Tuesday, March 01, 2016

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.


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 versionthe 3D Metal Creator, composed of a CO2 tank connected to 2 tubesone 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:  
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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great Blog article Liz! Very informative! Looking forward to your adventures with the Silhouette Cutter. Thanks for sharing.