Building a Basic Metal Clay Toolkit
by Cindy Pankopf, Master Instructor and owner of Creative Place
There are many different tools that can be used to do similar things with metal clay. This list will help you assemble what you need to get started!
Wet Clay Tools
You will need a smooth work surface / underlay as well as several small rolling surfaces. Squares of freezer paper, teflon sheets, or page protectors work well.
To maintain even and consistent clay thickness, you will need to regulate the clay as you roll it out. The most common things to use are playing cards, but even better are plastic graduated slat sets or frames.
A smooth roller to flatten the clay is a must. Use anything from a piece of PVC from the hardware store to a piece of acrylic tubing, to a specialized roller with thickness gauge bands (more about that next).
Most things that come into direct contact with the wet clay need to be greased up in order to not stick. Olive oil is a great choice, spray it on or dab with a sponge. Burt’s Bees or Badger Balm are nice for your hands or work surfaces, not so great for rubber stamps. Avoid petroleum products.
Have a couple of these: a somewhat firm, small pointed brush for manipulating clay and smoothing ooze as well as a narrow flat brush for applying paste. Use a nice quality brush, cheap ones will lose bristles and contaminate scrap clay.
Always keep a roll of plastic wrap handy for storing clay, conditioning scrap, or preventing a piece from drying too quickly. Narrow rolls are handy, otherwise cut wide sheets in half.
Pick up an array of items to cut the wet clay: a cutter/scraper or a tissue blade for long cuts, a craft knife or needle tool for squiggly edges, straws of various sizes for making holes.
To cut out shapes in metal clay, start collecting cutters. Mini cookie cutters, cake fondant cutters, polymer clay cutters, and ceramic clay cutters are all terrific. The most useful sizes are from 1/4″ – 1 1/2″.
While pieces can just air dry overnight, many of us do not have the patience for that! A candle warmer will dry wet clay in about 20 minutes. Have a little spatula to lift the hot pieces off. Another option is a food dehydrator, but only if you have one already. It is overkill unless you make lots of stuff at once or teach classes.
Dry Clay Tools
Sanding tools in various grits and forms are a must. Sandpaper grits 200/1200 cut into tiny pieces is great for refining edges and surfaces. Emery boards grits 150/600 clean long, straight edges well. Sanding sponges grits 300/1800 are perfect for broad, smooth surfaces. Specialty sanding swabs get in tight spots. Mini-files are useful.
Have a small, full brush to clean up while you are sanding. A large, soft paintbrush is nice but even better is a cosmetic brush. Those free gifts-with-purchase come in handy! Eyeshadow, concealer, or fan brushes are great.
Use a rubber block to support your piece and give you better leverage while sanding and polishing. Blocks with a hole are really nice for pieces that have a hole in them, or to sand the back side of a piece that has a prominent stone setting or lumpy feature.
Butane Torch, et al.
A small creme-brulee style torch will fire silver metal clay beautifully. Look for one that outputs beween 2000 and 2500 degrees F. You will also need butane to fill the torch, a firing brick, and a timer. It is also nice to have a pair of tweezers, a quenching bowl, and a tray to hold all the firing goodies.
Brushes and More
A soft brass brush is metal clays best friend. Perfect for a satin finish. A narrow steel brush will give a satin finish. Burnishers are nice to shine very narrow, linear designs. Polishing pads will give a shiny finish. To remove tarnish or excess patina, use a polishing cloth or pads.
To download a handy checklist, click here.
To shop for a basic tool kit and more, click here.