Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Metal Clay Ring Part 2: Firing and Finishing

Once my ring was completely dry and sanded smooth, it was time to fire it.  There are several options for firing metal clay pieces; the best option depends on the size of the piece and the type of clay used.  It is possible to fire an item over the flame of a gas burner, but this only works when the piece is small enough to be fully within the heat of the flame.  This could be the flame of a gas stove or a propane-fueled camping burner.  If you are making the initial investment in metal clay, this is the least expensive option for a firing implement.  I was concerned that my ring might be too big for this method (and I also don't have a gas burner).  Jewelry kilns are quite expensive, so that wasn't an option.  My friend Anne has a propane torch, however, and she agreed to help me fire my ring.

In the last post I described how I made sure the ring was smooth and completely dry before firing.  We placed the ring on a fire brick and lit the torch.  Anne adjusted the flame until it was the appropriate temperature.  It should be a medium flame, mostly blue with a yellow tip.  Then we started firing the ring--Anne worked the torch while I worked the camera--probably the most sensible arrangement if Anne didn't want her building burned down.  She kept the flame moving over the ring to make sure it heated evenly.  At first the ring smoked and even flared up as the organic binder burned off.  As she continued to fire it, the ring began to glow.  Once the ring was entirely glowing orange, we started timing.  The timing depends on the size of the piece.  Metal clay should be torch fired for at least 1 minute and up to 2 1/2 minutes.  Because the band of my ring was a little thick, we fired it for just over 2 minutes.  The appearance of the ring doesn't change too much during firing, except that is noticeably smaller.  If the piece starts to look silvery, it is probably close to overheating.  If it starts to lose its shape, it is melting.

Once the ring is fired, it needs to be cooled.  According to Magical Metal Clay Jewelry, my primary resource for this project, the fired piece can rest for 20 minutes or be quenched in water.  My ring still looked a little like clay once it was fired, chalky white over the whole surface (see photo top right).  Once it was cool, I started the process of finishing the ring.  First I used a wire bristle brush to remove the white residue from the ring.  Once the ring was brushed, it had a soft, silvery look (see photo bottom right).  One book I read suggested only using a wire brush while the metal clay piece was in soapy water to immediately remove any metal filings from the brush itself.  I didn't bother with this, however, because I still intended to sand the ring.  I also used my files to gently smooth out any sharp edges and bumps on the ring.  I tried to use the files sparingly because I didn't want to remove too much material from the piece.  Once the ring was brushed and filed, I sanded the band with 400 grit sandpaper, then moved on to increasingly fine grits (800 then 1200).  At each stage of sanding, you will initially feel some resistance.  As you continue sanding, it will feel smoother and smoother until there is no resistance.  Then it is time to switch to a finer grit of sandpaper.  When I was finished sanding, I used an agate tipped burnishing tool to rub the surface of the ring in the loops where it was difficult to maneuver the sandpaper.  Burnishing is basically rubbing the surface of the metal, with a fair amount of pressure, to bring out the shine.  After the ring was sanded and burnished, it had a beautiful shine.  I used a little silver polish to clean any residue from the surface.

For a first attempt at metal clay, I am really happy with my ring.  Sure, it's a little rough, and not perfectly round.  I was really encouraged by how it turned out, though, and I am already brainstorming new projects.  My husband wants a tie bar, and maybe some cuff links.  My mom has already asked if I need to know her ring size.  Even if you are hesitant to make the investment of time and money to do metal clay work at home, I hope you will consider taking a metal clay class because it is really amazing stuff.  Be creative and enjoy!

PS: Even if you never work in metal clay, I highly recommend that you check out some of the books available on the subject, especially Metal Clay Beads by Barbara Becker Simon.  These books really illustrate the incredible effects that can be achieved by well-practiced metal clay artists.

3 comments:

  1. That is so cool! Such an interesting post to read! good luck with your future metal clay projects :)

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  2. Thanks, mikka! If you ever get a chance you should do an image search of metal clay projects. Some of the artists out there can do amazing things with this stuff!

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  3. I just posted on your last entry. Didn't realize you had a part 2 with the finished ring! I'm just getting started with metal clay, too. I LOVE it. I just wish there was somewhere near me that offered classes! If you'd like to see what I've done so far, you can check out my pieces (all 5 or 6 of them!) at http://sheahasu.blogspot.com/

    I'm trying to find the perfect ring design before I begin. I'd really like to make one with a stone, but I don't have any at the moment, and I don't know if I can wait!

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