Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bronze Clay Tips

Normally this time of year I am taking a break until my spring jewelry shows, but this year, I have a BEAD show to do.  This is both exciting and intimidating at the same time.  Needless to say, I am making beads, lots and lots of beads.  Right now I am working in bronze clay, I have gone through 800 grams so far.  During this process I have had friends ask some questions and mention they may want to try bronze clay.  So I thought I'd share some tips, things I have learned, mostly the hard way.

There is not a lot of information out there on bronze clay.  When I decided to dive in, I got this book, and as far as I can find, I think it’s the only book on bronze clay. It’s a great guide, yet even this book has a lot left to figure out on your own.   I also highly recommend CoolTools, not only do they have the best prices on metal clay, but they have wonderful instructions, videos, and great customer service.  Mardel Rein is wonderful to assist in any way she can.  She is always adding new tools and tips to the sight.   

Bronze Clay is relatively still a new medium, and we are all pioneers in this journey.  So I encourage you to play, find out what this can do, let explore together.

I prefer bronze clay (the fast fire version) to copper clay, because it shrinks significantly less.  Since I make chunky large beads and focals, this works for me.

I started out using PMC- so in comparison, bronze clay is not as sticky, and doesn’t like to stick to itself.  You need to make and use slip.  The clay also cracks easily and if those cracks are not fixed prior to firing, they WILL split or break in the kiln as it shrinks.  Also- make sure to do as much finishing as possible before firing, since bronze is a hard metal, it’s easier to sand edges before firing them filing them after.

I use a firing vessel made from heavy duty no flake firing foil. 
 That way I was able to make it the size I wanted.  It took me awhile to figure out how much bronze clay I could fire at once and have it all fire evenly.  Of course I was trying to fire as much as possible.  I have found that 200 grams of fast fire bronze clay fires nicely in my kiln at one time in one vessel.  I tried stacking them so I could fire two at once, and just had too many pieces that needed to be redone. So I do one vessel at a time.  You can tell if your pieces are fired correctly by banging them with a hammer or trying to bend them after they are fired.  They should not crack or crumble.  They should react like pure metal.

I also learned to place thicker or larger pieces towards the outside of the firing container, where it is hottest.  I leave space empty at the front of my container- the part closest to the door, because that is the coolest part of the kiln. 

And last but not least, I LOVE magic carbon for my firing media.  I tried all the others, and this is my favorite.  The rainbow does not give any sort of consistent effects, so that’s just not for me.  Magic carbon gives a nice antique finish.  I bronze brush or tumble the pieces to clean them up post firing, and its perfect.  Since liver of sulphur won’t antique bronze, this is perfect for the look I wish to achieve.
Please feel free to ask if you have any other questions.  This is just an overview with tips.  There is a lot of wonderful information here on the Cool Tools learning center.

 Anyone else have tips they would like to share?


mairedodd said...

this is great staci, a friend and i have started working with the clays - got a 4 pack from hadar in powder form... she has the experience in silver clay... i am a complete newbie... thanks for the tips and references...

Izzy said...

You make it look very tempting to try... =)

Lesley said...

Great piece Staci - you seem to have been on the same journey as me - I much prefer bronze to copper too. I don't know if you've seen this Squidoo lens...I found it really useful - great for newbies to the product.
Interesting what you say a bout LOS - whilst it doesn't have the same effect as it does on copper I still use it on textured pieces to get extra depth and highlights - I usually submerge the piece in hot water first and use the LOS warm.

stacilouise said...

Lesley, I have tried liver of sulphur and it just doesn't seem to darken it for me. I will have to try it hot. Thanks for the tip!!!

Lari Washburn said...

Bronze clay! Who knew? How fun to find another medium to think about. Thanks for visiting my blog too. I checked out your Etsy shop...very nice.

Lari Washburn said...

Sounds like a fun medium! It's always good to stretch into new things, isn't it?

Leona said...

Hey Staci

Good luck at your bead show. I am currently wandering down the bead path as well and can't wait to hear all about your experience.

I haven't tried the Metal Adventures clays.

I work with Hadar's clays. I started with silver PMC 5 years ago and the base metals last year. I tried Prometheus first, however found it hard to work with. Hadar's clays do stick to each other (and themselves) easily and I have not had to make and use slip at all. Hadar also provides multitudes of information on her blog. She suggests sanding as a way to tell if pieces are sintered.

Liver of Sulphur should darken bronze - hot solution and hot metal seem to work the best for me. Since I use the metals together, I have been using Baldwin's patina, which darkens copper the most so the metals can be distinguished in the patterns.

I agree to go out and play - which ever clay you choose! I am having so much fun, particularly mixing the metals, that I am finding my silver (my first metal clay love) a wee bit boring... (I am sure it is a phase, there are tons of things I could do with the silver, too).

Um, soon, I will post some "strutting" stuff...


Artisan Beads Plus said...

WOW!! Thanks for the tips!!! I really want to try this one day.... maybe this summer when I'm off. I'm an experimenter and when things don't work out as planned I chalk it up to a private class that I had to pay small fee for ;o)

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