'My Ram's Head Table' by Roy Abbott Artist Blacksmith

My initial idea was to make a table with a glass top apparently supported on four sets of ram's horns. I have a very wonderful pair of sheep's horns as an ornament measuring 400mm from tip to tip and as they scroll around, the cross section changes from 50 mm square to a triangular section before finishing off as a slightly concaved flat at the tip. It's a particularly interesting transition formed perfectly in nature and a development which I wanted to incorporate - it would have been a bit of a 'cop out' just to have tapered them square and then scroll them round. Of course the horns needed to be fixed to something - a skull.

To obtain the amount of detail and definition that I wanted to achieve, I decided that I would like to make the skulls out of copper, using a process known as repoussé. How to fix the horns to these skulls and the two skull halves together needed a lot of thought, as did how I was going to fix the skulls to the legs of the table!

The development of the table legs came about through one of my weeks at college experimenting with textures and using the various power hammers in the forge. Experimenting on a piece of 8mm thick x 120mm flat bar, about 230mm long, I purposely allowed the piece to soak in the fire, allowing the face and edge in places to start to burn and then with a very simple tool textured the edges under the power hammer. This gave the edges a riven slate effect with some lovely surface 'crustiness'. One end was bent over as a foot 40mm long at about an 85 degree angle, just so the piece could stand upright without falling on its face. With hand made steel rivets peined over as the numerals, it made a very simple but effective clock. Similar clocks to this can be viewed in the Gallery; they have become a popular item and each one is unique.

Exactly the same approach was adopted for the table legs; all eight of them, except I made a spring swage for use with the power hammer to riven texture both sides of the edges of the flat bar. This Welsh slate rural earthiness tied in well with the heads. Ah, yes, the heads! How was I going to join the horns to the copper and the two halves together and fix them to the legs? Initial thoughts that I had at design stage were much too complicated and I was not at all confident they were going to work; certainly not in my production time scale; these elements were going to be very much 'make it up as you go along'. The legs acquired their lateral restraint from top and bottom bands which were made from 25mm x 6mm flat bar, rolled and fire welded. The holes were slot punched to give that lovely swollen effect. The legs were bolted to the bands with 8mm diameter coach bolts with hammered textured heads and 20mm diameter drilled and tapped ball nuts. The holes in the bands were dished slightly so the ball nuts were nicely seated.

To give the base its rigidity I wired the legs together using two rows of 5mm diameter, 100 year old, rusty wrought iron wire, salvaged from my garden hedge. The wire was firstly annealed, cut into short lengths and threaded through riven edged holes and wound back around itself. The whole effect was to resemble a Welsh slate fence.

This saw the construction of the base complete. After a good mechanical wire brushing, a coating of Zebo black lead, polish up and a spray coating of clear lacquer the base was finished.

Now to concentrate on the heads! Many new punches and chasing tools had to be made especially finer ones that I imagined would be needed when detailing the teeth. Unfortunately I found myself putting far too much intricate detail into the teeth and I was taking days over them; the third and forth sets were much simplified to no detrimental effect. A template was made of the section through the centre of an actual ram's skull that I had cut in half; this profile was transferred onto pieces of 14swg copper sheet, making an allowance for the stretch in material during the repoussé process. This allowance was impossible to guess at the outset and was a case of allowing extra material as the forming developed. Each skull was worked in halves, a pair at a time, bringing each pair up to the same stage before moving on to the next stage. Each pair would firstly be worked on a leather bag, which is filled with sand; it looks a bit like a cushion; then annealed and set on a block of pitch, where details would be incised and punched into the copper. As the material work hardened, time to take it off the pitch block, anneal it and then back onto the leather cushion. This process was repeated five or six times for each pair. When all four pairs were complete, they were cut out of the sheet. For the depth of relief required for each half, a thicker gauge of copper may have been better as I had a lot of problems with the copper splitting, particularly around the eye sockets.

A profile of a skull was cut out of a piece of 25mm thick plywood to make a former. Each half skull was held in the former and adjusted to the profile; this ensured that all of the pieces should fit together as well as possible. How they would be joined together was still unresolved; but I had an idea! Also, my complicated method of fixing the heads to the fence had been much simplified; I would just thread some wire through the horns and hang them over the top band.

The horns were forged out of 30mm square bar. A square taper was drawn down to about 400mm long on the power hammer keeping the end quite stumpy, then working on the anvil face and the drop between the face and the table, I forged the transition from the square to the triangular section and then finally down to the flat; phew!. Each one of the horns was then scrolled up around a large stake set in a swage block; phew phew! For each pair, there was one clockwise scroll and one anti-clockwise scroll.

The horns grow out of the skull at the most complicated of angles and it took a lot of careful transposing before I was able to mark and cut out tenons on the ends of the horns, which were to slot through the copper skull. The holes for these tenons were marked out onto the copper and cut along three edges so forming a flap which was bent downwards and drilled twice to take 6mm diameter set screws. The horn was positioned in the slot the holes marked out, drilled and tapped and the two pieces screwed up together. This seemed to work okay.

The copper was cleaned up with fine wire wool to a dull lustre; the horns were just wire brushed and the whole of the assembly sprayed with clear lacquer.

I didn't keep a record of time spent but it probably took around thirty days to produce not including design and thinking time.

Oh yes! My idea of how to fix the two skull halves together worked a treat!!

Roy Abbott Artist Blacksmith
www.inwoodforge.co.uk

Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table
Making the Ram's Head Table