This can be anything from a drinking straw to a professional jewellery tumbler. Take a look around you at the things you use everyday. A toothpaste cap or the bristles of an old toothbrush might give you just the pattern you are after.
A cookie cutter might give you a perfect earring shape. The tiny drinking straw from the juice box might be spot on for making holes to hang a piece from. An old nailfile can be excellent for cleaning up a piece prior to firing.
Having said that, I'm sure I'm not the only tool addict here... I've found there is something very addictive about jewellery making tools!
In this section, I'll run through some of the basic tools you need for working with metal clay. I've just had a look at this page, and it is being re-written and added to as I realised it seriously needed an update. So, I'm still adding to this but here are some things to get you started!
Clay shapers are perfect for using with your Art Clay. They come with differently shaped and sized silicone tips. I use them all the time - to even out edges, smoothing out joints and surfaces, poking stones in place and for all sorts of stuff. You can find clay shapers here.
Stamps are ideal for creating surface patterns, shapes to cut out and to decorate your pieces with. Just use normal rubber stamps (non-inked) or metal stamps, which you cand find in most craft shops or online. Cover the stamp with a little non-stick balm or a little olive oil to stop the clay from sticking.
Don't just use commercial stamps; have a look around you and you'll start finding loads of interesting surfaces, textures, patterns and shapes you can use with your clay. Look at leaves, fabric, paper, lace, bark, shells, corals, tools, cutlery, combs - once you start looking you'll find some fabulous things for free!
But, we do have a wide range of absolutely gorgeous texture sheets and stamps available here too.
And - you can make your own. Using imagepac Stamp Making Kit you can easily make your own rubber stamps from photos, writing, drawings - all your own designs!
Get a metal clay work surface or a piece of acrylic, glass or stone to work on. Teflon and TUFF cards and sheets are excellent but check that they won't give your work a slight pattern. Good quality baking papers with teflon coating also work, but they crinkle when they get wet. Make sure your worksurface is non-absorbent. I work on a thin acrylic board, on top of that I put a small sheet of teflon paper to create each piece on.
This makes it easy to set that piece aside to dry, while I start on the next piece. If you are going to use a roller, cover your piece with another sheet of baking paper before rolling it, to stop the clay from sticking. Much easier than using olive oil on your tools! It will also help to stop the clay from drying out too fast.
To roll out flat sheets of clay you need a roller and spacers. This ensures you get an even thickness across the sheet, and that it isn't too thin. You simply place the spacers on each side of the clay, and use the roller like a normal rolling pin. You can make do with stacks of playing cards as spacers when you start up. You want your clay to be a minimum of 1mm.
If your hands are very dry or hot, rinse them in cool water and rub in a few drops of olive oil, a little Badger Balm, Slik, or a similar product, whilst your hands are still a little wet. This will stop your dry skin from drying out the clay.
A sharp scalpel, or craft knife, is vital for me. I've got a surgical version with replaceable blades. I use this to cut out little shapes, tidy up edges on dry clay, cut out fretwork, carve designs on dry clay, and so on. Make sure the blade is sharp, and change it if you notice that it starts to 'pull' the clay.
Needle files are perfect for re-shaping and adjusting your pieces before (and after) firing. Do take the time to finish your piece carefully before firing. This is much easier than doing it when the Art Clay has changed into its metal form, and it creates a much more professional looking finish.
Start with files, and finish off with sanding sponges or fine abrasive paper. Sanding sponges are a must in my tool kit - every single piece I've made over the last four years has been tidied up by sanding sponges! Be careful and gentle as the clay is fragile in its plaster-like state. Use a rubber block to support your piece and stop it slipping.
After firing you need to polish up your silver. You can do this in many different ways, depending on the finish you're after.
To start with, you need a brass or stainless steel brush. Just brush over the surface to smooth it down. A brass brush gives you a lovely satin sheen, whilst a steel brush gives a more scratched look. I leave many pieces just brass brushed, and don't do anything more to them.
For a higher shine on small areas, go over them with a burnisher. Just rub firmly over the surface, this compresses the silver and gives it a nice sparkle. It is great fun, but only use it on smaller areas. If you use this technique a large un-textured surface, it will leave little tell-tale lines and marks. For larger areas, use polishing papers or sanding sponges for a mirror finish. Read more on the finishing page.