hammer-formed brass bird sculpture: how it was made

by shelbyvision on August 18, 2009

The first one of this design was made a few years ago, but I just made another one, and it gave me the opportunity to record in pictures how it was made.

In the first six pictures, we have the piece of flat brass sheet, then the initial forming, using stakes and sandbag. In the sixth picture, it has been formed to the point it must be annealed before going any further.


After annealing, it’s a fairly simple but time-consuming task to hammer the piece until the seam comes together, and it can be soldered. After that, a lot of planishing, being very careful not to push the metal in too far, since there’s no way to bring it back out.


Next, the perch is formed. The material is 1/4″ brass rod. The taper was done in a lathe, just an inch or so at a time, to prevent deflection. The picture shows it being filed in a “bench motor” a tool of the musical instrument trade. It has a hollow shaft, which comes in very handy here. After sanding and polishing, the rod is annealed and bent into shape, using a wood stick with a hole to prevent dents or scratches.


Then the final steps. The bird gets a notch filed in the bottom with a 1/4″ round file, then it gets soldered to the perch. Then the finished product.

step13step14bird sculpture finished

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

shelbyvision February 25, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Julie, thanks for your comments. Actually silver would cost quite a bit more, especially since it’s about 3x what it was when this was originally posted.

Julie February 24, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Your work is outstanding! I am looking for a small brass long-tailed bird as an accent to set atop a stack of books, so I got you when I Googled that. In regard to the comment about not charging much more if you worked in sterling silver – we are paying for your design and your expertise and I think your prices are incredibly reasonable for that alone. Btw, I think I saw that you live in Ft. Wayne. I live in Texas now, but was born in Ft. Wayne and lived there as a child. Keep up the beautiful work!

shelbyvision September 11, 2011 at 8:09 pm

dajobo, It’s 16 gage (.051″ or 1.3mm).

dajobo September 11, 2011 at 1:36 pm

what thickness of metal do you use for the bird. thanks so much for your how to instructions just cant get this kind of think in a book

shelbyvision September 11, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Thanks Jan,
I just remembered, I do plan to make some of the tiny bird ornaments in silver, I even have the silver for it. I might get on that next week.

jan September 10, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Very nice. Yes make some in silver.

shelbyvision September 10, 2009 at 7:50 am

Taueret, Thanks for your comments. It feels a little like magic when a plan comes together. It take a lot of trial and error sometimes to get to that point where the results match the intent. I have a box full of scrap junk to testify to that.
Cynthia, thanks. I agree about the silver, and if I could afford silver I would be using it for everything. I did make a large silver piece that I just finished that I am going to enter in the Saul Bell Award Competition. We’ll see how that goes. I’ll be posting pictures soon.

Cynthia Eid September 10, 2009 at 7:12 am

Steve, I absolutely love your work! My suggestion is to try making some of your pieces in silver (naturally, I suggest Argentium Sterling Silver). For the prices you are charging, you would not need to charge much more, and people would feel like they were getting better value for their money.
Best wishes,
Cynthia Eid

Taueret September 9, 2009 at 1:23 am

that bird is gorgeous. You’re right, it looks to me like just the sort of thing that does well on Etsy.

Your pictures of hammering are so interesting, I read about hammering in my books and it sounds like black magic. Seeing how you go about it- still magic but at least I can imagine some parts of how it’s done!

shelbyvision August 23, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Thanks, Jason. I may have used a ring mandrel and mallet to round out the small curves. The stick is hard maple; I cut three of them and put a different size hole on either end of each, to allow for the various diameters of the tapered ends of the rod. As far as replacing, I don’t know; hard maple is very durable.

jason August 23, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Once again, completely awesome!
Do you use any mandrels at all for the wire bending, or the stick for the whole operation?
What is the stick made of and how often does it need replacing?

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