For starters, here's a quote scanned from "The Best of the Hammer" by Brian Flax. It might be available from Centaur Forge at (414)763-9175 or 1-800-666-9175. It comes in four volumes.
A MORE CONVENIENT METHOD OF DISHING METAL
By Friederich Gelbhaar
One of the more common activities of the typical S.C.A. armourer is that of forming metal to a desired shape by repeated hammer blows. While accomplishing a simple dishing operation the armourer must, of course, consider the effect of his working surface upon the object he is forming. A scarred finish from working on too haml a surface may ruin the aesthetic appeal of an otherwise functional knee cop or spangen helm.
A few techniques have been forwarded to prevent this. Dishing the metal into a hollow or depression in the end of a log works, but unless you have a lathe to quickly turn out a bowl-shaped depression you must carve a hollow by wood chisel or simply repeated pounding. Both of these latter methods take time and all three presuppose a handy wood source. Alternatively, you can dish your project into a large lead-rimmed cast iron drain plug. These cost money though, and may be a bit hard to locate. You may also wish to remove the lead smears they leave on sheet metal.
[Doug's note: putting a log on a lathe isn't easy! Especially if you're going to work on the end of it. I have a lathe, so I know that we're better off carving the dish than trying to do it on a lathe.]
A more practical, satisfying and cheaper substitute is available in the form of a simple sandbag. The sandbag forms itself to any dishing operation you care to try and will actually cradle the object after a few blows and help to hold it in place. It is furthermore impossible to scar the finish of any project when it is supported by a yielding bag of sand.
[Doug's note: using the wooden dishing log is hard because the workpiece bounces around and jerks your hand a lot. This sandbag method should be much gentler on the hand holding the dish, but I haven't tried it yet. The sandbag is also recommended by custom car body builders.]
To make my dishing bag I started with the cutoff leg of an old pair of bluejeans. I chose denim because it is durable, already in a convenient tube form and above all, available. I first folded one end over on itself and using heavy thread and a leather sewing needle on the sewing machine, stitched the cloth repeatedly to prevent sand from leaking out. The resulting open-ended bag was then filled with sand allowing sufficient slack at the top for closing. I used bricklayer's mortar sand because it is fine, fairly dust-free and again, it was available and free.
The next step is a bit tricky: to sew the other end closed without losing any of the sand. I accomplished this by squeezing the open end shut between two thin strips of wood and clamping them together with two small C-clamps. You could do this end by hand sewing but that much careful, tight stitching can become tiring very quickly.
The result of your labors is a tough, handy little sandbag measuring about 6" x 12" x 2". 1 dished out the spaulder caps for my coat-of-plates on my sandbag and it proved very satisfactory. About the only thing you must be careful of is ripping a hole in your sandbag with a jagged piece of metal, but common sense should tell you to always file down the edge of a piece of sheet metal before working with it. If you should rip a hole you can easily use that second cutoff leg from your jeans to make a second bag and simply slide the first into it.
This, then, is a simple description of how to make a sandbag for metal dishing. I'm sure you can make a more elegant and durable bag using heavy canvas or duck cloth but the emphasis here has been on what is convenient, cheap and still get the job done. After all, isn't the unofficial motto of the S.C.A. craftsman "Never buy what you can scrounge, borrow or make yourself"?
There is also much other useful information in the four volumes of "The Best of the Hammer." It's probably the best source for armouring information, too. But I think it's out of print. A merchant at Pennsic had copies for sale in 1995, but I don't know their name.
I got around to writing a bit more about my dishing experience, too. This is from an email response to someone who had just found this site and asked about dishing.
I've done several dished hilts, mostly saber bell types, but yesterday I
made a couple by tracing oak leaves onto 16 gage steel and dishing them to a
moderate, shallow depth.
Dishing is really simple. I use a piece of four-by-four wood from an old
shipping skid. It's some kind of hardwood. At first I tried a pine one, or
at least some kind of softer wood, but it split and splintered around the
edges. My piece is about two feet long. I carved a small dish shape in one
end, about two inches in diameter and a half inch deep. I started the
carving by drilling a large hole about a half inch deep and then carving
away the edges. This 4x4 stands up on end on the floor in front of my
I ground the flat, heavier end of an old flea-market ball peen hammer to a
rounded shape, like part of a much bigger ball peen and hammer the sheet
metal with it. Start in the center of your pattern and work outward in a
spiral. You'll have to repeat the spiral lots of times. The metal usually
only sinks about 1/16 of an inch each time around.
I've got pictures of lots of my hilts on the web site, and I'm adding new
details to my "Hilt Making" section very often. I already have a page for
dishing, but it mostly suggests looking at library books. Lots of books on
general metalworking have sections on sheet metal forming. Some call it "art
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