Saturday, August 14, 2010

Making a leaf ring with Precious Metal Clay

This is my first tutorial, or show and tell. I hope that it may inspire metal clay novices to finally take the step and try it out, that interested customers may see how I make things, or that my metal clay and silversmithing friends can see how I work and how messy my bench is. I only show a fraction of it so you don't Really know how messy it is. 

So this tutorial is for making a leaf ring. You can actually use it for any texture because the principle is the same. This is a relatively easy ring in a way because I have a part that folds over another part; on the other hand, you have to be careful that you don't leave any marks so you keep the texture of the leaf and not that of your fingers. ;)

Before I pick my leaf, I bring everything I need out:
I have my metal clay (I use PMC3, a matter of taste and what brand you are used to), badger balm, a plexiglass roller, PMC3 paste and playing cards. For this particular ring I'm going to roll out my clay three cards thick.

I have a glass plate on my bench but I find the clay sticks more to the glass than to plastic folders, so I actually always use this kind of plastic folder as a surface. It's very non-stick and easy to work with. When I'm done I let the small pieces of clay dry and brush them into my water jar later on.

I now go down to the garden and pick a suitable leaf. I then cut off a piece of clay (you learn to estimate the amount you need, but usually I take a little too much and then end up doing smaller spontaneous projects with some of the leftover clay). Put some badger balm on the surface between the playing cards. I use an old toothbrush for this.

Note that I have a ring mandrel on two supporting blobs with a piece of paper around where I want to make my ring. This ring paper is sized and you can buy it at metal clay suppliers. I made the supports myself from two component silicon mold making stuff, also available at any metal clay supplier.

As you can see in the photo on the right I now have my leaf and I have started rolling out the clay.

When I have rolled out the clay to the height of the three cards, I put the leaf on top and roll to make a texture. 

I then cut out the leaf shape with a needle tool or scalpel and store the leftover clay under the lid of my badger balm (wet the inside of the lid with water using a brush). If you leave it out in the open it will dry out quickly.

So far so easy. Now it is time to put the clay on the mandrel and make a ring:

Glue the two ends together with PMC paste (also called slip). Make sure you press gently on the connecting parts, for a few seconds at least. If the connection is too weak the two ends will slowly come apart, and you risk coming back to a deformed ring.

Let it dry. I usually let it dry overnight to make sure it really is dry.

Then comes the sanding. I use flexible foam type sanding pads like in the first photo, my Dremel with diamond files or - as shown in the photo to the left, ceramic files in different shapes. I also use diamond needle files. When I want to get a really smooth finish in an area that just needs to be smooth I sometimes use a piece of toilet paper moistened in water and squeezed out.
 I collect my silver clay dust on a piece of paper with a fold in the middle, as shown in the photos. When I'm done sanding I pour the dust into my water jar and make my own slip with it later on. No waste!

When I'm done sanding it's time to fire. I have a Microtorch (creme brulee type kitchen torch) I use to fire metal clay. I feel it gives the right type of heat and there is no risk for overheating if you're careful. I fire my pieces for 2.5 minutes, unless it's a bigger piece, then I choose to fire it for 5 minutes. I have never had a piece that hasn't sintered completely using this clay though.

When you first direct your flame towards the piece it will start burning. This is the binder of the metal clay burning away. Keep going until the piece gets and orangey tone, as shown in the second photo. It can be hard to see in daylight so you may want to draw the curtains. Start your timer set on 2.5 minutes from the point that your piece has this orangey glow.
If you see a metallic shine, pull back your torch right away. You have now melted some of the surface. Your piece may still be okay so keep on firing and move the flame around. I usually keep my torch at a 45 degree angle and make slow circular movements across my piece.

When you're done firing you can quench your item in water or let it cool down on the firing block. Then I just throw it into my tumbler and let it go for an hour or two. 

And this is the result:

Depending on what I feel like I either patina my ring with Liver of Sulfur, or I leave it as it is. I love the frosty whiteness of the areas that the steel shot in my tumbler can't polish.

Thanks for looking!


  1. Very intense.Love it! Great tutorial.

  2. Cool! I have worked with PMC but always with a kiln. I will try this next! Thanks for posting...

  3. Great tutorial! I, too, use a kiln at 1650ºF for 2 hours and let it cool down in the kiln.

  4. It's nice to know it was useful. Thanks!

  5. Great to see how someone else works!! Well done!

  6. Awesome! Thanks for showing this!

  7. this is awesome ...thank you...i think i can tackle my ring again.

  8. This is a great tutorial! Keep up the good work!

  9. Thank you for the tutorial. I have been wanting to try this with my torch. I feel better about trying it now. I still need a better book than I have but I loved seeing your results.

  10. i love this. i've been trying to work up the courage to make a ring.

  11. Thanks so much for the tutorial! I've always wanted to try torch firing pmc, but there are no classes around here. Now I'm ready to head out and get some clay to play!

  12. Awesome Tuturial. Love that ring. You are making mewant to try PMC! Thanks!

  13. This is so beautiful and makes me feel like I might can do it! Now if I could just find a leaf! LOL

  14. Hello,
    I just wanted to let you know that I featured your project on my site, I linked to this project:

    I would like to know if I can link like this to you, including a photo, in the future. Or if you would be willing to allow me to post projects in full on the site - full credit will always be given to you, of course. It would be yet another source of traffic to your blog.

    Please let me know, I would love to work with you further.
    Maggie Kmiecik

  15. I just wanted to say that I LOVE your jewelry it is amazing. I make leaf castings that are large for birdbaths etc in the garden and now you've got me thinking of looking for smaller leaves and doing this as a project! I see the rings seems straight forward but I'm not sure that I could do the soldering for earrings etc! I really appreciate this tutorial it is very helpful and has me inspired

  16. Thank-you for making your instructions so down to earth, I'm a newbie at this, you make it plain. Your jewelry is gorgeous! Thanks again.

  17. It looks really good!! Have you / do you ever use an alternative to a tumbler? They're very expensive and I need to try to make some jewelry to get the money to buy one, so I'm in a deadly spiral! I was wondering if there's something I can use in the mean time.

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