One of my favorite (but alas, long-distance, across the Atlantic) mosaics teachers is Lawrence Payne who runs the Roman Mosaic Workshops in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England.  He has no idea how much I’ve learned from him!   Lawrence is extraordinarily generous in sharing his knowledge in blogs, videos, written manuals, workshops, and in exchanging emails.

That’s one of my goals, to get experienced enough to share what I know about mosaics.  For now, I can share a bit that I’ve been learning.

Hammer and hardie

The hammer and hardie are traditional, ancient tools used to shape material such as stone into tesserae.   (Tesserae are the bits of glass, stone, marble or other material that make up a design; for instance, a 3/4-inch glass tile is also called a tessera.  And for you other nerdy folks:  tesserae is Latin plural, tessera is Latin singular).

The hammer is, well, a hammer with sharpened ends.  Mine weighs 950 grams (a little over 2 lb), which is the more usual weight, though it is made in two other lower weights.

The hardie is a kind of sharpened chisel that is embedded into a piece of wood.

(I was still pretty brain-challenged when I embedded the hardie into the block this late spring.  Took ages because I couldn’t think well enough to figure out my own technique with the carpenter’s wood chisel to make the hole.  Big Mister came by and gently suggested that I’d have better luck if were to make the hole with a sharpened chisel rather than using the dull thing I was struggling with.)

If you’re curious, Lawrence has prepared a video showing how to use the hammer and hardie (scroll almost to the bottom of the page at the link).  He has also written a booklet!

Hammer and hardie. Those are scraps of stone on the block.  If you click to enlarge, you can see how tiny the stone pieces were to begin–before I cut them to particular shapes!

Here’s a pic with a pen to show scale:

both ends of the hammer are sharpened

The technique

The technique, much simplified, is to hold the material between thumb and forefinger, rest the piece on the hardie, and drop the hammer onto the material.  Since it’s a wrist action,  it’s more of a drop than a whack as from a traditional hammer, which is good because it’s heavy!

But you can imagine that the weight works in our favor.  You can further shape tiny pieces–1/2 inch (about 1.25 cm)–quite amazing really!

Judging technique

Correct sound:  Thwack! is the sound when a tessera is correctly fractured between the hammer and the hardie.

Correct dialogue:  “Dang, I’m getting better at this!”

Incorrect sound:  Yeeeeowwch!

Incorrect dialogue:  “I really should keep bandages out here.”

Apparently, I was quite consistent in holding the hammer wrong! yeeeeowwwch!  That’s my thumb!
Pointy!  (I’m much better at it now–no bandage on my thumb!)

After I finished shaping a kajillion of the stone pieces, which started as 1/2-inch pieces, it occurred to me that I started working with the hammer and hardie in the hardest way!  I coulda whacked on big ole pieces (well, bigger than 1/2 inch), but no-o-o-o-o-o-o, I wanted to use the small stones for a project, so that’s where I started.  Sigh…  Jumpin’ in with all four feet:  c’est moi!

22 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. neowatercolour
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 00:56:01

    Wow, I didn’t realise mosaics could be so dangerous :-) very impressive L !


    • lahgitana
      Sep 16, 2012 @ 07:39:35

      Good morning, V!! Hope you got some rest. ??

      Apparently, I like to live on the edge. So to speak. >:-D I also work with sculpture using cement, sand, and perlite. All are dangerous to inhale. Masked, gloved, and sweating! Took my penchant for the on-the-edge outdoors into an art studio. Go figure!

      I’ve figured out that like most folk of yore, the artists didn’t live long enough to succumb to the dust diseases and chemical burns. !!


  2. sweetdaysundertheoaks
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 04:33:31

    Very interesting! I am glad you are enjoying doing your mosaics. That hammer and hardie, I love the idea that they are traditional ancient tools to make tesserae. Have I mentioned I had a crush on my Latin teacher? I would find a way to hurt myself with that hammer, no doubt about it.


    • lahgitana
      Sep 16, 2012 @ 07:45:24

      When I was 14, I had a crush on my sailing instructor and was so nervous that I jibed the boom, and I hit him with it, but gently. {weak laugh} as if being hit by a boom could EVER be gentle!

      Thanks, Pix, yes I am enjoying. The fog continues to lift and my physical energy is stabilizing (I want to type that “stabiliSing” because of all the Brits around here!).

      I really enjoy the connection with the old-timeys who must have been dirt poor with scabbed and then calloused knees while they worked on those magnificent floors. Which is another goal of mine, the floors that is; already have the knees.


      • sweetdaysundertheoaks
        Sep 16, 2012 @ 08:15:55

        You sail? CH and I had two Hobies. I cracked my rib when CH let go the boom. Over we went! I notice that s and z thing all the time..cracks me up.


        • lahgitana
          Sep 16, 2012 @ 08:18:45

          Haven’t sailed since around 1999 or 2000, but sailed a lot in Alaska–brrrr! Learned to sail on Toronto Bay, with final “immersion” on Lake Ontario.

          Where’d you start sailing, Miss-Middle-of-the-Country?!


          • sweetdaysundertheoaks
            Sep 16, 2012 @ 08:23:31

            Creve Couer Lake in St. Louis. That is where we took lessons in one of those teeny tipsies. Then on to Carlyle Lake in Illinois. Drove there every weekend. That is where we kept the Hobies. Scared the sh*t out of ourselves every dang time we were on it!


          • lahgitana
            Sep 16, 2012 @ 08:28:05

            oh yeah–the sh$t-scaring! hahahahhahaa! It’s a relief to go over that first time because we’re not so damned scared about it happening again. Tho’ it definitely scared me to think of going over in the Alaska waters–about 40 degrees! Dead, dead, dead very fast.


  3. FeyGirl
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 06:04:43

    The cutting! The hammering! I tried mosaics once and was seriously hurt… hah! GOOD LUCK! :)


    • lahgitana
      Sep 16, 2012 @ 07:47:00

      Oh you too?! How?? When?! What?! Tell!

      Hurts like a bastardbearsonofabitch! I still have the marks, but they stopped hurting within a few days. <:-}


      • FeyGirl
        Sep 17, 2012 @ 04:46:16

        Hee…. YEARS AGO. I wanted to do a simple heron (ironically, before I even lived in Florida!), and there was so much blood on the glass I thought it was just me… But then I realized it was a common “issue.” I moved on to other arts, but WOW do I love the end result of mosaic! You’ll have to post your work! :)


        • lahgitana
          Sep 17, 2012 @ 07:39:26

          Egad! Blood all over the glass. It stains, too! I know because my birght-painted-white worktable still has a blood stain on it from more than a month ago. (I **suppose** I could scrub it off, but it’s prolly a badge of honor!)

          I do love your phrase “a simple heron.” hee hee!

          What other art do you enjoy now?

          I will post pics; I’m close to doing that. But it seems to be one of those “first this, then that” scenarios where my brain wants me to finish cleaning up the studio and then it will feel ready to “see” the finished works out there!


  4. dummyzero
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 12:06:47

    Cutting and hammering and yeeeeeoowwwwing…oh my! :-)


    • lahgitana
      Sep 16, 2012 @ 17:54:14

      Indeed “oh my,” brother! I actually didn’t say the effin’ word when it happened; truly said yeeeeowwwwwwch! Loudly. Perhaps more than once, per.

      Happy news with your client! You GO! If we don’t take up all our space, someone else will! Just sayin’!


  5. nadbugs
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 17:23:05

    Good lord. I had no idea. This is astonishing. OUCH. Those pinch-y things. They are paaaaaainful! What price art.


  6. 10000hourstobe
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 16:17:51

    LOL! I am thinking if you ever go missing the coppers are going to spray your work table and the black lights will show them where the meyhem took place (think Rear Window).


    • lahgitana
      Sep 17, 2012 @ 20:09:03

      But what will they conclude? Will they have to look at the tools arrayed and nod slyly to one another and just walk away?! >:-D “Oh one of THOSE. C’mon, we’re done here.”


  7. nadbugs
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 18:03:18


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