Stakes and Swages Shaping Tools

This article describes the two tools stakes and swages, what they are, what they are used for and and how to properly use them.


Stakes are objects used for shaping metal over, on and into. Hammers or mallets are used to form the metal over the shape of the stake. Stakes can be made of various materials. A wooden stump can be considered a kind of a stake. Usually in the West most stakes are steel.

Small stakes may be made as needed from pieces of scrap steel or drill rod. The only part that really matters with a stake is the surface under the hammer blow. Therefore anything that fulfills that function can be a stake. This is really important as a concept. The only part that counts is the shape and surface of the material directly under the hammer blow.

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Chasing tools may do the job if fixed in a vise.

Railroad spikes make good stakes. They may usually be obtained free by asking the local rail yard for some. Sometimes they are first heated up and the head bent over at right angles to the shaft of the spike so that with the shaft clamped in a vise it provides a ‘head’ that is similar to the commercially available ones that are stuck into holders that are held in the vise. Large bolts and trailer hitches make useful stakes when reground slightly.

A pick axe can make a useful stake if much of the handle is sawn off and the blades rounded somewhat.

Dee Fontans and I use several Vitalium® and similar hard brightly polished metal replacement hip joints as stakes. Medical companies have salespeople who have samples of these which they show around and which are superseded and become available cheaply or free for use as stakes. Almost any piece of interesting metal junk may make a good stake if finished.

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One can place hammers into a vise as temporary stakes but must be careful not to clamp them over the eye as they can be easily cracked and broken. Clamp them above or below the eye.

Heavy gauge iron pipes may be welded onto a large spike, placed on a stump and finished off well. The iron pipe can also be clamped in a wooden pipe clamp.

Check around old body or sheet metal shops, high school shops and junk yards for used stakes.

A tire iron with a hex-nut socket at the end makes a very interesting extension arm for small stakes (heads). The tire iron can be clamped in the vise at various angles easily. If a stake (modified bolt end or whatever) has a suitable nut brazed to it then it can be inserted into the socket of the tire iron and so functions like a much more expensive interchangeable stake and head system.

Casting Specialties is recommended for their unfinished sets of stakes.

When holding a small piece of metal onto a stake to shape it Zaruba takes a sheet of stretchy latex rubber dam material (cheapest when obtained from physiotherapists or even aerobics instructors who use it to make muscle building tools) and stretches it over the piece of metal. This holds it against the stake and allows one to whale away on it without fear of smashing ones fingers.

Stakes made from wood like maple are perfectly fine and in some places all raising is done on them, the metal stakes being used for planishing. There’s a great saving on stakes that way, and a number of different ones may be made very cheaply. This is a diagram of a relatively easy one to make. There are various designs for them. Note that the broader the top surface the larger a piece can be raised. Wooden stakes work very well.

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Illustration 1


Swages are a form of die for making wires of odd cross-section. They are like having a single shaped hole in a draw plate but each half can be moved closer together or apart as metal is drawn through it or hammered by the swage to shape it. Shaped rods and wires with complex cross sections can be made by swaging them.

Illustration 2

Swages may be made from high-carbon steel and should be curved slightly towards the bottom on each side and edge. They should be highly polished.

Illustration 3

Metal strip may be hammered right into a single part swage as it is moved steadily through it by hand to obtain a complex cross section.

Illustraion 4

There may be two parts to the swage and the metal moved through while the top is hammered repeatedly upon the bottom. Such swages need registration rods.

Illustration 5

It is possible to use two swages which are registered together by being connected with a large leaf spring so that one strikes the top swage with a hammer and so shapes the metal being stuck between the two swages as it is drawn through.

Illustration 6

German companies produce four sided roller swages which allow one to draw any combination of two flat sided wire or narrow sheet from 1x1mm up to about 2cm x 2m, or 2cm x 1mm, whatever combination one wants. Each roller can be set differently to allow numerous square and rectangular cross sections to be drawn. The drawback seems to be fiddly resetting time-but definitely a cool tool (always wanted one).

Pattern rollers (a kind of roller swage) can be added to many rolling mills to produce complex cross sectioned wire. I’ve heard of one person adapting a metal lathe to obtain a pattern rolling tool.

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