Metal stamping can be a bit intimidating. If you goof up on a pendant it’s not like you can just erase it and start over. And it can start to get expensive if you are unhappy with your first attempts and keep trying and trying again. After teaching a metal stamping class for a couple of years, I’ve found that most people aren’t striving for perfection with their metal stamping, they just want it to look good. (If you wanted perfection, you would be standing in line at a mall getting something engraved by a machine, not reading a blog about making things, right?) So here are some metal stamping tips and tricks and lessons I’ve learned.
Use a pencil to draw guidelines
Most pendants can be marked on lightly with a pencil. The guidelines really help space the letters out nicely before stamping. Wipe off the marks with a wet-wipe or by using your fingers. (More on aligning below.)
Tape down your pendant to a stamping block
Use a stamping block and tape your pendant down. Taping isn’t really required, but it sure eliminates worrying that your pendant is going to shoot out across the table when you bang it with a hammer.
Before stamping, lay out your stamps in order
Pendants can get expensive, and wasting 2 or 3 of them due to misspellings can be frustrating. Before stamping, lay out your metal stamps in their order of use. This will 1.) help prevent misspellings and 2.) make it easier to focus on the rhythm of stamping and maintaining the same amount of pressure for each hit.
Hammers are not all the same
I’m asked in every class “Can you use any hammer?” And the answer is yes, but if you are going to use a standard nail hammer from your tool bucket or garage – just remember you are NOT hammering nails. Holding the handle near to the head will help prevent you from hitting too hard. The hammer above by Impress Art is my favorite hammer. It has an ergonomic handle, a 1 pound brass head with both flat and peen heads. The weight also feels good in your hand.
Hold the stamp firmly and upright
Hold the metal stamp with the text facing you and the flat end up. Hold the metal stamp firmly at the base. (If you fingers are turning white from pinching, that’s probably holding it too hard.) Hold the stamp as perpendicular to the table as possible.
Don’t hit too close, don’t hit too hard and don’t hit twice
Metal doesn’t disappear, you’re moving it when you stamp. If you hit too close to the edge of the pendant it distorts the shape.
If you hit too hard, it can crack the pendant. If you are seeing the impression of the circular edge of the stamp, you are hitting it waaaaay too hard. If you hit too hard – there’s no going back. It’s better to start hitting lighter than you think you should.
You might want to try re-stamping if your letters aren’t the same depth or if a portion of the letter doesn’t show. If you align your stamp exactly in the same grooves, you can re-stamp, but be very, very careful or you can end up with it looking like the sample on the right.
Don’t double-tap your initial hit. It’s too easy for the stamp to travel and you’ll end up with a shadowed letter.
I really like using Gilders paste over a Sharpie Marker, but a Sharpie works as well. Using a Q-tip or small brush, wipe the Gilders paste over the entire surface of the pendant, filling in the depressions with the paste. After the entire surface is coated, turn it over on a paper towel and wipe it off, burnishing it a few times to add a little polish and let it dry. If paste gets in the hole you can use a toothpick to poke it out.
Start with an easy alignment
Starting at the left and working to the right means you don’t have to worry about how much space is remaining on the right. This is much easier than trying to center something on your first try.
Space your guidelines like a typewriter
See the words “family” above? Take a look at their spacing. See how the guidelines aren’t spaced out the same? “Kerning” is the process of adjusting the space between individual letters, which you can do while drawing your guidelines to achieve a more natural look. If you make your guidelines at even spaces apart, some words can look a little funny if they consist of a lot of wide letters (m, w) or a lot of skinny letters (i, l, j).
*The red asterisk is the location of the curved portion of the metal stamp that I use to align with the guidelines I’ve drawn. (Note this line is not where the letters will occur when stamping. The letters will actually be a bit above this line.)
When stamping the abc example it’s easiest to start with the a and move to your right.
When stamping the 123, it’s easiest to start with the 3 and move up.
Starting in the middle and working out to both sides usually works best if you are trying to center a word. As you get better at spacing you may not need to do this.
Aligning using the curved edge of the stamp works great for uppercase fonts – because all the letters are already in alignment. Another approach to aligning uppercase letters is the “bulls-eye” method. When drawing your guidelines, draw the horizontal and vertical lines where you want the center point of your letters to be.
For lowercase fonts, you will need to drop the stamps slightly below the guideline for letters having “legs” such as g, y or q. Stamps are manufactured so the letters are centered in the circular end so you will need to compensate a bit for these lowercase letters if you don’t want them to float above all the others.
Practice, practice, practice
Metal stamping takes practice and with practice you will get better. When I mess up a pendant I don’t think of it as a loss, I think of it as a tester and use the front and back for even more practice.
Relax and take a deep breath
I hope these tips and tricks will help you get started stamping with confidence. And, please if you have any metal stamping tricks you would like to share, let me know!