Strong Metal Clay Greenware Connections Have A Common Theme
Updated: Oct 2
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.
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.
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.
The next step to making strong greenware connections is learning how make "Successful Post–Fired Metal Clay Connections" Another great Metal Clay technique
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