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Fold-forming is a technique of metalworking whereby metal is folded, repeatedly forged and annealed, and unfolded; at which stage it generally has a dramatic new three-dimensional form.

Origins of Fold-forming[edit]

The technique was invented in the late 1980s by Charles Lewton-Brain, an English-born goldsmith who lived and studied in Tanzania, the United States, and Germany before moving to Canada. Outside of the Industrial Revolution, the method represents the first major innovation in metalworking in thousands of years.[1] In the 1980s the technique of fold-forming metal was developed by Charles Lewton-Brain. Charles was a creator, teacher, and more. Ever since he was young he was interested in art and was inspired to pursue his interest in jewelry by his girlfriend’s mother.[2] In 1974 he went to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design where he studied jewelry-making and looked into metalsmithing. After his college career one of the NASCAD professors, Christian Gaudernack a Norwegian goldsmith, inspired Lewton-Brian to continue his education so he decided to go to Hochschule fur Gestaltung, an art and design university in Pforzheim Germany. Lewton-Brain worked as a part-time goldsmith to earn some money. During his time in the metals program he was instructed by Klaus Ullrich, a postwar metalsmith. Ullrich was the person that helped Lewton-Brain to develop the fold-forming technique. Ullrich emphasized to his students to comprehend the characteristics of metal in order to understand how metal forms. With this in mind Charles Lewton-Brain was able to develop his fold-forming technique by seeing the characteristics of the metal as it is folded, unfolded, forged, rolled, annealed, and worked on.[2] He brought about a new style of metalworking that had some connection to nature. His technique focused on the metals natural reaction to being hammered and heated. This shows his understanding of the metals elastic and ductile characteristic that was part of his learning from his postwar metalsmith instructor Klaus Ullrich. Lewton-Brian continued to teach his fold-forming technique to people at workshops and at Alberta College of Art and Design as the Head of Metals and Jewelry. He has been a part of this institute since 1986. Lewton-Brain technique can best be described as a combination of origami and traditional metalworking. By 1991, Lewton-Brain was winning awards for the technique and in 1997 workshops demonstrating the technique were at the core of the "Touch the Future" portion of the JCK International Jewelry Show in Orlando, Florida.

How The Technique is Applied[edit]

When fold-forming was first developed by Charles Lewton-Brain it was mostly used in creative artwork or jewelry. Metalsmith or artist turn a 2-Dimensional into a 3-Dimensional figure. The outcome of these 3-Dminension is determined on how many times the sheet metal is folded, unfolded, annealed, and forged (hammered on an anvil).[3] Artist like Charles Lewton-Brain have added these natural figures as a part of their art and jewelry that they have made. Jewelry that can be made with fold-forming can be earrings or necklaces. For some artist or students trying to become artist, like Ball State University graduate student Rachael Jobst, using this technique was very helpful when making the leaves or flowers that would be part of their art piece.[4] As time has passed there have been other applications to fold-forming than just artistic purposes. Manufacturers have been able to apply this process to help them produce cheaper automobiles. When processing some parts of the vehicle like the frame and body the metal that is used go through a process of press-based stamping. Compared to fold-forming press-based stamping is a more complicated method of producing the car’s body. With fold-forming manufacturers are able to cut cost and time for manufacturing because of the lesser need of tools and additional operations required with press-based stamping. Also with fold-forming the metal sheets used are able to utilize the most flexibility out of the material so there’s less chance of cracks or wear on the sheet metal.[5]


Many of the shapes and forms that come out of fold-forming resemble many things you would see in nature. Not only does this technique create metal figures that resemble things seen in nature but also utilizes laws of nature in the process. The most common shape or form that metalsmith would create using fold-forming are flowers, leaves or horns of a ram. Creating these metal figures require the repeating process of folding, annealing, unfolding, and hammering of sheet metal that fold-forming is all about. The process at which a flower unfolds or how a leaf forms is similar between natural occurrences and fold-forming. With this artist are able to obtain a better understanding and insight on how to incorporate natures’ natural beauty into their artwork. With metalsmith this technique requires them to push their material to the limit so they’ll be able to have a better understanding of what they will be able to make based off the materials ductility and elasticity.[3] Another resemblance that fold-forming has is the paper fold technique known as “origami.” The process of folding and unfolding a flat material is seen in both metal fold-forming and papering folding origami. Many of the principles and issues that come with the folding and unfolding process can be seen in origami and fold-forming.[5] With this similarity some artist create a paper origami model of what they were making first before working with sheet metal. The difficulty with this though was that paper and sheet metal are too different materials. Their characteristics are still quite different so artist are still limited to the materials’ limits of malleability.[3] Paper material is able to bend more freely but incapable of sustaining a folded form as easily as sheet metal but sheet metal is still thicker and tougher material to work with compared to paper.

Folding Technique[edit]

Hundreds of folds have now been categorized.Charles Lewton-Brain was able to come up with four basic steps to fold-forming. Step one, fold the sheet metal over itself. This creates the bent shape in the sheet metal. Step two, forge (hammer) or roll the metal. By doing this metalsmith are either creating the main form of the figure or making the area where the metal is folded more distinctive. Step three, anneal the metal. This is just heating the sheet metal enough for it to be easier to work with. Step four, unfold the sheet metal revealing its form. All these steps are acting upon the characteristics of metal [3]


Techniques now include use of traditional forging tools like various types of hammers, mallets, and anvils. Other tools consist of rolling mills, vice grips, pliers, embedding wire, other objects into the folds.[6] and a heat source. The heat source can be some kind of forge or a blowtorch. Anything hot enough to anneal the metal.[3]


  1. ^ Revere, Alan. "THE INNOVATORS, PART IV: Charles Lewton-Brain: Goldsmith, Inventor, Teacher, Author, Publisher, Web Master" Professional Jeweller Magazine, June 1998, accessed 16 July 2006.
  2. ^ a b Isherwod, B. (2013). Nature and Structure: The Balancing Act of Charles Lewton-Brain. Metalsmith, 33(1), 46-53.
  3. ^ a b c d e McCreight, T., & Johnston, A. (2008). Fold Forming Charles Lewton-Brain. 1-23.
  4. ^ Jobst, R. (2009). Vines, Veins, and Morning Glories: An Examination of Arboreal Patterns in Relation to the Hypothesis. 1-44.
  5. ^ a b Qattawi, A. (2012). Extending Origami Technique to Fold Forming of Sheet Metal Products. All Dissertations. Paper 1392.
  6. ^ McCreight, Tim, ed. Metals Technic. Brynmorgen, 1992. pp 71-87 ISBN 0-9615984-3-3

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fold-forming — Please support Wikipedia.
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