Metal Clay Types, Techniques and Helpful Resources
What Is Metal Clay?
Metal clay not a clay at all, but rather a malleable form of metal. It is made by mixing microscopic particles of powdered metal with an organic binder and adding enough water to hold them together.
What Makes It Unique?
In this clay-like form, the metal can be molded, impressed with textures, extruded, rolled out, formed into thin log shapes (called snakes or coils), and joined to itself permanently with just water.
After metal clay has dried it can be sanded, filed, drilled, carved, embellished with fresh (moist) metal clay, and joined to other fresh or dried metal clay components with just a brush moistened with water and a small amount of fresh material—fresh clay, syringe clay (very moist clay prepackaged in a plastic syringe that can be extruded, used often to embellish lump clay), or slip or paste (lump clay thinned with water). It also comes in a special form called metal clay paper or metal clay sheet that is a thin, paper- or vinyl-like sheet that remains flexible even when dry. During firing at very high temperatures with a torch, in a kiln, or on a gas stovetop, the organic binder burns off, any remaining moisture evaporates and the particles of metal clay come together as a single, solid piece of metal that retains the shape and texture it had prior to firing. The piece shrinks somewhat as the binder and water are are burned away/evaporated and the metal particles move closer together to fill in the spaces left by the binder and water. The extraordinary experience of putting a piece of metal clay into the kiln and a little later taking it out again in solid metal form seems almost like magic - a modern-day form of alchemy!
Metal clay truly is an amazing material that allows even those without traditional metalsmithing or bench skills to create detailed, handcrafted, one-of-a-kind jewelry, small sculptures and other objets d'art with relatively few tools, supplies, and pieces of equipment (although once you start working with metal clay, which is highly addictive, there are many other metal clay tools, supplies and equipment you're likely to covet and perhaps acquire over time).
Metal Clay Types, Brands and Formulas
As of this writing metal clay is available in the following metals, brands and formulas:
Fine silver clay:
- Original PMC (discontinued), PMC+ clay and sheet ("paper"), PMC3 clay, syringe and paste, PMC Flex clay, Art Clay Silver clay, syringe, paste, paper type, overlay paste, and oil paste, NobleClays Silver powder, clay and syringe, FYI silver clay
Sterling silver clay:
- PMC Sterling
Sterling silver clay also can be prepared by mixing Art Clay Silver and Art Clay Copper clays or mixing from PMC3 and PMC Pro following the recipes developed by Lisa Cain, Director of the Mid Cornwall School of Jewellery
Enriched .960 sterling silver clay (AKA PMC 960 or 960 sterling):
- Prepared by thoroughly blending equal parts by weight of sterling silver clay (PMC Sterling or a mixture of copper and fine silver clays, see above) and PMC3. Not manufactured commercially.
.900 silver clay (AKA coin silver):
- PMC Pro
22K gold clay:
- Art Clay Gold, PMC Gold
Read detailed information about the different PMC and Art Clay gold and silver metal clay formulas.
- Metal Adventures' BRONZclay and FASTfire BRONZclay, Hadar's Clay bronze, white bronze, rose bronze and Brilliant Bronze (gold-look) metal clay powders, Metal Mania Metal Clay bronze clay powder, Météor Bronze clay, Prometheus Bronze clay, Goldie Bronze powdered metal clay in hard and soft formulas, NobleClays Bronze (lump clay, powder and syringe)
- Metal Adventures' COPPRclay and White COPPRclay, Art Clay Copper, Goldie Clay copper (powder), Hadar's Clay copper (powder), Metal Mania Metal Clay copper (powder) Prometheus copper (powder), NobleClays Copper (powder, lump clay and syringe)
- Powder: Metal Mania Metal Clay Messing Alkymi BrasClay brass clay
- Powder: Hadar's Clay Steel and Pearl Grey Steel
5 Highly Recommended Metal Clay Books
The Best Metal Clay Book for Beginners
If you're brand new to metal clay, Cindy Pankopf's "Making Metal Clay Jewelry: The Absolute Beginner's Guide" is an awesome book to get you started. It focuses on torch-fired fine silver and copper metal clay formulas and simple, good-looking projects, so it's the perfect book to guide you in experimenting with metal clay before you decide whether to save up for and invest in a kiln. By giving you the knowledge you need to be successful from the start, Cindy's book also will save you time, aggravation and money. No need to worry about wasting your expensive metal clay! Lots of super helpful tips and solid basic techniques to give you a great foundation of metal clay skills!
The Most Comprehensive Metal Clay Techniques Book
Sue Heaser is best known for her fabulous polymer clay books and miniatures work. Her terrific book "Metal Clay for Jewelry Makers: The Complete Technique Guide" lives up to the high expectations she has set with them. She provides a wealth of great information on different metal clay types, a wide range of techniques from beginner through advanced, and lots of helpful tips along the way. There are more than 500 photographs! Metal clay artists at every experience level will benefit from Sue's expertise.
The Best Book On Metal Clay Ring Making Techniques
Reading renowned metal clay artist and teacher Hattie Sanderson's phenomenal book "Contemporary Metal Clay Rings" is like taking a master class with her in metal clay ring techniques! Hattie is known for her stunning, ornate metal clay rings and she is an extraordinary and generous teacher. Even very experienced metal clay artists will learn a lot from this exceptional book.
A Metal Clay Master Class From Gordon Uyehara In Book Form
Gordon Uyehara is one of the world's most respected metal clay artists and teachers. In his book "Metal Clay Fusion: Diverse Clays, Detailed Techniques, Artful Projects" from the Metal Clay Master Class series he shares his creative process and expert metal clay techniques along with some extraordinary projects (including templates, where applicable). No matter what your skill level, you're sure to learn something about refining and improving your techniques here.
The Best Book On Making Metal Clay Beads
Barbara Becker Simon is best known for her incredible glass and metal clay beads. She, too, is a highly sought-after instructor. I've taken one of her classes and they're awesome! In her wonderful book "Metal Clay Beads: Techniques, Projects, Inspiration" Barbara shares her techniques for constructing gorgeous beads in a wide variety of unusual shapes and shares her secrets for things like how to groom seams on textured beads so that they are invisible. A marvelous book for any metal clay artist!
Great Video Tutorials and Demos of Metal Clay Techniques
How to Fire Sterling Silver with Precious Metal Clay
How to Solder Earring Posts to Silver Metal Clay
How to Make and Use Flexible Clay
How to Reconstitute / Rehydrate Dried Silver Metal Clay
Using Textures with Metal Clay
How to Create Your Own Metal Clay Bezel Wire
How to Achieve a Mirror Finish on Fired Metal Clay
How to Program a Paragon SC Series Kiln
Beginner Project: Fine Silver Textured Rope Earrings, Part 1
Beginner Project: Fine Silver Textured Rope Earrings, Part 2
How to Use Liver of Sulfur (LOS) to Add Antique or Rainbow Patina to Silver, Part 1
How to Use Liver of Sulfur (LOS) to Add Antique or Rainbow Patina to Silver, Part 2
How to Make Molds for Metal Clay
Basic Stone Setting in Metal Clay
My article on Setting Gemstones in Metal Clay provides much more detailed information about creating many other stone setting options for different types of gems, including stones that must be set after firing..