5 Great Tips for Working With Metal Clay

  1. Lubricate your tools and hands prior to opening the clay with olive oil, Badger Balm, Gloves in a Bottle or other proprietary product. Our skin soaks up the moisture in the clay and will dry it out too fast. Also, using a lubricant will keep the clay from sticking to the tool.

    Your skin is the largest organ, so it’s good to create a barrier between your skin and the product….any art product.

    If you work with the base metal clays which can discolor your nails, by rubbing Glove in a Bottle under your nails before beginning your work, you can prevent this from happening. It’s a great product!

  2. Think about how your piece will hang prior to engineering the piece. Will you put a hole in piece, use a tube bail attached to the piece, put a bail on the back of the piece, etc.

    Where will the hole go? Will it hang funny?

    If you decide to put a hole in the piece, I recommend making the hole after the piece is dry using either an craft knife (conical hole perfect for stone settings) or a drill bit. By placing some water on the clay, allowing it to be absorbed and then one more drop of water on the drill bit or knife blade, the clay will drill very easily. Let the tool do the work by turning the tool clockwise while holding it perpendicular to the clay. You’ll get a beautiful and perfect hole!
    When trying to make the hole with a straw in wet clay you often get warping or buckling of the clay and often it’s too close to the edge.

  3. You can draw on metal clay with pencils or sharpie. The marks will all burn out when you fire the clay. If you need to transfer a design to the clay, red Saral paper works nicely for this purpose.
  4. Carving can be done with many tools. Try using a carbide scribe, dental-type carving tools, dockyard carving tools, traditional linoleum carving tools, or even a micro engraving tool.

    Before you carve into the clay, take your size #0 taklon brush and wet the area or line where you want to carve. Let the water absorb and then reapply a little more water. Next carve your lines. The water soften the clay just enough to make it easy to remove the material with little resistance. Also do not hold the carver like a pencil but like a graphite stick or pastel (across the palm of your hand) with your index finger on the carver guiding it.

  5. Using a Lil Bella, Clay Keeper, Syringe Keepers and Linda’s Lid Syringe Holder will help keep the clay from drying out while not in use. If you are not rolling out the clay or using it, it should be wrapped up or stored to keep it from drying out.

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20 Responses to 5 Great Tips for Working With Metal Clay

  1. Drilling a hole in dried clay is the BEST way to get a perfect hole. When I first started working with clay I was shown the "straw" technique… and I had trouble with it more often than not…

    I even use my little pin vise drill on fired clay to get a nice hole if I am afraid a hole will crack the clay because of my design being too delicate. With just slight pressure my pin vise drill will go through with no problems. I do start with the smallest bit and gradually move up to the size I want.

  2. I've used the straw in wet clay, let it dry and then remove the duvet, with a little sanding the hole is perfect. I also use a craft knife to do dry drilling for stone setting.

  3. I agree with Florence. Thanks for the tip about carving by wetting the line first. I am anxious to try that technique on my next project.

  4. I love the hole maker tool that WLW sells. I make a little divot with the craft knife, use a drill bit or pin vise to get the hole all the way through. I finish off the hole with the tool ( it has several sizes of holes ) to get a lovely bevel around the hole. I do this in the front and the back.
    Never knew about wetting before carving. Thanks!

  5. Reading this was a great reminder! I first learned this from you during the RIO certification class you taught in Michigan. It's been that long since I've seen you! Thanks again for the reminders.

  6. Didn't know sable brushes weren't as useful as taklon for metal clay, and had never heard of Saral paper. Thanks for the great tips, Tonya!

  7. The tips were perfect timing. I'm working with a HS teacher, she has set up a business class. Jewelry. Buying material,designing, engineering,marketing. We will start with Bronze clay. I'm excited

  8. My preferred method to make a hole is also drilling a hole using a pin vice drill. It makes a perfect hole.I usually start with a small drill bit and if I need a larger hole I work my way up with larger drill bits.

  9. I haven't have much success with various clay keepers or clay vaults. Many a time I've openend them and had a rock of clay. Also I was always grossed out by the mold growing on the sponge. I purchased a mini food vaccuum storage pump and the quarts size bags that go with it. When I'm done working with my clay, either silver, bronze or copper, I vacuum seal it in a bag and put away. Months later when I open it the clay is always in perfect shape. In addition, I put it in another regular ziploc bag with a wet sponge before storing it. This way I can throw out the molding sponge and outer storage bag and the inner vacuum sealed bag is perfect.

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