Behind the Scenes: Precious Metal Clay Safety

I will always remember March 2010 as my wake up call. The moment I finally decided to start taking art safety seriously and to listen to my body.

I've always been a bit lax on safety issues even when it comes to simple household chores that could become hazardous. Call me lazy or just plain stubborn it wasn't until a recent development of iritis in my left eye that I started to look into how I may have been contributing to my illness by using poor work habits when making precious metal clay charms.

I owe a gigantic "Thank You" to metal clay artist Kate McKinnon for taking the initiative to dialog about art safety and create this wonderfully informative video on safe handling of metal clay. She also has a page on metal clay that offers more detailed information on what might be a potentially dangerous practice.

After reading and watching Kate McKinnon's video, I realized that there were three areas where I could make my working conditions safer. Here were my problem areas and the solutions that I will be implementing over the next month:

Problem: Inhaling dust when sanding and filing and potentially getting particles in my eyes.

Solution: I purchased a better dust respirator that deals specifically with fine particulates and a new set of safety glasses. I created a new work space in my garage for sanding and filing that will have better ventilation and will be out of my family's primary living space. I may install a fan to suck dust out of my work space. I will become more conscious of creating charms that require less sanding and filing.

Problem: Poor kiln ventilation.

Solution: I will begin firing the kiln outside.

Problem: Absorbing heavy metal through my skin when working with clay.

Solution: I purchased a skin barrier called Bio-Safe Without Gloves for Artists that may protect me from absorbing heavy metals through my hands (this is not advertised as a benefit of the product, but I am testing this out as a possible solution). I also purchased some snug fitting, durable garden gloves that might be another option. I find it almost impossible to make charms without the use of skin to clay contact because they are so small and delicate. This is the most frustrating part, so I'm sure I will be experimenting with washing my hands more frequently and limiting my exposure time.

Hope you have been taking good care of yourself when it comes to making art, and if you can share any possible solutions to improving my working conditions your expertise would be greatly appreciated!


  1. i am guilty of the same thing - but my offenders (or to be accurate, i am the offender) are los and pcb etchant.. i dispose of them properly, it is how i expose my body that i take too lightly... thank you beth - and do take care of your self!

  2. Beth,
    Kate McK was my first PMC teacher several years ago - we were automatically taught how to use the clay, clean edges without filing and proper firing/ventilation. I didn't know any other way until I started reading about other "famous" teachers torch firing/under firing, file, etc. I later had a class with one of those teachers and when she had the kiln running in the classroom and I got a headache from the fumes, I understood Kate's crusade. It's unfortunate she is in the minority in the MC community.
    Kudos to you for recognizing and taking the proper safety steps - you want to be around a long time to create those lovely charms you make!
    sandi m

  3. Glad this post gave you pause for reflection on your own safety methods, Mary Jane. Etchant is particularly nasty, so I wishing you health and well being.

    Sandi, How cool that you were taught all the basics by Kate. She seems like such a caring person. I feel lucky to have found her video and listened!


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