YOU ARE HERE: Home > Learning Center > tips & tricks

Metal Clay Tips and Tricks

Check here often for more new tips and tricks for working with metal clay. If you have a tip you'd like to share, email us! If we use your tip, we'll give you credit AND a Cool Tools Gift Certificate that can be used for anything in our store.

Clay Humidifier

This simple solution is to purchase a Cool Tools Metal Clay Hydrator, STR-323. If you would like to make your own, you can do so by following these instructions: Glue a cosmetic sponge to the inside of a small plastic container using E6000 glue and allow it to dry. When ready to use, wet the sponge completely by adding water to the container, then pour the water out. You now have a humidifier. Use the humidifier by turning it upside down and covering the wet metal clay. The surface that the humidifier is placed on should be flat so no air can get inside. If a container with a lid is used, it can double for storage. Add water to the container and be sure the sponge is completely wetted. Pour out the water. Wrap your clay tightly in plastic cling wrap, then place inside the container and apply the lid.

Clean Cuts with Tissue Blades

Very carefully apply a bit of Slik, Claymate, oil or balm to tissue blade cutting edges before use for clean cuts that do not stick to metal clay.

Comfortable Working Positions

Always work on a surface that can be moved or rotated as needed to avoid putting yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable or unsteady. This is especially important when using syringe. Move the work, not your body. Try to always maintain a comfortable position to have the best control.

Equalize the Depth of Textured Clay

When clay is pressed into a texture, some areas will appear somewhat rounded or higher than you'd like. This can detract from the overall look. Use an acrylic snake maker to press the textured clay to flatten the rounded areas and equalize the depth. This will give the textured clay more of a roller-printed look. Try it first with polymer clay to get the swing of the technique. It's very easy!

Using Porous Textures

Metal clay should never be textured with porous materials such as wood, paper, shells or anything else that absorbs moisture. The clay will stick terribly and you'll lose valuable clay in the process. Porous materials can be used however if they are first sealed. Use a waterproof sealer (3 to 4 coats), or paint the item with fresh latex paint. Allow to dry completely. Mist the sealed with CoolSlip before impressing metal clay into the surface for a clean release.

Signing Your Work

Customers will perceive your work as more valuable when it is signed. Even if they have never heard of you, somehow, adding a signature will give your work more cachet and it makes it easier to track should you become famous! If you want to avoid having to register a logo as a trademark, simply use your signature or initials. To make it easy to sign your work you can create a mold of your initials or signature. Start with a slab of polymer clay that is 2 cards thick. Make the slab on a Tuff Card so it doesn't have to be moved and can be baked in place. Use a medium ball burnisher to "sign" your name in the clay. Use a snake maker to press down the bits that will be displaced by the signing. Start the signature out lightly and go over it as needed for the depth that you want. Use a small oval shape cutter to cut out the signature tag. Remove the excess clay and bake. Now make a mold of this master using MegaMold. Press metal clay into the mold to produce as many copies as you like. Store these ready to use signature tags for easy use when needed.

Using Leftover Bits of Clay Creatively

I often find myself with small bits of left over clay after creating components for a project. These bits can be added to a ball of fresh clay if it's available. The last thing I want to do is open a package of clay if I don't need to. I use these left over bits to create little design components that I can use in the future. Roll the bits into small balls and allow them to dry. I have a signature rose that I make with small balls of clay (see my Affirmation Bracelet Project). I roll a tiny bit of clay into a ball and then impress it with a cocktail straw to create a rose. You can also make simple balls, or donuts or impress with any number of tools such as the hole of a fluted bead, a Phillips head screwdriver or whatever you like. Allow these decorative bits to dry and they are ready to embellish whatever project you like.

Paint Brush Tips

Always use top quality brushes. Inexpensive brushes will give you headaches and ruin your work with bristles that fall out and wreck whatever you are working on.

When using paint brushes to apply paste, always wet the brush before using. A dry brush will wick moisture away from the paste and encourage it to dry out. As the brush is used again and again dried paste will begin to build up near the ferrule (the metal part of the brush). This will cause the bristles to stick out and the blush fluff up and render it useless. By first wetting the brush, the paste stays moist and away from the ferrule.

Never dip the brush completely in the paste. The paste should not be more than half way up the bristles. This will help in keeping the brush in excellent condition.

After each working session, clean all paint brushes completely. Use a small container with just a bit of water in it. Vigorously mash the bristles to the bottom of the container for several seconds (as if you are trying to poke a hole in the bottom of the container). This will clean all of the metal clay particles out of the bristles. Reform the bristles back into shape for drying. Small brushes can be laid on their side so the bristles dry in the air.

Drilling Clean Holes

For the most professional look to your work, pay attention to the details. Sloppy, out-of-round holes, and holes that are too big for the job will make your work look amateurish. For perfectly sized, clean holes, drill after the clay has dried. Use a ball burnisher to mark the spot for your hole when the clay is wet, then use the correct sized drill to make a perfectly clean hole in the dry clay.

Avoid Clogged Metal Clay Syringe Tips

After you are finished extruding syringe, try any of the following: Remove the tip and replace the original cap. Place the syringe, tip side down into a cup or container of water. Use a paper clip to push out the remaining clay in the tip. Use the remaining clay to fill a joint, make a ball or other shape to dry and use later or add it to lump clay. Insert a silver headpin all the way into the end of the top. Then place the syringe, tip side down into a cup or container of water. When ready to re-use, pull out the headpin and wipe the clay off with a Clay Shaper to use as a seam filler or paste. The headpin will keep water from getting into the end.

Un-Clog Metal Clay Syringe Tips

Metal clay can dry in the end of a syringe tip and make it impossible to extrude the clay. To un-clog the tip, first try using a paper clip to push the clay out from the end. If this doesn't work, soak the tip in water for a couple of hours or overnight and then push the clay out. Be sure to save the clay! It can be rehydrated and re-used.

Make Multiple Sizes or Matching Sets from a Single Mold or Texture

For matching jewelry sets such as earrings and a pendant, you will probably want to have the earrings smaller than the pendant. To create a smaller version of a larger piece, make the large piece first, then create a mold of the finished piece and use that to create smaller earrings. Another clever method is to use low-shrinkage clay for the pendant and high-shrinkage clay for the earrings using the same component, texture or mold. For instance, use PMC 3 (which shrinks about 12%) for the pendant, and use the same mold or component with PMC Standard (which shrinks about 28%). This way you can have multiple sizes from the same element.

Avoiding Surface Drag

Kiln shelves can create surface drag on fine silver clay as it sinters. This surface drag can cause a piece that was perfectly round before firing to be out of round after firing, lose their shape, curl or pucker. To avoid this problem try flouring the kiln shelf with alumina hydrate. Sprinkle a little alumina hydrate powder on the surface of the kiln shelf. Use your finger to spread the powder evenly over the surface. It should be like a floured cake pan, a very thin coat. Now the metal clay can shrink without getting snagged on the kiln shelf surface.

Safely Fire Heat Sensitive Gemstones

Many gems are heat sensitive and can only be fired for a short time on an open kiln shelf or with a torch before they begin to discolor. To extend the firing time and temperature, bury the item in activated carbon. The carbon protects the stone (both manmade and natural) from oxygen. It's oxygen that damages the gem during firing. This works for fine silver, silver alloy, bronze and copper clays. See our Gemstones in Metal Clay publication for the latest information on how to fire diamonds and other heat-sensitive stones safely. Click here to download the definitive guide to gemstone firing, Gemstones in Metal Clay.

Work Harden Fine Silver

Fine silver is very soft and bends easily. If fine silver wire is used to make ear wires, work harden them by tumbling in a rotary or vibratory tumbler for at least an hour. This will stiffen them up greatly and hold their shape. It may seem like wires will get bent up in the tumbler, but they will not.

Remove Patina from Fine Silver

You can quickly burn off patina from fine silver by heating it with a torch. Gently heat the piece on both sides until the patina is gone. Another method is to re-fire the item in the kiln to at least 1200F for 10 minutes. Silver can also be pickled in hot SilverPrep to remove the patina. Leave in the boiling solution until the item turns white and all traces of patina are gone.

Using Expired Silicone Mold Material

Any 2-part silicone mold material has a shelf life of 2 to 6 months. Once the shelf life has been reached, the material will not want to set up. If you find that your mold material (this could be Cool Tools Mega Mold or any other brand) does not want to set up within the time noted on the instructions, it can often be forced to set with the addition of a little heat. Try warming it under a light bulb or on a cup warmer. Heating it to 100F should set the material no matter how old it is.

Use Polymer Clay as an Armature

To make a custom armature for drying, form polymer clay into the shape you desire and bake it. Then drape the metal clay over the armature for drying. Allow to air dry or dry in a dehydrator. Do not dry on a cup warmer or other heater surface.

Do Not Use Un-Cured Polymer Clay as a Holding Device

Un-cured polymer clay will permanently stain metal and unfired metal clay. Do not use un-cured polymer clay as a fixative to hold metal, unfired metal clay, or to hold stones in place during setting.

How to Find Small Parts in the Tumbler

Jump rings and small parts are easy to lose in the tumbler and are very difficult to sort out from the shot. The best way to deal with small parts is to string them on a chenille stem or a bit of brass or copper wire before tumbling. Thread all your jump rings onto a chenille stem (also called pipe cleaners) that is cut to the length needed, then twist the end before tossing in the tumbler. A chenille stem threaded through bails will prevent shot from becoming Thread a chenille stem through bails and other openings to prevent shot from becoming lodged inside the opening during tumbling. Any opening large enough to accept a chenille stem will also allow shot to lodge inside, so save yourself the trouble of trying to get it out and put a chenille stem in the opening from the start.

How to Dislodge Stuck Shot From an Opening

If shot has become stuck in an opening after tumbling, allow the piece to dry completely, then place in the freezer for a few minutes. Since cold contracts, the shot and metal will shrink away from each other and allow the stuck shot to be shaken out of the opening easily or with the help of a toothpick.

Avoid Work Hardening Bezels and Prongs

Tumbling work hardens metal, so items with bezels and prongs should be tumbled only after a stone is set, if possible. Fine silver or annealed sterling silver is used for bezels and prongs because the metal needs to be soft enough to move easily. If an item with a bezel or prongs is work hardened before setting the stone, the work will be much more difficult and the result not a lovely as if it was done when dead soft.

Getting a Grip on Needle Tools

Some needle tools have very small shanks with not much to hold on to. Sometimes you will want to use a drill or a bur in dry clay and the shanks are so small that they are not very comfortable to hold on to. You can use Jett Sett to create custom handles for these types of files. Simply heat the Jett Sett in hot water until soft, gather in a ball and plunge the tool shank into the blob. Mold it so it's comfortable in your hand and allow to cool for a few minutes. Now you have a tool with a comfortable grip that will not wear out your fingers. This is called working smart!