In Progress Photo - What is on my Bench - Finishing Precious Metal Clay (PMC) Components

Posted by Jennifer Casady on 22nd Nov 2014

A few days ago I actually remembered to take an "In Progress" picture of what I was currently working on.  I enjoy posting these photos to my Instagram account (follow me HERE), but I often forget to take them.  This picture shows several pieces I was working on for orders.  

Unless you are familiar with Precious Metal Clay ("PMC") I know you are looking at this going, uhm, what is THAT? How come it is not silver?  Quick primer on PMC - PMC is a clay which consists of tiny particles of recycled silver suspended within an organic binder and water. This clay can then be shaped, molded, texturized, etc., into whatever you want. You can bond pieces of it together, etc. It is so much fun to work with.  Once your piece, or component as I call them, is finished being shaped you dry it.  Some artisans will speed dry their components on little mug warmers, but I am a bit old fashioned and prefer to let my pieces naturally air dry to prevent any warping, etc. I want to make sure they are 100% completely bone dry. This bone dry state is called "greenware."  One your components reach that stage they are ready for sanding/finishing before heading to the kiln.  Every PMC artist uses their own methods for finishing off the edges of their pieces...from filing to sanding with sandpaper or sanding pads or even a more simple route, smoothing carefully with their fingers or even a baby wipe.  I love working with my files (two fine grit ones are shown in the picture above) and also use fine sanding pads.  The first sanding with a file takes off any of the "larger" chunks left over from my needle tool dragging through the shapes and the file can also get into pretty detailed areas to refine and emphasize the delicate details of a piece.  (Any large flakes attached to pieces dried in molds is carefully cut off with cutting pliers before filing and sanding.) After I file off the edges they are ready to be put into the kiln, but, I go one step further with my refining...I do one more little sand with the fine grit sanding pads which puts a delicate smooth rounded edge on my pieces vs. a "straight" edge that a standard file with put on.  I think it gives a bit more of a professional finish and makes quite a difference in my completed components. Once the filing/sanding is completed I carefully dust off any micro-bits or particles from the components.  These components are then ready to go into the kiln.  

Once in the kiln they are fired into a solid piece of silver.  As the kiln gently ramps up its temperature to a maximum firing temp, the organic binder burns off and the tiny fragments of silver sinter together into a nice solid piece keeping whatever form it has been shaped into.  Once fired and left to cool off until I can touch it, the components are then ready to be finished off with traditional metalsmithing techniques...oxidizing to a dark black, buffing by hand, assembled into finished pieces and finally tumble polished for the ultimate shine.

A lot of work goes into these dainty components. *grin* And I love every minute of it.  And speaking of work...it is time to work on more orders!