Monday, September 12, 2011

Sterling Silver Clay

One of the things I have been dying to try ever since the article came out in Metal Clay Artist Magazine is Lisa Cain's recipe for sterling silver clay.  But I didn't have any PMC Pro and I didn't have an extruder.

Then I went to Haystack and met Lisa and she talked about the sterling silver clay, which, again, made me want to try it.  I did have the PMC Pro, as it was one of the suggested items for the Haystack class, but still no extruder.

Ever the problem solver, I remembered a comment Lisa made during her discussion saying it was too bad there wasn't a mini bread kneader machine we could use instead of the extruder.  Then a light bulb went off!  Of course!  I had made many a pie crust and similar items in my food processor.  And it so happened I had a mini food processor/chopper that I never used.  So I dug it out and gave the recipe a whirl, so to speak.  I followed everything in Lisa's instructions, with the exception of the extruder.  Instead, I sprayed the processor bowl and blade with some Cool Slip and broke the piece of clay into small bits and ran it through the food processor until the bits balled up together.  And then I broke it up into pieces and ran it through again.  I'm not sure how many times I did this, but at least 10 times.  Then I wrapped the clay up and let it rest overnight.

The next day the clay was a joy to work with.  It had a very creamy feel and didn't seem to dry out quickly at all.  I made a test slab, two cards thick, and a ring mini-mosaic ring.  The base of the ring was three cards thick with little mosaic pieces (two cards thick) attached with slip.  The ring sanded wonderfully, but it broke.  I think this was less the fault of the clay and more a matter of me squeezing a bit too hard on the ring.  It broke cleanly, though, and I repaired it with slip.

I fired it according to Lisa's directions, which is a two-part firing.  I didn't let the piece cool much after the second firing because I was too excited to see how it came out.  So I dug it out of the carbon with my long-handled tweezers and quenched it.  It looked much like fine silver PMC does right out of the kiln, but it was grayer in color.  It brass brushed well.  I tumbled the ring for about an hour and the photos show the result.  I have not yet patinaed it.  I have tried to pull the ring apart to test the joins I made when it broke.  I can't get it to pull apart with my fingers.

The test piece bent well and didn't crack or break, unlike the PMC Pro I used earlier, which was very brittle and easy to break (and I followed the firing directions to a T).

I am very happy with the results.  I didn't measure the ring pre-firing.  I made it very big, keeping in mind that Lisa's article says the shrinkage on rings varies widely.  It shrunk about five sizes, I would estimate, judging from the mandrel I formed it on (which is larger than any ring sizer I have).  I have always worried about rings and their durability in PMC.  Now I can make them in sterling.  Other than rings and cuffs, I would probably stick to regular PMC because it does take quite a while to make the clay.

Thank you so much to Lisa Cain for the hard work she put into this recipe and all the testing.  Her directions are very clear and easy to follow and it's thanks to her that the ring came out so well!


  1. Cool! Glad to hear how this worked out. I wasn't sure that I would have a need to try it out, but that's a great idea to use it for rings because of the strength issue. Thanks for sharing your info!

  2. Great, I worked with the silver clay a few years ago and then moved on to sterling although I love texture which is possible on the clay and I am wanting to try out some copper clay you have inspired me to try some again. thank you nancy


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