Birch Bark

Repousse & Chasing
Birch Bark

Birch Bark

In 1960s rural central Pennsylvania the bark from the smallest twigs of a Birch tree were my most reliable source of anything resembling candy. I’ve read it has aspirin in it.

Birch Bark is made from, 18ga, half hard, copper scraps from other projects. With no general direction or project in mind I tin snip cut the general shape, edge smoothed, hammered and polished the largest leaf. Coming in at about 6 inches long, I was very pleased with the results, especially the polished finish. I am not sure if it is the result of not annealing the copper or polishing it with BlueMagic 400 Metal Polish Cream or both, but the results where a new best for me. Next I made the second largest leaf, with similar pleasing results. At that point I knew I’d need a couple increasingly smaller leaves to balance out some type of radiant orientation.

After the Quercus Rubra/Red Oak project, that is somewhere here about, I swore off anything resembling stems, twigs or tree limbs, requiring intricate soldering, but here I was again. The main branch is common household ground wire that I spun with an electric drill and gradually stepped down in size with a file and sand paper as each leaf stem connected to it. The plot sickens. Since this is a novice hobby there is no jeweler’s torch simply a mini propane torch. As I added more and more solder joints I would lay it in a pile of ice cubes to keep existing joints from heat popping, but then it gets hard to get to your next solder joint location up to the proper solder temperature. It didn’t go to bad, but the solder is pretty obvious in a few spots and I was to chicken to file/grind it off in fear of stress popping the solder joints.
Good stuff.

Any soldering tips or low buck brazing/welding suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

I’ll be clear coating it soon and I always seem to lose some luster in the process. I am using un-thinned gilders acrylic. Again any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

More of my stuff can be seen at

Rich Waugh's picture

Mark, Those look very good!


Those look very good!

You might have fewer issues with the soldering if you use more than one type of solder. You can get "silver bearing" solder that melts at a somewhat higher temperature than regular lead/tin solder or tin/antimony solder. Do the first joints with the higher melting-point solder and then follow up with the lower melting-point solder. We do this all the time working with true silver solders which are available in four or five different melting points. I'd suggest using them, but the higher temperatures would anneal (soften) your copper and your propane torch probably couldn't develop quite enough heat on such a large piece of copper.

Don't be to timid about removing excess solder if needed. Soft solder is soft enough that you can carve it off with a sharp knife or small chisel without damaging the underlying copper if you're careful. If you do scratch the copper you can often erase the scratch by burnishing it with a polished steel burnisher. Or you can rub it out with a bit of autobody rubbing compound on a wooden stick.

As for the clear coating, I recommend that you get some Permalac clear lacquer. It has much less tendency to change the luster of polished objects as it is designed for jewelers and sculptors.

visitor's picture

Hey Rich, Thanks for the

Hey Rich, Thanks for the encouraging and helpful reply.

While working the Red Oak project I made a post here and you suggested using silver solder, thanks again. After going on line and getting product+shipping cost sticker shock I went to the local Ace Hardware store I bought 2% - 430F silver solder for a couple bucks. However, as you suggested here, and I experienced in my garage, I really need to expand my solder collection to include a wide multiple temp range. Since my budget precludes costly experimentation, could you please suggest or divulge 4 or 5 solder types or better yet manufactures PN(s) that would provide a wide temp range that I could still cover with Propane and MAPP gas? It would be greatly appreciated.

Regarding the Permalac do you use the aerosol, thin and then spray it with a gun, or brush it on?

Thanks again, your help is appreciated

Rich Waugh's picture

Mark,Happy to help as much


Happy to help as much as I can. I can't, unfortunately, supply you with manufacturer's part numbers for the various solders. I suggest you do a Google search for "solder" and then go to each website listed and look at what they show for melting points. I do know you can find them with melting points from around 350 up to over 600F if you look around. You may be able to get some good info on solders by calling around to your local plumbing, heating and AC places, but searching online for Harris brand solders and others will probably get you more info.

Keep in mind that there are several different configurations available, from 50/50 lead/tin to 60/40 lead/tin, to the tin/antimony lead-free types, and then there are a handful of different silver-bearing solders, from 1/2% silver to 2 or 3% silver - the more silver the higher the melting point, generally speaking. And then there's the bismuth/antimony mixes for melting points so low you can melt them with boiling water - you probably don't need those!

I generally just use the rattle-can Permalac since I use it so rarely. If I had a job where I needed to cover more than what 1/2 a rattle can would do I'd buy a quart or gallon and use my detail gun to spray it. One rattle can goes a pretty long way, actually. Brushing lacquer is a losing proposition due to the quick drying time. You'd only make yourself crazy trying it. (grin)

A tip on the stems: forging them with a hammer and anvil is way faster than sanding them down and gives them a nice "organic" appearance. It doesn't require anything special in the way of equipment, either. A lightweight ball pein hammer and a piece of steel plate will do it just fine. Any welding shop should have a piece of scrap steel plate about 1/2" thick or thicker you can get for scrap price or possibly free if you ask nicely. A piece 3" square would be plenty big enough. Do an online search for "forging and drawing" and you should find plenty of tutorials on how to do the hammer work, though a few minutes experimenting will quickly show you what happens. Give it a try, I think you'll like it!