Society of American Silversmiths
Glossary of Commonly Used
Silversmithing Terms & Tools

Frederick Miller annealing a sterling bowl

Annealing: The heat treating (softening) of metal after it has been work-hardened with steel tools, and is necessary between raising and forging stages. Annealing is also used to remove tension in a piece of metal before brazing, helping to reduce warpage.

Brazing: This form of soldering utilizes high temperature alloys to join high temperature metals. When brazing sterling, care must be used to prevent firescale which is formed at higher temperatures than soldering.

Chasing: The technique of detailing the front surface of a metal article with various hammer-struck punches.

Checking: The hammering down onto the edge of a form. This technique strengthens and visually thickens the edge.

Crimping: A rapid raising process by forming radiating valleys from the center to the outer edge of a metal object then raised. Generally used on thinner gauge metal.

Cross-Pein Hammer: Hammers with long, narrow faces running perpendicular to the handle and used for raising, forming, and planishing.

Die Forming: The process of stamping or hammering a sheet of metal into a form which has the outline of the object. Also used when making duplicate objects.

Drawbench: A narrow, waist-high bench equipped with a chain dragging a pair of drawtongs (large coarse-toothed pliers) used to grip the end of a piece of wire. This wire is then pulled through a series of consecutively smaller dies (round, square, triangular, etc.) reducing its thickness. Patterned dies may also be used to produce moldings, boarders, etc.

Engraving: The process of cutting shallow lines into metal with a sharp graver, reproducing artwork which has been drawn on a metal article. Unlike machine engraving, hand engraving removes metal when cutting. Bright cutting is another form of engraving which when viewed is very reflective because of its flat, angled cut.

Firescale: A purple stain that develops in sterling when oxygen penetrates the outer surface of an object during brazing, oxidizing the copper content. Fine silver is left on the surface when sulfuric acid chemically removes the oxidized copper, though copper may be oxidized below the surface. Colonial pieces will show this purple stain after many years of polishing.

Head: A short, polished, cast metal mushroom-type stake that fits into a horse and is used for planishing and burnishing metal objects over.

Horse: Held in a vise, this straight or L-shaped holding devise accommodates heads. The length of a horse varies depending on the size or depth of the piece being fashioned.

Mokume-Gane: Laminated metals that have been fused or brazed together like a sandwich, and passed through a flat or wire-forming rolling mill to make the material easier to fabricate or raise. The sandwich or "billet" can also be forged without the use of the rolling mill. Patterns are then punched, filed, and hammered to produce a desired pattern.

Planishing: The act of hammering or refining the surface of a metal object with highly polished hammer faces. This process refines the surface after raising and may be used as a decorative element. Great care must be used, for even a speck of dust will make an impression in the metal being hammered.

Polishing: The process of refining a metal surface by use of a polishing wheel attached to a long-spindled motorized arbor which runs at high speed. Various finishes may be obtained with a wide variety of abrasive compounds applied to the polishing wheels such as rouge--this compound imparts the brightest finish. Other compounds will produce matte finishes, emphasizing the form since which will be rendered less reflective.

Raising: The technique of forming a flat sheet of metal over a cast iron T-stake or head, forming and compressing the metal to take a hollow form. This labor-intensive process is the purest form of silversmithing.

Repoussť: A process used to roughly emboss a metal object from the back or inside with larger punches than those used in chasing.

Rolling Mill: A hand or motor-driven cast iron mill with polished or patterned hardened steel rollers that reduce the thickness or impart a texture on metal sheet or wire. Functions like a hand cranked clothes ringer.

Scratch Brush: A long-spindled motorized arbor using fine wire wheels rotating at slow speed, burnishing the surface of a metal object after soldering. Soapy water is used as a lubricant between the wheel and object. May also be used as a texturing wheel to soften the luster of metal.

Silversmith: One who fashions silver objects and wrought items such as forged flatware. The first silversmiths who settled in this country set up our banking system and produced its first coinage.

Sinking: The hammering of a flat piece of metal into a concave hemispherical shape in the top of a tree stump or any dished form. A small bowl shape is formed in the center of the sheet producing a lip, enabling the piece to "ride" the end of a raising stake, aiding in the raising process.

Snarling: The embossing from underneath or inside an object with a long-armed steel tool, with one end placed in a vise. Snarling is accomplished by placing a form over the snarling iron's tip (which may be any shape) and tapping the back end of the arm which is secured in the vise. The vertical vibration that results gives a "kick," raising a bump on the outside of the object. This technique is usually used in conjunction with chasing.

Soldering: A low-temperature form of brazing. This technique is used for joining low-temperature base metals such as pewter and does not possess the strength of brazing solders when joining higher temperature metals such as silver.

Spinning: The forcing of a flat disc of metal over a profiled steel or wooden form (chuck) with long-handled, polished steel tools. The horizontal spinning lathe generally runs at high-speed and is also used turn the chucks. This technique takes much less time than raising.

Spring Hammer: A 5' cast iron beam supporting a long-handled, highly-polished pivoting hammer with a 3" diameter face. The hammer is mounted on a spring mechanism allowing the hammer head to bounce off a highly polished adjustable anvil used to flatten the bottoms of trays and anything else that requires a perfectly flat surface. The spring hammer head bounces off the anvil perfectly flat, avoiding a costly crescent-shaped miss-hit of a hand-held hammer head's edge.

Stake: Any polished cast iron or steel tool placed in a vise

and is used for forming and planishing metal over. This tool is generally large enough to be used without a horse.

Sterling Silver: An alloy of fine silver (92.5%) and copper (7.5%) most commonly used when fashioning holloware and flatware because of its strength. Fine silver (99.99% pure) is generally too soft when producing large functional objects. U.S. law states that all objects marked "sterling," "925" or "925/1000" MUST contain no less than 92.5% fine silver.

Surface Gauge: A vertical steel rod mounted with an adjustable arm fastened to a heavy base. The adjustable scribe-type pivoting arm can be raised or lowered to check the height or to scribe a level line around an object in order to mount a wire or anything else that must be level. Often used on top of a surface plate.

Surface Plate: A perfectly level steel, cast iron or granite table of any dimension; used to check the level and flatness of an object. Often used in conjunction with the surface gauge.

T-Stake: Any polished, cast iron or steel tool in the form of an elongated "T" and used in a vise for raising, forming or planishing metal.

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Updated 2/14/97