Pearl Grey Steel XT – Follow-up

Testing and playing with Pearl Grey Steel XT has brought me back 14 years, to when I first learned about silver clay, and it felt like the sky was the limit. I now find myself re-making in steel pieces that I used to make over and over again in silver, as if the possibilities can never be exhausted.

PG XT is similar to the first generation of silver clay in consistency, shrinkage, and firing temperature. It is also tough and hard to break in the green state. Those of you who were around back then probably remember the word “forgiving,” that was widely used to describe how it felt working with it. For me it meant that it was a medium I didn’t have to fight with. I enjoyed the touch of it in the wet and dry state, and I knew that even when it went wrong – cracked or slumped in the firing process – it could still be repaired. I felt it could be trusted. This is how I feel now about Pearl Grey Steel XT. I don’t worry much about the firing process; when fired at 1650°F – 1700°F (900°C – 925°C) (brick kiln), 1730°F – 1780°F (943°C – 970°C) (muffle kiln), the results are pretty predictable. Although it combines well with other metals, I enjoy it by itself.

Note: there was a mistake in the firing temperatures listed on the last page of the manual; I’ve now corrected the error and re-posted the manual. Please correct it or re-print the last page.

Here is one of the first attempts:

Chain-Circles Necklace

This was done using textures with a smooth, low relief. I find that this clay performs best when all or part of it has a smooth, matte finish. The color is silvery gray. Heavily textured pieces would look too dark.

I made a piece similar to the Miró pin project in my book: The Handbook of Metal Clay: Textures and Forms. This time I did not texture the surface. After firing I sanded and matted it.

Miro Pin

And a belt ring, with no texture at all (I am still wearing my steel rings and they are not deformed or rusted). Rings like this (not hollow) shrink about 3.5 sizes. I made it size 11 on the step mandrel to get a 7.5 ring.

Belt Ring

After making this ring I couldn’t resist going back and trying my hollow, architectural rings.

House Ring

Here is a top view, just to get the idea. I wouldn’t call it wearable, but I had so much fun.

House Ring

This is the “Village” ring.

Village Ring

And here it is next to an old silver “Village” ring. This may give a sense of the color difference.

2 Village Rings

The silver ring is on the right. This hollow ring did not shrink as much as the belt ring, but I haven’t found consistent shrinkage yet for hollow rings.

This is my “Table with Cherries”:

Table with Cherries

The cherries are half-drilled carnelian beads. I find the red color stunning in combination with steel.

And next, to a silver “Table with Cherries”:

2 Table Rings

Some tips about working with Pearl Grey Steel XT:

– Watch flat pieces as they dry. Flip them over when they start to curve. It won’t take long – they warp less than the earlier generation of Pearl Grey Steel.

– Burnish pieces before firing. It makes the sanding easier after firing and also highlights imperfections that may cause trouble after firing. It’s easier to fix now than later.

– When making rings, don’t wait for them to dry completely before you take them off the mold. They shrink tight around it and are hard to remove.

– When firing rings that are not hollow, like the belt ring, set them on a fiber paper covered with a thin layer of carbon. The carbon underneath the ring allows it to slide as it shrinks, and minimizes distortion.

Ring in Carbon

Roll a strip of fiber paper or ceramic tape and place it inside the ring to prevent carbon from getting inside the hole and deforming it. The fiber is soft and will not stop the shrinkage.

Inside the Ring

Hollow rings don’t seem to be affected much by the carbon.

Inside Carbon

Good luck!


33 Responses to “Pearl Grey Steel XT – Follow-up”

  • Jennifer Says:

    Ha! I just received mine in the mail today! Can’t wait to play!

  • Ron Taylor Says:

    Hadar, it looks like you are using something other than your usual ceramic cloth box to fire in. Any particular reason? By the way, your PGS-XT pieces are beautiful.

  • Jennifer Says:

    Ok, now I’m confused. My package says 100g pearl gray steel quick fire – so I guess I didn’t order the new stuff. Anyway, I don’t see a quickfire pgs on the web site, so now I’m not sure what firing schedule to follow. Help?

  • Hadar Jaobson Says:

    Jennifer, All steel clays are Quick-fire. The one you have is not the XT version. XT comes in only 50 or 25 grams and sgould say XT on the label. You can find the firing schedule in the instruction manual. The instruction for XT version are on the last page of the manual.

  • Hadar Jaobson Says:

    Ron, Thanks! I am using a stainless steel mixing bowl when I want fast cooling between firings. I once published a blog post about it. You can find it by looking it up on the search function.

  • Jennifer Says:

    Ok great. Thanks!

  • Diane Says:

    Just curious how the XT handles a hammer?

  • Hadar Jacobson Says:

    Diane, It depends how hard you try, and how well the piece is sintered. I’ve been able to adjust the shape of a ring over a mandrel.

  • Cindy Says:

    Gorgeous! I really like the color. Does the XT stand for something in particular, or does it just differentiate it from your first steel clay?

  • Hadar Jacobson Says:

    Cindy, just to differentiate it from the earlier Pearl Grey Steel.

  • Donnalene Says:

    I can’t wait to try it out! But I’m still getting to know my kiln 🙁 I just realized that I have not been prefiring my carbon – some of my pieces come out and some don’t. Do you think this would be a factor? Do you always prefire yours? I am also firing in a kiln brick box and wondering if it is keeping the project too hot. Any thoughts on this?
    Thanks as always!

  • Hadar Jaobson Says:

    Donnalene, I don’t pre-fire my carbon. Please have a look at the instruction manual on my blog. It has the firing schedule for a brick kiln. There is also a checklist that may help you find out what goes wrong.

  • Ruth Says:

    Looking forward to trying it. Have you tried embedding wire into the steel XT? Steel wire or what?

  • Hadar Jaobson Says:

    Ruth,

    Steel wire breaks after firing. Best is nickel chromium (“Nichrome”) wire. Can’t wait for an XT bird!

  • Donnalene Says:

    Thanks Hadar. I fired bronze and copper together in one piece yesterday – turned out great! Fired white bronze this morning and looks great too – I am waiting for it to cool then will try to sand. I think my issue was the carbon. I used 12×40 new stuff from Rio. The last carbon I was using was from elsewhere and left A LOT of ash – the new carbon is barely leaving any 🙂 – hopefully this solves the problem!

  • Katharina Says:

    Help! I am mixing up clay for the first time today. I have been successful with copper, bronze, and white bronze. But now I just cannot get the pearl gray steel to a clay consistency. I can’t tell if it is too wet, too dry, or what. I have tried adding more powder, then it is too crumbly and won’t roll into a clay, and I have tried adding more water too. All I am coming up with is a grout like mixture that sticks to the plastic when I try to roll it out. I am so excited to try out my kiln for the first time today, does anyone have any suggestions that will help me get from the mixing stage to the creating stage? Many thanks!

  • Jamie Says:

    How do you best repair a fired piece of pearl grey steel (not XT)? I made a flat round piece, open in the middle with a horizon silhouette across the opening, lower than the center. That horizon (I think) caused warping of the circle during shrinkage, and I have cracks I need to repair… Will the clay stick to the fire metal? I couldn’t find this info specifically for steel. Thank you – I love your clay products and your work!!

  • Hadar Jacobson Says:

    Jamie,

    Yes, the clay will stick to the metal, as with the other clays. Good luck!

  • Hadar Jacobson Says:

    Katharina,

    Pearl Grey Steel takes a little longer to mix since there is so much of it. It also requires more water. I suggest that you divide what you’ve done so far to smaller amounts. Use olive oil and roll it down a few times. You probably need to add water. When it’s mixed the consistency is fantastic. Good luck!

  • Cindy Pope Says:

    Hi Hadar, Well I am making my first piece from PGS XT and oh my is it a wonderful experience. The greenwear state is fantastic!! I am doing lots of post drying etching and the piece is unbelievably sturdy. Can’t wait to fire it. I am going to do test strips first. I have a quick if silly question. How do you burnish your pieces. I have a burnishing tool one of the pointy ones that I use in setting stones in bezels but I am afraid I will mar the surface (which sanded up so nicely) Thank you once again for your inovations 🙂 Yea so fun!!

  • Hadar Jacobson Says:

    Cindy,

    Don’t use the sharp part. You can burnish it with any hard material like metal or even a polished rock. Just rub it until you see that the surface becomes metallic. It also helps you see imperfections and gives you a chance to repair them before firing.

  • Katharina Says:

    More help please! I am still unable to mix a batch of pearl gray steel. I tried adding more water and stirring…finally gave up and started with a fresh batch today. I have been mixing about 15 grams at a time. I am getting the exact same results today as before, a sticky grout like substance that won’t become clay. I have stirred and stirred, rolled and rolled, but no luck. I haven’t had any problems prepping any of the other metals. Any other suggestions would be very welcome. Thanks! Katharina.

  • Barbara Says:

    Can one use HattieS Patties to prevent the ring from shrinking? If so, do you add the pattie for the drying and firing stage? Love your clays and I want to make a man’s initial ring in the steel XT as my first project using the XT. Any other tips I need to be aware of?
    Thanks for the wonderful clay and the work you do!

  • Hadar Jacobson Says:

    Barbara,

    I think Hattie’s Patties are designed for silver rings, anf the shrinkage may not be the same. I suggest that you ask her about it. I am curious myself.

  • Cindy Pope Says:

    My piece turned out beautifully! Can’t wait to do more.

  • Holly A, Hogue Says:

    Sorry to be a pest! Have you tried any and/or all the clays in the Square Head Ceramic firing vessels? I thought I saw this issue previously but couldn’t find it using the search function & could not remember which clay[s] it pertained to. I have mixed them all & they are so beautiful & deliciously wonderful!!! My husband thought I was nuts last nite, I kept showing him how silky & smooth they were. Love his heart, he just had that sweet tolerant ‘yes Holly, honey’ smile!! I know I’ll have to practice some but don’t want to totally waste time with the ceramic box [which works great otherwise]. Thank you Miss Hadar!! [PS-I’m being a good girl & trying to work through the workbooks & not skip too far ahead!]

  • Hadar Jacobson Says:

    Holly, I have tried the ceramic box and it works fine. I just prefer the stainless steel salad bowl because it cools so fast. I understand that the ceramics box has to cool down to 600F before you can take it out of the kiln.

  • Michelle Glaeser Says:

    Hadar,

    What sizing are you using for the rings? Is it 1.5-2 sizes larger than the final size (like a 10% shrinkage)? Would you do the same with the quick fire bronze? Or do you think the new steel performs better as a ring? Want to try both for a ring, but with the project in mind, I’d like to avoid making a series in every size! 😀

    Thanks!
    Michelle

  • Hadar Jacobson Says:

    Michelle, With XT I use 3.5 sizes larger on the step mandrel. Rose bronze and mixed metal shrink half a size. Bronze shrinks a little more, 1-1.5 sizes. However, it seems that the actual shrinkage also depends on the initial size and thickness of the ring. A huge steel ring shrank less. Steel is only better than bronze in the sense that it doesn’t react with the skin (at least not mine). By the way, I fired a PMC Plus ring in a kiln and it shrank 3 sizes. Quite a surprise!

  • Jennifer M Says:

    Hi –
    just got asked by a friend to make a ring from the PGS. Can you use it with a fine steel ring liner, or just form it on the mandrel?

  • Hadar Jacobson Says:

    Jennifer, Better form it around a mandrel, using Pearl Grey XT. Make it 3.5 sizes bigger. Combining with silver is complicated, and I am teaching a class about it at the PMC Guild conference in June. There is no short answer to this. You may want to use the mesh tent to avoid distortion.

  • Mariealena Bélanger Says:

    Hello Hadar,
    I am working on a few pieces that we are interested in mounting to some of the covers on motorcycle engines i.e. cam covers etc … question is, what temps can fired pearl grey steel withstand? Some of these parts exceed 2100 deg Fahrenheit.
    Thank you!!

  • Hadar Jacobson Says:

    Marielena, I am not sure it will withstand 2100F. The best thing is to make a sample piece and try to fire it at this temperature. I would love to hear your results.

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