Pliers

by Elaine Luther

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If all you know how to use is metal clay, then that’s all you use. And that’s okay, you can make wonderful jewelry using only metal clay.

I believe that each art material should be used to the best of its characteristics. What does metal clay do best? What does lost wax casting do best? What is done more easily and efficiently, or better, in metalsmithing?

Here are some of the strengths of Precious Metal Clay (R):

Easier to make a hollow object than with conventional metals and metalsmithing (form over a combustible core vs. hollow construction).

Takes a texture better than wax and faster results than lost wax casting.

Sculptability just as good as wax, but for many people working with PMC has shorter learning curve than wax. Need many different types of wax to create something, PMC will do it all.

Fast, fast, fast. Faster than metalsmithing, faster turn around time than casting.

Here are some of the weaknesses of PMC:

 I feel that some of the PMC stone setting methods are clunky and ugly.

 Sometimes bails are overly heavy, ugly, or shrink too much.

 Limited options for firing natural stones in place.

 It’s so fast, that if one isn’t careful the results can look Play-doh (R) ish

How can we resolve this? How best to fix it?

The weaknesses of metal clay (in my opinion, others may disagree) can be worked around using just metal clay. You can learn better ways to set stones, you can make a better bail.

But sometimes, you can go to a lot of effort to create a solution that still isn’t as good, as strong, as clean looking as it could have been had you added some metalsmithing techniques to your bag of tricks.

While you can stick with only metal clay and still do great work, if you add even a little metalsmithing, you will have more choices. You will be able to look at a technical problem in a piece of jewelry and say, what is the best way to do this? Not, just, how can I do this in the clay?

You will have more options when something goes wrong, and know how to fix it.

What metalsmithing skills do I think you should learn?

Here’s my ideal list of skills for metal clayers to add to their repertoire:

Soldering

Basic forming on steel mandrels

Making your own jump rings

Bezel setting cabochon stones using soldering (setting stones after the metal clay is fired)

If you want to go a little further, I’d add:

Learning to safely use the flexible shaft to drill, grind and polish

More on that next time.

(c) Elaine D. Luther 2007-2008 All Rights Reserved

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