What do you need to start in metal clay? The minimum

What do you need to get started in metal clay? There are many tools that can make working with metal clay easier. However, I’m going to focus on the minimum that an aspiring metal clay artist needs. I am going to go for the least expensive option, unless there is a good reason to do otherwise. When I mention a brand, I am merely indicating a brand that I have used and found to work well. I’m certain there are other brands that work just as well.

I’m assuming that you are going to work with fine silver clay (sterling silver is a bit more complicated). I know that silver clay is more expensive than bronze or copper. However, it is much easier to work with. All teachers of metal clay that I have met have recommended starting with silver clay, despite the cost. I agree with them.

Obviously, you need the clay itself. Once you open metal clay, it starts to dry out. There are several ways to keep your opened metal clay fresh. The one I use is to: (1) wrap the clay in plastic wrap (2) put it back in the original envelope, if that envelope is resealable (3) store it in a plastic cup with an airtight lid and (4) add a (slightly) damp piece of sponge to that cup. That is enough to keep most clays usable for weeks.

You need a lubricant, so your clay will not stick to your work surface, hands, or tools. While olive oil, Badger Balm, and a variety of other lubricants will work, I advocate using Hattie’s No Stick spray. It’s not very expensive, and a little goes a long way.

You need a work surface. There are commercially available surfaces. I find that any smooth plastic surface (maybe with a light spritzing of lubricant) works just as well. One workable, and extremely inexpensive, option is a plastic page divider that you can buy in an office supply store/

You need a roller, so you can roll your clay out flat. There are commercial products for doing this. However, I have found none that work any better than a short section of PCV pipe.

You need guides to roll your clay to a specified depth. The cheapest alternative is playing cards. However, playing cards tend to soak up the lubricant and eventually become useless. Pam East’s Graduated Slat Set is reasonably priced and, barring an accident, will last almost forever.

You need a needle tool. It is possible to use a straight pin, or some other needle tool not designed for metal clay. However, I find that the NanoPik is infinitely superior to any of these. It is not terribly expensive.

You need sanding tools for cleaning the greenware. While there are many fine-grade files on the market (and I use such files for most of my work), you can get good results with the nail filing blocks sold at beauty supply shops. (Not required: if you want to spend a little more money, nothing works better than the tiny files that watchmakers use.)

You need something to fire your greenware. A kiln is, obviously, the easiest method. If you can’t afford a regular kiln, a beehive kiln is adequate. Similarly, a microwave kiln will work for silver. Finally, one can torch fire silver.

Your silver clay will come out of the kiln looking white to dirty gray. To fix this, you need a wire brush. Brushing will make your piece look like silver, but not shiny. To make the work shiny, you need a tumbler. However, one can polish fired silver clay by hand, using fine-grained sandpaper (a finer grain at each sanding, sand perpendicular to the direction you sanded last time).

To me, work that is not patinaed looks unfinished (you are free to disagree). LoS and Black Max are the usual solutions. However, it is also possible to achieve a patina with alcohol ink.

There you have it: what you must have to make jewelry with silver clay.

Templates for cutting shapes are nice. However, they are not 100% necessary. You can cut free-hand or you can cut a pattern out of paper and use that (although it will not stand up to being used more than a few times). Texture sheets are nice. However, there are an unlimited number of interesting textures free for the taking. Veins on the underside of leaves, tapping with toothbrush bristles, feathers, and small seeds (for example) all make lovely textures.

So, if you are not already doing metal clay, I encourage you to start. It’s an incredibly rewarding medium.

 

 

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