Today, I’m writing about the tools that I think are the absolute minimum you’ll need if you decide to go on this adventure as well. You’ll need more as time goes on, but these will suffice until such a time. That said, you will be tempted I assure you (as I was, but was only saved by the bell, no, by lack of funds in most cases) by the various ‘gadgets’ been developed for metal clay, but buy what you need and not what you ‘think you WILL need’. I have several tools that I’ve never used, and now wish I’d not spent money on a lot of them.The following are the tools I always use and are a starting point. If you’re very careful, you mostly don’t need separate tools for precious and base metal clays. I will mention it where I think you do.
1. Rolling mat – I use a calibrated mat because it makes comparing greenware (unfired clay) easy. I can see clearly when, say a pair of earrings don’t match. Before you get your hands on one, the printing paper file jackets sold by stationery stores will suffice with a graph paper stuck between the sleeves.
2. Clay roller – I use an acrylic clay roller, but a PVC pipe from your local hardware store will do. Wipe well before using with base metal clays and vice-versa to avoid contamination.
3. Playing cards – I use this to roll consistent clay thickness, there are fancier tools sold but I’ve never seen the need for them. To avoid having to count cards each time I’m rolling , I make a stack made up of the number of cards I want, use a thin cellotape to stick them together, and number them. So to roll my clay 4 cards thick, I just picking the stack numbered 4, and which is made up of 4 cards.
4. Olive oil – Readily available, even the cheapest will do. I use it to prevent clay sticking to my hands and tools. The expensive non-stick products made specifically for metal clay that I used before are still where they are. I stopped using them after my first class at the Mid Cornwall School of Jewellery last September, thanks to Julia Rai, a fantastic teacher. To avoid using too much, pour some in an old vicks vapour rub pot (any little plastic container will do), and stick a piece of foam in to soak it. To use, I dip my fingers in the foam to take a little, I then rub the oil in my palms and finger tips. Remember, a little goes a long way.
5. 3M/Highflex sanding pads and polishing papers – The former I use on greenware, and the latter on fired pieces. Polishing papers are sold in lots of 6 with green (400 grit) been the coarsest and pale green (8000 grit) the finest. Sanding pads are usually made of 180, 220 and 280 grits. Use separate ones for precious metal and base metal clays.
6. Shape templates and cutters – To cut the desired shapes for your pieces. As time goes on, you’ll learn to cut your own custom shapes.
7. Teflon sheet & mug warmer (not shown above) – To dry unfired pieces on, before I got them I used to air dry my pieces, and occasionally used a piece of bathroom tile in my kitchen oven (I didn’t fire a lot then).
8. Salon board and needle files – for refining rough edges before using sanding pads. The files are also used for making neat holes, etc. Get separate ones for the different clays.
9. Brushes – For dusting after sanding, you’ll need separate ones for the different clays.
10. Ruler – For taking measurements.
11. Flexible tissue blade and scalpel – For cutting shapes, I particularly find the scalpel useful to with the shape templates as it doesn’t create surface drag on my clay. I also use my scalpel to shave/scrape off clay instead of sanding because of the dust sanding creates.
12. Finger tips – For smoothing surfaces, you’ll be amazed at the transformation of a rough surface after smoothing it with your fingers tip dabbed with water.
13. Clay shapers – These are for smoothing and are like your fingers, just tinier, and can get to places your fingers can’t. I actually think my finger tips do better, if only they that tiny.
14. Clay ‘moisturiser’ (not shown)- I call it this for lack of a word to call it. It’s just a container with a piece of foam inside it and moistened with water. It keeps fresh clay moistened while you carry on working, just upturn it over clay placed in a saucer.
15. Water brush – I’ve long known about this tool but thought it was another ‘one’ of those gadgets until I bought it last September. You fill the barrel with distilled water (oh dear, and I thought I’ve finished) and squeeze to deposit just the amount of water you need. No more dipping your brush into water and taking too much.
16. Distilled water in a spray bottle (not shown) – I make mine by bringing water to the boil in a stockpot. Fill the pot so that there is just enough allowance for a bowl to sit on top of the water. Upturn the lid and place a heavy object on it so that the condensed vapour collects in the bowl. Cool and put in a bottle.
17. Butane torch (not shown) – Though I use a kiln for fire my pieces for full sintering (cooking in short), a butane torch can be used to fire precious metal clay. You can’t use a torch though to fire the base metal clays except ArtClay Copper.
18. Brass/steel wire brush (not shown) – You’ll need a brass wire brush to finish silver pieces and the steel wire brush for the base metal clays. I then go on to use a rotary tumbler to give it a final shine, as well as work harden it.
In addition, I use toothpick (for smoothening holes, etc.), straws (for cutting tiny circles), drills for making neat holes. Okay, that’s it for today. Now, that’s a long one.