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Basic Dry Clay Working Tools

A completely different set of tools is used for working with metal clay once it has dried. Away goes the roller and the hand balm and out comes the dust brush and the files. You'll be sanding, filing, carving, drilling and even sawing dry metal clay to refine it. The list below is a good core set of dry clay-working tools suggested for a metal clay jewelry studio.

Rubber Bench Block

A rubber bench block is used as a platform to assemble and refine dry work. Pieces can be set on the edge of the block so that sanding, carving and refining tools can be used. The rubber has a bit of give to it and does not damage diamond or metal files if they are scraped across the surface accidentally.

Carving Tools

Dry metal clay is fabulous to carve'. There are many types of carving tools and each has its own best use. Wax carving tools, miniature wood carving tools, diamond needle files, drills and linoleum carving tools are all useful for carving dry metal clay, and it's so soft that it needs nothing more than a guiding hand and a sharp tool to carve it.

Wax Carving Tools: Available in a set of basic shapes, these stainless steel tools are designed for carving in jewelers' wax, and thats what they work best for. They are not nearly as sharp as a Micro Wood Carving Tool, but some people really like these for metal clay carving.

Micro Wood Carving Tools: Designed for wood carvers, these tools are sharp, hard and the perfect size for carving metal clay. They make clean, sharp cuts in all types of dry metal clay. The U and V shaped gouges are the most useful for most artists. Sharpening is easy due to the hardened steel cutting head. These handy carvers can also be used to carve polymer clay and jewelers' wax for creating custom textures, molds and models.

Diamond Needle Files: A needle file is a very small file that is coated with thousands of tiny industrial diamonds. The file can be drawn or rubbed on the clay surface to carve away areas and used like a saw to carve straight lines. The handles tend to be about 1/16" in diameter, which is not very comfortable to hold, but can be installed in a pin vice to make them much easier to use or dipped in Tool Magic for an instant easy grip handle.

Diamond Carving Bits: Diamond coated carving bits are designed to be used in a flexible shaft machine, but they can also be mounted in a pin vice and used with dry metal clay to shape and carve. A set of 20 different tips is a great bargain and offers tons of options for a variety of applications.

Linoleum Carving Tools: Used to carve linoleum blocks for printing. Be sure to check the cutting head of this type of tool before purchasing. The cutting head tends to be very thin and soft, so they can get dinged easily and result in uneven cutting or chips. Be sure the head is sharp and free of nicks before using.

Drills

Drills are used to make holes in metal clay for connecting jump rings, setting stones or make pilot holes to be drilled out after firing. While a cocktail straw can be used to make a hole in wet clay, the hole size is rather large for most applications and can look out of proportion. Using a drill in dry clay allows for precise, clean holes with no distortion in the clay.

Twist Drills: designed so the shaved off pieces are ejected as the drill turns so it won't get clogged up with shavings like regular drills do. A variety of sizes is needed for holes of various sizes and applications. If you purchase twist drills, consider a full set. Twist drills are designed for metal, and the wide variety of sizes is very useful when making rivets.

Metal Drills: be sure that you purchase a metal drill and not a wood drill. Metal drills are designed to work with harder materials and have a different cut to allow for ejection of metal.

Diamond Drills: this type of drill cuts at any angle. The slightest tipping of the hand can result in an uneven hole. Diamond drills are excellent for harder metals, such as bronze.

Sanding Tools

Sanding tools are materials with graded abrasive surfaces like super-fine sandpaper. Sanding tools easily sand dry metal clay. These are just some of the options, and each of these has a time and place where it will be needed in the studio. Even if you use a tool once a year, when you need it that once, it's heavenly to have.

3M Sponge Sanding Pads: Available in fine grits from Medium to Ultra Fine, sponge sanding pads come in 5-1/2" x 8" sheets and can be cut to any size, wrapped around objects or fingers for curved and controlled sanding.

Sanding Swabs: Are like Q-Tips with abrasive. The color-coded sponge tips allow sanding in tight areas and are easy to control.

3M Micron Graded Polishing Papers: They may be called polishing papers, but these abrasives are very good for refining and sanding dry metal clay. 3M Polishing Papers are like paper towels with grit on one side. They are washable and re-usable, so gunk and junk that loads up the paper can be rinsed out. The 400 grit (green) is most often used, so purchasing an extra sheet of this grit will allow you to have a sheet for sanding and a sheet for polishing, or cut your 400 grit sheet in half and use one for refining and one for polishing. Polishing papers can be wrapped around dowels, paint stir sticks, or any other flat or shaped metal or wood object to create instant sanding sticks.

Needle Files: Both diamond and cut-4 needle files make good sanding tools and can get into tight areas. Cut-4 needle files have safety edges that do not have cutting teeth. Diamond needle files cut on all sides so care must be taken when cleaning up bails and similar applications.

Sandpaper: Wet/dry sandpapers can be used to shape and sand dry clay, can be wrapped around dowels, metal shapes and paint sticks to create sanding sticks. Always use a wet/dry sandpaper rather than a standard sandpaper because the grit on standard sandpaper will come off as you use it and contaminate your clay.

Salon Boards: Salon boards should be good quality to ensure that the grit does not come off while they are being used. Thin emery boards should be avoided. Choose the larger salon boards that have a bit of sponge on them. These are much easier to use and the grit usually stays put.

Paint Brushes

Sometimes water is applied to dry clay to bond pieces together, to clean up a crack or a pit that was not visible when the clay was wet, or to water-polish. Water-polishing is when dry clay is painted with water and then stroked with the brush until the clay begins to soften enough that fingerprints and small cracks are brushed out. Paint brushes are also used dry to brush away the dust created while sanding.

Round Red-Sable Brushes: Used to water-polish and apply water to dry clay.

Flat Red Sable Brush: Used to brush away dust and particles while working. A 1/2 inch or 1 inch wide brush works best. The soft, natural bristles do not scratch the surface of the clay.

Flat Lacquer Brush: Used to make a cleaning brush for sanding tools. Start with a 1/4" or 1/2" wide flat brush and trim the bristles to about 1/8" long. This makes the bristles very stiff and is used to brush out clay dust from sponge sanding pads, needle files, sandpaper and other sanding tools. The metal clay powder can be recovered and used to make paste or worked into an existing ball of metal clay.

Tweezers

A good pair of curved tip tweezers are handy for applying small dry components accurately.

Sanding Tray

Any type of tray with sides on it can be used as a sanding tray except cardboard or wood. One of the best tools for this job is called the Tidy Tray. Tidy Trays come in a small and large size. The large size is especially useful because sanding tools, files and the dust can be left in the tray and moved out of the way when you do not need it, and they can be stacked. Use a separate tray for each type of clay you work with.