Forging a Brass Acanthus Leaf

[The Almighty Acnthus Leaf] 

[step 1]

Getting it together

[step 2]

Sinking those curvaceous lobes

[step 3]

Hammer lightly on those Veins

[step 4]

Heat it to relieve it!

[step 5]

Get the lead out

[step 6]

Raising voluptuous curves

[step 7]

Adding finishing touches

[W]hat a way to end the year 1995! I have spent the last week searching for information on how to forge that sensuous traditional leaf of leaves, the almighty Acanthus (Akanthos) leaf. You would think that since this leaf was introduced as ornament in ancient Greek architecture, there would be a tremendous amount of information about it. Well, my search ended with little information, so I decided to document and share with you the approach I have taken using the information which I found to make this luscious, sanctioned leaf.

Realizing that there are a variety of ways to interpret the form of the acanthus leaf, I decided to use a modified version of Max Metzer's, "Modellbuch Fur Kunstschlosser, Einfaches Akanthusblatt." Since there were no "how-to" instructions, I turned to Ernst Schwarzkopf's "Plain and Ornamental Forging" book which illustrated some of the tools used in making the acanthus leaf and gave a vague description on how to use them.

Even though I was slightly disappointed with the information which I had gathered, I went ahead and proceeded to forge new tools which would be needed to achieve the natural forms of the acanthus leaf. I also digitized Max Metzer's sample pattern and pasted the cut stencil onto a brass sheet. This pattern was later modified to conform to the location where the leaf would be affixed.

Something I learned from all of these different processes is that there is a definite set of steps to follow in making the acanthus leaf. The general approach to cold working with sinking techniques is to start applying the leaf decoration on the outside and work progressively toward the center. So I started by using the half round sinking swages to delineate the lobes, and went to the treadle hammer to set the veins using a dull chisel and a bottom V-shaped swage. This actually opened up the natural curve which had been made with the half round swages and required additional sinking using a leather mallet over a sunken depression on a wood block.

Up to this point all cold work had been produced on the factory half hardened yellow brass which made additional surface working impossible. It was time to pull out the Oxy-acetylene torch with a rosebud attachment and gently heat the leaf to a dull red color. I have to say that watching the full spectrum of colors dance across the brass while passing the torch over its surface was mesmerizing, and made the task of annealing a pleasant one.

After refining the lobes and veins using the ball peen hammer over a lead block, I used the Parrot's Bill stake to form the lobed tip of the leaf. This process, and working over a ball peen stake, are the only raising processes used in forming the acanthus leaf.

Forcing the leaf to conform to the corners of the pot rack was tricky but accomplished by striking the base of the leaf directly onto the fixture. Additional drilling and tapping allowed for the attachment of the leaf with countersunk screws and gave a nice flush finished look to the joint.

The leaves were then completed by applying a chemical patina which created an interesting antique dark finish on the leaf. To accent the lobes and veins, the front surface was polished with rouge. This finish gave a polished "old world" look to the acanthus leaf and brought elegance to the overall design of the center island pot rack.

Even though there have been some trying moments in this educational journey, it has been a rewarding one. There is nothing quite like the excitement created while discovering new forms and tools which help the metalsmith bring into reality new visual experiences. I hope that the information which I have provided will give you as much pleasure as I received from researching the almighty acanthus leaf.