Metal Clay 101: Moisture Retention and Storage By Kris Kramer

Since the finest creations are made with the freshest of clay, keeping your clay fresh is critical for a good result. Moisture keeps binder in the clay at its peak performance, allowing you to best texture and join clay in your beautiful creations.

Everyone develops his or her particular way to store clay for the short- or long-term. Here are some tools and processes to know about while you develop yours. Many of these tools can be purchased or homemade.

While Working — Parked Clay
Never, never leave your clay out exposed to air while you are working on a creation.

Put clay away immediately, even if temporarily. You can quickly pop this clay into a Clay Safe or Vault, or you can hide it under a moisture chamber (see below). I like to place mine in misted plastic food wrap, wrapping the clay in the plastic wrap once or twice to either park it on my workstation or to sit on it (that gets all the air out). Then I can go back to work on my piece until I am finished and it’s time to store the clay properly.

Moisture retenion pic 1A Clay Safe or Clay Vault is a moisture chamber that is airtight. It comes with small moisture absorbing crystals inside. You can make your own moisture chamber to simply set over your clay out of something dome-shaped and a material that holds moisture, such as a sponge. Both of these create an environment with 100% humidity.

Kramer Storing Clay 2Short-Term Storage — Days and Weeks
First, know that the zip-lock bags that many clays come in are not airtight! So, find airtight containers of assorted sizes, because the container you use need be only slightly larger than the clay you are storing. Sometimes, I will put a tiny bit of water-saturated paper towel at the bottom of my airtight container. Again, 100% humidity is the goal. You’ll also need a mister that delivers a fine spray. The mister should contain water with or without an essential oil (few drops oil per cup water). Finally, cut a 6-inch or so square of plastic food wrap. Grab your clay and you are ready:

  • Mist the plastic wrap.
  • Roll your clay into a ball. When you roll your clay into a ball for storage, press hard in order to leave no cracks on the surface of your ball. Cracks trap air and air dries clay.
  • Place your ball of clay on the misted wrap and roll the clay up, trapping as little air as possible.
  • Place this wrapped clay in your container and snap that lid shut.

I know metal clay professionals who store their bare clay in an airtight container, like the Clay Safe, with no other preparation. This works great for them; maybe they use that clay within a day or two. It’s fun to come up with your own method, and I wonder what yours will evolve into.

Kramer Storing Clay 1Long-Term Storage — Weeks and Months
Prepare your clay for short-term storage above, then pop it in your freezer.

Re-Hydrating Partially-Dried Clay
Clay that has become completely dry can either be recycled or crushed back into powder and rehydrated. But before clay reaches that point, you may be able to reuse it without resorting to either of those options.

Here are the steps to re-hydrate partially dried clay:

  • Roll, press, or punch the clay as flat as possible.
  • Mist with water.
  • Roll it up and knead the clay like a tiny loaf of bread.
  • Repeat: roll flat, mist, knead.

If or when clay sticks to your fingers, keep rolling until it goes back into the ball (no more water needed). Repeat this process until the clay feels homogenously soft, perhaps a little moister than usual. Wrap the clay for storage, using your preferred method for short-term storage. Allow it to rest for at least 24 hours. Then take a look and decide if it is workable or not. You may have to repeat this process, rolling the clay even flatter with each roll.

kris_kramerAbout the author: Kris’ home and studio are in Whitefish, Montana. Kris is a certified Precious Metal Clay (PMC) instructor at PMC Connection. She has taught metal clay classes at a community college, at art centers across the country, and out of her studio. Now her teaching presence is online at I Love Silver, which one can access via her website, kriskramer.com. Also at her site is a video showing Kris’ art process, access to Kris’ Etsy shop, and lots of free information for all metal clay artists.

Link for her page at PMCC: https://pmcconnection.com/education/teachers/kris_kramer

Thank you to PMC Connection for sponsoring the Metal Clay 101 series.

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