Guild of Metalsmiths
Metalsmith - V 18.1 :

Scrolls & Scroll Work
by Mike Chisham, Petaluma, California

The following is a collection of ideas that have been around ever since man first bent a piece of iron into a shape that fancied his imagination. The following ideas are not of my own origin or all of my own creation. I would Uke at this point to call attention to a couple of blacksmiths from whom I have learned a great deal about scroll work. First is Beau Hickory, the Scroll-man par excellence, and the second is Francis Whitaker, The Master. I have acquired an innumerable amount of information from many other people, too many to mention here.


The first question that pops into our inquisitive little brains is "What is a scroll?" A scroll is a mathematical figure that conforms to strict geometrical guidelines (Figure 1). If this does not happen, then you have only a piece of twisted-up and bent metal, in which case, the scroll is wrong and the customer is right. Yup - they're right. For how many times have we heard them say that they want those curlicues on their ironwork? And that is just what they are: curlicues. Then again, when I think of a curly Q, I think of a pig's tail, and I have seen very few works of art on the hind end of a pig (Figure 2). The most commonly used figure for scrolls is the volute, and also used is the spiral. The French ironwork makes a lot of use of the volute (Figure 3). This style of scroll makes one and one-half revolutions from its start to its termination. The space between the ironwork itself is referred to as the negative space and this space must be continually getting larger. If the space were to stay constant, then you would not have a volute, but rather a spiral. The spiral is used extensively in Spanish-style ironwork (Figure 4). You will commonly see both styles of ironwork readily visible in this country. The third style is what I refer to as the Victorian scroll. This scroll still has a continually increasing negative space, but it only makes one revolution in 360', making it a very hard scroll to form on a scrolling iron (Figure 5).


Types of scrolls are what styles of scroll work are made up of. There are three basic types of scrolls: the "C" scroll, the "Double C" scroll, and the "S" scroll. The simplest is the C scroll. It usually makes only one curve in a single direction and is contained on one pl-ine, when viewed from the side (Figure 6). The C scroll is the basis for most scrollwork and the other scrolls, too. The second is the Double C scroll (Figure 7). The double C is basically two C scrolls that are mirror images of one side to the other. Many times, two C scrolls are put end to end and are confused with a double C scroll. For it to be a true double C, one half has to be an exact mirror iniage of the other side. Another of the misnamed scrolls is ffw S scroll. As before, often two C scrolls are put end to end with one facing 180o to the other and are called S scrolls. For it to be a true S scroll, it too has to conform to a particular mathematical formula.

To properly draw an S scroll see (Figure 8). As previously mentioned, a lot of times two C scrolls are called an S scroll (Figure 9) One other important fact to note is that for the negative space to he continuously getting larger, then the metal itself must be tapered. A lot of so-called scrolls have flat ends that are placed between two pieces of metal to aid in starting the scroll, These are not scrolls, rather a warped piece of semi-ruined metal, metal from a like maker (Figure 10).


Proper style is important but not as important as the designing of the entire piece. Though designing is most often neglected, it's the most important aspect of all, for if the piece is very obvious in its installed place, then the design was wrong. The piece should fit in and blend with its surroundings. If the piece has a single flowing design to it, this is commonly referred to as a floral design (Figure 11). A floral design has a beginning and an ending place that are obvious within the design itself. If the same design is repeated as a mirror image on the other side, then a design in this case is no longer floral but becomes semi- or half-symmetrical (Figure 12). Gates are usually done in this style of designing. Half symmetrical can be symmetrical from the top to the bottom or from the left to the right. If the design were to be mirror images from the top to the bottom and at the same time from left to right, then the design would be full symmetrical (Figure 13). Many traditional panels and window guards are good examples of this. When one scroll comes off another, then they must conform to the rules of Mother Nature and therefore never come off at an unorthodox angle (Figure 14).

All things in nature seem to conform to what artists refer to as the Golden Mean or the Curve of Beauty (Figure 15). The only scroll that does not conform, for there has to be an exception to every rule, is the Peacock scroll. This is a scroll that has three or more C scrolls going in the same direction off the same parent scroll (Figure 16). Usually when this scroll is used, the C scrolls are either diminishing or enlarging in size off the parent scroll. Then again in some instances, the small C scrolls all stay the same size (Figure 17).

Too many smiths are more worried about how they made the project than how it looks after it's installed. So, now is a good time to start thinking about the design before you start making it. For if every time the owner of the piece walks in and sees that particular piece sticking out like a sore thumb, he will always know who made that sore thumb and will most likely remember you for the bad, rather than the good. And, I have never seen a good sore thumb!

California Blacksmith 9

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