Silver Whistle

Can a whistle, that produces a note, be made from metal clay? Surprisingly, it can. It’s tricky and requires a lot a trial and error, but you can do it.

I have only used silver for whistles. I have heard that base metals tend to slump, and do not work. I can’t say if this is or is not correct.

Let’s start with the ‘anatomy’ of a whistle. The mouthpiece needs to have a rectangular hole through it. This is best done by building the mouthpiece around a strip of laminated plastic, and then removing the plastic when the mouthpiece is about half dry. You need a hollow body. There are any number of ways of producing a hollow form. The method I used here was to sculpt a bird body out of silver clay, let it start to dry, then carefully slice it in two down the middle. The inside is still wet when the outside is dry. You can scoop out the wet clay, producing a hollow body. The mouthpiece need to connect to a sound hole. It is important that the sound hole be square, lined up with the mouthpiece, and of equal width to the rectangular opening in the mouthpiece.

To make a whistle work, the sound hole needs to bisect the airflow coming from the mouthpiece. This will require a combination of trial and error in placing the mouthpiece, and in filing the sound hole to make it a ramp instead of a square edge. If the whistle is going to work, it will sound in dry greenware.

If you want the whistle to produce more than one note, drill a small hole in the body. The whistle will produce one note with the hole opened and another with it closed with a finger. In firing, this hole might become plugged. If so, it can be re-opened by sticking a broom straw through it.

Whistles are challenging pieces of work. That’s why I have given a sketchy description of how to do one — explaining it in words alone is difficult. However, you now know that it can be done.

The tail is the mouthpiece. The sound hole is on the bird’s top. There is a tiny hole drilled in its stomach, so two notes can be produced. As usual, the coin is for scale.


Penannular Brooch II


I earlier discussed making a penannular brooch of silver. A client saw my work, and asked for a similar one of bronze. While the process is similar, it is not identical. Here, I am going to discuss making such a brooch of bronze.

Like the silver, the brooch started out by making the pieces. Laid out, they appear below.


The brooch itself is  made by texturing metal clay, cutting out a circle, and then cutting out another circle, leaving a small edge. The cat face was made from a mold. The biggest differences are the pin and the pivot that holds the pin. While silver is soft, bronze is hard. Therefore, I made the silver pin somewhat broad, so it would not bend. The bronze pin is quite narrow. Since it is so narrow, I made the hinge longer, so I could blend it into the back of the pin and have a stronger attachment. Also, since untextured bronze is not as interesting as untextured silver, I put a texture on the bronze pin, while I left the silver one plain.

The pieces were assembled as before, with paper between the hinge and the pin. A sharp-eyed reader might recognize that this is not the same brooch, and they would be right. This is one that I made before I realized that bronze would allow a narrower pin.


I fired the clay in coconut activated charcoal, according to package directions. I folded the pin to one side so it would not touch the brooch while firing. The paper burned away in the kiln, and left only a few ashes to be swept away.


I then tumbled the brooch and patinaed it. The beginning of this post showed the finished brooch with the pin in place. The picture below shows it swung to one side.


Metal clay penannular brooches are not common. However, there is no reason to avoid them. Just remember — if two pieces of greenware touch and you don’t want them to fuse, separate them with a bit of paper. It will burn away in the kiln, and your piece will emerge as you wish it to be.

Simple Projects

After doing a number of complicated projects, I thought I would take it easy and do some simple projects. Also, these projects used up the left-over copper clay from making the cuff.

From top to bottom, these are two pendants, one ring, and one pair of earrings. All were patinaed with Max Black. The patina was buffed off the sugar skull face on the ring, and Baldwin’s Patina was applied locally, giving an interesting effect.


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Recovering from Disaster


My intention was to post about making a Navajo style cuff. As you can see in the picture above, it didn’t work out. I decided to still post about the process and how I recovered from this disaster. I wouldn’t sell theopiece, but there is no reason not to keep it.

A Navajo style cuff is a cuff with geometric cut-outs, and a layer below the cut-outs. While these are traditionally silver, I chose to use copper. This was the first one I ever made, and I didn’t want to invest too much in case it didn’t work out.

The first step is cutting out the shape of the cuff. It needs to dry around a bracelet mandrel. To do this without squishing the clay, I placed it around a mandrel, then fasted plastic wrap to the mandrel with rubber bands. The clay will only dry to leather hardness this way. That’s not a problem. When it reaches that stage, take it off the mandrel and let it finish drying in the normal way. The leather hard stage will stand up by itself, so that is not a problem.


The next step is to cut out another thicker form for the cuff, cut the geometrics into it, and then let it dry in the same manner, attached to the lower layer by copper slip.


This layer has the same drying issues as the first layer.

Once both layers have dried, one finishes the greenware with the usual methods. The layers might not match perfectly. A bit of sanding can make them match. Any gaps between the layers can be filled with slip.

I then fired the clay according to package directions. When it came out of the kiln, the layers had separated and a piece had broken off. Had I been using a one-fire clay, I would have fixed it with slip and refired. However, I was using Cyprus brand copper, which has a two stage firing. I was afraid that fixing it with slip and then doing the first firing would result in so much firescale that I would never clean the piece.

Why did this happen? My best guess is that I did not apply enough slip along one edge. While the piece shrank from firing, the thicker and thinner pieces shrank at different rates and pulled apart. The lesson from this is, in my next cuff, to be very generous with the slip joining the layers.

I resorted to metalsmithing to bend the pieces so they matched, tumbled the two sections, redid a bit of bending to make them fit, and then used two-part epoxy to join them.



I wouldn’t sell a piece like this, since I don’t sell work that I have glued together. However, I can use this as a learning experience. Soon, I will try another cuff. With what I have learned from this one, I can do a better job.

Penannular Brooch

A customer asked me if I could make a penannular broach of silver, decorated with a golden-eyed cat design. It took some experimentation, but I succeeded! I’m going to walk you through the process.

A penannular brooch is, typically, a circle with a circular hole in the middle (there are other designs, but this is a common one). A pin is attached to the front of the brooch, so the pin can be slipped through loosely woven fabric (e.g. lace or loose knitting). After much consideration, I decided the best way to do this was to roll out and texture silver clay (1.25 mm thick). I made the pin 1.5 mm thick, and did not texture it. The pin needs a hinge, so it can be moved back and forth. I made the hinge 1 mm thick, with untextured clay. The three pieces, prior to firing, appear below.


The hinge fit around the narrowest part of the background. To avoid the possibility that the hinge and brooch would fuse during firing, I wrapped the part of the brooch that the pin would touch in paper. This arrangement is pictured below, with the paper and hinge in place.


Then I added the pin, attaching it with slip.


Since the hinge allowed the pin part to swing freely, that addressed the issue of possible fusing — the pin could be swung out of the way during firing.

The customer wanted a cat to decorate the pin. I used a commercial mold to produce a cat face and attach to the pin. I attached it at the bottom, so the weight would not cause the brooch to sag, when worn.


I then did standard clean-up, filing away any excess silver and patching a few cracks with syringe. In the process, I broke and had to repair the pin more than once. This was a tedious process, because the hinge and brooch got in the way of doing the repairs. I then fired the piece.

20191224_094553Since the customer wanted the cat to have golden eyes, I applied 22K gold paste, and refired.


I then applied a LOS/ammonia/salt patina, and then rubbed most of the patina off, so the piece was not too dark. I then applied a few traces of Black Max, in an attempt to approximate the color pattern of the customer’s own cat. Two views of the finished piece appear below, one with the pin across the brooch and the other with the pin swung to one side. I included a coin in the photo for scale. The gold in the eyes does not show up well in these photos — the gold shows up best in artificial light, and the patina shows up best in natural light. Both these photos were taken in sunlight.



A penannular brooch is a doable metal clay project. It takes time to make one. For the pin to be large enough to support the weight, it is probably best that the brooch only be worn with loosely woven fabric. However, it is quite doable, if one is willing to put some effort into it.


Tatting Shuttle III

After making a number of bronze tatting shuttles, I was asked to make a silver one. Well, why not? At the outset, I made two design decisions: (1) Instead of texturing the shuttle, I would leave it plain. That means it can be as shiny as possible, while still looking finished. (2) Since I didn’t want it to be too plain, I decided to ornament it with a bit of gold.

Since I last posted about making tatting shuttles, I have made a discovery. Earlier, I dried the exterior of the shuttle on a dome light. That works, but it winds up having a bit more curvature than necessary. An idea for an improvement hit me: but a commercial tatting shuttle that comes in a plastic case and use that case for drying. It already has the desired curvature. The result is pictured below:


When these dry, one can sand them to even them up and use paste to fix any gaps in the shape. The next step is to create the interior of the shuttle. I have tried both making one post and drilling a hole through it, and making two smaller posts side-by-side. According to the tatters I have worked with, the latter design is preferable. Thus, I had this:


After it dried, I sanded out the unevenness, added a bit of clay to make the posts the same height, and added the top, attaching it with paste. After it dried, I did a bit of last-minute sanding. Then it was ready to fire. You don’t want the ends of the shuttle to fuse. I slipped a piece of paper between the top and bottom. This paper will burn out during firing.


After firing (but before brushing or tumbling(, I was ready to add gold. I decided against Keum Boo, because getting something this heavy up to temperature would take a while. Instead, I used accent gold ( I decided to not make it too complicated, so I simply painted (prior to brushing, so the gold has something to cling to) a gold oval in the center of each side. The picture below shows the shuttle sitting on a cup warmer to encourage the drying of the gold paint. I then sanded away the few drops of gold paint that were not where I wanted them.


I refired according to package directions. Then I brushed the silver, burnished the gold with an agate burnisher, and tumbled the piece.

At that stage, it was technically ready. I say ‘technically’ because the two leaves must be close enough together so a thread will not easily slip through, but far enough to that the thread can be pulled through without stressing the thread too much. My leaves were too close together. I solved this by a metalsmithing approach — using a jewelry saw, I sawed down between the two leaves, widening the gap by a about a quarter millimeter. That did the trick.

The completed shuttle appears below, with a coin for scale:


While metal clay is wonderful for jewelry, it also can be used for a variety of other purposes. I hope I have inspired you to consider non-jewelry applications of metal clay.



Naalbinding ( ) is a fiber arts technique that dates back at least 8000 years. It is done with a single needle, of a particular design. At first glance, the fabric produced by naalbinding resembles crochet. However, the fabric is much more supple than crocheted fabric. Naalbinding was generally replaced by knitting, because knitting is faster. However, naalbinding survived in Scandinavia and the Baltic states, possibly because naalbinding produces a fabric that has fewer openings than knitted fabric, and is therefore more protective against the wind. Naalbinding is undergoing a bit of a renaissance — while it is still uncommon, more and more people are learning to do it. As in ancient times, most modern practitioners of naalbinding use a needle made of bone, horn, or wood. However, other materials are possible. When a modern practitioner asked me if I could make a bronze needle, it seemed like an interesting challenge.

After studying some naalbinding needles, I decided to make two — a blunt needle for coarse yarn and a sharp one for finer yarn. I decided to use Five Star bronze for the dull needle and Five Star light bronze for the sharp, so the needles would have a different appearance. I’m going to illustrate with the dull needle. The sharp one is basically the same, except that it is thinner and the tip is made sharper.

The first step is to roll out the clay to the desired thickness. I chose 4mm for the dull needle and 2 mm for the sharp. While the clay is wet, cut out a rectangle of the length you want the needle to be. Using a template, cut an oval eye in the needle. Using clay shaping tools, roughly shape the end.


After the clay dries, begin finishing the greenware. For naalbinding, it is essential that the needle be smooth (although it does not have to be straight). This means that the greenware needs to be sanded. I used multiple grits of sandpaper, starting from a coarse grit and working toward a finer one. In each subsequent sanding, I changed the direction of the sanding — first the length of the needle, and then the width. It is very easy to break the greenware while sanding. This can be avoided by holding the needle on either side of the section where one sands. If it does break, it is easily repaired. I’m not certain if it is necessary, but my final step was to burnish the greenware with a metal burnishing tool.

The inside of the eye must also be perfectly smooth. I achieved this by sanding with a watch maker’s file. In the absence of such a file, a piece of sandpaper, folded into a file, will work. After sanding, the piece (Five Star bronze requires two firings, the piece below is ready for that stage) looked like this:


The piece was fired according to package directions, and then tumbled. To prevent the bronze from turning green, it was sprayed with a lacquer. The finished needles, blunt and sharp, are pictured below. The coins are for scale.



Did bronze naalbinding needles exist historically? I don’t know. If they did, they would probably have been family heirlooms, or something that would have been buried with the owner. However, bronze needles certainly work. It adds to the thrill of naalbinding to work with a needle that you have made, whether that needle is bone, horn, or bronze.