• Holly Gage

Strong Metal Clay Greenware Connections Have A Common Theme

Updated: Dec 5, 2019

Many connections are used to make Precious Metal Clay Jewelry. A one size fits all approach doesn't apply, but there are 3 major elements each connection needs. Let's talk about what those are and the different techniques used in making solid Metal Clay connections.


The Basics — What to Use to Connect Metal Clay Together

There are 3 major elements each connection needs: Moisture, Metal Clay in one form or other — slip or lump, and gentle pressure.


Lump Metal Clay Metal Clay joints requiring heavy usage and lots of wear and tear are considered primary connections. I use the purest form, lump clay. The viscosity holds pieces together without the need to spend a long time holding the joint together, and the join is strong and secure.

Metal Clay Slip I use slip to join secondary connections together, the ones that don't get an extreme amount of wear and tear or user abuse, such as applying laminated parts and flat details. I often make my own slip by fully mixing water into the lump clay. I add more or less water depending on the application and viscosity desired. Another favorite, is working with "self-slip."


Self-slip forms when you hydrate a wet or dry Metal Clay surface body with water, and the two pieces are joined together. For bone dry or greenware, don’t just wet the surface. Rehydrate it by letting the water sink in for 2 minutes or so, actually reactivating the clay and the binder, making a lovely “self-slip” for joining.

Metal Clay in a Syringe

Another way of connecting two pieces is with a syringe, which I sheepishly admit is an underused, under-served tool in my toolbox. Even when I keep them submerged in water to keep the clay fresh inside of the syringe, I forget about them and my water dries up leaving me with a dried out syringe. By all means, give it a try. The consistency is thicker than a slip, but thinner than lump clay, and other than decoration, syringe is great for connecting and caulking pieces together when the connection needs more stability.


3 Metal Clay Connections


Dry to Dry Construction

My favorite connection method is Dry to Dry Construction. It is great for two dry pieces that need to be joined. This type of construction is wonderful when you have formed or sculpted items that when worked wet, would distort them, such as: constructing a box with ridged sides, joining sculpted parts, adding bails to a piece, and creating complex construction. The added wet clay can be used as well to help blend in transition points.


What to do:

Wet contact areas where the two pieces will be joined, let sit for 2 minutes, add lump clay, and press and hold for a second or two. Do light clean up directly after if it is a stable uncomplicated connection. If it is a complex connection, let dry and then clean up by shearing off oozed clay with a knife. Conversely, rehydrate just the excess clay, and blend it in if seams need to be hidden. This makes a very strong connection.

Wet to Dry Construction

Wet to Dry Construction works well when you add a small addition of Metal Clay to another larger piece. A good example is a small embellishment. Use this for simple additions and avoid dragging fresh clay across dry clay which can mar the surface.


What to do: Wet the contact area on the dry piece and let that sit 2 minutes. This prepares the surface to accept the additional clay, and makes "self-slip" for the attachment. Stream a bit of water over the wet item using a brush loaded with water and touching down with the water verses the brush itself. Add light pressure after the surface of the top piece sets up a bit and you will not mar it. Let dry.

Note: If the pieces have texture on them, either the top piece or lower piece, use precision in wetting the area where pieces are joined versus the entire connection. Unfortunately, the water will mute the texture a bit by softening the look of the clay surface.


Metal Clay Snake Charming is Best Done in this Case with Wet to Wet Joining

Wet to Wet Joining

Wet to Wet Joining allows you to form pieces right on, or next to each other. This is good for people who have good control of the medium and can work with their hands and tools without marring the surface. I use this the least because I’m a klutz, but there are occasions where this is just the perfect connection such as when I am working with multiple snakes that need to stay pliable or some forms of sculpting.


What to do:

Using a slow drying Metal Clay marked as Flexible or for Sculpting is your best bet. Start with moist clay and well-lubricated hands and tools. Keep items moist while working, so the clay doesn’t get dried and cracked. You can do this by covering parts of the piece or re-wetting parts of the piece with a brush while working on other areas. Join each part together by adding light pressure as you add each additional section. Then stream a bit of water over the wet items using a brush loaded with water and touching down with the water verses the brush itself strengthening the bond with “self slip.” Let dry.

Again note: If the pieces have texture on them, either the top piece or lower piece, use precision in wetting the area where pieces are joined versus the entire connection. The water will mute the texture.


Adding Flat Surfaces Together Works Well with Self-slip and a Lamination Technique

Laminating with Self-slip

Laminating is great when you have two flat pieces that need to be laminated together. Use this technique for adding precisely shaped snakes or beads of clay or when you have two sheets of Metal Clay which need to be joined.

What to do:

Wet both contact areas where the items will be joined, let sit 2 minutes. Each part will make its own “self slip” and press them together being sure . Clean any oozing slip immediately.


For sheets of Metal Clay – if the added sheet is super thin, only let it sit 1 minute, so as not to make the sheet flimsy.

For snakes of Metal Clay, put a drawing under a piece of acetate, and shape the clay to the drawing and let it dry. Then sit the snake in a very shallow puddle of water to rehydrate just the bottom, this way you can still pick it up with tweezers without distortion, then position it, and press in place. Beads and balls of clay can be added this way as well, therefore you will not distort or flatten them.


As you can see there are many ways to make connections, and the more I write, the more I want to add. I could go on and on with the exceptions to the rule and the nuances of construction, but this is a good solid start. In the end, moisture, clay, and gentle pressure is the dominant theme. In a follow-up post, I plan to discuss post-firing connections, so stay tuned.

~ Holly


Upcoming Live Online Workshops with Holly Gage

Romancing the Stone: Reverse Stone Setting SOLD OUT (See Winter Comes sample above 1)

Tuesday, October 1 - November 5, 2019 • 1:00 - 2:00 pm EST Romancing the Stone: Reverse Stone Setting January. 2, 9, (skip) 30, February 6, 13, 20 6:00 – 7:00 PM EST 2 Spots

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This is like the "Bezel Setting Like a Pro course on steroids. Delicate gems need special treatment and an extra special setting.  Many beautiful stones can not be fired in place, so when you wish to overlap the stone with details you add an additional challenge to the design of your piece. My solution is setting the gem from the back.  It may sound as if you have to design the whole piece backward, but this is not the case. Not only that, it is so much easier than you could have imagined!  We will discuss successful design to enhance the stone, bezel setting, tube bails, snake charming, finishing techniques and more. Sign up here


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Learn the secrets of transforming original photos or drawings into highly detailed, low relief images, which look similar in style to traditional Repoussé. Discover how to wet-work a reverse polymer mold of your image, manipulate silver Metal Clay and use tools to create different hand-wrought textural effects, and carve details for the finishing touch.

The Repoussé Effect is only achieved by this technique and is different from photopolymer plates. The results are unique and original, beautifully echoing the hand of the artist. Sign up here


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It is frustrating when your mind's eye sees it one way and your execution falls short. I am offering this course for those who have little to no design background and want to be able to answer for themselves why a piece isn't working, looks off balance or doesn't have the tone or feel you intended. The course combines learning the concepts, seeing and identifying them, and then trying them out with hands-on experiences.
Our discussions include:

• Principles of design including line, movement, form, function, color,  Balance, focus, pattern & more.

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Tropical Flora Lei Brooch New

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Packed with skills! The flower Lei is used as a show of affection to welcome guests to the islands. You will practically smell Honolulu’s native tropical flora and remember the traditions when you bring home this beautiful pendant suggesting the beauty of the floral leis.

I will show you how to make:


• Your own embossed texture plates using easy to manipulate copper sheet and ball stylus.

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To contact Holly
hgage1@ptd.net
Lancaster, PA USA
717-445-5755

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