Metal Clay


People have been asking how I model my jewelry.  In the old days it was by hand with polymer clay.  Now I mostly use digital clay, and my favorite software is Zbrush.  Have a look at this magnetic locking clasp that I have been working on for a few months.  I think this is the final design.  It’s going to print right now, and I hope to plan to have it in bronze by the time Maker Faire rolls around ( 3 days!?!?).

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This happened while I slept (and before and after).  12 hours on the Printrbot.  After removing it from the support structure, I will mold the model with silicone and re-create it in bronze using metal clay.  After seeing the beautiful finish the last buckle took with a bit of torch patina I can’t wait to see this in finished form.  You can see it yourself in person at Maker Faire Bay Area in just one week!  I’ll have a whole booth there with a brand new business name (stay tuned for website) and all of my gorgeous new jewelry.  I have tons of earrings in bronze, copper, and silver and am burning the midnight oil rounding out my line with embroidered cuffs, cufflinks, pendants, hat pins and more.

I’ll be making an early release of my jewelry line, available exclusively on Kickstarter within two weeks.  This pre-order process will allow me to gauge interest in my various offerings, refine my production methods, and reduce the amount of time I spend on individual pieces (think savings for you), as well as providing me the funds to create reproductions of my designs, improve my equipment (think even more beautiful results), and to put the work in front of you and on your body.  Early supporters get discounts as a reward for enabling my scaled up production process.

 

 

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People are usually surprised when they hear that metal clay exists.  When explained, it makes sense though.  It’s powdered metal, mixed with an organic binder and water.  It feels and looks similar to ceramic clay.  It air dries and can be worked in dry form, and is then fired in a kiln or a torch.  After the binder burns away, the metal sinters.  This means that the particles adhere to each other below the melting point.  It allows the metal to keep it’s form and surface detail, while gaining most of the strength of solid metal.

If that seems high tech, then have a look at this video on Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS).

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Back in 2003 I was fortunate to take a class from metal clay pioneer Hadar Jacobson. At the time, the only clays available were fine silver and gold. Faster firing and stronger versions of silver clay soon followed. In recent years bronze and copper metal clays have appeared, and Hadar has developed a full line of metal clays herself. Of particular note are the pearl gray steel and white bronze clays she features.

The challenge to creating functioning base metal clays is preventing the metal from oxidizing during firing. The solution is to fire in an oxygen reduced atmosphere, which can be created by embedding clay items in a firing container filled with activated carbon.

The latest success in that direction has been the successful mixing and firing of sterling silver metal clay. Sterling silver, prized for its beauty and strength was one of the last holdouts, not the least because of the precision with which it must be mixed. To be stamped and assayed as sterling silver, the metal must be exactly 92.5% silver, with the remaining 7.5% usually consisting of copper, but often improved upon with the partial substitution of other metals.

Lisa Cain, Director of the Mid Cornwall School of Jewellery in England has announced that she and her staff have successfully formulated and fired sterling clays composed of commercially available fine silver and copper clays.   An account of their experiences is published in the April issue of Metal Clay Artist Magazine.

Hadar Jacobsen for her part has also published her experiences successfully mixing sterling silver clay.  Congratulations to both and many thanks for their efforts moving this exciting field forward.

Bronze and copper metal clay pendant by Hadar Jacobson
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