Bending and shaping metal can bring an extra dimension to your work, allowing the light to reflect from it in unexpected and interesting ways. Curves, bends, and twists can be made into attractive features, but for maximum effect they must be as smooth and as clean as possible so that the metal flows from one surface to the next.
If you are holding metal in a vise, you must cover the serrated edges on the inside of the vise with several layers of masking tape or protect the metal itself with masking tape. Many vises have additional "safe" jaws, which are made from rubber and which fit neatly over the serrated edges, and some small vises have plastic jaws.
Before you begin, decide exactly where you want the curve to be and how smooth or steep it should be. Your aim must be to get the bend right the first time. Although it is possible to unbend metal, it is much more satisfactory to get it right at the first attempt. Keep your pattern or design close at hand, and after each bend lay your work on the design to check that the curve is correct. A small mistake at this stage can easily make the whole piece wrong. If You want to make two identical curves- in a pair of earrings, for example - make the first bend in one piece, then work on the next before returning to the first. It is much easier to repeat a small step than to have to remember a series of steps.
Always try to make a clean bend rather than an overworked one. Work around a former whenever you can, and always use the correct pliers. Place the curved or rounded nose of your pliers on the inside of the curve, holding the outside with the flat edge of the pliers. If you use the wrong profile - the flat nose on the inside of a curve, for instance - you can create marks in soft metal that are difficult to remove.
Remember that most aids to bending metal are harder than the metal itself and will mark the metal if they are used incorrectly. Try to use them as precisely as possible. Among the most underrated tools and ones that will leave no marks are your fingers and thumbs: they may not always be the right tools, but they can be useful.
It is worth keeping a supply of copper wire and sheets of different thicknesses to hand. Before bending a precious metal, work through the design in copper so that any problems can be identified and solved.
It is much easier to bend wire or sheet metal that is straight or flat. Wire is usually supplied in rather loose, large coils, which do not need straightening. Unless you are bending a piece that needs to be springy - a brooch pin, for example - always work with well-annealed metal. Once metal becomes work-hardened, it is much more difficult to bend correctly.
You can feel the difference with your fingers between annealed and hard metal. If the wire has kinks in it or has been previously bent, work as shown here or anneal the wire, quench it in water, and dry it. Then place one end in the vise and fasten it tightly. Hold the other end in a pair of serrated-edge pliers and pull the wire sharply straight toward you. You will feel the wire lengthen slightly as it straightens.
Flattening sheet metal
Place the annealed sheet between two smooth steel surfaces, both of which are larger than the sheet to be flattened. Strike the top surface sharply with a hammer. If you are working on a very small piece, you can use the hammer alone, but you must make sure that the head of the hammer completely covers the metal; if it does not, the hammer will leave marks in the soft surface of the metal.
Using a former
Short lengths of thick wire — more than 3/16 inch in diameter can be awkward to bend precisely. Take an over-length piece of wire and bend it around a former, pulling both ends together and crossing them over each other until you have achieved the correct curve.
You can then cut away the extra length from each end. This method is useful when you are bending Chenier or when you are shaping a neckpiece.