My Metal Clay Experiments & New Tools

This article is authored by Liz Reynolds, one of our metal clay instructors.

When the price of
silver clay rose dramatically a number of years ago, it spurred the development
of base metal clays—bronze, copper and steel, then later sterling silver—which was
only somewhat less expensive.
Although I love Hadar’s Clays and they are always my
first preference, I simply can’t be monogamous when it comes to metal
clay!  Because of its silvery colour, I’m
a fan of white bronze but I found Hadar’s too brittle. When her White Satin
arrived, that problem was solved as it includes some steel, so now strength is
no longer an issue. But rust is, and although it finishes beautifully, it’s
hard to keep it highly polished. I’m still searching for a sealant that doesn’t
dull the surface or turn yellowish.  Plus,
some people just don’t like mixing clay from powder.
I’ve played around a
bit with Goldie Snow Bronze (another
white bronze) and find it, too, has a distinctly yellowish cast.
Just recently I
started experimenting with Prometheus
White Bronze
and I think I may just be in love again! It polishes to a
wonderful silvery finish. If the piece is too thin it can break if dropped on a
hard surface, but if I keep flat pieces at 5 cards or more, that thickness seems to provide the
necessary strength. An added bonus is that it is faster to fire as the burnout
(Phase 1) stage takes only about 20 minutes in total. I know that Prometheus is
promoted as being torch fire-able, but I’ve not found that to be successful on anything
but small flat pieces, and even then I’m not convinced that it’s properly sintered.
My kiln firing experiments are proving to be quite consistent… and consistently
good! Shrinkage is minimal—somewhere around 10% just by eye-balling it—and
hollow forms are holding their shape without collapsing. 
The only adjustment
that I’ve made to the printed firing instructions is slowing down the ramp to
1400F from Full on larger pieces. It is immediately obvious when a piece is
over-fired as the surface will have a scattering of little silver balls,  marring the surface—much like the ball-up a
piece of silver wire. It seems that this is the tin pulling out through the
surface from too much heat, and also possibly, by not surrounded by enough carbon
in Phase 2. I’ve sometimes been successful in breaking off these little balls, if
only on the edge of a piece, with pliers and smoothing the surface with the
Jool Tool magic eraser.
A relatively new entrant to the metal clay
market (at least new to me) is FYI (For Your Inspiration). Their
silver clay is distributed by the ever-so-helpful Val Lewis in Quebec. Unfortunately,
the bulk of her customer base is in the US, so her clay is priced is US
dollars. It is, by far, the most reasonably priced silver clay on the market,
although the recent drop in our dollar has certainly made it less so. It’s lump
clay, that is, ready to use straight out of the package and reminds me very much
of the consistency of PMC3.  It’s nice to
work with and is more like Hadar’s Clay
in that is has a much longer open working time than any other silver clay I’ve
ever used. The down side is that it has a high shrinkage rate, somewhere around
28%. However, that can be made to work to your advantage by allowing you to
work larger and, after firing, you can let people wonder how you don’t go blind
working in such fine detail!  
Just recently, I’ve discovered that FYI produces a bronze and a copper clay,
too. I’ve not yet fired my copper experimental pieces, but I am very impressed
with the bronze. It fires to a rich, warm, golden bronze that polishes very
well, even on untextured surfaces. So far, the only distributor I’ve found is
in Wisconsin (Val only carries the silver clay), so I’ll be doing more research
to learn more about what other availability may exist.
Then, of course, you can always make your
own metal clay… more about that in a future edition.

Tools

Jool
Tool

You’ve undoubtedly heard of this relatively new polisher.
it’s

everything promised and more. I can no longer imagine polishing with only
a Dremel, or worse, by hand! Not only is it much faster, it also does a much
better job and I am so much happier with my results. Beadfx has one set up in
the metals studio so if you’re taking a class, give it a try. The JoolTool
website has a video showing this little powerhouse in action… and the machine
is quiet, except of course, when grinding!  
http://jooltool.com/

The cost of
this machine may seem high, but then I look at what I’ve been spending on
polishing tools and supplies (4 Dremels, only 2 still functional, about a
million radial brushes, sand paper – on its own, wound on a mandrel, in many grits, including
sanding sponges) and on and on. The JT radial brushes (I use only 3) are much
bigger and last a really long time. I could go on, but you get the idea. The
JoolTool also has a lapidary kit in case you want to make your own cabs. I
purchased mine from BeadFX and if you want one just let them know and they’ll
order it in. They do have some of the kits in stock.
Silicone
Clay / Slip Containers

Anyone who has ever worked with metal clay knows the
frustration of trying to keep slip moist and useful as “glue” to attach clay to
clay. I have tried nearly every kind of container on the market with varying
degrees of dissatisfaction.  Recently,
while reading the blog for Jewelry Artist Supply, I learned about something
that sounded promising: it seems that anyone
familiar with the “vaping” community and its many and varied substances, knows
that some products come in a paste form and need to be kept moist in order to
be useful. For that purpose, small silicone lidded jars have been developed… and
they seriously work! So much so that Jewelry Artist Supply now carries them
(and perhaps BeadFX will, too), avoiding the need for metal clay enthusiasts to
travel to their nearest smoke-able medical substances outlet!  Also, they only come in swirly, trippy
colours!
Silhouette
Cutter
I’ve recently purchased the Silhouette Portrait Cutter
as well as taken a couple of classes on cutting out intricate designs in metal
clay to be used as overlay. To go along with it, Hadar Jacobson has recently launched a line of Flex Clays for use with this cutter (or anywhere else flexibility
is desired, e.g. braiding). Carefully adding glycerin to clay will also provide
greater flexibility. More to report on this as I get more experience under my
belt! For more information, you can go to:  http://www.silhouetteamerica.com/shop

3-D Metal
Creator

This is an exciting brand new tool created by Bill Struve.
The name Bill Struve should be familiar to anyone who has worked with Bronz or Coppr clays as they were developed by Bill. Not long ago, he was
working with another fellow on the development of a 3-D printer (Mini Metal
Maker) that uses metal clay as well as plastic and other materials. It’s quite
a pricy little machine (at $2,000+ to purchase) with a steep learning curve
using CAD software. Bill’s role was to adjust the clay formula to allow easy
extrusion through very small nozzles. As Bill was working on this, he wondered
if there might be a low-tech, more affordable option. The result is his version—the 3D Metal Creator,
composed of a CO2 tank connected to 2 tubes—one running to a foot
petal and the other to a clay filled syringe with a wide selection of nozzles. You
can see it in action here:  
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1795659330/3dmetalcreator

I am in the
process of developing metal clay classes using the Silhouette Cutter and the 3-D
Metal Creator for the coming year. 
Upcoming classes with Liz Reynolds:

Metal Clay Medallion Slider Bracelet
 Friday, March 11 and Friday, March 18
11:00am – 5:00pm, both days



Liz Reynolds
is an accredited metal clay instructor, teaching at BeadFX.

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