Welcome to my new Behind the Scenes blog series that shows how I create handcrafted silver charms for Hint Jewelry! You can look forward to posts that include resources, tips, and tricks that demonstrate how I transform metal clay into fine silver charms.
The above photo shows all the tools I use to press and sculpt metal clay. There are many steps to this process so stay tuned as I wander through this wonderful technique for turning simple relief designs into precious silver.
Beth's Preferred Tools for Metal Clay
Art Clay Silver 650 Slow Dry (50 grams)
Various Clay Tools
Glad Cling Wrap
Plastic Water Container
What is metal clay? Check out this short Metal Clay article on About.com to understand this wonderful medium in more detail.
I've tried a variety of metal clay brands, but my all time favorite for this particular process has been Art Clay Silver 650 Slow Dry. My reason for choosing Art Clay is that I love the consistency when I'm squishing it with my hands. Also, because each charm takes anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes to mold, I appreciate having that extra time available for keeping the clay moist.
I buy all my metal clay online in bulk so as reduce expenses. I rarely shop at the same store twice because the price of Art Clay Silver is always changing. Nevertheless, if you are trying this medium out for the first time you may find metal clay at your local beading and jewelry shop. Here are some of the places online that sell Art Clay and PMC (Precious Metal Clay):
Everybody has their own special tools for working clay, and I've narrowed down my stash to these fabulous four: a brass metal tube for making holes, spatula for molding wax sculpture, clay shaper, and ceramic needle tool (left to right).
Each tool came to me during different endeavors, but most stores that carry supplies for sculpting in ceramic, metal clay, or wax will offer similar products. You can find small brass tubing at your local hardware store or hobby shop. I found this tube (size 1/16 x .014) at a model railroad shop and then used my jeweler's saw to cut off a 1 inch section. To clean out the clay from the tube, I slide a piece of 22 gauge beading wire through the hole.
All my charms are pressed in molds that are individually designed rubber stamps. After spending years being obsessed with mold making, I decided to save myself some time and frustration and get professional rubber molds made for Hint Jewelry's charms. In a later post, I will explain the process for turning a simple drawing into a rubber stamp mold.
All the designs for my molds are sent to Rubberstamps.net because they have a quick turnaround time, consistent quality, electronic design upload, and a variety of sizes to choose from.
All molds need a type of release agent that will allow clay to lift out cleanly without damage to your design. I love Badger Balm! Some people have recommended olive oil, but for my pressing process, I've found that Badger Balm is less messy and adds just the right amount of grease to the molds. Over time my rubber molds build up a bit of a seasoning so charms lift out easier.
Frequently metal clay supply stores carry Badger Balm, but you can also find it at these local stores: New Seasons Market, Whole Foods Market, REI, Henry's Farmers Market, and Cracker Barrel. Go to Badger Balm's store locator to find something near you.
I use a Cling Wrap to keep the rest of my clay supply from drying out as I work each charm, and I place a handy plastic cup of water nearby to wet tools and fingers as I clean up the edges of my sculpted metal clay charms.
I can press and fire charms all in one day, because I have this cool candle jar warmer that dries out my metal clay charms super fast. I've seen some people use appetizer warming trays, but frankly it only takes about 5 to 10 minutes on this bad boy and the clay is completely dry. I bought it for around $8.00 at my local Michaels arts and crafts store.
Lastly, if you want to start branding your work, be sure to invest in a tiny chopmark with your name and/or logo. I used Rubberstamps.net to create this mold for my Hint Jewelry chopmark, using their 1/2" wooden stamp.