Margaret Schindel is a jewelry artist and internationally known expert on metal clay techniques. PMC certified in 2006 by Celie Fago.
More and more people—from hobbyists to world-renowned artists—are using precious metal clay (PMC and art clay silver and gold) to create fine jewelry, small sculptures, and other objets d'art in .999 silver and 22K gold, often with accents of dichroic and other art glass, porcelain, gemstones, and even pure 24K gold. With the recent introductions of base metal clays (bronze clay and copper clay), metal clay artists now have the ability to create jewelry and other items in bronze, white bronze, copper and steel as well.
Increased awareness, acceptance, and adoption of metal clay as a unique and valuable artistic medium has created a growing market for products, tools and publications for metal clay artisans. New uses for old products are being discovered and marketed to metal clay artists and enthusiasts. Manufacturers are developing innovative new products specifically to meet the needs of metal clay artisans. Magazines are adding more content devoted to metal clay-related information and projects. And many of the world's top metal clay artists and instructors are coming out with new books.
As an experienced metal clay jewelry artist, author of numerous metal clay techniques articles, and the senior editor and technical editor of Metal Clay Artist Magazine, I am often asked for my opinions about specific products and/or my recommendations on what to buy. I have read most of the books on metal clay that have been published to date, and I have used many (probably most) of the metal clay tools and supplies on the market. This article will not cover all of them, or even all the ones I like and recommend. Instead, I will be reviewing selected products that I have chosen for their unusual effectiveness, usefulness, or unique properties and benefits. I hope you'll find my reviews helpful!
The Metal Clay Product Reviews Are Based On My Personal Experience as a Metal Clay Artist
Forgive me for stating the obvious: These reviews express my personal opinions, experiences and observations about products I've used. Your mileage may vary, and my preferred products may not appeal to you at all.
Also, despite my best efforts to provide accurate, up-to-date information, there's always a chance that something here might be incorrect or out of date. Feel free to bring factual inaccuracies to my attention. I will try to verify the relevant information and correct it here ASAP.
I hope these product reviews will provide you with valuable information and insights to help you make informed buying choices.
Sherri Haab PasteMaker Solution
For many years, I made metal cay oil paste with pure essential lavender oil, which worked well enough for that purpose. So, when Sherri Haab launched her PasteMaker solution, I didn't see the value in buying a specialty product to replace lavender oil for making metal clay oil paste. It wasn't until my highly respected colleague Wanaree Tanner started raving about it that I ordered a bottle. After the first time I tried it, I started raving about it, too.
- Metal clay oil paste made with Sherri Haab PasteMaker is stickier and has better "grab" than regular slip with added lavender oil. That makes it easier to attach components - especially ones that are placed on a curve or at an angle—and have them stay properly aligned while the oil paste dries.
- Once oil paste made with PasteMaker solution has dried, it is stronger and less than dried lavender oil paste. Both this and the stickiness are important advantages when repairing broken pieces or attaching new elements. And because the are more secure, especially on unfired metal clay, and the dried slip is more durable, it can easily be refined with needle files, sandpaper or sanding pads or sponges before firing.
- After firing, repairs are more durable than those made with metal clay lavender oil paste.
- Oil paste made with PasteMaker solution has a smoother, creamier texture than paste made with lavender oil. This makes it easier to apply and control for joins or repairs.
- Like lavender oil paste, slip made with Sherri Haab PasteMaker solution can be used to make attachments or repairs to both unfired and fired metal clay. It can be used to join partially dry, fully dry, or already fired silver clay components, either to each other or to fine silver wire, findings, or sheet. Bronze or copper clay PasteMaker oil paste pieces can be used to join moist or dry clay pieces, and to repair fired pieces.
I don't know the secret to PasteMaker's effectiveness. I'm guessing that it somehow helps the slip penetrate into the pores of both unfired and fired metal clay better than lavender oil, giving it superior holding power on pieces to be attached or repaired. However it works, it does a fantastic job.
None that I can think of.
Cool Tools Clay Rolling Frames and Clay Rollers
I purchased Cool Tools Clay Rolling Frames many years ago, when they first came out. I now own them in both the regular and jumbo sizes and find them much more accurate and even than using stacks of playing cards or color coded plastic slats for rolling uniform sheets or slabs of metal clay. There's no reason you couldn't use them to roll out polymer clay, especially if you don't own a clay-dedicated pasta machine. I've even used mine for rolling out slabs of two-part silicone molding compound into flat, even slabs for creating my own flexible texture sheets.
- More even, uniform sheets or slabs of clay. When you use stacks of playing cards, plastic rolling slats, or other thickness spacers for rolling out sheets of clay, if you use firm pressure there's a good chance that the two edges of the clay where the thickness spacers end will be thinner than the center section. Cool Tools Clay Rolling Frames maintain the thickness on all four edges of the clay and keeps your roller completely level across the entire surface of the clay.
- More even, uniform depth of texture. Maintaining a uniform space between the roller, the clay and the texture across the entire surface results in an impression of uniform depth throughout the entire sheet.
- Roll longer slabs of clay. Standard playing cards are only 3.5" long. The regular size Cool Tools Clay Rolling Frames (outer dimension: 4" x 7") are perfect for rolling clay onto Cool Tools Texture Tiles (approximately 2" x 4") or any texture of a similar, smaller or even slightly larger size. The extra-large Jumbo Clay Thickness Rolling Frames (outside dimension: 8-1/2" x 8-5/8") allow you to roll and texture long, wide slabs, e.g., for making cuff bracelets, large necklace centerpieces, metal clay bezel strips, etc.
- Quickly and easily roll clay from 2 to 28 cards thick! I don't know of any project that requires a slab that thick, but you'd need two decks of playing cards to make stacks that tall. The standard size includes 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 card thick frames, so you can stack them to make any thickness from 2 to 28 cards. The jumbo size comes in 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 card thick, to roll sheets from 2 to 20 cards thick.
- More durable than playing cards. Playing cards are made of thin, coated paper stock, and they tend to warp or even swell up with moisture over time. And if clay or paste gets on them, they're not easy to clean. By contrast, these plastic rolling frames don't warp or swell, and cleaning off stray bits of metal clay or paste is a snap.
- Numbered for ease of use. Each rolling frame is permanently marked with its card thickness. So the 2 cards thick frame is marked #2, the 3 cards thick frame is marked #3, etc.
- Easy to store. Since you need only one rolling frame to roll out a sheet of clay, a stacked set of all six frames takes up less storage space than a deck (or two) of cards.
- More expensive than playing cards. A deck of playing cards is fairly inexpensive compared to the cost of an entire set of rolling frames. However, if you tend to make pieces that are rolled out at the same one or two thicknesses, you can buy individual rolling frames just in those sizes.
- Only the set designed for use with the Silhouette Curio electronic cutting machine includes a 1 card thick frame. Few situations call for clay rolled to only 1 card thick. However, if you are making bezel strips or appliqué cutouts to layer over a thicker sheet, for example, you may want your sheet to be rolled that thin. In those situations, you can make your own very thin rolling frame for your set. Cover a sheet of either bulletin board paper or thin construction paper on both sides with clear, self-adhesive film, then using one of the Cool Tools rolling frames as a template, cut around it with a scalpel or sharp craft knife. See Wanaree Tanner's YouTube video tutorial for Metal Clay Artist Magazine, below, for more detailed instructions on creating this extra-thin rolling frame for making metal clay bezel strips.
- The jumbo size frames require a longer clay roller. A typical 6" long clay roller can be used with the smaller, narrower rolling frames, although it will overlap only the inner edges of the frame, so a 7-inch roller is a better option. For the wider, jumbo size frames, you'll need either a 10-inch or 11-inch roller.
Read More From Feltmagnet
My favorite rollers to use, with or without with these rolling frames, are the Cool Tools 7-inch and 11-inch Ultimate Non-Stick Rollers and Wonder Rollers (also nonstick). The Ultimate Non-Stick Rollers are slimmer, while the wider Wonder Rollers are hollow with removable end caps, so they can be used to store needle files, pin tools, salon boards, and other clay tools between work sessions.
Wanaree Tanner Video Tutorial for Making a Thin Rolling Frame and Metal Clay Bezel Wire
UltraLite Beehive Kiln (120V) Product Review
This small, relatively inexpensive, versatile kiln can be a smart investment for metal clay artists. It's useful not only for firing small-to-medium sized metal clay pieces but also for keum-boo, enameling, glass fusing, silver fusing, and granulation.
The UltraLite Beehive Kiln from JEC Products, Inc. is a multi-use "trinket kiln" that's extremely useful for metal clay artisans. It's more versatile than torch-firing and less expensive than buying a full-size kiln. Best of all, it's a purchase you won't outgrow even after you purchase a full-size kiln (or if you own one already), because you'll still use the UltraLite for enameling and for keum-boo (an ancient method of diffusion bonding 24k gold foil to silver metal, using heat and pressure). If you buy the optional temperature controller, you can also use it for granulation, fusing silver, and fusing glass.
It's common for metal clay newbies to fire low-fire silver clay with an inexpensive butane kitchen torch. The trade-off for choosing the least expensive firing equipment is that it limits what you can make to fairly small, thin pieces, since the flame of a butane torch is not wide enough to keep the entire mass of a piece that's larger or thicker than a U.S. quarter (coin) at the temperature, and for the length of time, needed for full sintering.
By contrast, an UltraLite Beehive Kiln allows you to properly sinter larger and thicker pieces than you can with a torch. And, since it can also be used for enameling, granulation, and applying pure gold to your silver pieces using the keum-boo method, it can continue to earn a place in your studio even if you decide to purchase a full-size kiln.
- The UltraLite is significantly less expensive than most full-size kilns.
As of this writing (November 2020), the UltraLite Beehive Kiln costs less than $200. The upgraded UltraLite Studio Kiln model, which provides a larger firing surface and is more durable and energy efficient, currently sells for less than $250. A set of three of the ceramic inserts needed for firing metal clay, runs around $21. Later, if and when you need or want them, you can add other accessories for your UltraLite kiln, such as the set of two red brass covers for keum-boo, a temperature controller, a flat cover for enameling large pieces, a heavy-duty extension cord, etc., if and when you need them. The total cost of ownership for an UltraLite kiln is extremely reasonable, especially compared to the most popular metal clay kiln, the digitally-controlled Paragon SC2 kiln, which currently sells for roughly $900, depending on the configuration.
- The UltraLite beehive kiln uses much less electricity than a full-size kiln, and costs about 7 times less to run.
In an e-mail exchange with JEC Products' John Chabrian some years ago, he told me that "The UltraLite uses only 250 Watts of electricity compared to the 1700 Watts used by the larger box kilns. This equates to operating costs that are 7 times lower."
- The UltraLite enables you to fire larger, thicker and more complex pieces than you can with a torch.
You can fire bigger metal clay pieces with a higher degree of confidence that they will be sintered fully without being melted by the flame accidentally (assuming you have done the recommended firing test)..
- The UltraLite has multiple additional uses for metal clay and jewelry artists beyond just firing metal clay.
It also can be used for enameling, keum-boo, fusing glass, fusing silver, and granulation. (Some of these require the use of the optional temperature controller.) And with the addition of the optional Flat Cover, which raises the temperature of the kiln by 100°F, it can be used to fire larger enameled pieces.
- It's the best, easiest, most reliable heat source for keum-boo application.
The UltraLite kiln with the red brass covers designed by Celie Fago for keum-boo application makes the process nearly foolproof. It's cooler (if you face the kiln opening away from you) than a hotplate and achieves and maintains the perfect temperature for diffusion bonding the gold to fine silver effortlessly. With the high prices of precious metals, it's especially important to have a heat source that helps to produce perfect results every time. (Just remember to burnish well and check those edges!)
- A second ceramic insert disc placed on the lid can be used as a drying surface for your metal clay pieces while the UltraLite kiln preheats.
10 minutes usually is enough to dry most pieces this way. You don't need a separate mug warmer, and it provides extra insurance that no moisture is left in pieces that have been air-dried (with or without a dehydrator).
- The UltraLite needs only 15 minutes recovery time between firings.
When you fire metal clay in the UltraLite, you place a ceramic insert (waffle-textured side down) over the heating element, cover with the domed lid and preheat the kiln for 45 minutes before adding your metal clay greenware. After you fire and remove your piece, if you want to do another firing, just replace the cover for 15 minutes to bring it back to full firing temperature.
- You can fire the UltraLite on virtually any flat surface next to an electrical outlet.
Many people use the kiln on their kitchen counters. Just put it on a heat-proof surface - a large ceramic tile, an insulated counter protector, etc. - and put another heat-proof surface next to it so you can set down the hot lid, hot tools, etc.
- The UltraLite doesn't offer the same temperature range or control of full-size kilns.
The UltraLite Beehive Kiln with the ceramic inserts for metal clay fires at approximately 1550°F, depending on the voltage in your area (110V-120V in the US), so it's not suitable for firing most base metal clays. And for certain applications, you'll need optional accessories to permit temperature adjustments. For example, to use it for keum-boo (and it's perfect for that application), you'll need to buy the red brass covers, which will lower the temperature to approximately 775°F-835°F. If you want to fire pieces with cork clay armatures, or fire heat-sensitive stones embedded in low-fire silver clay, fuse glass or do silver granulation, you will need to purchase the optional temperature controller that allows you to control the temperature range based on percentages of the kiln's maximum temperature. An optional Flat Cover is available that can be used in place of the regular domed cover to raise the firing temperature by 100°F. It was designed to provide additional heat for firing large enamels.
- The firing temperature is approximate.
This is because electricity in the US can vary from 110-120 volts, which has an effect on the maximum temperature of the kiln. (Note: There is a 230V version available for non-US users from JEC's international distributors.) Depending on the voltage in your area, firing with the lid on could raise the temperature enough to melt metal clay, especially if you're also using the optional Flat Cover. For that reason, it's advisable to do a firing test on a piece of scrap (fine silver or metal clay) to determine whether you can fire with the lid on without melting your silver. See the "Tips" section, below.
- The power cord is extremely short.
Although it is preferable not to use an extension cord with this kiln, an extension cord for the UltraLite is a practical necessity in many studios. If you do use one, it must be heavy-duty (minimum 16-gauge wires), with a 3-pronged plug, and a maximum of 6 feet long. Alternatively, you can use a heavy-duty power strip with the shortest cord as you can find. The optional temperature controller also can serve as an extension cord.
- The UltraLite can't accommodate extremely large, thick or volumetric pieces in a single firing.
However, you can fire without the cover and fire multiple times, turning the piece to a different side for each firing to ensure that the entire piece has been sintered properly.
Note: If you use the kiln often, eventually you will need to replace the heating element, so it's good to have a spare on hand. You can purchase a replacement heating element directly from JEC Products.
Tips for Using the UltraLite Beehive Kiln
- Test-fire some scrap to avoid melting your metal clay masterpieces!
Since variations in electricity can cause variations in temperature depending on where your kiln in plugged in, do yourself a favor and test-fire in the preheated kiln with the lid on either 1) a scrap of fine silver sheet or wire for 20 minutes or 2) a small scrap of metal clay for 30 minutes. If at the end of the test-firing period the silver glows orange-red, it's OK to fire metal clay with the lid on. If it starts to shimmer (like mercury), the silver is starting to melt, so you'll need to fire your metal clay with the lid off.
- Use caution - and a pair of heatproof tweezers - to place your metal clay pieces in the preheated kiln.
The ceramic disc gets extremely hot and touching it accidentally could cause a serious burn.
- Instructions for using the MiniPhaser Temperature Control:
Cover the kiln and plug it into the Control, adjust dial to 100% for 30 minutes, then adjust to desired temperature setting.
55% = 830°F Burning out cork clay prior to firing
60% = 1110°F Firing metal clay with gems
65% = 1300°F Firing PMC3 or Art Clay Silver 650
85% = 1490°F Firing PMC+ or Art Clay Silver
100% = 1550°F Enameling, keum-boo
Source: JEC Products web site
Celie Fago is the definitive authority on keum-boo on silver metal clay. Her book Keum-Boo on Silver is a must-have if you plan to do keum-boo. Be sure to get the updated and revised edition.
Metal Clay Findings/Crafted Findings - Product Line Review
Metal Clay Findings is a company with a single focus: providing innovative findings that meet the specific needs of metal clay artisans. Because the company has developed quite a number of unique and useful products (and continues to do so), I've chosen to review the entire product line rather than writing individual reviews for just a few of their products.
Owner Anthony Squillacci, Jr. has worked for more than 32 years in his family's highly regarded manufacturing business, which produces metal jewelry findings, stamping, tubing, etc. He is extremely knowledgeable about the manufacture of jewelry findings, and he carries on the family tradition with this extremely high-quality line of fine silver metal clay findings made in the U.S.A.
Since its inception, the company has introduced many innovative products for use with metal clay. At the time of this writing, their product line includes: