Do You Know These Fun Ways to Use Metal Clay? Weaving, Cheetos, Even Knitting with Metal Clay! Plus 5 Expert Metal Clay Jewelry Making Tips
Since I first discovered it many years ago at a craft trade show, metal clay has been my favorite medium ever, for jewelry making or any other craft. I can’t talk about metal clay jewelry making without saying the word “magic.”
I thought silver metal clay was the best thing since you-know-what, but the invention of base metal clays like copper and bronze has made me love it even more–especially bronze. I’ve never felt that gold jewelry looked right on my skin tone, but the way bronze metal clay looks when fired . . . oh my! It has a beautiful glow, and it’s just the right shade of gold for me, at a fraction of the cost. Plus base metal clays are more affordable than silver metal clays, so I get to use my favorite medium more often and feel freer to experiment and make larger pieces.
In honor of metal clay jewelry-making being our Technique of the Month, here are some fun ways to use it, in case you’re looking for ways to expand your metal clay fun, plus five expert tips for making metal clay jewelry.
Fun Ways to Use Metal Clay
In “12 Metal Clay Techniques” from Easy Metal Clay, Sharon Elaine Thompson shares a dozen fun ways to use metal clay, many of which I never knew were possible. For example, did you know you can knit with metal clay? “Flexible clay from Hadar’s regular clay mixed with glycerin stays flexible even after it’s dry, so you can braid, weave and ‘even knit’ the clay before firing,” Sharon writes.
Sharon also lists origami, wood grain effects (an easier version of mokumé gané), weaving (see Kathy St. Martin’s woven cuff, above), color gradients, and more. Metal clay artists seem to find endless ways to use this magical material, and at least one of them has figured out a way to use food to form metal clay. Sharon writes: “Use paste, syringe, or slip over any organic form, such as leaves–even Cheetos or Cheerios–that will burn out during firing.” There are more details on that and other fun ways to use metal clay in Sharon’s article in Easy Metal Clay.
So you know all these fun new ways to make metal clay jewelry; here are five expert metal clay tips to help you make it even better.
5 Expert Metal Clay Jewelry-Making Tips
By Sharon Elaine Thompson, from “17 Expert Tips” and “7 Special Tips for Copper and Bronze Clays” in Easy Metal Clay
- For firing copper and bronze clays: Use the right carbon granules. There are two kinds of carbon granules required: coconut shell-based or coal-based carbon. While coconut shell-based carbon can be used for both copper and bronze, coal-based granules can be used only for coppers. Coal-based carbon can leave a beautiful patina on the metal from gold to niobium-like rainbows. Be sure to follow the manufacturers’ recommendations on which carbon to use.
- For bronze and copper metal clays: Their strength is a double-edged sword. Although inexpensive bronze and copper clays may tempt you to work larger, once the binder burns away the piece is weak until it is fully sintered. This means that during sintering, large pieces can slump and hollow pieces can crack. While experienced metal clay artists can make large pieces, says Struve, in the beginning, keep pieces to less than two to three inches in overall dimensions and fairly thin.
- Finishing metal clay: Clean up anything you can before firing. Clay is easier to finish then metal, so clean up ragged lines and edges, and smooth surfaces in the leather-hard stage or the greenware stage. If you’re a metalsmith accustomed to wax carving, remember that as with wax, everything you see in the clay will appear in the metal.
- Use low-fire clay for glass. High-fire clays do not fire well with glass: the glass can slump or distort, and where the silver touches it, the glass can discolor. Use low-fire metal clays when firing with glass. For bronze metal clay: Work with thin pieces. Bronze especially is very heavy and strong, so pieces should not be more than a millimeter or so thick.
- Accommodate shrinkage. When combining clays, be sure their shrinkage rates are the same to prevent cracking. Shrinkage is a consideration, too, when adding findings to clay: you want them to be where they’re supposed to be after firing.
Our Technique of the Month for July is metal clay jewelry making (yay!), so we’ve created the Metal Clay Project Collection to celebrate with 40 metal clay jewelry-making projects! In the special value bundle, you’ll get Easy Metal Clay , our timeless special issue all about metal clay. Easy Metal Clay is packed with 25 inspiring projects to make with silver, bronze, copper, and even steel metal clay, plus crystals, gemstones (including how to set them), wire, glass, and even coloring metal clay with ink, from metal clay pros Hadar Jacobson, Noël Yovovich, Arlene Mornick, and more. It has all of the metal clay tips, firing schedules, techniques, and other metal clay information we need in one convenient spot.
Plus, in this collection you’ll receive two eBooks with 10 complete metal clay jewelry-making projects in each one, by the same industry favorites above and others like Holly Gage, Lis-el Crowley, Celie Fago, and Linda Berstein. And as a special bonus, you’ll receive a free Lil Bella metal clay humidifier to help keep your clay moist while you work. This ingenious little gadget was invented by my first metal clay teacher, Donna Lewis, and I still use the Lil Bellas I received in her classes. It’s a sweet reminder of how much fun I had learning about metal clay with Donna, but it also works like a dream at keeping my clay from drying out while I work. I never approach with metal clay jewelry making without using it. Get your exclusive Metal Clay Project Collection for 40 metal clay jewelry-making projects and a FREE Lil Bella clay humidifier while they’re available!
P.S. Learn more tips for working with metal clay in: