Beginner Project: Go-Go Silver Earrings by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

Project sponsored by

finished Here’s an easy project that teaches you many useful skills for metal clay jewelry making.

  • How to use metal clay tools, including slats, roller, templates, textures and butane torch.
  • How to properly handle metal clay for ease of use and to economize the material.
  • How to incorporate other jewelry making techniques with metal clay.
  • How to enjoy  metal clay!

Project Materials and Supplies

PMC3 Clay or an other brand of silver metal clay. 25grams
Earring wires or if you want to make your own 20 gauge sterling silver wire 6″Non-stick work surface.  I like to use a Teflon Sheet or a plastic page protector.
Olive oil or Badger Balm to prevent clay from sticking.
Clay roller
Graduated Clay slats– some people use playing cards.  I find these slats to be ideal. Unlike playing cards or mat board, these plastic slats will not expand if they get wet, nor will they warp or wear out over time. They remain the exact same thickness through years of use.
Circle template (if you are making the same shape as the sample project…but you could choose ovals, squares…)
Scalpel
Rubber block
Torch firing pad-Safe surface absorbs heat from butane torch.
Butane Torch and fuel
Fine sanding sheets
Polish and cloth

Safety

  • If you have never fired silver metal clay with a torch, we suggest you view our video first. http://cre8tivefire.com/metal-clay-basics-fire-silver-clay-with-a-torch/
  • Always proceed with caution and observe proper safety requirements and instructions from each products manufacturer.
  • Cre8tive Fire, it’s authors and sponsors are not responsible for any liability arising from errors, omissions, or mistakes on www.cre8tivefire.com.

Project Step-By-Step

Step 1

Oil your tools and work surfaces and roll out the clay:
Lightly oil your hands with olive oil, then smooth your oiled palms over the tops of the nonstick sheet, the clear plastic sheet* and the clay roller to coat them. Wipe both sides of the scalpel or knife blade with oil. With the oiled blade, cut the lump of silver clay in half and quickly re-wrap and store one of the halves. Immediately roll the other half of the clay firmly between your palms for a few seconds to create a compact, crease-free ball. Flatten the ball slightly and place it in the center of the nonstick sheet. Position the rolling spacers on the sheet to either side of the clay, then lay the clear plastic sheet on top, oiled side down. Roll out the clay, lifting and turning it ¼ turn before each subsequent pass with the roller, until it is flush with the tops of the spacers, then peel away the plastic sheet.

*A clear plastic divider will work well for this purpose

Step 2

Texture the clay as desired:
Impress the clay with lightly-oiled, small objects to create an interesting texture. I used ordinary straight pins from my sewing supplies to texture my clay but you also could use a shell, a filigree stamp, a screw, etc. Don’t impress the objects to more than half the depth of the clay sheet so you don’t create thin, weak spots or holes.

Step 3

Cut out the hoop shape:
Center the 1 5/8” opening in the template on the textured clay sheet and use the tip of the scalpel or craft knife to cut the circle. Don’t remove the excess clay yet. Center the 1” opening of the template over the larger circle you just cut, then carefully slide the template up so that the top of the 1” template opening is exactly 4mm away from the edge of the larger circle with the opening remaining centered horizontally inside the larger circle outline. Cut out the smaller circle of clay and then carefully remove this 1” circle of clay from the center of the larger circle. Remove the excess clay from around the outside of the asymmetrical hoop shape. Allow the clay to dry completely without lifting it from the nonstick sheet to avoid distorting the shape.

Step 4

Make the second earring hoop:

Repeat Steps 1–3 with the remaining half of the clay.

Step 5

Refine the earring hoops:
When the clay hoops have dried, place one of them on a rubber block with just a small section of the hoop hanging over the edge of the block. Sand the exposed edges smooth with 800-grit sandpaper, then rotate the piece and sand the edges of the adjacent section, repeating to sand the edges all the way around the hoop. Next, hold the clay hoop in your hand, supporting as much of it as possible to avoid breaking it as you’re sanding, and carefully smooth the edges of the center opening with the same sandpaper. Repeat this step with the other clay hoop. Note: If the clay hoop breaks while you are sanding it, make some thick slip or paste by mashing a drop of water thoroughly into a pea-size ball of fresh clay (or some finely-chopped scraps of dried clay). Moisten just the broken edges of the hoop pieces with water and apply some of the slip along one of those edges. Place the broken pieces close together on the nonstick sheet, then slide them together and hold them in position under pressure with your fingers for about 15 seconds.

Step 6

Fire the hoops:
Fire the hoops according to the manufacturer’s instructions for the clay you are using. Each hoop earring contains 5.5 grams of clay (10 grams of clay minus the 4.5 grams we removed from the center and around the outside of the hoop). Torch firing tips: Dim the lights as much as possible to help you see the colors of the flame and the metal accurately. Set the timer for two minutes and place it within easy reach but don’t start timing yet. Light the torch and engage the flame lock. Place the earrings on the firebrick at least an inch apart and torch fire only one piece at a time. Hold the torch at a 45-degree angle with the flame approximately 2 inches above the surface of the clay. Keep the flame constantly moving over the piece in a clockwise flow and at a constant pace in order to heat the entire piece at the same rate and keep everything at the same temperature. Don’t pause or remove the flame until after the piece has sintered! As the clay heats up, you will see a small flame as the binder in the clay burns off. Watch the color of the clay closely from this point forward. Eventually it will develop into a bright salmon pink or peach-colored glow. As soon as it does, start the 2-minute timer with the hand that isn’t holding the torch (which needs to be kept moving over the clay). If the color starts to turn to a reddish-orange, immediately pull the flame back by ½” so that the salmon pink or peach color is maintained throughout the two minutes.

Step 7

Check the shrinkage after firing:
Each metal clay formula shrinks by a certain percentage after firing if it has sintered fully, so comparing the size of a piece from fresh to fired is one way to determine whether your pieces have sintered fully. The estimated shrinkage rate for most clays is printed on the package. Once the earrings have cooled to room temperature, use the circle template to measure the size of each hoop after firing and compare it to the original 1 5/8” size. If the clay did not shrink by the estimated shrinkage range for that brand and formula, refire the earrings, let them cool, and measure them again to ensure that they have shrunk sufficiently to indicate full sintering. PMC3 shrinks approximately 12%–15%

Step 8

Finish the metal:
Fill a cup or small bowl with water and stir in a drop or two of liquid dish soap. Dip a piece of 1200-grit wet/dry sandpaper into the soapy water and wet-sand the silver, keeping your sanding strokes in the same direction. Dip both the silver and the sandpaper in the soapy water frequently until you no longer feel any “pull” or resistance. Then rotate the piece 90 degrees, switch to 2000-grit sandpaper and a fresh batch of soapy water, and continue wet-sanding until the metal is as shiny as you wish. Dry the metal well and polish it with a soft silver polishing cloth.

Step 9

Attach purchased ear wires to the hoops or make and attach handcrafted ear wires. To attach purchased or handmade ear wires to the hoops, hold the attached half of the small loop between the jaws of the round nose pliers and use the chain nose pliers to bend the unattached half of the loop away from you, opening it just enough to let you slide on the thinnest side of the earring. Reverse the motion with the chain nose pliers to close the loop around the hoop. Tip: Do not pull loop open horizontally, which would permanently distort the round shape. To make your own ear wires: Cut two 2 1/4” lengths of sterling silver wire with flush cutters. Hold the tip of one wire in the round nose pliers and make a 4mm diameter loop on that end to create an eye pin. Repeat with the other wire. Grab the wire 1 ½” down from the loop with the widest part of the round nose pliers jaws. Bend the wire around one of the jaws about 180 degrees so that the ends of the wire are nearly parallel. Then gently bend the end without the loop outward into a graceful curve. Smooth the tip of the wire by sanding with 800-grit sandpaper to remove the sharp edges. Form the other earring and smooth the wire end. Then hold both earrings together and adjust the shapes to make them identical.

Optional ear wire embellishments:

If you wish, you can jazz up your ear wires by adding short stacks of beads. Slide the beads onto each wire after making the eye pin loop, then form, shape and sand the ear wires. Use light taps with a small hammer to flatten a short section of wire right next to the beads, stopping before the curve in the wire, to prevent the beads from sliding off the ear wire.

About the Author

Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is the editor-in-chief at Cre8tiveFire.com and a jewellery artist. When she is not heralding the wonders of jewellery making or chasing her kids, she rearranges her tools and materials in her studio...hoping someday to slow down long enough to get back to her own jewellery line.

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