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:
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.
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.
After making this ring I couldn’t resist going back and trying my hollow, architectural rings.
Here is a top view, just to get the idea. I wouldn’t call it wearable, but I had so much fun.
This is the “Village” ring.
And here it is next to an old silver “Village” ring. This may give a sense of the color difference.
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”:
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”:
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.
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.
Hollow rings don’t seem to be affected much by the carbon.