Saturday, March 1, 2008

I think I'm gonna dig this metal clay stuff...

I have made beaded jewelry & mixed media jewelry for years, but what I really wanted to make is what I really like to wear - Silver Jewelry. I have looked into metalsmithing classes and working with Sterling silver, but it all seemed to overwhelming and time consuming, and I already am running low on time most days. So, I thought silver was out of the question.

Then a few years ago I started hearing about this stuff called "Precious Metal Clay" or "PMC". I heard you formed it just like clay & then fired it in a kiln and it turned in to 99.9% pure silver. Say what?! No metalsmithing classes required? No scary jewelers saws and bench-vises needed? No smelting & pouring of molten hot liquids? Yahoo!!

The I started checking in to it and it seemed like such a big investment to try a hobby I didn't know that I would be good at... $700 kiln, $300 for a 1-day class at my local bead store or college, $80 tumbler, $200 in misc tools, shapers & files, and then the ongoing expense of the clay in it's various forms... It's not that cheap - It is silver, ya know? And, on top of that, I heard the jewelry was really soft & semi-fragile and the clay shrunk un-predictably when firing so rings were not recommended, which is of course, what I wanted to make the most.

Another couple of years past before I took a second look at this media. There was now more choices. There was another manufacturer "Art Clay", and there was "Low-Fire clay" that cintered (became solid silver) at a temperture & speed that allowed it to be fired easily by a $40 torch vs. $800 kiln. On top of that, the shrinkage was lower and predictable. The resulting fired metal was stronger. And there was "Slow-Dry clay" that allowed more working time to make things that are more time consuming such as rings. YAHOO for real this time!

So I bought a book called "The Art of Metal Clay" by Sherri Haab. The next thing I knew, I had ordered a starter kit. And I made my first pieces. OK, not perfect, but it was silver, it was made by me, and I was hooked.

Fast forward to now... I now have invested in that $700 Paragon kiln and the aforementioned tools & tumbler because working with these items expands what I am able to do with the media & is frankly faster & easiler on the carpal-tunnel so I can make more pieces.

Little by little I am learning how to read the material and keep the moisture of the clay just right & how to work it in the fragile 'greenware' stage. I have learned what stones & types of glass can be fired in the kiln with the clay. And I am learning how to antique with Liver of Sulfer patina and bring the silver to a shine with polishing.

I really am beggining to love this media with only a few negatives...
  • There is a learning curve if you want to make quality, detailed pieces.
  • It is a bit costly and as the cost of silver rises, it will only get worse.
  • It is not metalsmithing, but it helps to learn some basic metalsmithing techniques.
  • It is takes quite a bit of time to make a highly detailed & polished piece.
  • It a bit dusty and dirty. You should wear a high-quality dust mask and goggles and work in a well ventalated area.
  • It's addicting

So far I have only made pieces for myself and family to learn this new skill, but am now working on some pendants that will be for sale through my Etsy store soon. Please keep an eye out! Thanks!

So that is my story regarding silver clay. If you would like to give it a try, all of the supplies listed above in BOLD and more are available from the links and "I recommend" shopping widget on the sidebar of this blog.

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