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Metal Clay Materials, Tools, Supplies and Equipment

Margaret Schindel is a jewelry artist and internationally known expert on metal clay techniques. PMC certified in 2006 by Celie Fago.


Which Materials, Tools, Supplies and Equipment Belong in Your Metal Clay Toolkit?

The truth is that you can start working with metal clay with relatively little in the way of materials, tools, supplies, and equipment. Fine silver metal clay has the shortest list of requirements—the metal clay itself, a few playing cards, a length of PVC pipe, some plastic food wrap, a darning needle or craft knife, a butane kitchen torch, and a soldering pad or kiln shelf. But if you want to work with other types of metal clay—gold clay, bronze clay, copper clay, steel clay, brass clay—you'll need some additional materials, tools, supplies, and equipment. Then, beyond the basics, there are are nice-to-have items that can give you more creative options, let you work faster/easier, and/or help you produce more professional results.

Every metal clay artist has his or her own list of recommended tools and supplies for working with metal clay. As the former Senior Editor and Technical Editor of Metal Clay Artist Magazine and a metal clay artist, I'm often asked my opinion about which items are must-have, nice-to-have and would-love-to-have items. In this article I'll share with you the materials, tools, supplies and equipment I find especially valuable in creating metal clay art.

Basic Materials (Required)

The only required material is metal clay, although you may want to add other materials discussed in subsequent sections.

Individual product images courtesy of Art Clay World USA and Rio Grande

Individual product images courtesy of Art Clay World USA and Rio Grande

Silver Clay

If you wish to work in silver, purchase fine silver, sterling silver or enriched sterling silver clay, either in a ready-to-use lump form or in powdered form (easily mixed with water to form lump clay) in your choice of brand or formula. You may also wish to purchase syringe clay in a compatible formula. Fine silver sheet or paper type clay, while optional, is useful for bezels and cutting or punching out applique.embellishments.

Buying prepared plain silver clay paste is optional, since you can easily mix up as much as you need for any project simply by mashing in the desired quantity of water a drop or two at a time into lump clay. The new formula of Art Clay Silver paste has some of the properties of its old "oil paste" product and can be used to join silver metal to silver metal. You can also mix up silver clay oil paste that can be used for extra-strong joints on either unfired or fired metal clay (or metal) by diluting certain brands of silver lump clay with water and pure essential lavender oil (or certain other essential oils) or with Sherri Haab's PasteMaker solution. See my article on how to make homemade metal clay oil paste for more information.

Base Metal Clay

Bronze, white bronze, rose bronze, copper, steel, pearl gray steel, etc., in your preferred brand and formula. Popular brands and formulas include Metal Adventures' BRONZclay, FASTfire BRONZclay, and COPPRclay, Goldie Bronze bronze clay in several formulas, Art Clay Copper, Hadar's Clay powdered clays in a wide range of metals and formulas, Metal Mania Metal Clay bronze, copper and brass clay, Météor bronze and copper clay, NobleClay bronze and copper clay formulas, and Prometheus bronze clay. Aussie Metal Clays recently introduced eight different base metal clay formulas that are flexible when dry and were formulated specifically for use with the Sillhouette CAMEO or Portrait electronic cutting machines.

A note about flexible formulas for use with the Silhouette or similar cutting machines: I purchased a Silhouette CAMEO after seeing some of the exquisite work done by renowned artists like Wanaree Tanner. The ability to create intricately pierced designs, tiny cut-outs for appliqué and gallery wire style bezels for stone setting and/or to etch the surface of pieces or components before firing opens up nearly endless design possibilities. However, it is important to use a clay formula that retains some flexibility when dry. While it is possible to add glycerine to add flexibility, getting the proportions right can be tricky. So if you either own or plan to acquire one of these cutting machines, consider using one of the commercial flex clay formulas for that purpose.

My article on BRONZclay provides extensive information about working with the original BRONZclay formula. For more information about other bronze clay brands and formulas, see my article on Bronze Metal Clay for Jewelry Making and Sculpture.

Basic Materials (Optional)

Materials such as cubic zirconia (CZ) or inexpensive manmade gemstones, dichroic (or other) glass cabochons, wire, bezel cups and/or prong stone settings, jewelry findings, resin and other materials that can add color to your pieces are optional, but they can be extremely useful and will expand your design options considerably.

CZ Stones or Inexpensive Lab-Created Gemstones

Most, but not all, CZs (cubic zirconia) can be fired in place successfully, as can many lab-created or synthetic stones. Both can give the look of gemstones without the expense and come in faceted and cabochon cuts in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Be sure to buy from a reputable supplier who can tell you whether the stones are safe to fire in place and whether they require specific firing methods or conditions to survive the heat and/or prevent changing color.

Dichroic Glass Cabochons

Dichroic or other glass cabochons can be fired in some types of metal clay at certain firing schedules, or you can create a setting in your piece and set them after firing. If you fire them in place, be sure to use a firing schedule suitable for glass and leave enough space around the cabs to allow for the clay to shrink without putting too much pressure on the glass as it cools.

Wire, Bezel Cups, Stone Settings and Jewelry Findings

If you are making jewelry or other pieces set with gemstones that cannot be fired in place, or if you just like the look of non-clay settings, you can embed fine silver bezel wire, bezel cups or wire (to be bent into prongs) into silver clay. If you are making jewelry, you also may want or need commercial jewelry findings if you aren't going to make all your own findings. These may include brooch/pin backs, earring findings, clasps, etc. You can solder jewelry findings to your pieces after they have been fired. There are also jewelry findings in different metals that are designed to be embedded and fired in place in different types of metal clay. Metal Clay Findings is one brand; Embeddables is another.

Epoxy or U/V Resin

U/V resin or epoxy resin can be used to fill metal clay bezels. U/V resin must be cured either in direct sunlight or under a U/V light, such as a U/V nail lamp, or direct sunlight to cure. You can cut a photo, photocopy, magazine image, drawing, painting or other image to size to fit just inside the bezel, seal it completely on both sides with clear packing tape or Mod Podge, and then add a small amount of resin to the bezel, smooth the sealed image over it and add more resin to fill the bezel. Note: If using Mod Podge, allow each side of the sealed image to dry thoroughly before embedding it in resin. You can pour resin in a bezel in thin layers and embed other items that do not contain any moisture (e.g., dried flowers, herbs, charms, glitter, lace, fabric), letting each layer dry before adding the next if you want to embed the items at different depths. You can also combine these two techniques, embedding a photo in a layer of resin, letting it dry and then adding more layers of resin embedded with other items. Resin may be tinted with various colorants or purchased in ready-to-use colors.

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Materials to Add Color

You may want to use enamel, glass paints, metal paints, polymer clay, colored pencils, beads or other materials to add colorful elements to your fired metal clay designs.

Luxury Materials

Gold metal clay, foil or other accents and high-quality natural and lab-created gemstones can add luxurious accents to your designs, especially if you will be making jewelry.

Individual product images courtesy of Art Clay World USA and Rio Grande

Individual product images courtesy of Art Clay World USA and Rio Grande

Gold Materials

PMC Gold or Art Clay Gold 22K Gold Clay

22K gold clay is a fabulous material, but unfortunately using it for an entire piece of jewelry isn't practical or cost-effective for most metal clay artists. Fortunately, a little goes a long way, and using even a small amount to create bezels, small balls, or other embellishments on a silver clay design can make a big impact. Because of the extremely high cost and limited demand, few metal clay suppliers keep it in stock any more, but many will special order it for you.

Art Clay Gold Paste

This ready-to-use, commercially available 22K gold thick metal clay slip can be applied to fired silver clay, glass or ceramic and then kiln fired.