussé have
been experiencing their modern Renaissance and have once again become
an important element of contemporary jewelry and hollow ware design.
Chasing can add dimension and a distinctively unique touch to your work.
It offers endless variations of design and surface embellishment. An
introduction to this technique can change your life and the way you
is the difference between chasing and repoussé? In simple
terms, working on the front of the piece only is called chasing. Repoussé
is the combination of tracing the design on the front of the piece using
liners (tracers), raising a relief by pushing from the back using different
punches, and finally working the details on the front of the piece.
This method is the classical repoussé technique. There is also
a "direct" repoussé in which the design is drawn or
transferred on the back of the piece, and the relief is raised directly
from there, thus eliminating the initial tracing of the design as described
in the definition of chasing. Direct repoussé requires significantly
higher skills, but it saves time and is more appropriate for the execution
of contemporary designs.
invite you to pay an imaginary visit to the chaser's studio.
There we see a small but sturdy table, usually 29" to 31"in
height. The table is close to the window as defused sunlight is best
for chasing on non ferrous metals. On the table is an 8" diameter
cast iron bowl over a round rubber pad. The bowl is filled with Red
German pitch and positioned over one of the table's legs to avoid vibrations
during chasing. A beautiful set of chasing tools is placed face up in
a simple can and beside it - a couple of chasing hammers. At the far
end of the room we spot a medium size silversmith's torch, a combination
of natural gas and compressed air. The torch is installed under a small
hood built of sheet metal or aluminum, which is connected to an exhaust
fan for adequate ventilation. On the walls - small pieces of paper with
hundreds of drawings, and maybe a few colorful posters depicting inspiring
artworks from a gallery or museum collection. Some of the artist's latest
works are proudly displayed in a showcase. This is the ideal picture
of a chaser's studio, a perfect set up which requires minimum investment
and provides the artist with the necessary comfort. From our quick studio
tour we notice that the necessities for the chaser are the pitch bowl,
the chasing tools and hammers, and the appropriate size and mix combination
of the torch.
pitch In my opinion the best pitch available on the market today
is the Red German pitch. It can be purchased from Allcraft, New York
(Tel: 800-645 7124) and is perfect for chasing small scale designs on
copper, silver or gold. It provides firm support for the metal during
chasing, and yet it is soft enough to allow embossing a shallow relief
using the repoussé technique. It melts at a relatively low temperature
and can be safely manipulated and shaped by hand. As a precaution, I
would recommend you dip your fingers in water before attempting to handle
hot pitch. Remember, if the surface of the pitch appears glossy, it
is too hot to touch.
a gas line is not available in your studio, you may substitute by using
the largest tip of the acetylene torch, but be extremely careful not
to overheat and burn the pitch. If overheated, pitch turns into carbon
and loses its ability to support and adhere to the metal. Remove the
burnt area immediately to avoid further contamination of the pitch bowl.
A regular heat gun is also sufficient for melting or removing pitch
from your work and can be purchased from most hardware stores. For projects
requiring very soft, or very hard pitch use the pitch supplied by the
North West Pitchworks in Washington. (Tel:360-715 1772) If possible,
avoid using the old black pitch, containing tar. It is very toxic, produces
a lot of smoke and will burn your skin severely upon contact. Often,
when melted, it flows uncontrollably and covers most of the metal surface,
living no space for the design.
pitch bowl An 8" diameter cast iron bowl is our best choice.
It comes in the shape of a half sphere along with a round rubber pad.
Because of it's shape and weight, the bowl can be positioned in any
convenient angle for best comfort while working. Rubber pads are often
too large in diameter which causes the bowl to shift easily from its
position. This can be eliminated by folding and placing an old hand
towel under the pad. Using the stainless steel bowls for chasing should
be avoided as those are very light in weight. For chasing large pieces,
a large cast iron frying pan can be used. You may also build a wood
frame with the desired dimensions and attach it to a piece of plywood.
Melt the pitch in a separate container and pour into the frame. A minimum
of 3" layer of pitch is necessary.
prepare the pitch bowl put the pitch in a plastic bag, break into small
chunks and put it in the cast iron bowl. Set your kitchen oven at 350F.
Put the bowl with the pitch on the middle rack over a sheet of aluminum
foil. In approximately 30 - 40 min. the pitch will melt. Depending on
the actual temperature in your oven, the melting could take a bit longer.
Wait until the surface of the pitch becomes smooth and level. Tap carefully
with a piece of wood on the outside of the bowl to force the air out
of the pitch. Add more from chunks of pitch, if necessary, to fill the
bowl up to about 1/8" from the top. Do not overfill. Avoid any
spills on the outside of the bowl. Do not attempt to handle the hot
bowl and pitch and do not leave the pitch bowl in the oven unattended.
Once the pitch is melted and ready leave the oven door open and let
the pitch air-cool for several hours.
hammers are truly unique in design. The large, flat, or slightly
dome face on one side helps the artist aim and strike the back of the
punch without having to look at it. Attention should always be focused
on the working end of the tool that is in contact with the metal. The
other side of the hammer is shaped like a bowl and can be used when
raising a larger area of metal is necessary.
We need at least two hammers - one relatively light in weight, the other
heavier. The light hammer is used for tracing and chasing, the heavy
one for embossing or raising the relief. For small jewelry designs,
especially in gold, I would recommend the use of chasing hammers # 22
and 26; for larger designs and/or hollow ware use #26 and #32, respectively.
When you purchase your chasing hammers, ask for the ones with the pistol-shaped
handles. They fit better in the palm of your hand and are by far more
comfortable than the round shaped ones. The handle of the smaller hammer
should be filed down at it's narrowest part to about 2/3 of the original
diameter. This will provide a springy action and allow the hammer to
bounce back after striking the punch. It also reduces unwanted vibrations
as well as the stress on your wrist. An interesting suggestion made
by Alan Revere was to burn the varnish of the hammer's handle and sand
the wood to a nice finish. The handle would then absorb the unpleasant
perspiration from the hand which results in better control over the
tools If you are seriously determined to learn Chasing and Repoussé,
you need three things: patience, good instruction and quality tools.
A good set of chasing tools is your most valuable possession, your personal
treasure. Always use the right tool for the right job, never substitute
with other less appropriate shapes or sizes. Take the time to make your
chasing tools by hand. This is a slow, meticulous process, but your
efforts will be rewarded. Make 3 to 5, even 7 sizes of each tool. This
will give you the ability to execute any size designs ranging from small
jewelry to large hollow vessels. If you work with jewelry only, or hollow
ware only - 3 to 5 sizes would be enough.
should be made of the smallest appropriate size steel stock. The most
commonly used sizes are those between ¼ " and 1/8 "
( both round and square) cut into 4" to 4 ½ " lengths.
Shape the tool roughly on the 36 grit grinding wheel, then continue
to work by files, 400 and 600 grit sand paper, and at the end polish
with steel compound. Polishing will eliminate even the slightest imperfections.
All tools must be hardened by heating to a bright orange color and then
quenching immediately into oil or water, depending on the type of steel
being used. Hardening makes the tools brittle, therefore they must be
tempered as well. Clean the metal by sanding until its natural color
is revealed. Heat the hardened end to a light straw color and quench
the tools are finished, you may wrap them with an electric splicing
tape or a tennis racket tape. This will increase the size of the tool
(but not the weight) and will make it safer and more comfortable to
tools can be divided into 5 main categories: Liners, Raising Punches,
Planishers, Matting Tools and Stamping Tools.
are generally used for chasing straight or curved lines. They have
a relatively sharp edge on the working end. We need one set of fine
liners and a set of heavy, blunt liners.
are used to raise the design from the back during the repoussé
process. These tools are rounded, with soft curves and no sharp
edges. The surface of the working end is roughened by sanding, or
filing in order to grip and move the metal easier. Shapes may vary,
but a basic set should at least consist of an oval, round, square,
tear drop, rectangular and half-round punches.
are mostly used to smooth out parts of the design, to define the
details and to create a contrasting, reflective finish on the metal
surface. They vary widely in shape and can be round, square, oval,
diamond, and even a "hot iron shape".
tools help us achieve different "colors" or textures
on the metals surface. The working end of those tools is textured
by hammering it with a center punch, or by filing or even cutting
shallow lines or other patterns using a blade. Those patterns are
then imprinted into our metalwork by rapidly striking the tool with
a hammer. Care should be taken not to strike twice over the same
spot as this would change or ruin the matting effect. The most common
shapes for matting tools are diamond, round, square and rectangular.
tools have the widest variety of shapes. We use them to stamp
simple designs such as hearts, leaves, stars or even circles by
a single hammer stroke. The tool is usually held vertically in relation
to the metal. Very little experience is required for this type of
chasing and such decoration, unless carefully designed, often has
little or no artistic value.
unique tool, the snarling iron, is often used for raising designs on
hollow pieces which have a small neck opening and the inside of the
vessel can not be accessed with regular chasing tools. The snarling
iron has a long arm bent at a 90 degree angle at the working end, which
is slightly domed and polished. One side of the tool is secured in a
vise while the other side is placed inside the vessel, exactly under
the area to be raised. The tool is then struck with a heavy hammer causing
the tip to vibrate and raise the metal. Once the general raising is
completed the vessel is filled up with pitch and the design finished
by chasing from the outside. Using the snarling iron requires advanced
skills, precise control over the tool and fine coordination between
Marshal from Bonny Doon Engineering, Inc. is currently working on developing
an automatic snarling iron. Although I am, in general, against using
machinery in producing and decorating designer hollow ware, I believe
that this one will help significantly reduce the physical effort, involved
in this process without affecting the value of the artwork. I myself
would definitely like to give it a try.
are a number of other tools and materials which can be used in Chasing
and Repoussé. Some
of those are brass and wooden punches, sandbags, leather and rubber
pads, steel and lead blocks, plasticine. Of course, no matter how simplistic
this sounds, I must say, the best tools are our own hands. No machine
can ever produce the beauty, and the warmth of a handmade piece. I love
doing things "the old way" and seek to revive and preserve
the precious skills of our ancestors. I am happy to share my knowledge
and experience with everyone who is eager to learn. Here are the different
stages in the execution of a repoussé design:
first important step is preparing the metal. Usually copper and
silver come from the supplier dead soft. If the metal is hard, anneal
it. Always work on a clean, grease-free and oxidation-free surface.
Cut the metal to a size which will allow at least ½ inch space
between the design and the outside edges. Bend all four corners at 90
degree angles, approximately 1/4"from the corner. Coat the back
of the piece with mineral oil, or regular Chap Stick (suggested by Anne
Larsen Hollerbach). This will help you remove the metal from the pitch
easier after the chasing is done. Heat the pitch with a soft flame until
it melts approximately ¼ " below the surface and place the
metal in the middle of the pitch bowl. Press gently to force out any
air pockets trapped between the pitch and the metal. The pitch will
also flow over the edges and keep the metal securely in place. You may
speed up the cooling by placing the bowl under running water for 3 to
second important step is transferring the design. Graphite carbon
paper works best on metal. Be sure to have the carbon paper with the
appropriate side down and slide it under the drawing. Transfer the design
onto the metal as accurately as possible, especially if it consists
of a repetitive pattern.
are now ready for the initial chasing of the outlines of the
design. Fine liners are used for this chasing. Hold the liner in your
right hand if you are left handed and in your left hand if you are right
handed. Place the tool over a line, tilt the top end of the tool slightly
away from the direction in which you would like it to move and tap lightly
with the hammer until the tool starts moving. Chased lines should be
deep enough so that they can be visible on the back of the metal when
the embossing is to be done. Hammer frequently, but move the tools slowly
to create a smooth, evenly deep and wide line. With a little practice
you will be able to follow the curves of the design and successfully
complete the initial chasing.
remove the metal, carefully heat the surrounding pitch and lift using
an old screw driver or any blunt tool. Keep heating the metal and remove
as much of the pitch as possible, allowing it to drip over the bowl.
Wipe off the remnants with a cloth and clean completely with lacquer
thinner. At this time bend the four corners of the metal in the opposite
direction so they can be dipped into pitch while the back of your work
is faced up. Remember to coat the metal with mineral oil or Chap Stick.
Heat the pitch again and place the metal in the middle of the bowl.
Cool under running water and then wipe off excess water carefully with
a towel to prevent your chasing tools from rusting.
are now ready to start embossing the design. Select the appropriate
shapes and sizes of raising punches. Raise the design using the heavier
hammer, accurately following the projections of the originally chased
lines as a guide. Be careful not to raise any areas which are part of
the background. Chasing is not about stretching the metal - it is moving
it. We move the metal towards the deepest parts of the relief, where
it is needed the most.
should be done gradually, in steps. Do not attempt to reach the desired
depth at once. "Listen" to the metal, often the metal itself
offers interesting suggestions and tells you which way to go. A piece
of plasticine pressed into the raised areas will take the impression
and give you a pretty good idea about what the front of your work looks
like. If raising a high relief (over ½") you may have to
anneal the metal and mount it back on the pitch bowl to continue without
the raising is completed, take the work out of the bowl. While the remaining
on the metal pitch is still hot, wipe it off with a cloth or paper towel,
and then heat the metal with a hot, blue flame until the pitch remnants
burn and turn white. The heat will also anneal the metal which was hardened
by the raising. When working on sterling silver, do not burn the pitch.
Dissolve it with lacquer thinner and coat the silver with flux before
annealing, to prevent fire scale.
you are satisfied with the raised image, prepare the work for the final
chasing. It is now critical to fill up the depressions on the back
of the piece with pitch for support during chasing. Place a small amount
of pitch into the depressions and heat with the torch or heat gun untill
the pitch melts completely. Tap the metal gently to let the air out
of the pitch and then let cool. Mount the work, face up on the bowl.
final chasing is the most important and exiting part of the work. Everything
we have done so far is only a preparation for this final stage in the
execution of the repoussé design.
with re-chasing the outlines of the design. This time use the set of
heavy, blunt liners and the light weight hammer. Those liners, which
are not as sharp as the fine ones, displace metal fast without further
thinning and cutting it. They will define the design and raise the relief
now on any shape and size chasing tools can be utilized. Use all your
skills, talent and imagination. Put you heart into the work and create
the most beautiful piece of art by shaping, planishing and texturing
are several important art canons, or rules we must follow while designing
and executing our project. They are all about creating contrasts within
the work, and if you apply them promptly, the artistic value of your
work will increase dramatically. Create a contrast between high and
low relief, contrast between wide and heavy, and narrow, tapering details,
between deep and shallow lines, planished and unfinished surfaces, different
textures, even between the contrasting colors offered by the patina.
your work has been completed, remove the metal from the pitch, clean
with lacquer thinner and use as part of a necklace, maybe a broach a
belt buckle, picture frame, or a box lid. Chasing and repoussé
can be applied to any kind and style of jewelry or hollow ware, from
small rings to large vessels, trophies, wall panels, even furniture.
Interior designers are yet to discover the beauty and the endless possibilities
offered by using hand made accessories, decorated with chasing or repoussé.
important application of the technique is chasing over cast pieces,
mostly solid silver or bronze sculptures. Casting reduces the sharpness
of the original image. Important details such as the texture characteristics
representing different materials and surfaces are often completely lost.
Chasing is the only way to restore those characteristics and bring the
cast image as close as possible to the original model. The tools used
on castings are usually larger and harder than the regular chasing tools.
A high level of expertise is necessary for this type of chasing.
with any jewelry and metalsmithing technique, safety in chasing should
always be taken under consideration. Follow these few simple rules to
prevent doing any harm to your hands and body. Remember that if practiced
properly, chasing is completely safe.
wear eye protection while you chase. The back of the chasing tool
gets hard from the constant hammering, and if a piece of the steel
chips off, it could fly in any direction and at a great speed. Grind
the back of the tools to remove the mushroom shape, caused by the
hammering, as soon as it begins to split.
grasp on the tool should not be too hard, for this may damage the
joints in your fingers. For added comfort and safety wrap the tools
with tape as described earlier.
your hands a ten-minute break for each hour of intense chasing.
your back straight and both feet on the floor.
the pitch bowl at chest level, not too high, not too low, to avoid
having a pain in your shoulders, spine or neck. Once you find that
perfect level, adjust the height of the bench, or the chair.
adequate ventilation when melting and especially when burning the
pitch off the metal. Use lacquer thinner outdoors only, if possible.
your fingers in water before handling hot pitch.
sure you have plenty of light at the bench. Day light is preferable.
the last but not least important rule: choose your instructor carefully.
Taking one class or a workshop provides a basic knowledge of chasing
and repoussé, but does not make anyone a teacher. Even the most
enthusiastic student could be easily discouraged by an instructor's
lack of professionalism or experience.
information presented in this article is a tiny, little piece from the
universe of knowledge, technical skills, tricks and tips, which we simply
call Chasing and Repoussé. For many of us these techniques have
become a life-long passion. Others are yet to discover the beauty, and
the excitement of sculpting images directly in metal. One thing is for
sure - without chasing and repoussé metalsmithing would never