Copper clay …a very pleasant surprise

Yes, I know. I should have given an update about my first encounter with Metal Adventures’ Copprclay two weeks ago, but between getting ready for my first ever fair – CRAFTfest and taking care of a baby, there is little or no time at all to do anything else. And of course, the Olympics, how can I forget that?

First of all, congratulations to Team GB, they did marvelous right up to the end. They really did us all proud. And to the other countries who participated. There were many memorable moments for me, but the one I will never forget was the encouragement spectators gave a female athlete from Saudi Arabia I think, who though came last in one of the races, but who finished the race with a resounding applause from the spectators.

Okay, back to the topic of the day. I opened my kiln the next morning, took out the pieces and found them looking okay (no obvious sign of under/over-firing) and with some kiln patina in places. But having had almost a year’s experience with firing FASTfire Bronzclay (let me say here that a good number of those firings brought tears to my eyes), I knew that seeing is not always believing. So, I checked to see that every piece fired well by first trying to bend my test piece. The piece was about 3.5mm thick, it bent to 180 degrees with some sweat. I had to employ the services of MDH to bend it, and it wouldn’t go beyond 180 degrees as it was too short, first test passed. I measured with my eyeometer, and saw that they all shrank about 20% (see pictures).

So I felt more confident. Then, I threw my real pieces on my kitchen floor to see if they’ll break, but they didn’t, and that confirmed to me that they fully sintered. I then steel-brushed them and the well-known pinkish colour associated with copper presented itself.

Though not bad-looking with their natural colour, I decided to patina them instead, and that also gave me some hassles. I first tried the much acclaimed heat patina I’d heard so much about on a pair of earrings, but I didn’t get similar colours on each. So, I decided to use liver of sulphur (LOS). Unlike fine silver, it’s not possible to remove patina from copper with flame, so I just forged ahead. I then found that it reacted very quickly with LOS, and I found it almost difficult to control. It even seemed to me that it kept on reacting to the LOS even after neutralising with baking soda.

Lest I forget, I found it very messy to work with and calling it dirty will not be far from right, but it doesn’t dry as fast as fine silver metal clay, so, you have a longer working time with it. All in all, I’m very happy with my first attempt, so much so that I’m currently working on mixing it with FASTfire Bronzclay in a bangle. I’ve decided to add only a little copper to this bangle as it sinters at a much higher temp (954 degrees celsius) than FASTfire Bronzclay (810 degrees celsius). Firing a piece that combines the two will have to be done at the lower temperature lest the bronze overfires.

Here are the finished pieces, after patinating and given a protective coating.

Copper clay …first attempt

I’ve been taking it really easy for the past couple of days. With the Olympic starting last weekend, I’ve done next to nothing except watch and support Great Britain. Even though things were a bit slow for Team GB, they really did very well today, getting medals in Cyling Track and Canoe Slalom/Kayaking. The medal count rose dramatically from 6 or so yesterday to 15 today. Amazing!

In the midst of it all, I managed to open the package of copper clay I’ve had for months now and made a few pieces. The brand I bought is Copprclay made by Metal Clay Adventures. I love the look of copper, and the fact that it takes patina beautifully, but I’ve never wanted to work with it because firing can be a hassle (as with all base metal clays). Not only can they take forever to fire, but also, the results are not guaranteed like the fine silver clays (it took almost 10 test firings and lots of research for me to get to an almost fool-proof schedule for Fastfire Bronzclay). That said, I was tempted to try copper clay after coming across Wanaree Tanner‘s blog and copper clay firing guide.

Unlike the silver clays which are a dream to fire, firing base metal clays successfully depends on a multitude of things – type of kiln, firing container, type of carbon, etc. So, after making a few pieces and of course, a test piece (very important with base metal clays so as not to ruin your masterpiece either due to under/over firing, distortions, etc.), I put my 5 cards thick test piece (approx. 6/16″ by 1 9/16″) and a pair of 3 cards thick earrings (approx. 1/4″ by 1 13/16″) in the kiln to fire.

I noticed the following while constructing the pieces:
1. It remained somewhat flexible even after drying, so corrections can be made with care.
2. It also carved easily as I tried my newly-acquired Dockyard carving tool on a piece (not anything tech, more like drawing lines really). Carving silver clay can be a little tricky as it can chip easily in the dry stage.
3. It warped while drying especially on my mug warmer, but I was able to correct it by placing a heavy book on it as well as gently using my fingers to re-shapen. From what I saw, the warp formed in the first few minutes when the clay was quite wet, and formed a concave shape. I then removed it from the mug warmer and pressed it down gently in the middle before putting it back.
4. Joining dry parts require more paste, and it has to be of a thick consistency, or parts will fall off. I’d read about this and was prepared. I used a mixture of thick paste and slightly running paste with a drop of lavender oil in it.
5. It took longer to get to the firing stage as I had to combine air-drying with my mug warmer to prevent warping.

Just heard the sound of the kiln telling me it’s finished firing. I’ll leave checking the pieces till tomorrow, and in the meantime pray that by some stroke of luck, I got it first time. Tomorrow will tell.