8.12.2009

Behind the Scenes: Firing Metal Clay Using a Kiln

unfired silver metal clay charmsMetal Clay Charms Waiting to be Fired

After I clean up my metal clay charms with files and a baby wipe, they are ready to transform into pure silver. In the photo, I've arranged the charms on a kiln shelf like cookies ready to go into the oven.

Maybe that's why this process appeals to me, because firing charms feels a lot like baking yummy cookies!


When I decided to switch from ceramics to metal clay, it was a done deal that I was going to purchase a kiln instead of a torch, because I was confident my investment would eventually pay off. My belief is that buying the best tools and materials will eventually be a heck of a lot less hassle then something that may break down, provides inconsistent results, or requires too much time and attention. After beginning my journey with art 20 years ago, I still have some of my first tools that will be going strong after another 40 years, so my tendency is to think long term.

I also like to multiply my potential for doing a variety of techniques, so I went with a kiln that gives me the opportunity to fire metal clay, porcelain, and glass. I did a lot of research online and spoke to different vendors to figure out what kiln was the best for me. The kilns I liked most were made by Paragon and Skutt.

After all my long research, I ended up buying a Paragon kiln because it seemed to give me the most flexibility in firing temperature, and I liked how it was built. The model I bought is called XPRESS-Q11A and has the ability to work with silver clay, bronz clay, enameling, glass fusing, porcelain, and lost wax casting.

I purchased this kiln from BigCeramicStore.com, because I think they were offering a better price and cheaper shipping. I also bought a shelf kit, which allows me to double this kiln's capacity. This came in handy during Christmas, when I was firing 60-70 charms at one time.


tools for firing metal claySafety Tools for Removing & Cooling Hot Silver

Because I need to make my charms quickly, I like to press, fire, and tumble all on the same day. This requires that I remove the charms from the kiln before they are cooled. To facilitate this process while the charms are hot, I wear welding gloves that are extremely heat resistant, jewelers tweezers to lift them out one by one, and a stainless steel pan filled with cold water to quench the charms. You can find heavy duty gloves at any local welding shop and fine tweezers at a beading store. The stainless steel pan was one of my kitchen castaways that lost its handle.


Always follow your metal clay and kiln manufacturer's instructions for firing and safety precautions. I use Art Clay Silver 650 with a hold time is 10 minutes, but the whole cycle takes about 30-40 minutes to complete. I love being able to press clay in the morning and by late afternoon I have a group of silver charms. If you have ever done lost wax casting, this will blow your mind as to the simplicity and efficiency of the process.

For the full scoop on Hint Jewelry's process, be sure to check out my weekly blog series called Behind the Scenes.

13 comments:

  1. Gosh you sure cook a lot at once! How productive! Is it the same when you make cookies?

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  2. Thank you so much Beth,

    Each one of your tutorials seems to make the whole process understandable and easy to follow. Hmmmmm now to figure out a way to talk LW into a two day trip to the border. :)

    Pattie ;)
    Mazatlan Mx.

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  3. Beth - I love this info! I would really love to try this someday, so maybe I will!

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  4. Thanks for this series Beth, I have really enjoyed your tips. I just finished a two day PMC workshop, and I think I am hooked. I made lentils and I would like to make some findings to go with my lampwork. Can't wait to try the copper clay.

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  5. I completely agree with buying the 'best' for tools, especially when it comes to kilns. A kiln will be with you for a long time and you might as well make it multi-task. Having said that, I have 4 kilns, each with their own multi-task jobs. BTW, thanks for sharing your metal clay techniques with all of us. I've learned a lot and and am most appreciative. Cheers, LeAnn

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  6. I am just amazed at how similar it is to clay! I'm thinking I may test the water with some copper or bronze clay! I am so enjoying your tutorial! Thank you so much for being so generous with your knowledge! Wonderful!

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  7. I have been itching to work with metal clay, but I would be firing with a torch. I think that you're concept of thinking toward the future about what would be a worthwhile investment is a great idea. But for me, living in my little one bedroom apartment, a torch seem a bit more feasable. Thanks for the 'behind the scenes' look!

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  8. Hi Beth!
    I just wanted to say that I am really enjoying reading about this process! It's fascinating! Doesn't want to make me run out and buy one of those big fancy kilns but I do appreciate the work that goes into each one of your little beautiful charms, that much more!!

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  9. Hi Beth, this post is so informative, I wanted to thank you for putting time into the research on kilns. I'll have to recommend this to ACS fans!

    --Dave
    at Rings & Things

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  10. Thanks everyone for enjoying this post and keeping my enthusiasm for the series going strong!

    Dave, so glad you checked in and found it useful for ACS fans :)

    Lorelei, thanks for reminding how people value knowing about the work of making something. Sometimes I forget its magical quality!

    Niki, have fun with a torch! It looks like a blast and people seem to get excellent results.

    Gaea, your style would be killer in any metal clay, so I'll keep hoping you try it out soon!! A tiny mermaid in copper with a greenish patina, yum :)

    LeAnn, 4 kilns...okay you are too cool! I love a gal who's not afraid to love up her tools :)

    Gardanne, so glad you had fun with PMC and are digging the idea of COPPR clay. I've been loving watching the results of that medium. The color is so lush.

    Ruth, I've got this idiosyncratic behavior that requires efficiency in everything I do...think assembly line. Unfortunately, not so with the cookies :(

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  11. Beth, this is so incredibly informative, thank you! I really, really enjoy hearing the "how I make this" stories, it opens up little windows for me into the lives of artists like you, their techniques....all trite stuff I know (what I am saying) but I am just excited, like a little kids, to see your photos and read your descriptions...thanks again!!!

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  12. Beth, thanks for sharing and being so giving with your deep knowledge. I bought a package of PMC3 last weekend and can't wait to dive in and play, I've never made myself a ring to wear and I want to do that next. Even though I'm a tool fool sometimes, I only have one kiln for the glass and metal but it's a Paragon also. I've had it a long time and it's very reliable.

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  13. Thanks so much NighBluey for your enthusiasm! Sometimes I get caught up in the process, I forget how endearing it is to watch a crafts person at work. You prompted me to remember going to living history museums and watching people dip candles, weave blankets, make pottery, etc. There is such a joy in watching things being made!

    Lynn, what fun that you are ready to play with PMC. Love having a tool fool for a friend! I look forward to seeing your ring and thanks for reassuring me that your Paragon has been a reliable kiln.

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I'd love for you to share your ideas and stories on my blog! Please know that I may not always be able to e-mail you a direct response, so be sure to check back to my blog and continue the dialogue. Many blessings for connecting with me through word and image :)