firing a clay

Getting Started With Precious Metal Clay

After having my first child and quitting my job, I decided to fulfill one of my dreams and start making jewelry for myself and friends. I honed in on Precious Metal Clay, but I was confused about supplies that I absolutely needed and supplies that could wait until a project demanded it.

And after talking with others trying to get involved, it seemed that I was not the only one who was confused about this. In this article I will explain the necessary items to get started and an economical approach to purchasing them. It is not meant to be an all inclusive list, but you can start creating impressive Precious Metal Clay projects.

But first, what is Precious Metal Clay (PMC)?

For those that are not familiar with PMC, it was invented by Japanese scientists at Mitsubishi. The material is a combination of organic binders and pure silver.

You can roll it out like polymer clay, sculpt it, texture it, whatever as long as you can keep the clay moist as you are working with it. After the design is set, fire it with a butane torch, hot pot kiln or standard electric kiln. The organic binder is burned off and you are left with beautiful .999 fine silver.

What do I need to get started?

• PMC Clay – Here in the Midwest, I was not able to find it in a brick and mortar store. It seems to be more readily available in the southwest United States but, there are great places to find it online. PMC Supply has good prices and customer service.

There are three types of PMC: standard PMC, PMC+ and PMC3. I would stick with PMC3 to start because your firing options are greater and beginner projects usually do not require the qualities of PMC+ or standard PMC. If you are interested in the details of the differences between the clay, this is a great article with a chart for comparison.

• You need a clean work surface. I simply use a glass cutting board and light plastic cutting sheet (found at kitchen store). I roll out the clay on the plastic, so that I am able to move the sheet around to get at the clay from different angles.

• You need something to roll the clay out. I use a 3/4″ PVC pipe cut down to about 6″ long. I purchased this at one of the big hardware stores. Do not use a wooden roller as this will dry the clay out. Dry clay is your worst enemy.

• About 20 playing cards – you can use playing cards to adjust the thickness of the clay when you are rolling it out. 1-2 cards on each side produce a very thin sheet and 4-5 is much thicker. You will find out quickly that you must control the width or your piece will be too thin and break.

• Cheap Olive Oil – use this on your hands and any tools that come in contact with the clay to prevent sticking and dry-out. If you are using a rubber stamp or cookie cutter, dip the tool in olive or use a spray bottle. A thin coating is enough. If you get the tool too wet, it will slip on the clay and make a mess. I usually coat the tool and then wipe it off with a paper towel.

• Distilled water – use this to re-hydrate clay and make slip (slip is a paste that you can make from small pieces of PMC clay to bond pieces of your project). You can use plain water, but it may grow mold on the clay.

• A small amount of vinegar – for keeping your slip from molding

• Craft Knife – use this to trim edges off of the clay. Consider buying a tissue blade (used in polymer clay crafts). This produces a nice straight line that is hard to duplicate with a craft knife.

• Creative tools – In my arsenal, I have rubber stamps, stamps that I made from polymer clay, tiny cookie cutters, texture pads; I have made molds from buttons, and on and on. This is something you can have fun with. I find myself looking for texture on everything to use on PMC clay. Garage sales are a fantastic place to look for texture.

shell accessories• You will need a few drinking straws to form cylindrical beads and bails for pendants. You will also need coffee stirrers or toothpicks. These are great for making holes for a jump ring in a pendant or charm.

• 35 MM film holder or old RX bottle – This is used for making and containing slip. You just need something that is small and somewhat airtight.

• Paintbrushes – I use cheap paintbrushes to apply slip, however, many people use clay shapers or a plastic palette knife (make sure that the tools are plastic because some metals will have a reaction with the clay). Get cheap paintbrushes because they will get ruined pretty quickly.

• Candle or Coffee Warmer – Great for the impatient. Instead of waiting for your pieces to become bone dry on their own, you can place them on the warmer and depending on the size they will dry in approximately 30 minutes or so. Bone dry occurs when the piece is hard and no longer feels cold if you press it to your cheek.

• Emory Boards or Sandpaper (400-600 grit) – After the piece has dried to bone dry, use a sanding tool to sand down any rough edges. If you are making a ring, sand down any high spots or seams.

• A firing device – I use a butane torch, but you can use the PMC3 Hot Pot or an electric kiln. You must be cognizant of firing times and temperatures if you are using a kiln. If you are hesitant about purchasing or firing your object on your own, some craft stores or bead shops that cater to PMC customers have kilns and will fire the piece for you. I intend on writing another article on firing with a torch, it is actually quite easy.

• Finishing Tools – I think finishing the piece is almost as fun as creating it. I use many tools for finishing. If you want a satiny finish, try using a small brass brush (found at most hardware stores in the paint stripping section). For a shinier finish, use sandpaper and/or steel wool.

I usually sand the piece and then finish with the steel wool. If you want a really shiny piece try using a burnishing tool. I could not find one locally, but found one at PMC Supply. If you want to try out burnishing, you can use the back of a spoon and rub your piece gently in small circles. Finish with silver jewelry polish.

There are many other items that can enhance your projects and inspire you to make creative items, but this should get you started. Hope you have fun!