A small, hand-held butane torch, as shown in Figure 3.5, is one of the most popular ways to fire metal clay, and again, it is used for the low-fire clay like I use for the projects in this book. The torch is my favorite way to fire this type of metal clay because it's pretty easy to do and doesn't take that long. As someone who has also used a torch for other metal jewelry making techniques like lost wax casting and soldering, I may also tend to gravitate towards this piece of equipment because it's in my comfort zone. I know that at first those new to working with a torch might be a little nervous about it, but if you follow common sense safety procedures, you'll soon overcome your initial misgivings about using a torch. The butane torch, in fact, is one of the easiest to learn to use because it is so small and fits comfortably in your hand.
Regular butane fuel, like the kind inside cigarette lighters, is the same fuel used in this type of torch, and to load up the fuel, you just hold the tank in an upright position, insert the tip of the butane tank (which is also usually pretty small and can be held with one hand) into the bottom of the torch (which should not be hot, so let it cool for awhile if you just finished using it), and push as demonstrated in Figure 3.6. You'll hear the fuel going into the small tank on the torch. Once you get a good amount inside the torch, you'll also detect that it is noticeably heavier. You can buy the torch and fuel at hardware stores, and in fact, if you run out of fuel at some point, you can purchase it at most drug stores and even grocery stores. Look for it in the same area where barbeque equipment and supplies are located. The torch is pretty inexpensive, normally costing less than $20.
Butane torch. ©Speedy Peacock Photograph
Butane torch. ©Speedy Peacock Photograph
Filling torch with butane.
Along with a torch, you'll need a heat-resistant surface area to place your metal clay piece on while you fire it with the torch. There are a lot of specialized items available such as fire bricks and asbestos-free soldering pads available from jewelry supply vendors, and you may also be able to find substitute items at your local hardware store for this. If you at some point decide to buy a kiln, you can use a kiln shelf, like the one pictured in Figure 3.7. Just like with a fire brick, you place the metal clay piece to be fired on top of the kiln shelf, and it will protect the surface underneath. Granted, if you have a kiln you may think you won't use a torch that much, but if you want to fire just a few items and you are using low-fire clay, then it makes more sense to use a torch versus heating up a whole kiln for just a piece or two. Fire bricks, asbestos-free soldering pads, and kiln shelves normally cost anywhere between $5 and $10 depending on the size. For extra large ones, they can be as much as $20, but for the purposes of firing small metal clay pieces, the smaller ones, normally around 6 x 6 inches, will do fine.
Kiln shelf. ©Speedy Peacock Photograph
Steps for Firing with a Butane Torch
You'll need the following supplies:
► Heat-resistant surface (fire brick, kiln shelf, etc.)
1. Place the fully dried metal clay item on a heat-resistant surface such as a kiln shelf or asbestos-free pad.
2. Turn on the butane torch and slowly heat the metal clay item from a few inches away, moving in a circular motion over the piece in order to heat it evenly (see Figure 3.8). If you get too close with the flame, you'll see the metal clay start to bubble or take on a shiny appearance. If this starts to happen, move the flame farther away. It means you are too close and may end up melting it rather than firing it.
3. While heating the metal clay with the torch, you'll soon see the organic material spark and burn away causing some smoke. In Figure 3.9, you can barely see some dark areas around the item being fired. This is smoke, but as you can see it's not a ton of smoke, just a little materializes as the material burns away.
4. Once the organic material is burned away, continue to heat until the metal clay turns bright orange. You may want to work in an area that is not strongly lit in order to be able to see the glow of the metal clay. If the lighting is very bright, you can't really see the color change. At this point, continue to fire from two to five minutes depending on the size of the metal clay piece. The smaller the item, the less time it takes to fire completely. However, you really can't over-fire a piece as long as you don't have the flame too close.
5. Before turning off the torch, make sure to point it away from you and your metal clay piece (just in case you turn the knob in the wrong direction by mistake), and turn off the torch.
6. Quench the hot metal piece by picking it up with tweezers and setting it in the jar of water.
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