I had an ‘aha!’ moment a few days ago. I had mentioned in this post my love for a really polished finish on my pieces but that I have to apply a lot of elbow to get that finish. Yes, you guessed right, I didn’t like it at all. Getting a polished finish on fine silver is not so much trouble, but on base metals is another story altogether. I knew there were tools made especially for polishing, etc., but they are certainly beyond me. The answer meanwhile had been right in my face all along – the rotary tool. This is a hand held power tool with a variety of rotating accessory bits and attachments that can be used for cutting, carving, sanding, polishing and many other applications. I had first come across using it for finishing metal clay in Hadar Jacobson’s books but I forgot all about it especially as she only demonstrated with emery papers.

A popular rotary tool is the dremel, but I have a Proxxon FBS 240/E that I bought years ago to cut jumprings and if I had bothered to pay more attention to it and the accompany accessories, I would have realised that it would be useful for finishing my pieces. So, last week I decided to try it with polishing papers. Let me say here that you should take precautions before using this AND any other motorised tool, and this means a pair of wrap-around safety glasses, dust masks, finger protection, etc.

Straight mandrel with ‘ahem’, dirty 400 grit polishing paper

I first use it with 400 grit emery paper on fine silver (coarser grit on the base metals, as they’re harder), then the polishing papers in order, from the coarsest to the finest. To load, I insert the paper into a slotted mandrel, wind it round and hold it down with cellotape. I set my rotary tool to the lowest speed and then the fun begins.

By the way, the picture above shows the straight slotted mandrel, but there’s also the tapered one.


Pics as promised

Last time, I promised to post pictures of the earrings I made, so, here are two of them:

Even though getting a polished finish on little pieces can be tedious, I totally love the end result (these ones are not quite ‘polished’). The key is to ensure that the piece in the greenware stage is appropriately finished, that means making sure that you get a totally smooth surface before you fire. I use an eye loupe to see if there are still scratches visible in my greenware, as it will enlarge what you can’t see with ordinary eyes.
Start with the sanding pads in order (180, 220, 280), then polishing papers up to the finest. Easy when your piece is flat with no ‘attachments’ as I have in the pictures above. That said, it can be done. For the pieces above, I use these combinations:
1. I place the polishing papers face up on a rubber block, my greenware facing that and rub the latter against the papers, alternating directions with each grit.
2. I place the piece itself on the block, polishing papers in my hands, and rub away. Also alternating directions with each grit. The key is to apply a lot of elbow.

Tools and all what not

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.

Rolling mat, Acrylic roller, Shape template, Cutters, Playing cards, Sanding pads, Polishing papers and Teflon sheet

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).

Salon board, Needle files, Ruler, Brushes, Flexible tissue blade, Scalpel

Salon board, Needle files, Ruler, Brushes, Flexible tissue blade, Scalpel

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.

Water brush and clay/colour shapers

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.

By LO! designz Posted in Tools