Previous AA2A Artist

Helene Shovlar

Project summary:

Mokume gane is a metal fusing technique which was discovered and developed by Japanese metalsmiths working in the 17th-18th century. They were highly skilled in making swords and decorative accessories for them and pushed the boundaries of metallurgy in the search for new techniques. Mokume gane means woodgrain and the process creates a surface pattern on metal which gives the effect of wood. Japanese metalsmiths used their own alloys in this technique, particularly Shakudo (96% copper, 4% fine gold and Shibuichi copper alloy with from 5-25% silver). The final product was coated with various chemicals to enhance the colour of the metals to finish the woodgrain effect, these included: rokusho, copper sulphate, ammonia, arsenic and liver of sulphur. Ground daiken (japanese radish) was also used to help the metal soak up these chemicals. 

The process I used was to fuse a small stack of alternating metals: a combination of silver, copper and brass in a small kiln held in a steel 'brace'. Once the sheet metal was fused and cooled, I passed it through a rolling mill many times, then started to drill partway into it to create ‘knots’ such as you find in wood. I continued to roll and anneal and sometimes drilled again (from both sides) until the stack had become a very long metal strip about 1mm thick and the layers of metal had been forced through the drilled holes to create rippling circles of different colours. I used borax to heighten the colour of the copper and ammonium hydrosulphate to blacken the silver. The result is a strip of metal which looks rather like bark, with grain and knots. 

It has been an absolutely fascinating and enjoyable project and I am very grateful to have had this opportunity to explore it. I have recently started to develop a collection of jewellery using the mokume gane made during the project, which will be sold from my studio.

Mokume gane