I get asked this question all the time! At first, I started out learning Traditional Silversmithing and I love it! Now I still do traditional methods, and I’m still taking courses to improve those skills. The Gold Smiths I know all continue to study and have apprenticed under other Gold Smiths to develop their skills.This is something that takes years to learn. And the necessary tools involved are expensive.
But then I took a course in Metal Clay and fell in love! It suited where I live, and how much room I have for this art. It was also something that I could do without becoming the dreaded neighbor who hammered all the time. And, I don’t need to have an acetylene torch in my home that actually wouldn’t be approved. So for me, there were many pluses to this art form.
So let’s get started!
What Is Precious Metal Clay?
If you can, visualize a grain of table salt. Now consider that one grain that size would equal 25 grains of silver. Precious Metal Clay is made from these tiny pieces of silver and mixed with a binder (something that holds everything together). It looks like light grey clay.
You can shape it into anything. This is actually the fun part!
When it’s fully dried it can be torch fired if it’s small enough (about the size of a loonie or smaller), or placed in a kiln. Either way, the binder is burned away and you are left with silver. If you are torch firing it it actually has a flame as the binder is burning away.
With each manufacturer of Precious Metal Clay, there is shrinkage. So whatever I make, especially custom rings, I need to take this into consideration so it comes out the right size.
What Kinds of Precious Metal Clay are There?
You can get Fine Silver, which is 99.9% Silver, Sterling Silver which usually has a higher amount of Silver, so 93.5%, 95% and 96% Silver. In the traditional silversmithing world, Sterling Silver is 92.5%. And there is 23 and 24K Gold.
And, even though these Precious Metal Clays start out as either a powder which you mix, or in clay form, they are real!
Are There Base Metal Clays Too?
Yes! The base metal clays are fun too! There is copper and white copper. And there are many shades of brass and bronze. So there are lots of choices.
What Are The Benefits of Precious Metal Clay?
I think they are fun to work with, and I can make jewelry at home. It is possible mold, carve, paint, and emboss. As a nature lover, I can make a mold from something in nature, like a leaf for example, and make earrings or a necklace. The ideas are endless.
There was a roaring twenties contest and I made an award winning necklace from a fabric pattern I found from that time period.
It is possible to make things from my drawings, or famous paintings.
Economically, I am able to use every bit of my metal clay purchase. I can add left over bits to new clay, or add left over dried bits to make paste. There is absolutely not waste.
Lastly, the metal clays are non toxic.
What Are the Cons of Precious Metal Clay?
I think the only cons would be price and the fact that you always need to remember to account for the shrinkage.
Metal Clay Is More Porous Than Sheet Metal
Metal Clays are more porous than sheet metal. This means that you need to spend time burnishing (rubbing the metal after it’s been fired with an agate burnisher for example) to move the molecules closer together. This also prepares the area for a mirror finish.
How is Sheet Metal different from Precious Metal Clay?
Sheet metal and wire is a product that you buy ready made. Then you can saw, hammer, etch, etc. to make something. You can add a pattern with a rolling mill. These things are expensive, even the hammers. I would venture to guess that a jeweler has more hammers than a carpenter! Instead of a kiln you need to have a jeweler’s torch, not all of which can be used in a house or apartment safely.
There are wonderful places to both learn and work on your jewelry that are safe, and that have all the tools. If you are interested just let me know! I know some fabulous goldsmiths I would be happy to introduce you to.