Multi Purpose Metal Clay Tools and Supplies

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F 'hose artists wh( tend to think outside of the box—the kind that have that MacGyver gene in them—there are a lot of materials you can use for metal clay work that normally have a totally different purpose to them. These multi-purpose items are not only easy to use but often easy on the pocket book too. In fact, metal clay artists are some of the more inventive jewelry makers around. I'll show you a few items you'll probably be able to find around your house right now that are perfect for working with clay. After looking through the list, go on a scavenger hunt around the house. Many of these items you probably have in your kitchen junk drawer (admit it, we all have at least one of those), in your garage, utility shed, pantry, or if you are a die-hard crafter, you'll want to dig around in your craft supplies to see what else you can dig up. Granted, the clay may not be cheap, but the tools can be. Once you start working with the clay, though, it won't be long before you'll start becoming a metal clay tool MacGyver as well.

Playing cards: These are not for playing poker or even old maid. Clay artists like to stack a few playing cards (see Figure 2.7) on either side of the clay as they roll it out, the same number on each side. For example, you may have three cards stacked one on top of the other to your right, your blob of clay in front of you, and then three more stacked cards to your left, on the other side of the clay. Thus, the cards lift the roller up just a little as you roll. This really helps keep the thickness of the clay consistent as you roll.

When experimenting with a new design, make sure you keep notes about technical things like this—the number of cards you use—because it can make a big difference in the success of your project if you try to duplicate it. I normally keep a small notepad by my work area and jot down items like the number of cards I used as I work so that I can refer to it later. Also, if you find that your piece is too thick or could be thinner after firing, you can double check your notes to see how you may want to alter the thickness the next time you make it. Of course, you can find playing cards just about anywhere these days: the grocery store, discount stores, and dollar stores all carry them.

Figure 2.7

Playing cards—not just for poker any more.

Tools For Clay Jewelry

Figure 2.7

Playing cards—not just for poker any more.

Paintbrushes: If you're an artsy-crafty sort of person, you may have some small paintbrushes already, but if not, the dollar store is a good place to purchase these. Look in the children's area of the store to locate them, or another source is your local craft store. Often inexpensive paintbrushes will be available in sales bins in the discount area of the store. They are useful for dabbing small amounts of water (use distilled) onto your clay as well as patching areas with clay. Get small brushes, the kind found in most children's paint sets, but don't spend too much on them so you can dispose of them regularly. In fact, if you are extra frugal, you can save your old brushes and send them to some jewelry suppliers who also provide scrap refinement services. Older brushes can be a problem because they can leave small pieces of the brush on the clay, and then you end up having more issues than when you started to use the brush to fix or patch an area. Now you might have tiny hairs to pull off to boot. Clay dries as you work on it, so make sure you have your brushes and some distilled water handy before you start working with the clay.

Straws: Don't throw those straws away after going through the drive through for burgers and fries. Plastic straws have a number of different uses for clay lovers, and you will want to start collecting different diameters of straws each time you go out to eat. I especially like coffee-sized straws because they make nice holes in the clay, but larger straws are good for wrapping clay around to make bales. If you wrap clay around a straw and intend to fire with a torch (like we do with a lot of the projects in this book), you'll need to pull the straw out—carefully—before firing. If you plan to fire your clay items in a kiln, then the straw will burn away during the process. However, as explained in Chapter 3, "Firing Equipment and Techniques," this comes with some safety concerns. Plus, it's stinky too. So, just be aware of this as you decide how and if you plan to use straws to construct your metal jewelry pieces.

Lids: Though you can buy a large assortment of clay cutters, sometimes you can create your own. Different sized small lids from jars can be used like cookie type cutters in your clay. You'll want to select lids that have pretty straight sides; otherwise, you'll end up having to use your craft knife to do a lot of clean up work when you cut shapes out of the clay.

Emery board: After the clay dries, you'll want to do some clean up, making sure the edges and other areas are smooth. A fingernail file or emery board is perfect for this, though some metal clay artists prefer to use silicone sand paper since there is less chance of particles coming off and contaminating the silver dust that you add to your slip jar. You'll want the kind made from cardboard instead of the metal ones because they tend to have a grit that is more similar to sandpaper. Of course, you can also use fine sandpaper too, but what's nice about the emery board is the shape is easier to hold as you clean around the edges of your dried metal clay pieces. I can't imagine anyone not having one of these in her house (dig around in the junk drawer some more), but if you don't, you can pick one up at your local drug store pretty easily and inexpensively. Figure 2.8 is an example of these simple household items that you can use to construct your metal clay jewelry components.

Jars: You need at least one small jar, about the size of a baby food or small caviar jar, like that pictured in Figure 2.9. I realize you may not have either in your house right now, so it's worth putting it on the shopping list for your next trip to the grocery story. If you aren't a caviar lover (which is too bad because it tastes great on a baked potato oozing with butter), then opt for the baby food jar since it's much cheaper, and unless you have a baby, just empty the baby food out of the jar and clean it well. Small jars, around two to three ounces in size, are perfect to store your slip in, which is a mixture of clay and a little water. This slip is a pasty consistency. Slip works sort of like a metal clay glue, and it's pretty easy to make your own (see Chapter 5, "Basic Metal Clay Tips and Techniques").

Esay Make Metal Knifes Cutouts

Figure 2.8

Emery boards, straws, inexpensive paintbrushes.

Pmc Jewelry

Figure 2.9

Slip jar.

Figure 2.9

Slip jar.

Figure 2.8

Emery boards, straws, inexpensive paintbrushes.

Templates: Similar to the idea of the using lids as cookie cutters, you can use plastic templates (like the one pictured in Figure 2.10) and a craft knife to cut out various shapes in the clay. If you ever took a geometry class (shivers down the spine!) or you have a math wizard in the family, then there is a chance you'll have one of these around the house. If not, no big deal because they are not that expensive—around $5 or so. You can even find them at most office supply stores and discount stores where you may already purchase school supplies for your children. Before you start having flashbacks of high school geometry class, don't worry about having to figure out how much pi is equal to when you pick up one or two of these plastic templates. They are used very similarly to the way a draftsperson uses them though. You can place them over the clay, and instead of using a pencil like you would with paper, you can use a craft knife and cut out the shapes. Another option for these is to use them and make templates out of cardboard or thin pieces of plastic that you can then place over the clay and cut around.

Figure 2.10

Circle template. ©Speedy Peacock Photograph

PVC pipe: I already mentioned using PVC earlier in this chapter when I discussed the type of roller you need to roll out the clay. The small plastic rollers you can purchase for metal clay are not that expensive, but you may already have some PVC in your garage right now, especially if you've ever had anyone do any plumbing work or put in a sprinkler for your house. PVC pipe is something to put on your scavenger list as you roam through your house loading up tools and materials to borrow for your metal clay needs.

Plastic wrap: A clean, non-stick work area is essential when rolling out and forming your clay. The clay will stick to just about anything. Though a dab of olive oil helps with this (more on this later), still, you need to think about this when you find a place to roll and form your clay. Covering your work area with plastic wrap is one option, especially the press-and-seal type wrap because you can press it down on your work area and it sticks. Metal clay artists are notorious for discovering unique, non-stick work areas, so I know this is not the only way to prepare a place for you to work on your clay. It just happens to be my favorite because the press-and-seal wrap is very easy to work with and you can toss it in the garbage when you are done—one less thing to clean.

Figure 2.10

Circle template. ©Speedy Peacock Photograph

Clear plastic paper protectors: Another popular option is to use those clear plastic paper protectors that you may have in your office or have used before for school projects. Available at your local office supply stores, clear plastic paper protectors used in folders and notebooks are also good non-stick work surfaces. Plus, they are pretty easy to clean and don't cost that much. Thus, if one gets too icky to consider cleaning, just toss it out and use a new one, but remember that any silver residue can be added to your slip jar. Often you will purchase these in bulk, a dozen or so per package.

Graph paper: When trying to cut a straight line, graph paper is very helpful. Slip it under your plastic wrap before sealing or into a paper protector (see Figure 2.11), and you have instant guidelines. In fact, the whole graph paper and plastic paper protector is used by lots of metal clay artists because it's not that expensive, it's easy to purchase at a number of different stores from office supply to discount stores, and if you take a metal clay class, it is ultra portable as well.

Lace and textured cloth: The ability to create textured surfaces is one of the big pluses with metal clay, and you can discover a zillion ways to do this. Fiber is one way, so start collecting scraps of lace and any kind of interesting fiber textures, like those pictured in Figure 2.12. You can roll it onto the clay and come up with some really interesting effects. If you are already into fiber—maybe you sew for example—then you probably have a scrap bag full of goodies you can finally use. See, you were saving them for something, really! If not, no fear, even if you haven't sewn on a button before, you can head into your local fabric store and find what you need. Very often they will have discount scrap bins with rolls of leftover fabric and trimmings. But, if you can't find what you are looking for there, you can ask them to cut even as small as one quarter of a yard for you with no problem.

Paper Clay Jewelry

Figure 2.12

Figure 2.11 Scraps of lace and textured fiber.

Slip graph paper into paper protector.

Figure 2.12

Figure 2.11 Scraps of lace and textured fiber.

Slip graph paper into paper protector.

Olive oil: To keep your hands and tools, like your roller, from sticking, a tiny amount of olive oil (see Figure 2.13) is the way to go. And, yes, it's the same stuff you use to cook with. I know, weird, isn't it? But, you'd be amazed at how well this works. Be careful though. A little goes a long way, so watch it with this stuff or you will have a slimy piece of metal clay on your hands, literally, on your hands, on your roller, on your work surface. You get the picture. You may want to have another caviar jar around to keep your oil in so you don't have to lug around a large bottle of this stuff.

Figure 2.13

Olive oil.

Figure 2.13

Olive oil.

Pmc Jewelry

Figure 2.14

Selection of rubber stamps.

Figure 2.14

Selection of rubber stamps.

Rubber stamps: Again, you craft-o-holics have an edge here. Rubber stamps are one of my favorite multi-purpose items to use with metal clay because you can get some really cool detailed effects with them. When you read further on in the book in both Chapter 5, "Basic Metal Clay Tips and Techniques," and later in Chapter 7, "Metal Clay Jewelry Projects," you'll see what I mean, but for now, look around to see what kind of rubber stamps you have in your craft stash. No stamps? Then you can buy them at just about any craft store. Smaller stamps work better for some of the small charms and pendants you can make with low-fire clay, so just be aware of the size issues when you are shopping for new stamps. Also, normally the smaller the rubber stamp, the smaller the price tag as well. If you do find some really nice textured stamps you like that are extra large, that's fine too because you can always cut the clay down to size as needed. See Figure 2.14 for examples of stamps that are a nice size for metal clay. One caution about rubber stamps and selling your finished metal clay designs: The images from most rubber stamps are copyrighted, so there are some restrictions as to their use when selling items that you made using the stamps. However, there are some rubber stamps that are called "angel stamps," which means they have more lenient rules about using them in products you plan to sell. Each angel stamp manufacturer has its own version of this policy, but generally speaking, these companies normally allow crafters to use the stamps and sell small quantities of their finished products. Of course, if you plan to move to China and open a metal clay pendant factory using a cool rubber stamp you found, then this is against even the most relaxed angel stamp guidelines, but for small numbers of hand-crafted items, the angel stamps are the way to go if you think you'll ever want to sell the finished jewelry piece. If you plan to wear the items yourself or give them away, then copyright isn't a problem.

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  • allen
    How metal clay artist stamps for ure?
    8 years ago

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