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The Demmer/Neptune Gate Construction Experience

by Daniel M. Nauman

The Demmer/Neptune Gate, in its design, how it was designed, and how it was executed, presented unique experiences for me. I had never collaborated on a design with another blacksmith before, and with this project, the design emanated from the three artist blacksmiths who constructed the gates. I had limited experience working in conjunction with other artists in the making of a project; thus the Demmer/Neptune Gate is indeed a road on which I have never traveled.


My responsibilities were to forge the wave pattern and crest in the lunette; the nine quatrefoils beneath Neptune; the pair of tridents and various ornaments inside the piers immediately flanking the gates; the two finials atop the outside piers; and the scroll work and accompanying ornament within the outside piers. These elements were forged in the sequence identified above.


Making the wave pattern, which was a series of fishtailed “S” scrolls, required specially-made dies to shape the boss in the center of each “S” scroll. I designed the pattern and had the dies made by a local machine shop to fit my 110 pound power air hammer. First forging the boss from one inch round bar, the scrolls were then forged out to length and shape. 

I used a round faced hammer to forge the transition from the round boss to the rectangular scrolls. Each scroll was then individually shaped by eye and hand utilizing bending forks. They are fastened to the interior frame by means of drilling and tapping the scrolls themselves, and countersinking the outside of the frame to accept a panhead screw.


The crests at the center of the wave pattern are Rococo style leaves, made from 11 gauge sheet metal. The two outside leaf patterns were taken from repoussé patterns collected by Max Metzger, a German professor, whose patterns were featured in the 10th anniversary issue of the Anvil’s Ring magazine (a publication of the Artist Blacksmith’s Association of North America, ABANA). I designed the central leaf. The lines of the leaves were chased into the sheet by first drawing each line with a marker, and then chased in with the use of a small chisel. Each blow of the chisel produced a depression of roughly 3/16” in length. These blows were then repeated in succession to produce each separate line. The contours of the leaves were then shaped after heating the material to a dull orange color in the fire.


The nine quatrefoils were made entirely from one piece of 3/8” square bar stock. After drawing a pattern on the layout table, I measured the four lobes with a string to approximate the length of bar stock needed. I produced several test pieces before arriving at the shape desired. Each cusp was formed by folding the bar back onto itself, then forge welded, and then squashed perpendicular to the parent bar. This was done four times to produce the four cusps which were then cut and filed to the various shapes before bending the foils to shape. The foils were shaped by utilizing the bending forks. Once fitted to each ring, they were then riveted into position.

The trident points were forged from 1-3/4” round bar to achieve the needed mass. The points were started utilizing the power hammer, and finished with the hand hammer. Most of the shaping required the hand hammer, forcing the material against the cone-shaped horn on my anvil to produce the rounded radius beneath the shoulder of each side of the point. The points were then forge welded to a 1” round bar, and then a fine finish applied by use of a top and bottom swage while at a yellow heat. The piercing utilized a slit punch 1-3/4” wide to produce the 1” round hole which accepts the center point. This was done by setting the bar in a bottom swage to keep the bar from flattening out from the force of the slitting process.


The shafts of the tridents utilized the same dies used for the wave pattern, but were made from 1-1/8” round bar, and forged to almost an octagon, rather than round. Each of the five bosses was forged on a single bar, and then the five bosses were cut apart from each other and laid on the pattern on the layout table. Next, 3/4” square bar was faceted, and cut to length to fill in the gaps between each boss. The pieces were then welded together to produce the shaft. To provide a smooth transition at the joints, a “flatter” was used to work these surfaces. The scrollwork and the shafts on the end piers were made accordingly.


The many leaves were made by a process called repoussé. The style of repoussé I used utilized the “hammer and stake” method of forming. The sequence to make each leaf is to first cut the pattern of the leaf from 14 gauge sheet stock. Then, one must form the primary shape of the leaf before putting in the veins. The primary shape, or the contour of the body of the leaf, was achieved by sinking the metal into a depression formed in lead, utilizing a ball-shaped top tool to pound the material down into the depression. The leaf is then planished, a process which uses a very small hammer with a polished face, and a bottom stake, which has a rounded surface. 100% of the leaf’s surface is pounded smooth with the little planishing hammer, and at the same time the contour of the leaf is modified. The leaf must now be “annealed,” or softened, as the planishing work hardens the steel and makes the sheet too hard to shape the veins and risks cracking. Annealing is achieved by heating the steel to an orange color, and then air cooling, or “normalizing.” The scale produced by the heating is polished off. The veins are then formed by using a bottom stake with a blunt, rounded chisel shaped tip, and a complimentary hammer. A line is drawn on the leaf, and then the vein is shaped by hitting down on the sheet over the stake. 

Once the veins are formed, the leaf is once again planished to clean up hammer marks produced by the other hammers and stakes used to produce the veins. Several different shapes of hammers, stakes and punches are used in this process to achieve the various contours. In the case of the husks (two sided leaves), achieving the husk shape was the final step in the making of this element. The primary shape was formed, but not to the final husk shape so as the veins could be applied. The leaf was shaped initially with a “W” shape to the profile. After all the veins were formed and planished, the “W” shape was put onto a tool with a depression, and the center of the “W” was punched down, which brought the sides up, giving the final “U” shape to the husk.


The large finials atop the end piers utilized the same repoussé method for the leaves. The scrolls in the finial were forged, and the opposing end. The bar was then tapered slightly to the snub end. The other scroll was shaped by first spreading the material out to a fishtail shape, and leaving the material about 1/4” thick at the end. A tool called a “fuller” was used to forge the grooves into this end of the scroll. The tool looks like a cross pien hammer but is used as a striking tool (a tool hit by a sledge hammer) utilizing the pien edge as the shaping devise. Both scrolls were then shaped by utilizing bending forks. However, the snub end scrolls were first started using the hand hammer before final shaping with the bending forks.

I have merely highlighted the more interesting processes in this dialogue. I have used language common to the smith, but uncommon to most who will read these words. My intent is for you to learn from these gates by the writings of the three smiths in this booklet. My hope is that we will whet your appetite, and create the desire for you to learn more and research more about our beloved trade.

As I begin the final sections (the end pier’s scrollwork) I feel bittersweet about where I am in the project. I have labored for months, with the deadline ever creeping up on me. The pressure of keeping to the deadline added anxiety at each passing day’s work. The question of how much detail could I afford to put into each element was ever present. Have I put too much effort on one particular facet, and not enough on another? Should I spend more time on this or that? These are questions which cannot be answered during the process, and as this project nears completion, I desire to refine and, in some cases, remake particular elements. 

This is a common confrontation in the mind of any artist. However, the Demmer/Neptune Gate is different from the other commissions which I have taken thus far. I have enjoyed the experience in its entirety, from the conception of the designs, working with Tom and Eric, producing elements once foreign to my forging vocabulary, to working with the staff at Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, and the Villa Terrace board. The project is now coming to a close, and yet its climax. On one hand, I am pleased that the project will be completed soon. On the other, I will miss the collaboration, and the rewarding experience as a whole. It is fortunate that the Demmer/Neptune Gate will be at rest in close proximity for me to visit on occasion.

I must add that with all three artists, as the gates finally began taking shape, we have been stunned by each other’s workmanship. It is one thing to see the gates two-dimensionally on paper for months. However, as the gates come together, it is only now that we realize how the intense proportions, details, dimensions, and the styles of each artist evolve and come together as one. Every time an element was added to the superstructure, and we saw it tangibly for the first time, a sense of immense awe in what we were producing overcame us. That was the rich surprise hidden in this process which none of us designed or anticipated.

"You probably heard the expression “too many irons in the fire.” This is the very hot work in which that expression was forged. When you’re working on deadline at 2500 to 3000 degrees, it’s easy to find yourself thinking such thoughts."

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