Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Notes from a tool junkie: My favorite tools for working with PMC

Since I began my blog, I have been tossing around ideas for an ongoing series. What should I write about? Should I have tutorials? Obviously, it should be about jewelry making, but what subject do I feel comfortable enough with to do tutorials? I began an article on making a pair of PMC earrings, but there are already many well-written blogs and tutorials on PMC, so I decided to go at it from another angle: Tools. I am a tool junkie. If there was a Tools Anonymous, I would be the leader. Come to think of it, maybe I should start one. I have tools I use all the time and tools that sounded like a good idea when I bought them, but have only used once or twice. And so I have decided that will be my subject: The tools I use, the ones I love, the ones I hate, the ones I want to try if only I had the money to buy them. I’ll throw in information on supplies as well.

My favorite medium to work with is PMC, Precious Metal Clay. Because I have been working with it lately, that is where I will start today: The tools I use while working with PMC, both wet and dry, up to firing.

If you are just starting out with PMC, there are tons of PMC resources on the internet, one of which is the PMC Guild ( Click on the “Getting Started” tab for great beginners’ explanations and instructions. I think the best way to get your feet wet with PMC is to take a PMC class. Usually basic tools are included with your class fee and you don’t have to invest a lot in equipment, in case you decide you don’t like working with it. The PMC Guild also has a list of classes around the country, searchable by state.

To begin, one of the great things about PMC is that you don’t need a lot of special tools. A lot of the things you use can be found around the house. But, because I have to feed my habit, I tend to accumulate way more than I really need.

Here is a photo of my work area, with some of the supplies and tools I use the most, starting in the upper left hand corner and going clockwise:

~Olive oil (a non-stick agent)
~Badger Balm, which is made from olive oil and also can be used for a non-stick agent. (I like the Sleep Balm because I love the smell of lavender.)
~My handmade slip, made from a recipe found in PMC Guild’s quarterly magazine, Fusion. The (not so) secret ingredient is lavender oil. I’ll talk about how I make it in a later article.
~Water, in a tiny ceramic cup (it doesn’t tip easy) and a small spray bottle.
~Roller. Any round thing will do, such as a length of PMC pipe.
~Playing cards. Many people use playing cards to measure thickness of their clay. I found that they warped on me, so I went to plastic thickness guides. I use playing cards to assemble my project on. Then it’s easier to move the project while it’s still wet. Be sure to coat them with a thin layer of olive oil or Badger Balm.
~Plastic measuring guides. I like them because they are long and thin so they are great if you are trying to roll out a longer piece.
~Texture sheet. I have tons of texture sheets. Some I bought were marketed specifically for PMC. The one you see here was actually made for polymer clay. It is rubbery and flexible and makes very deep impressions.
~Tissue blade. One of the most invaluable tools, but also one of the most dangerous. I can’t tell you how many times I have cut myself with it. This particular one was also made for polymer clay and has snap on handles, making it much safer.
~Tiny cookie cutter. You can buy tons of these online. I have found it’s best to buy those specifically marketed for PMC, only because other ones usually aren’t small enough.
~Work surface. I got this work surface pad in my PMC Certification class. They can be purchased at Rio Grande. It is rigid and it has helpful grid markings and firing times.

Other tools I find useful:

~Paintbrush. I learned that it’s best to spend the money on quality artists’ brushes because the cheaper ones lose their bristles in the clay. You will only need some really small ones – one or two are fine, but use them only for PMC. I also use larger, fluffier ones to brush loose PMC off my piece when sanding and for cleaning up my work area.
~Very thin awl, to use for marking and cutting into wet clay.
~Fine silver wire. Not really a tool, but useful nonetheless. I am horrible at making tiny embellishments with PMC, so I use wire for many embellishments as well as for making jump rings, bails, etc.
~Tweezers for picking up and placing tiny things. I have clumsy hands, so tweezers are essential to me. I probably have 10 pairs in varying sizes and styles.
~A dryer of some sort. This isn’t necessary, but helpful if you are impatient like me. What you use is totally dependent on how much PMC you wish to dry at once and how much money you want to spend. I use a candle warmer, similar to a mug warmer but larger, that I purchased in a craft store. Some people use blow dryers, food dehydrators and in classes where lots of pieces need to be dried at once, large electric skillets.

~A rubber block to rest the dry PMC on when you file it.
~Nail files. Just plain nail files you can purchase anywhere. The kind that are a bit bendable and have foam in the middle. They come in different grits, just like sand paper, they are easy to hold and maneuver, they are plentiful and cheap!
~Carving tools for carving into dry PMC. There are some made specifically for this. I just use a Speedball Linoleum Carver, like the one shown here: I chose this because it was at my local craft store and it was relatively inexpensive.

This is a good point to mention a product I found that I just love: Sanding swabs. They are little match stick style sanders with varying grits on one end. They are just under 3 inches long and they fit into all kinds of little nooks and crannies. I purchased mine at

I will leave you with two little tips for organization. I am a total slob when I work, but I like to be organized. I have found that great things for organizing all these small tools are soap and toothbrush holders you can buy at pretty much any store. The toothbrush holders are great for storing paintbrushes and I even found a squarish one that holds my tissue blades perfectly. And you can just pop them in a bag for traveling.

Finally, I have a bad habit of just dropping my paintbrush down on my desk, which means I get PMC all over the place. The other day I was in a kitchen store and came across little chopstick holders (there’s probably another name for them) and bought one to rest my paintbrush on. So no more dirty desk and no more gunk mixed in with my PMC. I am sure that more resourceful people than I could make one.

I am sure I have forgotten something. Do you have a favorite PMC tool that you use? Please feel free to post it here.

My favorite sources for PMC tools:

Rio Grande
Whole Lotta Whimsy
Cool Tools
Metal Clay Supply


  1. Great article Lisa, makes me want to try it out!

  2. This is great! I have been looking at my pmc packet and tools, waiting for may be it!


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