Copper clay working tips

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

My experience of working with copper clay for the first time & what I learnt.

When you first hear about silver clay you soon learn that there are a number of other metal clay's out there (you will probably want to try them all, if your anything like me!) When I saw designs made from copper clay I knew I wanted to have a go. The artists made the copper look beautifully rich & I instantly started planning autumn inspired jewellery.

I bought & used 50g of copper clay by art clay, which arrived in the packet of 2 25g packs which was handy as I didn't want to use the whole lot in one go! I thought using copper clay would be very similar to silver clay & it is in many ways.

The wet clay was lovely & pliable to work with, I made shapes with textures & cutters as well as using molds. The copper clay worked well with these tools but it needed a whole lot of water as it dried much quicker than silver clay. Just like with silver clay I just took off small amounts & kept the rest well wrapped.

I found that the pieces took a lot longer to air dry than the same shapes made from silver clay. I left my copper pieces drying on my bench for two days before it was ready to fire. The refining stage was very messy! When I work with silver clay I catch the dust but with copper clay the dust just seemed to go everywhere no matter how carefully I refined. It was a relatively easy process just messy!!

I prefer to hand torch when i'm making silver clay jewellery & I don't have a kiln so hand torching the copper clay was my only option. I read & followed timing suggestions for the different sizes & widths. I used a stronger flame & fired each piece one by one to ensure it got the heat it needed. To test if it was fully sintered (fired all the way through & now metal) I used a pair of tweezers to tap the piece, if it sounded metallic it was done if it didn't I would fire it again. I also used a bend method (more like snap method!) which was suggested, by doing this you are trying to see if it has any give left in it by gently trying to bend it. In my case each charm/design snapped when I did this even when it did sounded metallic!!!!

The designs I did manage to fire fully were then given any refining they needed before being coated with a clear lacquer. I used a small paint brush to add it to the metal but found that it would pool in any little dips, so I would then blot it with a paper towel (not ideal as you may remove too much leaving areas uncovered). I preferred the non coated designs but I only tried one type of lacquer.

By the end of my experience with copper clay i had 4 small leaves that were made correctly! I enjoyed having a go but copper clay isn't for me. I may try at a later date when I buy a kiln to see if the firing process is any easier but for me silver clay wins hands down.

Handcrafted Autumn leaf bracelet with copper clay leaves

Copper clay tips:

- Don't use your silver clay tools on copper clay too (if you do make sure you clean them thoroughly) this stops the copper contaminating the silver clay.

- Uses loads (and I mean loads) of water when its in its clay form, I have a spray bottle that I use for my silver clay work & I used the whole thing working with 25g of copper clay!

- Copper clay doesn't really like to hang around so once you have opened a packet use it because it doesn't store like silver clay does.

- Pieces made from Copper clay takes a long time to dry on its own, use a mug warmer etc to speed up the process. Just like silver clay ensure it is fully dried before firing.

- It also needs a hotter flame & takes longer to fire using a hand torch. It depends on the thickness of the piece & takes some playing around to get it right. Pieces weighing 10g or under & measuring 1mm thick should be torch fired for at least 5 minutes (I often fired for longer to ensure it was sintered properly).

- Don't test the fired piece by trying to bend it (you would be surprised how many people suggested this when I was looking into trying copper clay!) it may look & even sound fully sintered but may not be. The correct way to test it is to tap the piece with tweezers, if it sounds metallic then its done. If in doubt fire it again.

- Copper clay can be oxidised with liver of sulphur to bring out the detail. The same way you would with silver or silver clay designs.

- You need to use a lacquer or glaze on the finished piece to stop it from oxidising. (Copper can make some peoples skin green, a lacquer will also stop this!) Experiment with different ones to see which you prefer.

- Yes copper clay is similar to using silver clay but it does have its differences. Make sure you research & don't get disheartened if it doesn't work out straight away. Have fun & don't forget to enjoy the process.

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