Many Hats of Me: Metal Clay and Tourmaline Ring

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Metal Clay and Tourmaline Ring

Designing a Tourmaline Ring Using Metal Clay

Last week, I used metal clay for the first time and made a ring made of metal clay and Argentium silver.  Although this first attempt was a failure since I couldn't set the stone it was designed for, I did learn the following:

  • how metal clay can be fired successfully with Argentium silver; 
  • how metal clay shrinks during firing; 
  • and how NOT to set a stone in metal clay.

You can read about it in my post Metal Clay and Argentium Silver Ring.

For my second project with metal clay, I decided to try ring design by Hattie Sanderson, called Hattie Texture Mat #55109. This texture mat has a graduated ring shank and beautiful textured pieces that are easily customized. I will be using this design to create a ring to set the tourmaline from my first metal clay experiment. This would be third attempt at setting this particular stone, having tried wirework and metal clay already!


Hattie Texture Mat #55109 for metal clay





Hattie Texture Mat #55109 for metal clay

This is Hattie Texture Mat #55109 detail

Glycerin to Extend Metal Clay Work Time


While I was working with metal clay for the first time, I found that within 10 minutes of manipulating the clay, it would begin to dry and crack. I did some research and found that if I added a few drops of glycerin, the metal clay would stay moist.

I pinched off  a1/4 piece of a 50g packet of metal clay, added a few drops of glycerin, and kneaded it while it was wrapped in some plastic wrap. I let the clay rest overnight and then tried it the following day. The glycerin extended the work time to 25 minutes! 

However, even with this extended work time, I found it difficult to take pictures as I required every minute to form the clay. 


glycerin bottle purchased at Walmart

Glycerin purchased at Walmart in the drugs aisle for under $5.


Lavender Oil


Lavender oil is another additive to metal clay that can also extend the working time of clay. However, it's used mostly to make an oil paste for connecting fired pieces of clay. A lavender oil recipe can be found at  crafting.squidoo.com and Riogrande.com. The articles discuss in depth how to make oil clay as well describe how well it bonds pre-fired metal clays.


Now lavender oil from Amazon.com

I purchased 100% lavender oil from Amazon

Shaping Metal Clay

Since I'm just a beginner, I limited my shaping tools to the essentials. I found most of them at the local hobby stores, Michaels and Hobby Lobby


H2O brush

Water brush from Michaels. With a small squeeze, you can have water at your fingertips!


Sculpey 5-in-1 tool for metal or polymer clay

Sculpey 5-in-1-tool can be found in the polymer clay section of the hobby store. 



soft tipped silicon color shapers

Soft-tipped silicone color shapers can be purchased at Amazon.com




Wilton fondant rolling pin

Wilton Fondant Rolling Pin  with thickness guides. 



Forming the Metal Clay Shank


Before working with metal clay, I coat my work surfaces, rolling pins, textures, and hands with a light coating of olive oil. This prevents the clay from sticking to my hands or tools and keeps the clay moist. 

To make the ring shank, I roll out a small grape sized piece of clay into a long flat piece that covers the shank pattern of the texture mat. I use the pink thickness guide on the Wilton rolling pin which is roughly 1mm. After I firmly press the clay into the mat using my finger tips, I gently peel the clay from the texture mat and wrap it around an investment plug that I had made a few days before. 

Investment plugs are essential when firing metal clay ring shanks as they prevent you ring from shrinking too much. I chose a size 5 size, one size larger than my sister's finger size of 4 to accommodate metal clay shrinkage during firing. You can learn how to make ring investment plugs by reading my post Fabricating Jewelry Settings with Wirework and Metalclay


Metal clay ring drying around an jeweler's investment ring plug

I also wrapped the plug in parchment paper to prevent the wet clay sticking onto the investment plug. 
I will use a size 4 plug during the firing without the parchment paper.


metal clay ring drying around jeweler's investment plug


Forming the Metal Clay Setting


I used the rolling pin again to flatten a small piece of metal clay to cover another section of the Hattie Texture Matt. After removing the clay from the texture mat, I pressed the tourmaline gently into the center of the clay. I removed the tourmaline and cut an opening made by its impression. I placed the clay onto a small can of tomato paste lined with plastic wrap so that the clay would dry in a curved shape.



Metal clay drying on top of a can of tomato paste

Using a food can to shape the ring setting


Forming the Metal Clay Setting Prongs


After the clay dried overnight, I placed an investment plug copy of the tourmaline into the hole. It fit perfectly! To prevent damaging the tourmaline during firing, I am using an investment plug instead of the stone. You can learn how to make investment plugs in my post, Fabricating Jewelry Setting with Wirework and Metalclay




Metal clay with a jeweler's investment plug made in the exact size and shape of tourmaline


I pinched off two baby pea size pieces of clay and pressed them into the texture mat and formed two flat pieces of clay. Then I took my water brush and wet the opening of the setting. This activates dry clay so that it can bond with wet clay.



Using water brush to smooth out the texture of the dried metal clay.

Using a water brush to wet the dried clay



I painted some metal clay slip onto both the soft pieces of clay and the dried setting and gently squished the wet and dry clay together. In retrospect, this was mistake; I should have waited for the clay to dry before trying to attach it to another clay piece. Because I used wet clay, my metal clay "prongs" were both asymmetrical and poorly shaped.

Clay slip is a thick paste of metal clay and water and used to adhere two metal clay pieces together.



Attaching prongs on the metal clay ring

Metal clay prongs attached to the dry clay using water and slip.
Since I attached them wet, they are not symmetrical and flat. 






Metal clay ring drying between two pieces of polymer clay


I used more slip and water and two pea size pieces of metal clay to attach the setting to the shank. I left it to dry overnight between two pieces of polymer clay.

Firing the Metal Clay + Argentium High Fire Experiment


Since I was only firing the ring in the kiln, there was some space to try another firing experiment with Argentium silver. 

I took an small Argentium silver gallery wire setting that I had soldered together a year ago and placed it onto a pile of charcoal that was sitting on top of kiln paper. I then carefully placed it into the kiln and poured more charcoal on top. If you try this experiment at home, make sure you vacuum any pieces of charcoal that happen to fall off the kiln paper and onto the kiln bricks. The charcoal leave hole in the firebrick after firing!



argentium silver gallery wire

Argentium silver gallery wire from Riogrande.com


argentium silver gallery wire on top of a pile of charcoal.

The charcoal is to prevent the copper in the Argentium silver from oxidizing 
and weakening the metal after firing



metal ring and argentium gallery wire in the kiln




metal clay ring placed in kiln cushioned with fiber pillows. Notice the ring sizing plug.

I used fiber pillow to gently support the ring during firing. I have used the investment plugs to keep the ring from shrinking too much.


After firing for 2 hours at 1650 degrees F, I let the kiln cool down until 600 degrees before taking the ring out using a spoon.



metal clay ring is covered in a white coating when taken from the kiln



The ring was covered in a white coating, which is normal. The investment plug kept the stone setting from shrinking too much.



fired metal clay ring still with ring sizing plug

From the side view, we can see that the ring has shrunk from a size 5 to a size 4 ring. 


When the hot ring was placed in water, the investment plugs immediately started to disintegrate. After about 2 minutes, the plugs were soft enough to scrape away.



metal clay ring with the ring plug dissolved away





oxidized argentium silver gallery wire

The Argentium gallery wire had fully oxidized under the extreme heat, even in the presence of charcoal. You can see the green color of the copper that leached out of the gallery wire.




The charcoal burned up in the kiln and turned a tan color.


From this pictures, you can see that the charcoal has completely burned up. According to my research and experience, Argentium silver can be fired at 1500 degrees in a vessel under coal for an hour. Perhaps if I placed the gallery wire in a vessel with the charcoal, it would have survived the firing?


Setting the Tourmaline in the Metal Clay Ring


It took me two days before I had the nerve to set the tourmaline. I was worried that the metal would shatter like my first metal clay ring, or that I may crush the stone while pushing the prong. 

I wiped my counter with a damp cloth, set and locked down my mini- vise, and carefully installed the ring in the rubber lined jaws. 


fired metal clay ring in a vise


fired metal clay ring in a vise, ready to set the tourmaline




The moment of truth...




using a bezel pusher to set a tourmaline ring in metal clay ring


I first tried to use the bezel pusher, but the metal would not bend at all. I was very afraid of slipping and damaging both the stone and the ring.



using flat noise pliers to set tourmaline in metal clay ring


I brought out my jewelry pliers and the metal easily bent towards the stone. However, one prong was thicker than the other, so only one side bent well. I used different pliers, moved the angle of the ring, and used the bezel pusher a number of times before I pushed the the prongs close enough to hold the stone. 

I had a few scary moments when I slipped and chipped off some metal from the edge of the prongs. Luckily, I neither broke the prongs nor the stone. 

Finishing the Metal Clay Ring

I filled my tumbler with small ceramic media from Riogrande.com, water and a drop of dishwashing detergent and tumbled my ring for half an hour. Then I took out my Black and Decker rotary tool and attempted to polish it with Zip buffing compound and a small metal brush from my Dremel kit. I stopped when I realized that it was heavily staining the ring. 

I tumbled the ring again, but the stain still remains on the ring. I showed the ring to my husband, and he said the the dark stain actually brings out the design in the ring. For now, I will leave the stain on the ring until I research how to remove it. 

The final result:



Metal clay ring with 3 carat green tourmaline ring for my sister is finally finished!

As you can see, the prongs are not even and one side is chipped :(



metal clay ring with 3 carat tourmaline - picture of the shank

The shank and the setting have a very strong connection. 
The tumbler polished all the white residue away.



metal clay ring with 3 carat green tourmaline ring, ready to wear!


Conclusions:


  1. When forming prongs for a tourmaline setting, roll out clay using guides so that all the prongs are uniform in thickness.
  2. Let the prongs dry so that they do not become misshapen while connecting them to the main body of the setting.
  3. Do not let charcoal touch the kiln brick during firing as it will burn crevices in your kiln.
  4. Argentium silver did not survive fired at 1650 for two hours under my kiln's conditions. 
  5. Do not use steel wire brushes that come with Dremel bit kits. They stain your silver badly!
  6. Gem setting is really difficult and I may need proper training in this area in the future. 

Thanks for reading! Please come again soon!


I found Hattie Sanderson's Book "Contemporary Metal Clay Rings" very helpful and inspiring. Check it out.






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