Friday, May 16, 2014

Metal Magic

Ok, so back in my post about our trip to Florida, I alluded to creating earrings using magic. I would say that statement is about 50% true. The other 50% of the recipe was, apparently, sheer and utter frustration. BUT, but but but, the result is really cool.  Let it be known up front that the documentation for this project wasn't great. I'll chalk that up to being on vacation, and oh, the fact that my hands were required to be covered in olive oil (really!).

Would you be surprised to know that these earrings started as clay and ended as metal? Hint: no spray paint was involved--they really and truly are silver.

These magical earrings are made from a product called PMC3--precious metal "clay," which is actually not clay at all, but does look and feel similar to clay. It comes in various metals, such as copper, gold, bronze, etc., and we used silver for our project. The stuff is hella expensive, at around $40 for 9 grams (which, for reference, is maybe the size of a AA battery).

The tools you use are the same ones you'd use to work with regular clay, plus a spray bottle filled with water, and a bowl of olive oil. This "clay" is extremely sticky (think gum/silly putty), so the olive oil is supposed to help keep it from sticking to you and whichever tools you're using to manipulate it. The water is for keeping it moist, because it dries out very quickly.

After hours of trying to figure this stuff out (but really), these are the two pieces I made. They don't look all that nice, I know. Trust me though, it was hard to achieve! I couldn't even go into detail about why this product is so impossible because I think I've blocked the trauma from my memory. Ask my aunt--she'll back me up, but it's mainly due to the fact that it sticks to everything it touches.

After the pieces were formed, we put them on a little heating element to dry them out. After they were bone dry, we used very fine sand paper to remove any rough edges, and then we got ready to fire them up!

We used a Beehive Kiln to fire the pieces. Flame is apparently normal, and only lasts for 10 seconds or so. I think it's probably the olive oil burning off. 

This is where we ran into lots of problems. The directions that came with the kiln (which my aunt had never used before) kept referencing a piece that we didn't have, which controlled the temperature. Without this piece, the kiln heated up, but we had no idea if it was too hot or not hot enough. With no alternative, we decided to move forward. We decided to use the "lid" to keep in as much heat as possible.

We knew that once the pieces glowed a salmon color, they would be ready to remove, which is supposed to take about 15-20 minutes. Unfortunately, after 25 minutes, they still weren't glowing. The plate under them was glowing, but the pieces themselves were not.

We decided to remove them anyway, and dropped them in a cup of cold water, as was suggested. They looked more or less the same as they did before they were fired--still a very light grey.

The next step was to scrub them with a metal-bristled brush using water and dish soap. These pictures are of my aunt scrubbing her piece. 

After she finished hers, I very excitedly scrubbed mine. One of them snapped in half. Womp womp. It was the thinner of the two, and was markedly thinner because controlling this material is next to impossible. Regardless, the piece being thin shouldn't have caused it to snap, and we're 99% sure that they didn't get fired hot enough, which didn't allow them to fully transition to silver. My initial plan was to solder the pieces back together, but my grandfather didn't have any silver solder, and I learned once I got back to Austin that PMC3 actually can't be soldered. 

Instead, I decided to get some good ol' metal epoxy. JB Weld was recommended by multiple people, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

I just flipped it over, dabbed it on, and so far, so good.

I added some colorful beads so the earrings weren't so one-dimensional, but made sure to choose something small enough that you could still see the pattern in the metal clay.

So, what do you think? Magic, right? I've vowed to never touch this material again, but have enthusiastically told my aunt to keep at it ;) She's the most creative person I know, and is certainly more patient than I am, so I think she has a good shot at figuring it out. By the end of the process though, we were both totally exhausted and on edge.

Have you all ever worked with this stuff, or even heard of it? Have you ever made jewelry out of something unconventional? There are shops on Etsy that work in metal clay, and I just stare a the pieces in awe knowing how difficult it is to even touch the material and not have it turn into a gunky mess!

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