A small group learned how to work with sheet metal in a Common Ground class this week.

The rhythmic sound of chisels and other tools digging into metal filled the air.

It mixed with sounds of sawing through metal sheets, mostly brass and copper. A blowtorch and soldering tools brought a burning smell that filled the room.


The small group in the art studio on McDaniel College's campus spent Wednesday working on sheet metal pieces as a part of a weeklong class in Common Ground on the Hill. Common Ground is a two-week series of classes focusing on arts, music and culture held annually at McDaniel.

Sue Sachs, of New Jersey, said this week is her first time teaching a class at Common Ground, though she's taught this type of metal-working elsewhere before.

The class teaches students how to work with sheet metal primarily using the repousse technique, she said. This technique is when a person uses chisel-type instruments and a hammer of sorts to punch divots into the metal to create designs and patterns in the material, she explained.

"[The students are] making all kinds of things," Sachs said.

Many of them were using pitch — a tar-like substance, Sachs said — underneath their metal as they pounded it with metal tools. The pitch is flexible and absorbs the blows, she said.

Sachs said this style of metal work is a technique that's been used for thousands of years.

"I've always been interested in ancient civilization and ancient cultures," she added.

For some, this Common Ground class was a chance to get out and try something new.

Mary Cahill, of Ellicott City, said this week's Common Ground class was a first for her. Cahill said she'd done some metal work before, though never using the technique Sachs was teaching.

"I like working with metal. I like pounding on things," she said. "This [technique] is brand new to me."

Cahill said the technique was challenging, but she would be trying to do more things with it after the class is done.

Westminster resident Stephanie Nawrot said she's taken classes at Common Ground before, though none like the sheet metal class this week. She was trying to make earrings with swirling designs on them.

"Turns out I'm really bad at it, but I'm having so much fun," Nawrot said, laughing.

Nawrot said she took the sheet metal class because she wanted to try something different and loves being a lifelong learner.


Plus, she added, Sachs' class isn't intimidating.

"No matter what [the project] turns out to be, she makes you feel good about it," Nawrot said of Sachs.