My adventures and findings with different brands of Silver Clay – this blog talks about FYI 999.
Recently, I gave myself a wee challenge. I was going to push past my comfortable relationship with the well-known brands of PMC and ACS and see what the other brands of silver clay were like.
I did this for a couple of reasons, firstly Silver Clay School is firmly brand neutral – just because there are so many brands of silver clay out there, it’s not for me to tell my students what clay to use, especially when there’s such a cost difference involved. I do advise and there are reasons why you might want to use a particular type / brand of clay over another at times – but I never dictate.
Secondly, I was curious. I’ve been using and teaching with silver clay for a fair few years and when I was just starting out, there were only 2 on the market and not only that, there was only FINE silver available too. The prospect of a Sterling silver clay seemed impossible – until my lovely friend Lisa Cain from MSCJ thought about mixing copper and fine silver clay together and coming up with the world’s first Sterling clay.
Since then, the silver clays on the market have really grown and you can get fine, Sterling and enhanced (which is something in between) silver clays. Something to suit every project.
So, it seemed like the right thing to do, go ahead and test these clays to see what they were like, how they handled, fired and polished up and I want to do a series of these blogs to tell you about my findings.
The first silver clay in my testing was FYI (For Your Inspiration) 999. This is a fine silver clay and was one of the first ‘new’ silver clays to the market a few years ago. It has a lot of devotees out there and people who say they will never use anything else. So I was interested to see what all the fuss was about.
Up until quite recently – it was only obtainable from the US – and since I am based in the UK, that put me off. This is because of the weakened state of the pound against the dollar but also that HMRC are very good at spotting US parcels coming into the UK and adding extra tax on top of what you’ve already paid. This means that although the clay can be significantly cheaper in dollars, by the time you add on postage and import duty – you may as well have saved yourself the bother and bought PMC or ACS in the UK – you’d pay practically the same price and get it far quicker!
So when I heard there was a brand new EU supplier selling FYI 999 I thought that this would be the time to try it.
FYI has two main products – 999 which is fine silver and the 960 which is enhanced fine silver. Enhanced fine silver has a little bit of copper in it, which makes it stronger – but it’s still possible to fire it in a kiln on an open shelf as opposed to the 2-stage firing process of Sterling silver. If you want the ins and outs of that, then please download my Beginner’s Guide to Silver Clay (sign-up box below this post) where you can read all about it in more detail. I’ll be covering my findings with FYI 960 in a later blog post.
FYI Silver 999 (and 960) also comes in ready to roll clay form and powdered form. I’ve tried both and will cover both versions in this blog.
First impressions of FYI 999
I tried the ready to roll FYI 999 first. MY first impressions on this clay when I took it out of the packet that it seemed to be a *huge* lump of clay! Certainly in comparison with the 50g of PMC3 I was used to.
The second impression I got was that it was very hard. I tore a bit off to start working with it and it was stiff and felt unyielding. When I rolled it between the palms of my hands, it still felt hard and I thought of my brand new students who often struggle to roll a brand new ball of a softer clay like PMC or ACS and make sure there are no air bubbles and cracks before rolling.
When I started to roll it, things began to be more comfortable! It rolled really easily and took texture extremely well. I liked the way it handled and in some way (in my little head) it seemed a bit more robust to work with in comparison to other clays.
I tried some simple projects – a few flat rolled out pieces, some layered pieces and a lentil bead with a fire proof stone set in. Since the FYI 999 range doesn’t come with a paste or a syringe already prepared, I used my ACS syringe to join the parts of the bead together. As they are both fine silver I didn’t forsee any issues and I was happily proved right.
The FYI 999 took as long to dry as any other clay I have worked with. I didn’t notice much difference with the pieces when I took them out of my dryer – I have a dehydrator in my studio to try objects and on occasion depending on the piece and the thickness / texture, it can warp a little. The same was true of the FYI 999. I also corrected it the same way.
Finishing and grooming pieces made with FYI 999
What I found to be a little bit difference was the finishing – sanding the pieces was definitely tougher. The clay felt harder somehow and it took a little more work to finish it. I felt like the sandpaper I normally use (600 grit) wasn’t sufficient – but then again, I wouldn’t use anything under that grit normally, so I just persisted. Drilling was the same, it took a bit longer to drill through.
Firing FYI 999
And now onto the firing bit! The instructions are quite broad for FYI 999 – Firing in the kiln 30-90minutes at a temperature 840-890C. No mention of hand firing at all.
But I want to try hand firing so I do! And I am really delighted to tell you that it fires by hand really well! When I started firing, the binder burning away was quite blustery – and the torch reacted a bit usually (this happened both times I hand fired so I don’t think I was imagining it!). But it soon settled down and I set the timer when the piece reached the peachy orange glow for 5 minutes. Once fired, it felt good, it was metal (always good!) and it had shrunk from 2.5cm to 2cm, approximately 20%. It also polished up really well too – so a very good result!
I also fired it for 30 minutes at 900oC – this was a great test for me since, I was interested in using it in a class and I don’t have time to wait for a firing – 30 minutes is a good time for and fits well in my class timetable. Again, the piece fired extremely well and polished up beautifully. The piece shrunk from 2.5cm to 1.9cm– a shrinkage rate of approximately 24%.
And finally I also fired the FYI 999 for 2 hours at 900oC another good result all in, with a shrinkage rate of 28% – the piece having shrunk from 2.5cm to 1.8cm.
FYI 999 Powder
I tried the FYI 999 powder form too. I thought it was important to see if there were any differences in workability, feel of the product and firing. I often wonder about why someone would want to buy the powdered form, because the ready to roll clay is far more convenient. The powder is not cheaper to buy and there is the faff of adding the water to it to make it into clay.
If you have ever had any experience reconstituting silver clay then mixing up the powder with water will be easy peasy. The powder is lovely and fine and is very easy to mix up. I used distilled water in a spray bottle and added a little water at a time. A small pallet knife is a great mixing tool for this job.
When I mixed it and made the FYI 999 from powder, I thought that the consistency was a little stickier than the ready to roll version. That might be because I added a little too much water, but even after having been left in cling film overnight, I felt that the clay was still very sticky. I rolled it out a few times and it gradually felt better, but still stickier than the ready to roll.
That is as far as the differences between the ready to roll and the powder versions go. Once rolled, textured, cut and dried, the powder version of FYI 999 behaved in a similar way to the ready to roll one. Firing, shrinkage and finishing results as all the same.
Things to be aware of – the pricing of this clay is less expensive that its competitors (PMC and ACS) but when you buy a pack of 50g bag of PMC3 for example, you get 50g of FIRED silver. With FYI 999 – you buy a bag of 50g – you get 42.5g of FIRED silver – so when you are comparing prices, work out the price per gram and you’ll have a more accurate picture of what the price differences are.
So what are my thoughts about FYI 999? I have to say I really, really enjoyed using this clay. I was happily surprised and I recommended it to my students. I will also be using it in my upcoming Butterflies and Balloons class, because I love the shrinkage of this clay and want to use it to its advantage. I will definitely be using this clay in the future.
Given the price difference, I think it’s a great alternative to PMC3 and ACS. Its shrinkage rate is really useful for some projects and for those of us who lament the passing of PMC Original, this is a great clay to try. There are projects it’s not so great for, but I am of the opinion you pick the clay to suit the piece you want to make!
You can get hold of this clay in the US by going to Metal Clays website
For the UK / EU distributor – click here to go to the Facebook page, you will be able to purchase the clay by messaging the page directly. The website is currently under construction.
Next time, I will be sharing my thoughts about Prometheus 999 – so if you’re interested and don’t want to miss it, then please join my mailing list!
Until next time!