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Trench Art Glossary of Techniques and Processes

Using “Trench Art: An Illustrated History” by Jane A. Kimball (Silverpenny Press, Davis, CA., Copyright 2004) as a reference, the following trench art glossary is meant to guide the reader in discovering the many sophisticated artistic techniques used in creating trench art. All pieces of trench art below are from the collection.

Acid Etched

Acid Etched

Acid-etched. Tracing design on the surface of an object, covering the design with wax or clay, then immersing it in a strong acid until the acid erodes the background to the desired depth. The piece is then dipped in ammonia to stop the caustic action of the acid, and the resulting design can be engraved or embossed as desired.

Annealed

Annealed

Annealed. Heating a piece of metal to make it less brittle before embossing or hammering designs on the surface or creating special effects such as flutes or horizontal compressions. To keep the metal pliable while it was being decorated, a shell casing would need to be annealed several times or it would develop vertical cracks.

Applied

Applied

Applied. Attaching a separate piece of material to the surface of an object with solder or rivets. This technique was often used to apply military buttons, regimental insignia or town crests to the shell casings and other trench art pieces.
Chased. Incising a design on a surface that can be further decorated with Engraved, Embossed or Zig-Zag designs.
Cold Formed. Shaping metal without heat. This sometimes leads to vertical stress cracks in metal and is often seen in embossed trench art vases that have not been Annealed properly.

Compressed

Compressed

Compressed. Scoring a shell casing with horizontal lines and then annealing it to permit the creation of a decorative effect produced by “crushing” it in a machine press or by placing the shell between two blocks of wood and pounding on the top block of wood with a hammer.
Corsetted. See Fluted.
Crennelated. See Scalloped.

Crimped

Crimped

Crimped. Turning on a lathe or pounding uniformly all around to reduced the diameter of a shell casing. See also Fluted

Crowned

Crowned

Crowned. Cutting the top of a shell casing in the shape of a “crown.” See also Scalloped.

Damascened

Damascened

Damascened. Inlaying softer metals in decorative patterns or designs into the surface of a harder metal. This Middle Eastern technique dates from the 16th century and is still being used today. It is most commonly found on trench art made in the Middle East. Narrow channels are incised on the surface to hold wire or thin strips of silver or copper that are first hammered into place and then polished to make a smooth surface.

Embossed

Embossed

Embossed. Hammering a surface on the outside with plain or patterned punches to created a textured design to provide a background for other designs.

Engraving

Engraving

Engraved. Incising or carving lines, inscriptions or patterns on a metal surface with a sharp tool. In addition to its use in decorating shell casings, this technique was the most common method of decorating objects such as aluminum mess kits, canteens, letter openers, matchbox covers and a variety of other trench art pieces. See also Zig-Zag work.
Etched. See Acid-Etched.

Flared

Flared

Flared. Expanding the end of a cylindrical object This technique was used to make a decorative top for a shell casing vase or to make a plate or tray from a large shell casing. The flare or glange was produced either by hammering the edge of an annealed shell casing against the end of an anvil or, especially with larger shells, by placing the shell on a large wooden block and beating the top upward with a hammer.
 Flanged. See Flared.

Fluted

Fluted

Fluted. Compressing portions of a shell casing to produce several evenly spaced protruding “flutes.” To do this, the shell was first marked off into the desired number of sections and then annealed to allow the metal to tolerate the stress of the shaping process. The flutes were produced either by using a wooden wedge or paddle and a hammer and tapping around the shell casing until the desired depth of the fluting was achieved or by using the gears of a field gun to accomplish a similar affect. Close inspection of a particular shell casing usually reveals the method used. More examples of fluting.

Hammered

Hammered

Hammered. Using a ball-peen hammer or similar tool to produce the overall hand-crafted effect characteristic of Arts & Crafts metalwork. See also Embossed.

Lathe-Turned Vase

Lathe-Turned

Lathe-Turned. Using a lathe to shape cylindrical objects.

Painted

Painted

Painted. Using paint to decorate a shell casing.

Patina

Patina

Patina. A natural coating that appears over time on brass and other metals through oxidation, giving an object a mellow finish valued by many collectors. Some trench art pieces were varnished shortly after  they were made to prevent tarnishing. As the varnish has yellowed over the years, they have developed an “artificial patina” that protects them from further oxidation and disfiguring fingerprints.
Patinated. Applying a variety of substances to metal to obtain a decorative effect. Various ways to patinate brass are included in Henley’s Book of Formulas as well as in other metal craft books.

Pie Crust

Pie Crust

Pie Crust. Decorating the top of a shell case vase or other piece to resemble pie crust.

Pierced

Pierced

Pierced. Decorating a metal object by cutting the edges or piercing the top or body of an object. Trench art shell casings with pierced bodies are uncommon, but see Scalloped for various designs cut out around the tops of shells to enhance their decorative effect.
Pinched. See Fluted.

Plated

Plated

Plated. Coating the surface of a metal object with another metal such as nickel of chrome. Some World War I shell casings, especially the naval ones, are sometimes found with nickel plating. Some WWII trench art was chrome-plated.
Punched. See Embossed and Hammered.

Repoussé

Repoussé

Repoussé. Creating raised designs by hammering a surface from the back or inside. Flat objects such as trench art picture frames and plates were sometimes decorated using this technique. It is rare to find repoussé work on shell casings because a special apparatus was needed to hold the shell in place, and it was necessary to mount a hammer on a lever inside the shell casing to pound it out from the inside. See also Embossed.

Ribbed

Ribbed

Ribbed. See Fluted. This fluted piece has been heated and then twisted .

Scalloped

Scalloped

Scalloped. Cutting a pointed, petal-like or rounded decoration around the top of a shell casing to produce a decorative effect. See also Crowned.

Stippled

Stippled

Stippled. Embossing a design with a small punch to produce a finely patterned background.
 Wasp-Waisted. See Fluted.
Wigglework. See Zig-Zag Work.

Zig Zag

Zig Zag

Zig-Zag Work. Engraving with a back and forth “rocking” motion to produce the zig-zag effect often found on brass and aluminum trench art pieces.

Arts of the Great War Collection