Apr 25 2009

Another Project Translated to Bronze and Copper Clay

The original project was published in my first book, pp 15-17. In this version the earrings are flat, not concave.

1. Start with a copper circle as the back layer.

2. Follow steps 3 – 6 of the original project, using smooth layers of bronze and copper clay instead of textured layers of silver clay.

Watch the circles as they dry. As soon as they start warping, flip them over. Repeat until they stop warping. Alternatively you can tape them to a Corian block or a piece of sheet metal.

3. Instead of steps 7 – 8 of the original project, roll a layer of bronze clay. Lay a snake of copper clay on it and roll it down, as in the project “Necklace/Bracelet with Bronze and Copper Clay,” published here on this blog.

Cut the small circle out of the layer.

4. Fire the earrings. Finish them as described in Part 2 of the project above.

Here is the design suggested on p. 16:

And here is the one suggested on p. 17:

Apr 20 2009

My First Huge Piece in Bronze and Copper Clay

This piece is approximately 4″ x 4″ and weighs 8 ounces. I wanted to make a pieces as big as I can fit in the firing box. My purpose was to see if it’s possible to fire big sculptural pieces form base metal clay, and also to put my firing schedule to a test.

It is constructed out of five layers of bronze and copper clay. The stone – a natural sapphire – was fired in place.

I laid the piece high in the box and covered it with carbon. Did not use a lid for the first phase.

This is how it looked straight out of the box, after the second phase:

It was a shame to clean it up, but I did it anyway. It took about 6 hours to sand the front, and I still haven’t touched the back. That is a project for another day.

Apr 16 2009

Landscape Earrings Project and More

This is the Landcape Earrings project from Book 1, p. 18. This time I made it as a pendant.

Step one: use copper clay instead of silver clay.

Step 6: Use a 4mm square sterling bezel cup for a 4 mm cabochon. I picked a turquoise because it picks both the colors of the copper and bronze.

Sterling silver bezel cups fire well in carbon. I’ve been looking forever for square bezels as small as 4mm, and was finally able to find these at Gem Resources.

Gem resources also carry many natural stones that fire well in carbon and in open air, 2 hours at 1650F. For example: Black star diopside, which looks very elegant with bronze, Hess garnet, Rhodolite garnet and rough garnet, Orissa garnet, Montana Sapphire, and many other sapphires, all fireable.

Here is the project Hinged House from Book 1, p. 37. Again, I made it as a pendant.

And here is the project Texture Prints from book 2, p. 105.

And here is the porject “Treasure Bag” from Book 1, p. 55, combined with flexible clay weaving technique (p.113).

Apr 14 2009

Concentric Circles Project

Like a kid eager to try out a new toy with her old playmates, I went back to the projects that I published in my books and tried to make them with bronze and copper clay. What better way to get accustomed to a new medium! When students first come to me to learn how to use bronze and copper clay, I tell them to make what they are most familiar with so they don’t have to deal with more than one challenge at a time. So if you’ve already made some of my projects, you may be interested in how I “translated” them to bronze and copper clay.

The first one is Concentric Circles, from book 1 The Handbook of Metal Clay: Textures and Forms, p. 26.

1. Follow exactly the same steps as in the book.

2. For the back layer, use copper clay.

3. For variety, cut the washers off center. As you can see, I also didn’t try to maintain a perfect circle.

4. For the inner circle, roll a layer of bronze clay and lay 2 “snakes” on it in the shape of an X.

5. Flatten the circle using a rolling pin, then cut it using the smallest circular cutter.

5. Finish as in part 2 of the project Necklace or Bracelet with Bronze and Copper Clay here on my blog. You can use Baldwin’s patina on the inner circles only, to highlight the lines.

Apr 9 2009

Project: Images in Bronze and Copper Clay

Here is another quick and easy way to combine bronze and copper clay. I made these with some popular rubber stamps. They are flat, smooth images and some of them can make pretty buttons.

1. Choose a rubber stamp, a PPP plate or another texture that has a very deep relief. You can use it as is, or make a mold from it and use the mold instead.

2. Roll a very thick layer (2 craft sticks or 16 cards) of bronze clay and press it into the mold, or into a part of the mold.

3. Cut off the excess from the layer and dry on a warming plate at 200°F – 250°F. Keep an eye on the piece as it dries. It will soon start to warm. Turn it over. When it starts warping again, flip it back over. Continue this until the piece stops warping. Alternatively, after the first two times, tape it down or lay a Corian block on it (see photos on the very bottom of this page: http://artinsilver.com/blog/page/2/ .

4. Press copper clay into the indentations of the pattern. (It doesn’t matter if some of the pattern disappears.)

5. Dry again, as in step 3. It will not warp this time.
6. Turn the piece over and sand it vigorously against a fine sanding pad or an emery board until the pattern reappears.

7. Fire according to the firing schedule on my blog.

8. Follow the finishing instructions in Part 2 of the project Necklace or Bracelet Combining Copper and Bronze Clay, available on my blog.

To download this project in printable PDF format click here.

Apr 2 2009

Testing the Strength of Fired Pieces

How strong should a piece of jewelry be? I guess the answer to this question has changed over the years as new media have appeared in the jewelry-making arena. One thing is sure: we don’t want any piece of jewelry to crumble when a customer tries it on. However, it’s important to remember that jewelry strength is never absolute, regardless of the medium: a piece made of glass can break if it falls on the floor; resin inlay may stick to your fingers in the hot desert; polymer clay jewelry may break with some pressure; paper jewelry may burn if it comes in contact with a lit cigarette.

In other words, there is nothing new about jewelry media that need to be treated with care. Metal clay is one of those media, and in that sense, base metal clay is no different than silver clay. Have you ever tried to test the strength of your silver pieces by breaking them with pliers, or even with your fingers?

Well, after “crash testing” was suggested, I did. I was able to break thin, fully sintered pieces with my fingers. The piece in the photo was made with low-shrinkage silver clay. It is (or was) 2″ x 1½”, constructed out of at least 3 layers, 3 cards thick. Fired in a kiln 2 hours at 1650°F. It easily broke with pliers, after just one bend. And as you can see, the cross section is not so attractive either.

I’ve sold many rings over my metal-clay career. Many of them were returned cracked or broken. I stopped selling metal clay rings, and if a student wants to make a ring for themselves, I tell them to treat it with care.

I don’t see why base metal clay should be different from silver clay in that respect. It is just as porous, and I would expect it to be even weaker because of the firing limitations. I don’t test my pieces with pliers anymore. When they come out of the kiln, I buff them lightly to see if they are fully sintered by looking for any powder underneath. If there is, I re-fire. I don’t try to bend them, either. With silver, copper, and bronze clay, I do all the bending before firing. With metal clay I never make bezels that need to be bent over a stone. I do finish my pieces vigorously. If they survive the finishing process, they are strong enough.

In fact, I started bending and breaking sheet metal to make my pieces, long before I began working with metal clay. One of the reasons I switched from metalsmithing to metal clay is the advantage of being able to do all the bending and joining with clay rather than with metal. Here are a pair of earrings and a ring that I made with sterling silver:

After constructing the ring and the earrings, I bent strips of sterling silver with two pairs of pliers until they cracked. I collected them and rearranged them like a puzzle, and soldered them back on the base structure. I repeated this many times with metal clay, and of course it was a lot easier.

So, sterling silver breaks with pliers. How about brass?

And if you don’t believe the photos, I’ll post a video clip! 🙂

I don’t know where this idea of breaking jewelry with pliers originated, but I am sure that a lot of professional jewelers would shudder at the thought of their creations being “crash tested.” After all, if all jewelry were that sturdy, there would not be a field of expertise called jewelry repair.

I was asked to send my comments on Tim McCreight’s article about bronze clay prior to its publication. Here is what he says on page 6. I did not comment on this because I thought he was right:

“Thicker pieces that have been cut open often reveal a brown powder that is most likely a mixture of copper and tin powder that did not sinter. This hollow core is not itself a problem as long as the outer shell is thick enough to provide the strength required to the piece.”

Well, last night I finished this piece, which is 2″ x 1½”, 5 mm thick. I finished it until my fingers were bleeding. There is no way I am going to crash test this piece!



Apr 1 2009


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