Friday, March 21, 2014

Explorations with WHITE CopprClay...

The other day, I was thinking about ordering some fine silver PMC (Precious Metal Clay).  I adore fine silver clay.  I still remember the excitement of when it first came out and how we sat around the kitchen table making things with wild abandon and unbridled zeal.  After doing lost wax casting, it seemed so much easier and less involved.  And even though powder metallurgy isn't new (it's actually quite ancient), this medium was shiny with new possibilities.

I had heard there was a sale going on and I wanted to take advantage of it.  When I looked it up, the 50 gram packets of fine silver PMC were over $100 each!  I felt a little lightheaded and decided to wait for another day.  Who knows?  I might get lucky and win the lotto!

How was I going to make things that looked like the things I used to make (and not break the bank)?  I thought about Gilder's Paste, silver leaf, acrylic paints, heat-seat inks, alcohol inks... and more.  Sure, they were silver and some of them were even passable.  But it wasn't the same.  And then, suddenly, as if an answer to a silent prayer, an email arrived in my inbox announcing the NEW WHITE CopprClay!

I've had a lot of success with the BronzClay and CopprClay developed by an American company, Metal Adventures.  So, I jumped on the opportunity to work with this new product.  I placed my order and started Googling it to see who had been working with it and what they were making.  And that's when I came across some rather unflattering comments about the nickel content and that it may not be in compliance with the EU regulations.  Some of the comments were heated and took on a frenzied tone warning against the product and how it was poison.  I was reminded of the BIG drama surrounding PMC in classrooms and my stomach fell.

Here's my opinion:  Use safety measures that you feel comfortable with and use common sense.  If you don't eat, snort, or ingest (any) metal clay in powder, liquid, or clay form, you should be fine.  Wash your hands often or wear gloves.  Don't stand over your kilns during burn out phases and use appropriate ventilation.  Wear a dust mask during the carbon stage.  If you're pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, you might want to postpone your metal clay fun until afterwards.  And if you're allergic to nickel, then by all means, skip to another medium.  For more health and safety tips and to check out the MSDS, CLICK HERE.  And when you're selling your products, use full disclosure, so that your customers can make fully informed decisions.

So, before anyone goes and lights the torches, remember to be respectful of everyone's right to choose what materials they want to work with and if it's not your cup of tea, skip the tea party.  Don't go raining down hate and negativity, just because it's not for you.

And... without further ado, here are my experiments:

The first stage of working with the clay, was pretty similar to working with regular CopprClay.  I found the clay body to be smooth, thoroughly mixed and it didn't dry out super fast.  It also wasn't super sticky right out of the package.  Sometimes when I'm working with BronzClay, I like to leave new packages open for a little bit to dry out a touch to make it less gummy to work with.  When dry, the WHITE CopprClay has a nice flexibility and isn't super brittle.

With WHITE CopprClay, you have to do the firing in two stages.  For the first firing, you have to spread things out on a stainless steel mesh rack and ramp the kiln at 500 degrees Fahrenheit to 600 degrees and hold it for 10 minutes.  I'm a set it and forget it type of guy and for that reason, the first firing is kind of a pain and not the most convenient, but I feel as though if you want a quality piece, it's not too bad to add the extra step.  

During this step, I dropped a few pieces when I was taking them out of the kiln and one of them chipped.  Even though they're easily handled, they're not sintered yet and you still have to baby them a little.
The second phase is familiar territory for those already versed in firing the regular CopprClay.  You load everything up in a stainless steel box in a carbon environment and fire away.  The only difference is that the firing temperature is a little higher.

I did have a few anomalies after this stage.  One piece was deeply cracked and another had a fine spider web of cracks on the back.  My guess for first one is that it might have been one of the pieces that I dropped after phase one and thought was all right, but really wasn't.  With the other one, it might have been too thick and needed more room around it during the firing.  I'm not sure.  But 2 out of 55 is pretty good!

Here are two examples of what the pieces can look like after the second firing without defects.  The metal is super lightweight and depending on where it is in the box can either be powdery white or rainbowy.

At this stage, I hammered out any pieces that had curled during the drying and firing process.  The metal was solid and fully sintered.  Nothing shattered and it seemed as though the metal was fairly strong.

This is the first batch after tumbling for a few hours with steel shot, liquid dishwashing detergent, and water.  The metal shined right up and have a lovely finish.  For brighter silver shine, I would probably go back and tumble again with a liquid burnishing compound.  

While the WHITE CopprClay was silver in color, there were definitely differences with the look and feel between the WHITE CopprClay and fine silver PMC.  The WHITE CopprClay is a tad more dull and has more of a gray cast to the metal. It also feels lighter.

Here are the four designs that I pressed out.  (I carved the molds a few nights ago by flashlight when the power went out!)  I made the octopus/Kraken, the floral crowned skull, the dragon and the jackalope.

I'm really happy with the end result and think that it's worth investigating further.  I want to play around with some of the finishing touches, like Renaissance Wax or Pledge.  Maybe even some Gilder's Paste for pops of color.  I also want to experiment with different spray finishes to provide a barrier for people with skin reactions.  I know that I can use a crystal clear Krylon, but sometimes that can look a little plastic-like.  It's an exciting time!  It's almost as exciting as those first few times that we worked with the original metal clay formula.  WHITE CopprClay is full of possibilities!


Bluefinch said...

LOVE the octopus in both forms-silver and rainbow! Thanks for sharing your experience with this new product-cracks and all! Can I purchase these on your site? I haven't even looked yet...
And I'm going to steal your words for my inspirational quote book "if its not your cup of tea, skip the tea party"! AMEN!!
Have you thought about painting a small layer of resin on the backs of the pieces if they are going to be used as pendants for the allergy folks? Think this would be less plastic looking than a spray finish? I'm not sure about it-just throwing out a suggestion...

Unknown said...

Those are awesome!

Rebecca said...

Your experiments look great! Your moulds are fab as always. I believe this product has too high a nickel content to sell within the eu, so I won't be able to use it in my jewellery, but I'll enjoy seeing what you guys get up to with it over on the other side of the water.

Eileen Bergen said...

They're all lovely. Thanks for all the tips.

I agree 100% about art media safety and precautions. Honestly, the scaremongering that goes on around the internet can just drive you up the wall.

Jean Katherine Baldridge said...

really nicely written piece about this new material! Pretty treasures you designed as well! jean