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how to make a hobo nickel

A hobo nickel is a type of folk art that involves carving or engraving a design onto a coin, typically an old U.S. nickel. This art form originated during the Great Depression when many hobos and itinerant workers turned to carving coins as a way to pass the time and create small pieces of art to sell or trade. Creating a hobo nickel requires skill and patience, and it’s essential to note that altering currency is illegal in some places. Here are the basic steps to make a hobo nickel:

Materials You’ll Need:

  1. A suitable coin (an old U.S. nickel, preferably from before 1964 when they were composed of 75% copper and 25% nickel).
  2. Engraving tools, such as small chisels, gravers, and files.
  3. Safety goggles to protect your eyes.
  4. A vise or clamp to hold the coin securely.

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Select a Coin:
    • Choose an old nickel that’s in good condition and has a relatively smooth surface. The softer the metal, the easier it is to carve.
  2. Design Your Art:
    • Plan out your design for the hobo nickel. Common themes include portraits, animals, and various motifs. Keep in mind that the space is limited due to the small size of the coin.
  3. Secure the Coin:
    • Use a vise or clamp to hold the coin securely. This will prevent it from moving while you carve.
  4. Start Carving:
    • Begin carving your design onto the coin using your engraving tools. Be patient and work slowly, as it’s easy to make irreversible mistakes.
    • Use different engraving tools to create various textures and depths in your design. For example, you can use a small chisel to remove larger sections of metal and a graver for finer details.
  5. Add Details:
    • Pay close attention to details like facial features, clothing, and background elements. The artistry is in the intricate details.
  6. Check Your Progress:
    • Periodically remove the coin from the vise to check your progress and make sure you’re achieving the desired effect.
  7. Refine Your Carving:
    • Continue refining your carving until you’re satisfied with the design. This may take hours or even days, depending on the complexity of your artwork.
  8. Smooth and Finish:
    • After you’ve completed your carving, use fine files or sandpaper to smooth the surface of the coin and remove any rough edges.
  9. Clean the Coin:
    • Clean the coin to remove any dust, debris, or oils from your hands.
  10. Preserve the Coin:
    • To prevent further oxidation and preserve your hobo nickel, you can apply a thin layer of clear nail polish or lacquer to protect the metal.
  11. Display or Share Your Art:
    • Your hobo nickel is now complete and ready to be displayed as a piece of folk art or shared with others who appreciate this unique form of coin carving.

Creating a hobo nickel requires skill, precision, and patience. It’s essential to be aware of any local laws or regulations regarding the alteration of currency, as defacing currency can be illegal in some areas. Additionally, practice safety precautions, such as wearing safety goggles to protect your eyes while carving.