A Tale of Two Ravens

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

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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…

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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…

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

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

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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…

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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.

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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.

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And here is the Raven Dogtag completed!

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

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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.

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

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The Raven and Silver Helmet dog tag completed!

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

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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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