Q: Can you carve pewter like wood? Is that a good way of working
A: Pewter is a term used for a variety of alloys, but for the purpose of
this discussion we're
talking about Brittania metal, which is 96% tin, and 4% antimony, although
you can carve
pure tin as well- the addition of antimony helps its casting properties.
Some pewters contain l
ead, but there's no reason to start carving that and spreading lead around
your place. Pewter is
easy to work with in most respects. It works just like you'd expect, as
a metal. It doesn't have
grain like wood, and unlike plastic, it won't melt from the heat of burr-carving.
It's a soft metal,
and a dull burr will "drag" it around some. But almost any decently
sharp steel or carbide cutter
will be fine. Coarser teeth will load less, and cut faster, but leave a
coarser surface, as you'd
expect. As with any metal cutting process, a lubricant of some sort will
help. Beeswax, Burrlife
or similar commercial burr lubricant, or even just plain light oil should
help, mostly by slowing
down the loading of the burr, and the heating-up of the burr and the pewter.
Unlike with wood or plastic, you have a few other intriguing options with
pewter besides carving.
You can make models in clay or wood, or whatever, and make a simple plaster
of Paris mold, just
as one might do for pouring ceramic slip. Make sure it is dried, maybe with
a kitchen oven, to
remove moisture; but it doesn't have to be fired in a kiln. We're talking
kitchen technology here,
nothing special is needed. Melt the pewter over a stove burner (with ventilation,
of course, to outside
air.) The advantage of this is that you can save a lot of carving if your
basic lump of pewter is pretty
close to what you'll want to end up with. Don't expect this method to give
you great surfaces, but it
does work. You can even pour pewter into constructed molds made of, say,
plywood. The molds
won't last long, but you could get a couple casts out of one. Pewtersmiths
routinely did that sort of
thing to make, say, handles for a pot. The castings were then filed and
chased and carved and
additionally worked, of course, after that.
Remember that pewter not only does not work harden, it actually softens
some as you work it.
This means you can use hammers and punches and the like to model a surface
to your heart's
content, without worrying about annealing. The metal is soft enough so that
such as is done with sheet metal, can be done using punches made of hard
wood or plastic.
Metal tools aren't always needed... To actually chase designs into a more
rigid surface, you'll
need steel tools. But you can make them of old nails if you like. High quality
steel isn't needed
here. What I'm getting at with this is that simply carving into a large
lump of pewter is going to
be wasting a lot of time and metal. If you start with a casting, then use
a combination of punches
with your carving techniques, you can develop lots of details without having
to actually remove
all that much metal.
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