I recently encountered iron metal clay for the first time. I have done some blacksmithing, but it never occurred to me that iron could be a jewelry material. Prompted by this, I decided to try it.
I’m going to describe my experiences with iron clay. Yours might differ. As you might expect, it has some good and bad properties.
First, Goldie iron clay comes in a powdered form. Powdered clays are a bit less convenient that pre-mixed, but have the advantage that you can make as much or as little as you like. However, when I had used other powdered clays, I had no problem getting the clay to take on a texture that I found workable. This was not so with the iron clay. I went through many rounds of ‘too dry, add more water’ and ‘too sticky, add more powder’ until I got it right. My guess is that the other powdered clays I have used were more forgiving, while iron clay probably has a fairly narrow range. Still, after substantial trial and error, I finally got it right.
The first thing I tried to make with the clay was a traditional ‘roll out the clay, texture it, then cut it with a needle tool’. This did not go well. The needle tool left a very ragged edge that would have been difficult to fix in greenware. I don’t know if this is a property of the clay, or if I still didn’t have the water/powder blend down correctly.
I then tried molding. Years ago, in Estonia, I bought a small bronze image of Kalevipoeg, the Estonian national folk hero. I had made a mold of this (for my own use, I do not sell images created from molds of other people’s work). I decided to try the same mold with iron clay, since Kalevipoeg feels like an Iron-Age character. While the clay did not take fine details as well as silver, copper, or bronze, it was quite satisfactory. The greenware, with added bail, appears below. The bail is deliberately somewhat uneven, giving it the look of forged iron.
Next, I decided to try sculpting. Following on the Esonian theme, I sculpted an Uku’s Hammer (Uku is an Estonian sky god, similar to Thor in many aspects, with a similar tradition of hammer pendants). That worked beautifully. The greenware Uku’s hammer appears below.
Inspired by this success, I tried a more demanding sculpture. I made a Cthulhu (for those who don’t know, Cthulhu, an ultra-powerful alien who has been mistaken for a god, comes from the works of horror writer H P Lovecraft). My sculpted Cthulhu came out even better than the hammer.
Goldie iron clay requires a two stage firing, the first on a bed of charcoal and the second buried in charcoal. I fired according to package directions. The pieces came out of the kiln looking like lumps of rust. However, with a bit of brushing and then tumbling for a few hours, the appearances completely changed. The pieces, post tumbling, appear below.
I then applied a light coat of Max Black patina, polished the pieces, sprayed with a fixative (so they don’t rust), and attached chains. The finished pieces are below. As usual, I have included a coin for scale.
Will I use iron clay again? Definitely. It is a bit hard to work with, but the results appear to be worth it. In particular, iron clay seems very promising as a sculptural medium.