Pewter metal embossing

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Introduction to Pewter

Pewter is a beautifully soft, luxurious alloy. Metal alloys contain two or more ingredients, which, when combined with one another, form a new metal. Pewter is relatively soft and easily malleable, making it a firm favourite in embossing circles.

Family Placque made for a friend using pewter sheet
Family Placque made for a friend using pewter sheet

Modern pewter is an alloy made up almost entirely from tin. It contains 92% tin to which other metals have been added to strengthen and harden it (usually 7.5% antimony and 0.5% copper). Occasionally other metals like bismuth are also added.

Originally, pewter contained various quantities of lead. However, in modern times, impurity levels are severely restricted by the relevant standards throughout the world. Apart from the toxicity of lead, is has a darkening effect on pewter and causes it to tarnish easily.

Leaded pewter has a “right” and a “wrong” side. The back side or “wrong” side normally has a bluish tinge, and patina won’t normally take on this side.

Herewith just a quick recap of which other metals can be used in metal embossing

The Cost of Pewter Sheet

Getting started with pewter work is often considered a very expensive hobby. And since the price of pewter is quoted per running meter, it does make it sound expensive at approximately $85 for 500mm x 1000mm x 0.152mm.

Luckily, hardly any single project requires a full meter of pewter! Pewter is mostly sold in sheets of 30cm to 50cm wide x 1m long, so you can probably get 10 or more projects done from that. Looking at it this way, and considering the price per project makes it surprisingly affordable.

On the flip side, pewter art requires a number of specific metal embossing tools and supplies that may be costly to purchase initially. It may also be hard to find depending on where you live. This will raise the costs even more as you will have to import pewter and shipping costs can be terribly high.

Although your input costs may seem high, these tools will last you a lifetime if you invest in good quality tools, and you will use them over and over again.

Additional supplies needed when working with Pewter

In addition to the basic tools and supplies needed for metal embossing, you will need the following items when working with pewter:

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1) Lubricant

In order to ensure that your tools glide over the pewter (and not scratch it) when embossing your designs, I normally lubricate both sides of the pewter with a lubricator. You can use normal cooking oil, Vaseline or baby oil for this. A tiny amount can be applied on a cotton ball and then rubbed over both sides of the pewter design you intend to emboss.

Lubricant for pewter

2) Cleaner

After embossing your design, it is important to clean the pewter on both sides as the oily residue from the lubricant will prevent the beeswax filler from sticking to the pewter surface. It will also prevent the patina to “take” and blacken the pewter surface.

The most effective and cost-effective cleaner to remove the oily layer is Methylated Spirits. This can again be applied to a cotton ball and rubbed all over your embossed design to remove the lubricant. Clean the surface well and allow to dry before applying patina.

Methylated spirits, used to clean pewter before adding patina
Methylated spirits, available form your local hardware store or supermarket.

3) Patina

Pewter patina is a highly corrosive metal used to age pewter and give it an antiqued look. It is applied to the completed pewter artwork, after completing your embossing techniques on your design, filling high relief designs with wax and cleaning your pewter.

The patina liquid will lie in the recessed parts of your design and blacken it, giving depth and interest to your design.

Patina used for ageing pewter
Patina used to age Pewter

When applying patina to the pewter, it is important to wear disposable gloves to protect your skin from this highly corrosive chemical liquid. It is also critical to keep your tools away from it as it will damage it and make it rust instantly.

Copper patina gives a copper coloured finish to pewter and can be used to highlight certain parts of the pewter. This is applied with a paint brush to the selected areas.

Herewith a quick video explaining the patina and polishing process:

4) Metal Polish

Metal polish is used to remove the excess patina from the pewter and polish the metal to a nice shine. In general, common liquid metal polish is used. You can also use cream metal polish.

Metal Polish used to remove patina and polish pewter to a high shine
Metal Polish used to remove patina and polish pewter to a high shine

5) Varnish

Varnish protects pewter from tarnishing. The easiest way to do this is to use a clear lacquer spray varnish to spray over your pewter artworks after you have polished it to your liking. I normally use a satin finish as a matt finish can make it look dull and a gloss finish could make it too shiny.

Spray lacquer to seal and protect your pewter artworks from tarnishing
Spray lacquer to seal and protect your pewter artworks from tarnishing

As mentioned previously, the embossing techniques used for pewter, aluminium, copper and colour-coated aluminium are all the same. The main difference lies in the patina and finishing process.

Please comment below if you have any questions.

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