Behind the Scenes: Firing Metal Clay Using a Kiln
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.
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.
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.