7.22.2009

Behind the Scenes: Metal Clay Tools & Setup

metal clay tools setup hint jewelryMetal Clay Setup

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
Badger Balm
Rubber Stamps
Candle Warmer
Glad Cling Wrap
Plastic Water Container


art clay silver slow dryArt Clay Silver 650 Slow Dry (50 g)

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):



favorite metal clay tools hint jewelryMetal Clay Tools for Shaping

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.


metal clay rubber stamp mold hint jewelryMetal Clay Molds

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.


metal clay rubber stamp mold releaseMold Release

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.


metal clay candle warmer hint jewelryMetal Clay Dryer

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.


metal clay rubber stamp makers markChopmark

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.

16 comments:

  1. Hi Beth,

    I am loving this series, I am taking a PMC class in August so your timing is perfect. I am especially looking forward to the part about designing ones own stamps. Do you ever use molds?
    As usual thank you for your generosity.

    Anne

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  2. Thanks for the link to rubberstamps.net! I've been contemplating sending artwork to be made into rubber stamps, rather than carving stamps or making photopolymer plates like I often do. I'll give them a try.

    Your designs are nice -- I like the clean lines and the narrative for each!

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  3. AWESOME post!! I've been wanting to try PMC for awhile and this is so helpful! Great photos too!

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  4. Hi Beth,
    I've been intrigued by art clay for years and have been reluctant to dive in! I may have to just jump in as you make it look less scary and much more inviting! I use a similar process with clay so it looks a bit familiar! Thank you!

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  5. thank you so much for taking the time to do this! it is so fascinating to see what you are doing and using while you create... i love when people share this kind of info about themselves... you feel even more appreciation for each little treasure that is made...

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  6. Congratulations, Beth! You did it! Great explanations and pictures. One more thing to check off your list!

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  7. Great post, I wish my set up could be as organized :) I get a little crazy and start working on too many different projects at once.

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  8. Gardanne, you're going to love your PMC class. I wish you lots of fun. In the beginning I played around with some handmade polymer clay molds but abandoned them for the flexibility of rubber.

    Vickie, so glad you like the Rubberstamps.net. I love just being able to focus on production now instead of making sure my mold is tip top :)

    Bonzai and Gaea, if you try it you'll be hooked...just like being a kid with playdoh. Gaea, my process is very similar to how I created pressed ceramic tiles, so this would be so easy for you!

    Mary Jane, glad you are enjoying the look at how they come into being :)

    Thank you Barbara for tuning in and gently nudging me along my procrastination list!

    Sandra, you got to see the cleaned up version of my work space...maybe I need to shoot a video of the real mess at work. Oh that could be a fun blog exchange. Who works the messiest?

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  9. Oh, Beth this is so wonderful! Thank you so much for this informative post! What a generous heart you do have! Thank you, Thank you! I'm looking forward to the next installment. At current, I do not make molds or stamps for my pieces. I'm making everything one at a time my hand! Ugh! That was fine while I was still playing around and figuring things out and tweaking designs, but now that I have been working in clay for a few years, I have a few regular designs I like and want to repeat and make a lot of. I think your info. will translate well to ceramic clay. Thank you!

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  10. So glad this post was an inspiration to you, Erin! I haven't tried pressing porcelain into rubber stamp molds, so I'm curious to see if these would be an alternative to the plaster molds I used with ceramic tiles. My favorite ceramic book is "Handmade Tiles" by Frank Giorgini. The tiles I made used the method as exactly laid out in chapter 5 "Making and Using Open-Face Press Molds." Dreaded making plaster molds, so it would be cool if rubber would work :)

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  11. Thanks so much Beth!!!

    What perfect timing I have wanted to play in PMC for a long time but have just not had all my ducks in a row. Now I have all the time I want so I've been seriously feeling the pull. The thing that has been holding me back is that absolutly none of the supplies are available here, so I would have to have them "muled down her :) Ahhhh but when has something as little as that stopped me from doing art. Your tutorial series will be so helpful for me to evaluate the difficulties of taking on a new obsession :)

    I can't wait for your next post!
    Pattie ;)
    Mazatlan Mx.

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  12. Great informative post - really enjoyed looking at your blog!

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  13. Beth, it's so much fun to see your process. I've often wondered if you had carved your charms, made molds or did photopolymer plates. It's very generous of you to give us a peek!

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  14. Beth, I'm looking forward to this series! One of my favourite things is a little peek into an artist's creative process. It is a very generous sharing. Thank you. LeAnn

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  15. Thank you for sharing, Beth! I am saving up for a kiln and this post is so helpful. Love to see your process and which tools etc. work for you.

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  16. I love the precious metal clay charms and was wondering how they were made. Thank you for this great post!

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