A Weekend with NC Black at The Ranch

This past weekend I had the opportunity to take a 2-day workshop on micro shell-forming with Andrea Kennington and Les Bryant of NC Black.  I’d purchased several of their micro-forming hammers at the 2011 SNAG conference in Seattle. And though I’d intended to learn how to use them at some point, I shamefully admit they mostly just sat in my studio looking pretty and not actually hammering anything.   While they really are gorgeous little tools, having the opportunity to actually learn how to use them wasn’t something I could pass up.

Some of the highlights:

Day One:

oOoOo tools! 

Large Closing HammerOne of the great things about this workshop was the ability to try out a wide variety of tools.  Andrea and Les have been driving around the country with a trailer crammed full of workshop tool kits.  Each box has a selection of their hammers, forming blocks and other bits and pieces for use during the workshop.  It was really nice to be able to attend a class to see if I liked the technique  before buying the tools to support it.  It’s frustrating when you think you’re going to enjoy a process, sink a sizable chunk of change into supplies, then realize afterwards that it’s not really something you’re going to be doing in the future.  Being able to play around and experiment without breaking the bank was a heck of a nice change.

While each instructor had their favorite tools for different parts of each process, finding what worked best for you was definitely encouraged.  For example, Les tended to use the nylon hammers for closing some of the forms, but I really wasn’t a fan.  For me, the metal closing hammers just felt better and I ended up using them far more frequently.  This wasn’t ‘the wrong way’, it was just what worked best for me.  Having that ability to explore and discover the best process for *me* was really valuable and I definitely appreciated the opportunity.

Making a Spiculum!

For those who don’t know what a spiculum is in this context, it’s a hollow tube that tapers on one or both ends.  It sounds simple enough, but the process for making one was a complete mystery to me and my non-hammering ways.  Before this workshop I had never made a spiculum, let alone a tiny one.  I was intimidated and thus believed I would completely destroy this tiny bit of metal.

I was pleasantly surprised at the results!  While I definitely had issues with the seam twisting at first, it was a great learning process and gave me a good feel for the way the metal moves using the different hammers, as well as how to correct some of those issues.  From there, we hammered out two additional pieces to wrap around the original spiculum, thus producing a layered floral shape.  Cinching in the secondary and tertiary pieces around the base spiculum was fun, if a little tricky.

From there, we cut out and played with a couple additional floral shapes after a demonstration.  It doesn’t really sound like much in writing, but I left with my brain jammed full of new information and an itch to do some more hammering!

Day Two:

Wolf Fur cuff & Quill

Fur bracelet!  This was extremely exciting to me, which I don’t think comes as any sort of surprise to anyone who has known me for more than a week or so.  The base form for the bracelet is essentially another spiculum, curved to fit the wrist and encapsulating a strip of fur-on-hide.

In my case, I used a strip of wolf fur scrap that I’ve had for several years.  It took a while to get the shape of the cuff right, but with some patience and guidance it came around in the end!  The copper curves up around the hide tight enough to hold it in place (a bit like a bezel), but not so tight that it scissors through the fur.

The piece next to it in the photo (on my horribly dirty workbench at home), is an African porcupine quill captured in a very quick and dirty spiculum made from the leftover scrap from the bracelet project.  This one has no real purpose aside from as an example / test piece, but I really like the possibilities it presents!

Overall, it was certainly a weekend well spent!  Les and Andrea are now off and cruising their way across the country once more. If you get a chance, I definitely recommend checking out one of their workshops, or at the very least their fantastic variety of hammers.



NC Black – http://www.ncblack.com 

NC Black (FB) – https://www.facebook.com/ncblackcompany

Andrea Kennington – http://www.kenningtondesigns.com/

Les Bryant – http://legraveurdevol.com/home.html

The Ranch Center for Arts and Crafts – http://www.artattheranch.com/

Form Emphasis for MetalsmithsHeikki Seppa



  • April 12, 2012 at 2:39 pm //

    It was terrific fun – among the best workshops ever! Can’t wait to get them back here in the fall!!!

  • April 12, 2012 at 2:46 pm //

    Thanks again for accommodating my last minute registration Randi! I had a blast! Hopefully I’ll be able to attend the fall session as well!