This tutorial shows how to make the textured barrel beads as seen in the image of the mixed media necklace. Barrel beads use very little clay, yet have a lot of volume. And since they are not formed over any sort of burn-out material (i.e. wood or cork clay) they can be fired with a torch rather than a kiln.
When I finished making some barrel beads for this project I thought I needed a “beauty shot”; a photo that would inspire others to want to try making these beads. That was my “rabbit hole”! A month later…I strung this necklace. The other beads in the necklace include round bronze and silver beads, silver bead caps, vintage red plastic beads, rubber beads and rubber cord. It’s a real mix, but it is fun and that’s why we make jewellery!
Project Materials and Supplies
Silver Metal Clay 25g and paste
Tools and Supplies and equipment: (Links directly to PMC Connection for these items)
Texture sheets of your choice. (Note my texture sheet was 1 card thick.)
Graduated Slat Set Slats used: Black – .01″ – .25mm = 1 card, Green Slat – .03″ – .75mm = 3 cards
Colorful aids for rolling clay to a precise thickness.
1.25″ inch diameter jumbo clay roller is 6″
Teflon Sheet, 15″ x 18″ or oiled smooth work surface
Scalpel (Sharp and small cutting edge allows for precise, surgical cuts.)
Tissue Slicing Blade
Small mister for water
Marker or plastic mandrel
Paint brush and small dish of water
Micro butane Torch
Torch Firing Pad (Safe, convenient surface absorbs heat from butane torch.)
5-Piece Sponge Sander Set or emery boards (nail files)
Prepare and texture the clay. Lightly oil your hands, work surfaces, texture, and tools. With your hands, roll the clay into a smooth, compact ball, flatten it slightly and place it in the center of the non-stick sheet. Position the green plastic rolling slats or 3 cards on either side of the clay. Using the clay roller, roll out the clay, turning it 90 º turn before each pass with the roller, until it is flush with the tops of the spacers. Place rolling slats that equal the thickness of your texture sheet on top of the green rolling slats and place the texture sheet face down on the clay. (In my case, my texture sheet was 1 card thick or equal to the thickness of the black slat. The reason for adding slats or cards equal to the thickness of your texture sheet is to be sure that you don’t compress your clay too much and end up making your clay too thin.) Roll across the texture slowly and firmly once. (Do not roll back and forth or you will blur the impression of the texture.) Carefully peel the clay away from the texture sheet and place it texture side up back on the non-stick sheet .
Make the two clay tubes. Cut a strip from the textured clay sheet with a scalpel or tissue slicing blade . Cut the strip long enough to wrap around a thick marker (like a Sharpie) with some overlap. The width of your strip should be roughly the desired length of the barrel beads. Lift the strip from the sheet of metal clay and lay it down nearby.
Lightly mist the remainder of the textured sheet of metal clay with water, wait a few seconds, and lay a sheet of plastic wrap over it to keep the clay moist until you’re ready to use it.
Coat the barrel of a small mandrel or a marker with a very thin film of olive oil and wrap the strip it – just enough to form a tube. Trim just the top layer of clay with a scalpel about 1/4″ past where the ends overlap. Separate the ends a coat the last 1/4″ of the top of the trimmed end with metal clay paste. Overlap the edges again so that the untrimmed end is on top this time (as a decorative element) and coat the underside of the untrimmed end with paste .Press the overlapped seam gently so the ends are joined securely, then brush a thin line of water along the seam to clean it up. Rest the ends of the marker on two sponges so that the tube is suspended between them. When the outside of the tube has dried just enough to hold its shape, carefully slide it off the marker and finish drying it thoroughly. Repeat to create a second tube.
When both tubes are completely dry, sand the ends flush at a 90-degree angle with the Fine Sanding Sheets or a fine grit nail board.
Make four flat bead caps. Next we’ll make four flat bead caps to cap the two tubes. Find an opening in the circle template that is slightly wider than the outside of the tube beads. For my beads it was the 1/2″ diameter circle . Roll out and texture the remaining clay. Gently lay your template over the clay and cut each circle with a scalpel . Then punch out the bead holes using a metal tube 1.5 mm in diameter . (Optional: I added small circles of clay to the middle of the flat bead caps as a decoration. I cut out the small circles using a 3mm diameter brass tube.) Dry the bead caps flat.
Cap the tubes to make the barrel beads. Choose one of the dried bead caps and one of the tubes. Brush water on outer edges of the back of the bead cap and on the end of the tube. Be sure to coat the surfaces where they will join. Stand the tube on end (moistened side up) on your work surface and center the bead cap (moistened side down) over the tube. Press gently and hold for 15-30 seconds to make sure the cap is stuck firmly to the tube and gently clean up any excess paste with a small brush . Repeat to add caps to both ends of both beads. After the beads have dried, carefully groom the seams and anywhere the bead cap over hangs the barrel of the bead with the Fine Sanding Sheets or a nail board .
Firing the pieces. Fire the bead caps following the manufacturer’s instructions for the clay you are using or torch fire one bead at a time. Note: If you have access to a kiln, you may prefer to kiln-fire all the beads at the same time. Use the longest and hottest recommended firing schedule for the clay formula you are using.
How to Torch-fire Your Beads: Choose an area with strong, active ventilation that will draw the fumes away from your face so you don’t breathe them in. Remove all nearby combustible/flammable materials and place your firebrick or torch firing pad on a non-flammable, heat-resistant surface. Make sure your butane torch is completely filled with fuel. 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 a bead on the firebrick. 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 away the flame for a few seconds so the surface of the silver doesn’t start to melt. Pause the timer and continue firing. When the color of the silver returns to the salmon pink/peach glow, restart the timer and make sure the metal remains that color throughout the remainder of the two minutes so that the silver sinters properly. When the timer goes off, pull the torch away and turn it off. Wait a few seconds until the metal stops glowing, then using a pencil nudge the bead to a cooler part of the firebrick and allow it to air cool. Remove it from the firebrick, then fire and air cool the remaining beads one at a time.
Important! It is essential to fire in a fairly dark area so you can monitor the color of the metal accurately and can see if it starts to change from a salmon pink/peach glow to a darker orange/red glow. If the color does start to darken, you have only a few seconds to pull back the torch a little and get the color back to the salmon pink/peach glow before the surface of the metal will start to melt! If you miss the color change or don’t back off the flame quickly enough, you’ll know because the surface of the silver will start to look shiny, a sure sign that it has begun melting.
Finishing the pieces. Dip the brass brush in soapy water and briskly brush the bead caps to a soft silver finish. Then rub the raised areas of the texture with a burnisher to create a smooth, shiny contrast to the brushed finish in the recessed areas. Use either a treated silver polishing cloth or a soft untreated cloth with silver polish to polish the raised surfaces of the silver to a high shine.
Use your new beads to make jewelry! Your handmade fine silver hollow barrel beads make wonderful accents to the glass and gemstone beads in your stash! String them together to make a striking, one-of-a-kind necklace or bracelet to wear with pride.
Magazine cover: Metal Clay Artist Magazine