How to Form Copper Bowls From Sheet Metal by Hand

Updated on November 6, 2019
jbosh1972 profile image

I work in metal. I love abstract metal art. I am an avid learner and always growing.

Reggie Farmer a modern day copper smith
Reggie Farmer a modern day copper smith | Source

How to Make Metal Bowls Inexpensively

Forming metal bowls by hand can be a lot of hard work and takes skill to master. Thankfully, the tools you need are inexpensive and widely available. The bowls can be used as bobeches for candle holders or as decorative accents in metal art and sculptures. In the industry, this process is typically automated by a press that is capable of many tons of force. Sure, you get flawlessly smooth bowls, but it's obvious they are mass produced. The process can produce nearly perfect bowls, but a skilled artisan can produce high-quality bowls that possess much more character.

The Copper Bowl Forming Process

Forming copper bowls is a straightforward process. The quality of the finished piece is a direct reflection of the skill, effort, and tools used by the artisan. The process involves a few steps you'll need to consider to form the copper bowls and dishes.

  1. Cutting out disc blanks
  2. Annealing Copper
  3. Forming with a hammer
  4. Planishing
  5. Descaling the finished piece

Copper Bowls From Disc Blanks
Copper Bowls From Disc Blanks | Source

1. Form the Disc Blank

One way you can form the blank is to take a round disc of sheet metal and use a hammer to make a depression. Work from the outside edges in while rotating the disc. This method is mainly used for softer metals such as copper and brass.

When you do this, draw a circle pattern on a piece of paper. Cut it out and trace it on the sheet metal. The flat metal disc is cut out and, if it is made of brass or copper sheet, it is annealed by flame heating so the metal becomes softer and more malleable. This is important because these metals will harden during the hammering process. They may need annealing a few times during the process.

2. Anneal the Copper

The copper needs to be softened in order to form it into bowls or any other shape. This process makes shaping the metal possible with hand tools and is called annealing.

Annealing involves heating the copper to a dull red heat and allowing it to cool. This makes it very soft and pliable. When it's hammered or stressed, the copper slowly begins to harden. If an elaborate copper project is underway, it will need to be annealed a number of times. The hammer blows need to be deliberate a and focused but not hard. Hammering a copper sheet that is hardened can lead to disaster because it becomes more brittle, tears, or cracks under stress. It's better to be safe than sorry.

How to Raise a Copper Vessel

3. Form the Sheet Over a Hole or Depression

Another method which is easier to do for harder metals like steel alloys is to form the sheet metal over something to shape it. This can be a cylindrical hollow object like steel pipe with thick walls or a heavy plate with a circular hole cut into it. Make sure the metal piece is larger than the intended bowl size. This is called sinking.

Essentially, the sheet metal is placed over the hollow object and the round part of a ball peen hammer is used to force the metal into the hole. This helps it take a bowl shape. A little diligence is needed here, as too much hammering can cause the metal to crack and split. An example of an improvised tool or mandrel is the schedule 40 steel pipe with a square bar welded on to secure in a bench vise. You can see an example in the photo below.


4. Planish and Smooth the Copper Bowls

Now, you've cut out a copper disk and created a rough bowl form. If you used a metal hammer like a ball peen hammer, the bowl would be quite bumpy and rough. To smooth it out, you will have to planish the copper bowl on a smooth-forming tool.

You can use specialized metal-forming stakes that cost a couple hundred bucks. If that's not in your budget, you can utilize any hard, smooth, and steel-domed surface.

  • Top of an oxygen gas cylinder
  • Dolly for automotive bodywork
  • Spherical ornamental finials.

Planishing copper takes more technique than excessive force. Position your copper over the domed work surface and strike with a hammer on the same spot. Do this as you move the copper piece, always striking the domed steel surface at the same spot.

  • Planishing hammers are very useful for finishing copper bowls. After the initial forming with a ball peen hammer, the planishing hammer can be used with a stake or auto panel dolly to smooth out the bumps of the bowl.

You can see the video below for additional tips.

Simple Steps to Planishing Copper

5. Descale the Formed Copper Bowls

After hammering and a few annealing cycles, your copper bowls will be covered in heat scale. This scale consists of varying amounts of copper(II) oxide and copper(I) oxide. The copper(II) oxide is black and easy to dissolve in acids. The more tenacious copper(I) oxide is pink, rose, or red. You can use a few solutions to pickle the copper and make it easier to buff.

1. The fastest and most economical way is to use diluted muriatic acid. This will remove the black and brown scale, but it will also leave the metal dull and pink. To make the solution more effective, add an oxidant like hydrogen peroxide to oxidize the scale into a soluble form. This will make burnishing it to bare metal much easier. The liquid will turn green in the oxidation process because of the formation of copper(II) chloride.

  • It would be advantageous to save this green liquid for future use because it can be used many times over. When the solution gets too dark, just add more peroxide. If it loses its bite, add more muriatic acid. When the solution becomes too filthy, simply drop in an iron nail and the copper will drop out as a granular substance. Decant the iron solution into a separate container and neutralize it with baking soda. After this, it can be safely flushed down the toilet. The copper granules can be mixed with borax, fused with a torch, and scrapped.

2. Another solution is sodium bisulfate. This is pH down used for spas and swimming pools. It is supplied in round globules and referred as "dry acid," as it is a safer alternative to sulfuric acid. This chemical produces sulfuric acid and cleans the copper of its scale. After the solution is spent, you can use it as a copper-plating solution.

Delrin Mallet
Delrin Mallet | Source

Types of Hammers for Copper Forming

Although it's possible to form bowls and dimensional copper vessels with a simple ball peen hammer, it is by no means is the only way.

  1. One option is plastic mallets. Copper is a soft metal, especially when it's annealed. Because of this, it is exceedingly difficult to get a smooth copper surface due to the marring effects of hardened steel hammers.
  2. A ball peen hammer can be used to shape copper bowls. The ball end, with its smooth finish, is like a forming stake. The ball peen hammer head can even be put in a vise and the bowl placed over the end. Then, you can gently strike it with a finishing hammer.

Midecentury Nail Art with Copper Accent Bowl
Midecentury Nail Art with Copper Accent Bowl | Source

Copper Bowls as Decorative Accents

Normally, when one pictures a smith hammering a copper bowl, their thought drifts to traditional bowl shapes that are stand-alone pieces. Although the decorative round copper bowl on a table is always a pleasing sight, copper bowls can be formed and exhibited in unique ways.

One novel approach is to display a bowl as a work of art. How would you use a copper bowl?


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • jbosh1972 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 weeks ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      Mostly 26 gauge which 0.020 inches I think. Might be more like 1 to 2 mm?

    • profile image

      Adam Hopko 

      6 weeks ago

      Hi Jason,

      How copper You using ?

      2 or 3 mm ?

      Best regards

      Adam Hopko

    • profile image

      Jennifer Doyle 

      2 years ago

      This is a great article and tutorial. I want to try different mediums and your concise directions make it very possible. Thanks!

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Hi, I am looking for a copper bowl that can be used for a water feature, wavy at the top where it will fill up with water and cascade over the side. Can you, or someone you know make something like that?

    • jbosh1972 profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      Thanks, I was hinting at the possibilty of forming 3D shapes other than bowls.

    • artsofthetimes profile image


      4 years ago

      Very interesting and enlightening too. Good to know the difference between mass produced copper bowls and one done lovingly by hand.

      I also like the idea of incorporating the bowl piece with the nail art. It looks really nice.

      Thanks for sharing.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)