A Tale of Two Ravens

A Tale of Two Ravens (dogtag pendants by Tom Sterling, March 2015)

Top left image by Serge Panchenko (check out his excellent work at http://sergeknives.com)

Above is an excellent example of why I’ve been pursuing the press forming process. My intention is to produce a series of works beginning from a common start point, and individualizing each one, hopefully removing a significant bit of the labor involved.

I’ve always been jealous of the 2D arts and their ability to produce a single painting, drawing or photograph and then retire by selling prints of that same image. OK, I’m exaggerating about the “retiring” part, but you get the point. The art world calls these “multiples” and it’s great work if you can get it. Perhaps one day 3D printing in art metals will be as affordable as inkjet color prints (OK, Giclée for the art savvy) , but until that day, here we are…

Upper left then clockwise: We start with a positive (male) mold (technical term: die) for a press-formed raven dogtag, here carved from a steel bar. I’ll eventually press thin copper or silver over this steel mold…

The mold is almost complete (above) – I just need to smooth the back side of the raven’s head.

Here’s the finished raven mold in the press, and beginning the pressing process.

It took four separate pressings, with hammering out wrinkles, annealing and pickling (dissolving the black oxides from the copper) in between, to get the pressing ready for chasing and engraving…

This is the decision nexus, the point where each raven tag would go its’ own separate way to be individualized. We’ll continue on with the basic raven dogleg now…

From the rather undistinguished generic raven head in the previous image, we begin to chase the details in, followed by engraving. Next, I’ll apply a titanium backing to make a dogtag pendant.

Above, I’ve used a miniature copy of a blacksmith’s nail header to make rivets out of sterling silver wire. In the lower right corner, you can see the titanium backing installed with four silver rivets. Now I just need to live with it for a while to see if I’m finished, or if it needs something else added.

And here is the Raven Dogtag completed!

Again, the glamor shot by Serge Panchenko (http://sergeknives.com)

Here we’re going to follow the tale of the second raven. We’ll begin exactly like the first raven by pressing the raven head from copper sheet. To make the silver helmet, I began with a pressed generic copper raven head. Placing the copper raven over the steel die, I re-pressed the head with an additional sheet of sterling silver to begin forming the silver helmet.  This will give me a second raven head in a different colored metal, that fits like a glove. Like the copper raven head, multiple pressings, wrinkle hammering, annealing and pickings were required.

Here’s a closeup with the helmet margins drawn on the silver sheet, ready for trimming.

Taking the pressed silver sheet all the way to a refined helmet is quite a bit of work. Above, I trimmed away everything that didn’t look like a helmet with a jeweler’s saw, then carefully refined the edges with tiny jeweler’s files. By the way, cutting out this very involved 3D shape with the saw is anything but straightforward – there are lots of awkward angles, and a fair bit of bad language is involved…  Finally, I silver soldered the helmet to the copper raven head and mounted the head on a pitch block for ready for chasing and engraving (pitch is the icky green looking stuff on the block of wood, and holds the piece securely while working).

Chasing in the details (mostly around the eyes), and engraving the silver helmet. I engraved cuts defining the areas to be textured with a Lindsay Airgraver™ and then texture the interior areas with a tiny carbide ball bur in an NSK Electer micromotor grinder.

Above is the finished the head and helmet. It has taken me two days of work to get to this point. Tomorrow, I’ll add the titanium back, and we should be done.

Above, trimming the copper to fit the titanium backplate, drilling and forging rivets, and soldering the big manly silver jump ring closed.

The Raven and Silver Helmet dog tag completed!

And the glamor shot, with a pose blatantly stolen from my friend, Serge Panchenko.

Here is the “Raven with Silver Helmet Dogtag,” 1 7/8 inch long, fabricated from copper and sterling silver, with a titanium back plate, and leather neck cord.

Thanks for all of the support and encouragement!  And, thanks for looking!

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Titanium Frog Skeleton Keychain Tag

Frog_Skeleton_Titanium_Pendant_1Beginning a titanium keytag in Japanese shishiaibori style, with very deep outlines and 3d sculpting inside.  The top left image shows jus a bit of the first cutting with a wide “V” graver, the middle is twice around with decreasingly narrow “V” gravers, and the bottom right image shows all of the outlines at full depth, and beginning to sculpt the head.

The technique starts out with a very deep outline (takes me three times around with three different gravers to get deep enough, and heavily cutting each time). Then, the inside edges are carefully carved back, rounding them over to achieve a 3D look. Obviously, you need to have steeper sides in some areas, and shallower sides in others to achieve the 3D look.

The main point is there is no background removal, as in normal US and European engraving, and all of the design is at or below the surface, so wear and tear on the engraving should be less of a concern.

Above, the keytag in various states of in-progress and finished.

The complete titanium (grade 2 Ti) keytag in Japanese shishiaibori technique (carved completely below the surface).

Thanks for looking!

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Yet Another Baby Sea Turtle Pendant

baby_sea_turtle_II_1 Back to work with a baby sea turtle tag.  I swear this is the last one!  Top left then clockwise – cutting out, soldering on silver backing, and rough grinding…

baby_sea_turtle_II_3Upper left image, deepened the background by twice around the edges with a square graver.  Bottom right image, beginning the sculpting (rounding) with a flat graver.

Top left then clockwise – sculpting the shell and head with carbide burs and tiny punches. Not much depth to work with, but fortunately a little goes a long ways…

Finished the front side by marking out the turtle tracks, carving them in the textured sand. Bottom, smoothed and final patina. Next, the gold sand dollar on the back.

Finishing up the back. From top left then clockwise, creating the pocket for the inlaid gold sand dollar, roughing up the bottom, setting the 24 karat gold wire, smoothing and detailing the sand dollar…

Baby Sea Turtle Tag finished! 1.5 inches tall, front is hand engraved and carved stainless steel, sterling silver back with inlaid 24 karat gold sand dollar. Thanks for looking!

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William Henry Dragonfly Bolster Knife Scales

William_Henry_B12_Bolster_Dragonfly_1 Starting on a William Henry knife scale with dragonfly theme – this is the back end bolster.

Here, I’ve been excavating and undercutting the pocket for the gold inlay.  So far, I’ve inlaid 24 karat gold into half of the body.

The end bolster inlaid with gold and finished.  This is about a day’s engraving for me.  Next, the main themed front bolster…

William_Henry_B12_Bolster_Dragonfly_3 The William Henry front bolster with the major lines engraved…and some of the wispy tail excavated for gold inlay.  It’s about a full day of engraving (for me) to cut the major lines of the front bolster, and excavate the body and looooong tail ready for gold inlay, so this far has taken me two days of work…

William_Henry_B12_Bolster_Dragonfly_4aInlaying gold in the wispy tail – this is pretty easy as inlay goes, since it is just one width of gold wire.

Most of the gold inlaid today…

William_Henry_B12_Bolster_Dragonfly_5 Most of the gold work is finished, except for a bit of shading detail on the dragonfly body at the end…this is the end of day three of engraving…

The gold is in and background being excavated.  Next I’ll stipple the background, detail the wings, then add shadow details to the gold body.  Not long for this side…this is the end of the fourth day.

Finished the background stippling today…Right now the background is just a million tiny holes (stippling). The last thing I will do is to make it even darker by inking the low spots, and wiping it off of the high spots…

With the finished detailing of the wings and the shading of the gold body, this side is finished!  End of day five.

Here’s the finished scale, with the fossil ivory center inlay in place. Very pretty!

William_Henry_B12_Bolster_Dragonfly_9I haven’t been a complete slug over the holidays, and finished the other side of the William Henry dragonfly knife scales.  Here are both sides of the scales.  I took my time on Side B over the Christmas holidays, but I could probably have finished this side (since I’m pretty practiced up on this design!) in four days.

Thanks for looking!


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“Greenman in Autumn” Pendant Dagger, Part 2

I started the engraving by cutting all the major lines. Next I’ll inlay gold wire into the Celtic beard…

Inlaying gold wire, from top left clockwise – undercutting the line (blue arrows) – hammering in wire – more hammering – all wire in place

Clockwise from upper left – scraping away excess gold – completely scraped – stoning smooth – tiny highlighting lines around the gold. Next, sculpting and background removal

Upper Left and Right – excavating the background around the gold Celtic beard – LR stippling the background – LL I just had to ink it to see how it would look. Next is carving the face…

Sculpting and background removal. Then I couldn’t resist inking it to get a glimpse of the future…

Sculpting and background finished. Next will be creepy antler eyes like the Hobo Nickel skull…

Waiting for epoxy to cure for the creepy antler peg eyes…

Upper left and clockwise, the final step is making double inlaid creepy eyes of antler and dark horn. Final pics tomorrow…

“Greenman in Autumn” Pendant Dagger finished! 1084 steel blade, titanium scales, 24 karat gold inlay, double inlaid antler and dark horn eyes, with titanium, silver and copper sheath. Thanks for the support and encouragement!

Thanks for looking!

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“Greenman in Autumn” Pendant Dagger, Part 1

Beginning a new project – a tiny pendant dagger in my signature “Knapped Steel” style. Here it’s been cut out from 1084 carbon steel.

Decreasing weight of the dagger, left to right – drilling areas in handle – jeweler’s saw cutting through the web – chunks removed…

Left to right – basic lens shape to the blade – carving the “knapped” stone flakes – blackening just ’cause for looks

Texturing the stone flakes on the blade, and carving the “ripper” cutting edge…

Engraving details on the blade front and back, and cutting pockets for gold inlay. There’s no engraving after heat treating!

Press forming copper sheath – hard urethane (red thing), steel die (arrowhead shape), and copper sheet pressed and hand chased…

24 karat gold inlaid in the blade, and the copper sheath trimmed and fitted.

All the pieces roughed out, sheath assembled, titanium scales attached. Once the glue cures, I’ll trim everything neatly.

Since you asked for a profile shot, here you go!

The dagger blank finished and smoothed – ready for engraving!

The on-order clip arrived and is now installed – with the clip in place, the dagger cannot come out of the sheath. To access the dagger, unclip the sheath from the leather neck cord…

Thanks for looking!

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Skull and Centipede Hobo Nickel

Back to engraving with a Hobo Nickel project, just for me.

Skull_Centipede_Hobo_Nickel_16This is my first solo Hobo Nickel, with 24 karat gold centipede legs, moose antler zombie eye.

Here’s my design transferred onto a 1937 buffalo nickel. Don’t know what a Hobo Nickel is?  Try hobonickels.org

Above is the design engraved, but no sculpting yet.

A little further along, with the centipede back half sculpted…

Most of the sculpting done, and ready to add the gold…

Here’s the front half of the centipede sculpted, and 24 karat gold wire inlaid into the raised legs. I haven’t trimmed the edges of the gold yet.

Here’s the front half of the centipede sculpted, and half of the gold legs inlaid…impressive, if you’ve ever seen one of these not-so-little nasties in person.

Front legs inlaid with gold wire, some trimmed.

All of the gold legs installed! Hope it doesn’t crawl off when I’m not watching…

Skull_Centipede_Hobo_Nickel_15Installing a zombie eye of moose antler.  From upper left clockwise, – lathe turning tiny moose pegs – front and back pegs – pegs epoxied in place front and back…

Finished! The zombie eye is particularly creepy…

Thanks for looking!


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William Henry Steampunk Viperfish – Side B, Part 2

Finished the sculpting today! Here’s a before and after of the squid-thing. Lastly will be detailing with rivets and panels, then stippling the background (ugh!)

Big push on finishing the background stippling today. Here, I’ve been working around the edges of the bad tempered anglerfish…

Yay! The stippling is done (except for the tiny spot I missed – can you spot it?)… Next are rivets and panels, then it’s finally done!

At long last! It’s done, and here’s the beauty shot. The details: William Henry model B12 scales, 4 inches long 416 stainless steel, hand engraved with 24 karat gold and copper inlays.

Thanks for looking!

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William Henry Steampunk Viperfish – Side B, Part 1

Well, I’m baaaack! With the unmasking of Side B of the Steampunk Viperfish. At the top is THE PLAN, the center has the design transferred to the steel knife scale, and the bottom has had all of the major lines engraved. Tomorrow, I’ll start the copper and 24 karat gold inlays. See you then!

Here’s the anatomy of a large copper inlay. 1st image: three copper wires “tacked” into place. You can see tiny “hooks” engraved into the bottom of the inlay pocket. 2nd image: all wires tacked onto place. 3rd image: copper wires have been punched into the hooks in the pocket bottom, and flowed into the undercut edges. 4th image: the copper has been stoned flat, and tiny lines engraved around the steel edges.

Almost all of the copper inlays in place. Next, the gold inlays…

I got some of the gold inlaid today before I burned out…

Finished the gold on the steampunk anglerfish. Bear with me a little longer, just a couple more inlays on the squid-thing and then fun stuff will begin happening…

Inlaying gold wire into a complex gear. I add in short gold wire segments, which will become a solid mass when hammered into place.

The same gear hammered and stoned smooth and flat.

All of the squid-thing inlays are finished. Next I’ll begin excavating the background and sculpting the elements.

Background removal around the anglerfish. Still need to stipple the background…long way to go yet…

A big push today towards background removal – sorry there’s not more to see.

Yippee – almost all of the background removal is finally done. Next is background stippling to increase the contrast, then on to the fun part, sculpting!

Spent most of the day making small circle punches to make the pins in the squid-thing’s bicycle chain tentacles. Here I’m turning a taper on the business end of one of the punches on a tiny Sherline lathe.

You can see the four different sized punches I made in the center of the image, and the test marks at the blue arrow. I also placed all of the circular pivot pin marks on the bicycle chain tentacles.

I spent today sculpting the tentacle attachments to the squid-thing. These were way more complex to sculpt than I had anticipated…

A lot done today on the tentacles. The half on the right are finished, punch work left to do on the left…

The bad tempered anglerfish is fully sculpted, and except for rivets and a few panels, is finished

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William Henry Steampunk Viperfish – Side A

Starting a new project – a pair of steampunk knife scales for William Henry Knives. Follow along with me as I progress, it’s nice to have company!

I’ve cut all of the major lines, and next I’ll start on the copper and gold inlays.

This is one of the rays on the big fin, ready for a copper wire inlay. You can see where I’ve undercut the bottom edges of a V- cut. When I pound in copper wire, the softer metal will flow into these undercuts, trapping the copper.

Here’s the copper wire starting to be hammered into place. It’s stuck tight enough at this point that I’m not having to hold the wire in place.

Here’s the copper hammered into place and trimmed flush with the steel surface.

The finished inlays, stoned flat and smooth, with a tiny engraved line cut around the edges. And that’s my day…

I couldn’t face any more inlays today, so I worked on background removal. I also sculpted the fins and the bicycle chain backbone.

I managed enough engraving time to put in the largest copper inlay. These are kind of a pain, but very necessary to the design…

This image is with a new closeup lens for my iPhone. What do you think?

Beginning the excavation for another copper gear inlay…

I carved away all the parallel cuts, and cleaned up the edges…

Here I’ve undercut all the edges and created a forest of tiny hooks in the bottom of the pocket. These will bite into the soft copper, permanently trapping it…

Filling the gear teeth with short pieces of copper wire.

Here I’ve wound copper wire into the cavity, lightly hammering it into the little hooks at the bottom. It’s now held fast, ready for me to hammer it all together her into a single mass…

WM_Henry_Steampunk_Viperfish_15The finished gear inlay. I’ve scraped and stoned it smooth, and added tiny boundary cuts.  I’ve firmly hammered the wire so it all flows together. It’s also overflowed the banks of the pond…I’ll be carefully scraping away the excess back down to the surface of the steel.

I also finished the copper and gold inlays on the unlucky little ugly fish.


I’ve mostly finished the unlucky little ugly fish. Still a few rivets to add in, but those will come towards the end…

I got the big scary 24 karat gold teeth inlaid today. Now this fish can bite…

Eye inlaid, and beginning to excavate around the big teeth…now the scary fish can see with big mindless killer eyes…

I finished the last inlay and all of the background removal. Next will be sculpting the big fish head, then stippling the background. We’re almost finished with this side…but there’s still Side B to go! The adventure continues…

Thanks for looking!

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