Monday, October 17, 2011

How 200 grams of FASTfire BRONZclay looks like

I took these quick pictures of a pack of 200 grams FASTfire BRONZclay to show you how the actual pack looks like.

Like me, if you haven't really seen a pack of bronze clay, you would probably be surprised at the amount of clay you would receive. Like me, you probably would have been expective more than what gets shipped to you.

It took me weeks to make a decision to purchase a pack, and when I did, I waited for four days, impatiently tracking the UPS package online. On the day it was supposed to arrive, I had to wait outside my building to make sure that I don't miss the UPS truck, because my building has a problem with deliveries--there's no way for anyone to buzz the residents from the outside and our building has a reputation for missing deliveries and we end up going to the UPS (or Fedex) warehouse.

On that day, my phone rang, and I went inside to my unit, where I entertained a friend gripe about stuff. Then I remembered to come out again, while still on the phone, and, sure enough, I saw the UPS truck past my building and already parked on the next block! I ran and chase it, and waited for the driver to come back. Luckily I got my package!

Within the four days of waiting, I went to two art stores, just to pass the time, and I looked at some polymer clay packs, visualizing what the bronze clay pack would be like. I visualized the 200-gram amount to be a huge brick! My thoughts were on making huge villages with mountains in the backdrop made of bronze clay! Needless to say, I was disappointed at the amount that came in the mail.

NOTE: After the discussions about the pics, make sure you read the section below. I also ordered activated carbon, which I will mention later.

In the picture above, I placed the pack on top of a letter-sized (8 1/2 inches x 11 inches) unopened ream of paper and by a Sharpie pen. I figured most of you out there, especially artists, would have the paper and Sharpies around. 

Online, I thought that the pictures of the PMC (precious metal clay) packages were just showing the label. It turns out, those flat-looking images are the actual packages themselves! They just happen to look flat because the clay inside is flat. The wrapper looks like plastic and foil, to make sure that the clay does not dry up.

You can imagine how a 100-gram pack and 50-gram pack would be. They are probably packed the same way but even thinner. I don't think I'll ever buy a 100- or 50-gram pack, because they would be more expensive per gram, and I really could use more than 200 grams.

In the third picture, I folded back the edges of the pack so that what you see is the size of the actual clay inside.

Now, I wonder. Maybe, like me, you are also wondering: if this is bronze, then maybe gold clay is heavier(?) This would mean that the amount of gold clay in a pack might even be smaller than bronze clay! Hopefully only by a small fraction!

I have yet to order gold clay, but as it is, I am hesitant. If I'm going to make settings for my ceramic porcelain dolls, I might have to explore other possibilities other than metal clay. I had always been considering using some type of a darker (earth) clay for accessories, and then coating them with gold leaf. I might want to do that.

There is also something to say about gold leaf. Jewelry is usually electroplated. Metal for jewelry can start with bronze or copper, but before a layer of gold is plated on them, nickel has to be plated on first. Nickel does not oxidize and it acts as a barrier between the gold and the bronze. Without nickel, the bronze, in time, seeps through the gold layer and will oxidize, discoloring the gold. (Read more about this, because I did, and I am not yet considering to do all this.)

Gold leaf is actually more convenient. The layer of glue also serves as a barrier, so that the gold leaf will keep its color for a long time. My purpose for all this "research" is not to make jewelry. Gold leaf for me will do just fine.

The fourth picture shows how thin the pack is. I would say that the thickness is just a little above a quarter of an inch. I thought I was going to get a thick brick of bronze clay!

My estimation is that if you are looking to make jewelry, you can probably make from 8 to 12 decent-sized rings.


You might also forget a few other considerations. So here are some that I remember off-hand.

It turns out, bronze clay needs a kiln, a torch would not work like it would on gold clay. Other PMC's like gold clay can be torched, or placed on a gas stove (with the necessary contraptions). I bought a torch months ago, but I cannot use it on bronze clay. Bronze clay and copper clay oxidize, and so while the necessary temperature is reached, the least amount of oxygen should interact with the clay. Activated carbon is needed. I also had to purchase activated coconut shell-based carbon (approximately $17).

While inside the kiln, the metal clay should have as little contact with oxygen as possible, hence the need to bury the bronze (or copper) in a tray of activated carbon. There are two types of activated carbon available, coal and coconut shell. They are priced the same, but coconut shell is supposed to be better from what I have read.

AND, because of this needed procedure, the carbon needs a TRAY... You must remember that you need to use a tray that can withstand the temperatures of a kiln, and especially, the temperature needed by bronze clay. This means you have to buy the right tray... another expense. I decided to experiment, I have yet to prove this right or wrong...

I had an idea of just making a tray using my porcelain clay so I would not have to buy more and more stuff. I looked at the few trays available online for this process, but nothing sparked my interest. The reason for this is that the trays are mostly flat. Without having seen a pack of bronze clay, with visions of constructing an entire village made of bronze, I thought I need to be flexible with the tray shape. I might want to make something longer and higher than jewelry, so I figured I needed to make my own trays for the carbon.

I stuck to buying just the clay and the carbon, but if you are new to metal clay, and you decide to use bronze or copper, make sure that you also order the activated carbon, and maybe the appropriate tray for it.

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