Try Something New

Autumn is upon us (although we keep regressing back to Summer in Philadelphia).  Time to try something new!  I sold my beloved kiln and controller that I used for bead annealing, fusing glass and, most recently, metal clay.  I want to upgrade to a kiln that can handle cone 6 firing so I can work with porcelain on a regular basis.  Here are some new baubles I’m currently working on.  Cone 6 white porcelain and Mason stains, unglazed.

YouTube videos

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The same, with a cold finish
Five Star Bronze Clay Torch Fired

I wrote a  review of Prometheus Clay while back.  This time I tried Five Star Bronze Clay which is also torch fireable.  And I can say that Prometheus clay wins hands down, at least for torch firing.  I find Prometheus easier to condition, easier to work with and I got more consistent results with the torch.  I have not tried kiln firing with 5 Star Bronze yet.  I’ll let you know the results when I do.   But the BIG story is that I am now making my own bronze clay.  I saw Alan Wiggens’ YouTube videos on the subject and decided to give it a try.  I read about metallurgy to get an understanding of the sintering process so I could find the best deal on a powdered bronze that would work.  Preliminary torch fire tests have been successful!  Not in making a finished product, but in making metal that I can pound out with a hammer.    I am eager to test my homemade clay in a kiln which is how Alan Wiggens recommends firing it.    Stay tuned.

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Bronze clay ready for my future kiln.  The lighter clay is my homemade clay.  The darker clay is Five Star Bronze.

My mother made bread every week when I was growing up so the process is no mystery to me.   I generally throw flour into a bowl,  add yeast and some honey and sugar to feed the yeast and park it under the kitchen tap and turn on the water.  No measuring, no recipe.  And no salt.

I have a friend who says that the flour and bread we buy in the United States is stale and a bit moldy and that is the reason most (not all) people have a problem with gluten.  (I have another friend who gets sick every time she eats pasta in the U.S. but can eat all the bread an pasta she wants when she goes to Italy).   So I decided to grind my own flour.  I got a grinding mill and 40 lbs of wheat berries.  Grinding your own flour is not cheaper than buying it, although there are wheat berry bargains to be had.  And the process is labor intensive.  First, you have to drag the 40 lb bucket into the house.  Then you have an argument with your husband about where to set up the mill.   Then you and your husband have to watch an [expletive deleted] video to figure out how to get the [expletive deleted]  lid off of the [expletive deleted] bucket of [expletive deleted] wheat berries.

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Next comes the grinding.  After hand cranking the wheat berries,  we learned why we refer to arduous tasks as a “grind.” (Or maybe he knew already.  He has a Ph.D. in English Literature).

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Here is the flour.  What you don’t see is all the[expletive deleted] flour around my kitchen.

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Nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven,. Well, almost nothing.

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And in the spirit of trying something new,  let me introduce you to our new motor for the grain mill.  It makes a sound like squealing pigs on steroids, but it does the job.  And the towel is to keep down the flour dust.

Now, on to trying the autolyze process.

On a final note, even Boris is trying something new.  He is off the Prescription Diet and is now eating a new, almost as expensive Hills Science cat food.  And he likes it!

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Product Review: Prometheus Clay

Prometheus clay has been around for a while, but I decided to try it after achieving some nice results with Hadar Jacobson’s Quick Fire Bronze  and Copper Clay.

Prometheus  Clay’s  attractive feature is that you can torch fire it.  One of the least desirable things about working with non-precious metal clay is the need to fire it in charcoal or a similar medium  to keep the surface from oxidizing during the firing process. You don’t have this problem with fine silver because it does not contain the copper that causes the oxidization.  (I have not worked with Sterling Silver clay  and am not familiar with how it is fired)

The Hadar’s clay that I worked with needed two step firing.  First, you had to bring the clay to a certain temperature to burn off the binder material in the clay and then you have to let the kiln cool to room temperature.  Only then could you start refiring the clay to the sintering point where the  remaining materials  would fuse and give you metal.  Needless to say, this takes a long time.  It’s really a two-day job.

My experience with torch firing the Prometheus clay was mixed. It is not as easy is it looks but with practice, I think it is viable alternative  to kiln-fired metal clay.    I  am confining my experiments to Bronze clay because I think it’s rich looking and attractive.  I work with the  copper i metal sheet and wire and really like it but I do not think that the results you can achieve with copper clay are worth the time and effort.  That is just a personal opinion.

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. The Prometheus Clay was workable out of the package although conditioning is recommended.  For a video showing how to condition the clay, press here.  I formed a pendant shape and two smaller shapes to suspend on ear wires for earrings

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I used  rubber  stamps to impress the designs into the clay and then let the pieces air dry for a couple of days.

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They recommend you torch fire the dried clay on a screen for seven minutes which you start counting after you have burned off the binder.  Here I am torch firing two  earring pieces.  I learned the process after watching this video.  I am using an EZ Torch.

 

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At the conclusion of the firing, you drop the pieces into water and the oxidation starts to peel off.  You  have to clean off the remaining oxidation by hand using a brass brush.

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I was able to clean off the oxidation but I lost the spiral pattern I had impressed into the wet clay initially.  See top picture. The pieces withstood hammering and a trip through the rolling mill (which I used to try to put a new pattern on the metal) but the latter revealed that the pieces were not completely sintered.  You can tell from looking at the edges in the above photograph.

I don’t have any process pictures for the pendant, but it turned out much better.  While it was larger in diameter (the size of a large guitar pick) than the two earring pieces (which were about the size of a dime), it was thinner.

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After the initial cleanup, I decided to use a swage block to give the pendant more of a shield shape.

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The pendant withstood the hammering and I achieved a shield shape without any trouble.

 

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The pendant after polishing and finishing.   I did notice minor layer separations on the sides of the pendant but I was able to tap these together with a hammer and and  smooth them out with a file.  I would guess that the metal was not completely sintered  in those spots.

What’s my verdict?   Overall,  I like Prometheus Clay. Torch firing metal clay is not as easy as it looks.  You don’t want to under or over heat and you need to keep the torch moving.  It is easier to maintain a consistent temperature in a kiln.   I suspect that the problem with the earring pieces is that they were not totally 100% bone dry.  The pendant was completely dry and sintered more completely.  The oxidization was fairly easy to clean off and the torch firing method is quicker than the kiln firing I’m used to.  On the other hand,  the designs I stamped into the clay did not remain as sharp as I would have liked.  I don’t know whether that is a by-product of the torch firing process or  my inexperience.

You can kiln fire Prometheus clay too.  I might explore that in the future but for now, I will keep experimenting with the torch firing.  You can purchase Prometheus Clay from Clayrevolution.com.  The site runs sales from time to time and contains a lot of useful information on working with metal clay.