How To Make Metal Clay Headpins

Metal clay is such a versatile material to work with. You can make virtually anything, including really beautiful sculptural head pins you can use in earrings, necklaces, or bracelets.

Master of metal clay, Kate McKinnon shares a great, simple tutorial for metal clay head pins in her book Sculptural Metal Clay Jewelry: Techniques + Explorations.

Take a peek at how it’s done…

METAL CLAY HEAD PINS

(Excerpt from Sculptural Metal Jewelry)

A head pin is a length of wire, generally about 1″-4″ (2.5 go 10 cm), with a nail head, decorative ball, or sculptural end. Head pins are used for holding a bead or drilled stone in place for a dangle or moving part in a piece of finished jewelry, but sometimes, if they are sculptural, they’re lovely on their own.

Materials:
Fine silver metal clay
18, 16, or 14 gauge fine silver wire

Tools:
Flush cutters
Tumbler + mixed stainless steel shot
Nylon-jaw pliers

HOW TO

1. Cut a piece of wire as long as you’d like, plus at least 1/4″ (6 mm) for embedding; set aside.

2. Manipulate a bit of metal clay into a shape that pleases you and slide the wire into the shape. Embed the wire as far as practical, but at least ¼” (6 mm). Do not handle the wire after it’s inserted other than to lay it on your drying surface. Any manipulation of the wire in the hole before firing can open it up and prevent bonding in the kiln. Make several head pins with different ends, using different wire gauged for the embeds.

3. Let the head pins dry completely. When they are dry you should be able to pick them up by the wires without the ends wobbling because the metal clay should have shrunk around the wires as it dried. NOTE: If you accidentally disturb an embed and open the embed hole enough that the wire will not bond in the kiln, you have two options.

  • The first is to let the clay piece dry completely, roll a tiny snake of fresh clay, and stick it down into the hole to fill it. Re-embed your wire into the fresh clay, cleaning up the clay that squishes up out of the hole. Let it dry again completely before firing.
  • Second, you can replace your loosened wire with a piece of a larger gauge, one that fits tightly in the newly larger hole. Don’t attempt to reset a looser wire or fill holes with slip; slip is by nature molecularly thin, so doesn’t have as much silver in it as the actual clay does and won’t fill gaps or holes well.
How To Make Metal Clay Headpins

Greenware sculptural ends on fine silver wire, waiting to go into the kiln and emerge as handmade head pins, ball-end components, rivets, or sculptural one-pieces earrings.

4. Fire the head pins fully for 2 hours at 1650 degrees Fahrenheit (899 degrees Celsius).

POST FIRING

5. Work-harden the wires by tumbling the head pins for several hours overnight. Straighten the wires by holding the head pin’s body with your fingers or nylon-jaw pliers and using a second nylon-jaw plier to pull the wire straight. You can also use the metalsmithing trick of grabbing the embed of the wire with flat-nose pliers and twisting the end a quarter to a full turn. This is how ear posts and prongs are traditionally hardened. And it’s quite effective, especially in combination with tumbling.

How To Make Metal Clay Headpins

Finished handmade metal clay head pins.

To learn more about metal clay, we’ve put together a stellar collection that includes Kate’s eBook as well as other must-have techniques, findings, and projects.

-Kerry Bogert
Editorial Director, Books

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