There is one tool I love more than a miter saw and that is my Paragon kiln for firing metal clay into pure solid silver. Who ever came up with the idea of turning clay into a solid mass of pure silver?? Brilliant. My close friends know that I’ve been making jewelry for years, actually longer than my kids have been alive and they are 14 and 12. As the years have evolved so has my jewelry. I make jewelry for my friends, sell it at boutiques, but have always wanted to teach others how to make simple creations. My goal is to inspire the everyday hobbyist and show them how easy it is to make beautiful pieces of jewelry out of silver clay. I must mention that while I love a good bargain, this project is not cheap! However, you can easily substitute other types of clay for half the price. For example, bronze or copper clay is just as effective, but not as expensive. Also, I use a lot of house hold tools to get the job done. Read on to find out how? Read on:
A few items you will need to get started:
Deck of playing cards
olive oil or non stick spray to prevent sticking
Water to keep clay moist
Roller to roll clay flat (small piece of PVC piping works super well and is dirt cheap)
Various tools to cut clay (i.e tissue blade, Needle Point tool, Xacto knife works too)
Sanding Sponges to polish (3M has great options ranging from a 100 grit up to a 1500 grit)
Wire Brush to brush off the matte white finish post firing
Firing Method of our choice -The clay can be fired with a handheld gas torch, on a kitchen or camping gas hob, or with a kiln, depending on size, shape and which clay you have used. (you can buy a butane handheld torch at the hardware store for under $30)
Roll your clay out to your desired thickness. I use playing cards to ensure an even thickness. For pendants, I typically stack 5 playing cards on each side. Spray your roller and center card with a little olive oil. Place a small amount of clay in the center of your card and roll out. See photos below:
Chose what you want to “imprint” into the clay. You can find something in your house, like a button or go outside and find a cool looking leaf. I chose to use a Fleur De Lis from a template I already had. I sprayed the template with a small amount of olive oil to prevent it from sticking to the clay. I then gently pressed it into the clay.
Next cut to the shape you want. I wanted my Fleur De Lis to be a circle. I took a round cookie cutter and made a circle around my Fleur De Lis. After, take your tool of choice and discard the extra clay.
You will want to wrap your left over clay in plastic wrap. Place clay the middle of the plastic wrap and mist with water. Wrap until you are ready to use it again.
Take a tooth pick or a small needle and poke a hole at the top of your piece.
Let your piece dry!! The finished piece needs to be dried out before firing to avoid any damage. Either leave it in a warm spot for a day or more, or, use a kitchen oven, dehydrator, hot plate, hair dryer or heat gun to speed it up. I placed mine on a hot plate for 15 minutes.
You can check to see if your piece is dry by doing what is called a “mirror test”. You put your piece on a mirror, leave for 20 seconds, and if you see a “cloud” on the mirror when you remove the piece, it is still wet. One time while I was teaching someone how to make a pendant, I didn’t let it dry all the way. I guess I was too excited to show her the final result. Bad idea! It literally exploded while firing. Flames and all. I think I stressed my point here on making sure it is bone dry.
When bone dry, you can carefully shape, file, and sand your piece so all edges are smooth and all little burrs or nicks are removed. These would be very uncomfortable against the skin after becoming metal hard. And they will be much harder to remove after fired. The clay is brittle at this stage, so be careful to not put too much pressure on it, and support the piece well
A supporting rubber block is extremely handy for this. I use a nail file and gently file the edges.
This is one of the most important stages in working with metal clay if you want to produce a professional looking piece. I also use a drill bit to drill a perfect hole into the center. Since I already made a small hole with my toothpick, it’s even easier to drill into the hole. It gives it a more professional, even look. Lastly, I take my needle tool and trace around my Fleur De Lis. You can also engrave your piece. Personalize it by adding a name to the back.
Take a small paint brush and brush away any clay remaining. I place a post-it note under my rubber block and collect all my clay remainings. Put all your remainings into a small jar and save for later.
Time to FIRE your bone dry piece. This is where the MAGIC occurs. For the purpose of this tutorial, I will strictly talk about using a handheld butane torch for firing your metal pieces. I started this way and eventually invested in a kiln where I fire all my pieces.
Most handheld, or creme brulee, torches are perfect for metal clay, just make sure it has a nice large-ish, quite bushy, flame. These run on butane which you get from your local hardware store. Fire in a dim room so you can see the glow. Put your piece on a ceramic fiber brick, which is a fireproof surface.
Move the flame over the piece, holding the torch an inch or two away from the item being fired. It is very important to keep the flame moving so that the object is heated evenly. If you can see it, keep the blue cone about an inch away from the object. As the piece heats up, some smoke will be released.
The piece will begin to glow orange (most visible in a darkened area). Keep the flame over the item for 2-5 minutes.
DO NOT OVERFIRE the piece. If you see the silver turning shiny, you need to hold the torch further away from the piece and move it around more. Ideally, the Silver Clay will just reach the fusing point of the silver particles and the surface will have a white matte finish.
If the silver has a shiny surface, the surface has reached the melting point. This often results in small holes in the work piece. If you heat it even more, the work piece will fold in on itself and eventually ball up. If you want to, you can practice on a small piece of rolled out dried clay to get a feel for the proper firing and melting technique.
Time to finish your piece. You can use your 3M sponges to buff it or use a burnisher on the raised edges to bring it to life. You don’t have to invest in a burnisher. Instead, use the edge of a spoon. Gently rub agaisnt the edges .
Try antiquing your piece if you want. I used a patina gel to achieve an aged look. Most patina gels can be purchased online or at your local jewelry store. After you patina your piece, run under cool water and let dry. Polish again.
Attach your new pure silver pendant to the necklace of your choice. Stay tuned for the finished necklace. It’s a work in process. I’m thinking of stringing large pearls and adding a sterling silver chain to create a hip looking necklace.
You now made a unique, one of a kind piece of jewelry. Congratulations.