Making something beautiful out of brass and bullets

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be part of the first PANCART and Ammo collaboration event. Ammo is a brilliant social enterprise aiming to make something good out of war – more specifically, used bullets (not from actual war, but used in military training and more recently, those used on the set of the latest Hollywood production from Angelina Jolie). Set up by a fellow Brit who studied jewellery design at uni in the UK 15-odd years ago, Maddie Green met some jewellery makers here in Cambodia and learned their techniques and styles, and then she shared her experiences and they pretty much did a skills-swap. She started off by taking on one local guy as an apprentice around a year ago, and now as each member of the team gets skilled up, they teach the next person who joins (with a bit of help from the rest of the team, I’m sure), and it’s a self-fulfilling teaching cycle. Maddie very rarely gets to do any hands-on jewellery making anymore, so she relished the time spent with us in the workshop last weekend!

Well, Mr Minion’s little legs were never going to reach, were they??

Maddie showed us the old school/make-shift bellows which were attached to an old fire extinguisher that contained a mixture of propane and petrol so we could heat the sheet metal with a blowtorch so it was pliable enough to work with. It really was a serious IMG_2754workout for one leg! She shared with us the very old and traditional stamping technique to produce pendants, earrings and even rings. Leaving us to it for half an hour or so, she then showed us the tiny serrated hand saw used to cut the sheet brass, demonstrating the different techniques she had come across. For example, all the Western jewellers she had ever met all cut of the downward stroke, whereas the Khmer people felt they had more control on the upstroke, so effectively use the saw “upside down”. Metal workers in the UK use vices to hold their work still, while Khmer people prefer the edge of a desk to work on. I tell you, when I had my turn trying to cut the metal, I could have done with a vice to save my fingers!

Spot the minion… He’s in there somewhere!


We were using sheet metal that was bought, rather than the bullet metal since it is easier to work with, and none of us were metal-smiths. If I’d have known the techniques we were going to use, I would have designed something ahead of time. The stamps we were using were varied, there were squares, lines, double lines and curves as well as single points in different weights, cluster points and more. You can see our attempts here. Mine are the two circled, and you can see my finished article at the bottom of this post.our pieces.jpg

We finished the session with the promise that our designs would be polished up and made into whatever we wanted. I opted for a ring, since my fingers have been swelling up in the heat, and I’ve had to put the one I’ve been wearing every day since I was about 13, away in a safe place until I go somewhere with a cooler climate! But I think this is a great memento of my time in Siem Reap, and I’ll have a great story to tell whenever I’m wearing it.

Finally, for anyone who is interested, this page lists every single one of my blog posts in chronological order.



Just an average British girl travelling the world with a little minion.

2 thoughts on “Making something beautiful out of brass and bullets

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