Making Metal Clay Rings
Making a ring from metal clay may seem a little intimidating
at first, but it's actually very easy. We have listed the essential tools
you'll need and give you ring building fundamentals to get you started.
Basic Ring Forming Tools
Finger Gauge to measure
a finger for ring size
Ring Mandrel to form a
Ring Sizer Pellets to
control the size of a ring
Freezer Paper to keep a
formed ring from shrink-locking to the mandrel during drying
Invisible Tape to make a
tube from freezer paper
A finger gauge is used to determine ring size. There are
several different types: ring-style finger gauges, paper gauges and strip
Ring-style gauge - a set of
plastic or metal rings. There is one ring in each size that can be tried on
until the proper size is found. Ring-style gauges are available in plastic and
metal. The plastic gauges tend to have sizes on only whole and half sizes but
are most economical. Metal gauges often have quarter and three-quarter sizes.
The most expensive metal ring gauges come in wide and thin bands.
Paper gauge - a miniature
tape measure for the finger.
Strip gauge - works like a
cable tie. A plastic strip is cinched onto the finger and reveals the size at a
plastic stop. The plastic strip will measure in whole, half, quarter and
A ring mandrel is used to form a ring on. Mandrels may be
individual rods or a single mandrel that is either stepped or tapered. A ring
can be formed to the most common sizes with any of the mandrel types. Here is a
detailed description of the main types of mandrels that can be used for ring
Multi-Mandrel The Multi Mandrel is our favorite
ring-making tool because its so easy to use and so versatile. The lightweight
Multi-Mandrel was designed for creating wax ring models, but it's absolutely
perfect for making metal clay rings. The set of 6 ring size mandrels are
5" long. There are two sizes on each mandrel. The smallest mandrel has
size 4 on one end and 5 on the other; the largest has sizes 14 and 15. The
mandrel is fitted into a stud on the mandrel stand. The stand can be placed so
the mandrel is horizontal or vertical. The mandrels can be rotated on the stud,
giving you access to every possible angle. The mandrels are available in whole
and half sizes, and in aluminum or wood. A wood storage rack to store the
mandrels is also available. The double-ended mandrels offer lots of ring-making
real estate with no tapers to throw off your sizing. Multiple projects can be
created simultaneously. The only drawback to this system is that you cannot use
the mandrels to round or size a ring. We recommend the aluminum version over
wood because the wood can expand with humidity and can be damaged much more
easily than aluminum.
Tapered Ring Mandrel - Tapered ring mandrels are made of
steel so the metalworker can form metal with mallets and hammers. There are
mandrels with sizes engraved into the steel, and there are mandrels with no
markings at all. A finger gauge can be used to mark the right size on an
unmarked mandrel. Any tapered mandrel will affect the accuracy of the ring size
on wide rings. A wide ring formed on a tapered mandrel will have a difference
of 1 to 1-1/2 ring sizes from one side of the band to the other which can
result in a ring that is too tight or doesn't fit at all. To overcome this
problem, be sure to center the middle of the ring at your desired size on the
mandrel for a good fit. We also recommend that you make a wide ring one size
larger to account for the width. A wide ring will always feel tighter than one
with a narrow band of the same size. Some mandrels have a hole in the end to
allow them to bit fitted on a stand, and there are also mandrel rests to hold
Another type of tapered mandrel is
made of wood. A wooden tapered mandrel is made for polishing rings. We do not
recommend using this type of mandrel because a ring polishing mandrel is much
shorter than a steel mandrel, which means the taper is more extreme. This
mandrel is very handy for polishing or stone setting, drying and drilling.
Tapered aluminum mandrels are
called ring sticks. A ring stick is a gauge meant for finding the size of a
ring. The ring is slipped onto the mandrel and the size is determined by the
markings on the ring stick.
A stand is available for aluminum
and steel tapered mandrels that raise them off the work surface by about
3", giving you plenty of room to work. If you don't want to invest in a
stand, a simple set of feet can be made from polymer clay.
Low-Cost Mandrel Stand - Soften a 1 oz. block of any brand
of polymer clay. Take Ό of the clay and form it into a ball. Form the remainder
of the clay into a tall cylinder. These are the feet for the mandrel. The small
ball holds up the large end of the mandrel and the cylinder holds up the small
end. Position the ball and the cylinder so the mandrel ends can rest on them
and press the mandrel into the clay to create a seat. Remove the mandrel. Bake
and cool the feet.
Stepped Ring Mandrel - Stepped ring mandrels have about 1
inch of space for each ring size. Some stepped mandrels come already mounted on
a rotating stand, making them very handy for metal clay ring making, but a bit
heavier than the Multi-Mandrel system.
A simple sleeve made from freezer
paper that fits over the mandrel allows easy removal of the ring as it dries
and protects from galvanic corrosion. No matter what kind of mandrel is used,
rings are never formed directly on the mandrel because metal clay shrinks a
little bit as it dries, making it impossible to get the ring off the mandrel
without damaging it. And if you did form a ring directly on a metal or aluminum
mandrel, you'd soon learn about galvanic corrosion. Galvanic corrosion is
something that happens when two dissimilar metals are in contact with each other
in the presence of an electrolyte. The electrolyte creates an electrical charge
that then corrodes both metals. The water and binder in metal clay create the
electrolyte. With steel, galvanic corrosion will be rust in your clay that
turns black when fired and cannot be removed. It will also leave pits in the
steel mandrel. With aluminum, you'll get white and grey oxides and pitting in
the clay that will turn black when fired and cannot be removed. The aluminum
will be pitted and corroded. A simple sleeve made from freezer paper that fits
over the mandrel allows easy removal of the ring as it dries and protects from
Mandrel Sleeve - To make a sleeve, cut a strip of freezer
paper about 1" wide and 3" long. Wrap the paper, shiny side out,
around the mandrel. Trim the strip so one end just overlaps the other end and
use a small piece of tape (about 1/4 inch long) to hold it in place. The tape
should not be on the mandrel. Make sure the tape is on the paper only so the
sleeve can be slid off later. Test to be sure you haven't taped the paper to
A Ring Sizer is a special pellet or plug that is placed
inside the ring shank during firing to control the size. The pellet is made
from a special material that does not shrink or burn during firing. As the
metal clay sinters, it shrinks tightly around the pellet so the ring is the
exact diameter of the pellet after firing. After cooling, the ring is put into
water to dissolve the pellet. Rings cannot be formed directly on Ring Sizer
Pellets because they would not have any room to shrink and would tear.
Metal Clay Ring Sizers Cool Tools Ring Sizers are pre-cast
pellets available in half and whole US ring sizes from 4 to 12. Match the ring
sizer pellet size to the ring size you wear. Our Metal Clay Ring Sizers have
the size molded into the end of the pellet so there is never a mix-up in sizes.
Ring Sizer Mold The Cool Tools Ring Sizer Mold is a
cost-effective way for metal clay artists to cast their own Metal Clay Ring
Sizer Pellets as needed. The molds are available in whole, half and gang sizes.
A half sized mold creates one pellet of each half size from 4 to 12. A whole
size mold makes one pellet of each whole size from 4 to 12. A Gang mold make 9
pellets all the same size. You'll need investment or paper clay to cast the
Ring Sizer Pellets.
Investment - is a product that is used in casting metals.
Investment is mixed and poured into the Ring Sizer Mold to cast ring sizers.
Any type of silver, gold or platinum casting investment can be used; however
the mold works best with a crystobolite-based product. Crystobolite is a
silica-bearing product, so it must be used with a dust mask, or use a
Our Ultra-Smooth investment makes Ring Sizer Pellets that
are very smooth and strong, do not shrink, and can be de-molded in 25 minutes
after pouring. They can also be used immediately after de-molding even though
they are still slightly damp.
Silica-Free Investment is an alternative that does not
contain crystobolite. Ring Sizer Pellets made from Silica-Free Investment are
not as dense as traditional investment, and require 2 hours to set up before
they can be de-molded, and must be allowed to dry completely before use. When
casting with silica-free investment, a soapy-water release must be sprayed into
the mold to avoid sticking which is made simply by adding a few drops of soap
to plain water in a spray bottle.
Steps to Making a Ring
Measure your finger to determine your ring size.
Form your ring 2 sizes larger than this. For example, if your ring size is 7,
you would form the ring at size 9 (we recommend adding an additional 1/2 size
when the ring shank is wide and 5 cards or less in thickness).
Fit your mandrel with a mandrel sleeve (see
instructions above). The ring is created directly on the sleeve. As the ring
begins to dry, it will shrink a little. This can be enough to stress a seam and
cause it to tear. To avoid tearing, allow the ring to dry for 10 or 15 minutes,
and then slide the sleeve down one size on the mandrel so it can complete
drying on the outside without any strain. Once firmed up, the sleeve with the
ring on it can be slid off the mandrel and dried on a cup warmer or other
drying device. Once the outside feels completely dry, the mandrel sleeve can be
removed and the inside can finish drying. Do not try to remove the mandrel sleeve
until the outside of the ring feels totally dry to avoid breaking or distorting
Once your creation is ready to fire and
completely dry, place a Ring Sizer Pellet in your desired ring size inside the
shank and fire. Don't worry that the ring is larger than the pellet. During
sintering the ring will shrink tightly around the Ring Sizer Pellet, resulting
in a ring that is exactly the size of the pellet. If the top of the ring is
wider than the shank, the ring will have to be propped up so it doesn't warp.
The ring can be placed on a fiber blanket or in a dish of vermiculite or
alumina hydrate for support. Be certain that nothing gets between the Ring
Sizer Pellet and the metal clay as it sinters and shrinks.
After firing and cooling, the Ring Sizer Pellet
is removed from the ring by dissolved it in water. The ring is then polished
and finished as desired.
Ring Making Tips
What Clay To Use
Sterling silver clays, such as EZ960, should be your first choice in choosing a clay in which to create a ring, as it is much harder and more durable than fine silver clays. Sintered fine silver is soft and brittle, so it dings up
pretty quickly and its fairly easy to break when its thin. If you choose to use fine silver as a medium to create rings, low-fire clays such
as ACS 650 Low Fire and PMC 3 have the smallest particle sizes so they sinter
more densely than other formulas and are the preferred clays for creating
fine silver rings.
Recommended Firing Schedule for Silver Clay Rings:
EZ960: 1675F for 2 hours in a digitally controlled kiln provides maximum strength. If you are firing flat, and then bending the metal post firing, we recommend 1675F for a full 4 hours to ensure complete sintering and absolute maximum strength. We do not recommend torch firing EZ960.
PMC 3: 1650F for 2 hours in a digitally controlled kiln for maximum strength
ArtClay Silver Low Fire:1650F for 2 hours in a digitally controlled kiln for maximum strength
Fine silver rings can be fired with a torch; however the end product
will not be nearly as strong as kiln firing. Consider the fact that a flat
strip made from PMC3 and fired at 1650F for 2 hours can be formed on a ring
mandrel into a ring. The same strip fired by torch will break when attempting
to form it on the mandrel because sintering is a process that happens over time
and the longer the piece is left to sinter at ideal temperature, the more fully
it is sintered and therefore the stronger the final product is.
If you torch fire rings, be very careful in wearing them.
Treat them as cocktail rings. We also wouldn't recommend selling rings that
have been torch fired because customers will expect a silver clay ring to be as
strong as a sterling silver or gold ring, and they just aren't. If you plan to
sell your rings to the public, fire them in a digitally controlled kiln for
maximum strength, tumble polish to give added strength through work hardening.
Be sure the customer understands that metal clay is a sintered material that does
not have the same properties as sheet stock or cast items so they should treat their
rings with care.
How Thick to Make the Shank
Our recommendation is 5 cards thick.This is a good standard for rings. For
heavily textured rings, make sure you have a floor of at least 3 cards thick. Because sterling silver is harder and more durable, shanks can be made less thick than their fine silver counterparts.
Making a Half-Sized Ring with a Whole
If you need to make a half-sized ring and only have a whole
sized mandrel, make the mandrel half sized by making the mandrel sleeve
thicker. Simply cut a longer piece of freezer paper and wrap it one complete
revolution around the mandrel. You'll need to use the proper half-size Ring
Sizer Pellet when firing.
Removing the Ring Sleeve
Once the outside of the ring feels dry, remove the sleeve so
the inside can dry. Place a needle tool on the top edge of the sleeve and
collapse it downward. Pinch the sides of the sleeve together and slide it out
of the ring shank. Be careful not to nick the inside of the shank as it will be
soft. The ring can be speed dried on a dehydrator or a hot plate or left to air dry. Be very
careful in handling the ring at this point since the inside is still wet and
the ring can easily collapse. Save the sleeve! It can be used again and again.
When you have 2 ends that meet and you want to blend them,
use a small ball stylus or clay-shaper to "stir" the ends together
rather than trying to add water and paste them together. The result is a much
more reliable joint.
Seams should be joined in a bias cut rather than a straight
up and down cut. This gives more area to joint and results in a stronger seam.
Use the seam as a design element or position the seam so it
is at the top of the ring and will be covered with a decoration or top.