Starting Silver Clay on a budget?

One of the biggest concerns when starting out with a new hobby or craft is – how much is this going to cost and how much room will it take up? Very likely your partner / roommate / children / flat mate is  sick of falling over your bead stash / knitting / crochet / card making kits and you need somewhere to store all that good stuff! Am I right?

The bad news is that you will have to buy some tools, but the good news is, especially if you are already into some other craft, that you may need not need as much as you might think.

Getting started with Silver Clay – your minimum toolkit

  • A workmat – you can buy a small workmat for a couple of pounds from an online store quite easily. I use an A4 size normally but you could go down to an A5 size. A cheaper alternative is to use a laminated piece of paper which works really well too. But of course you will need a laminator to begin with 😉
  • A roller – this is to roll out your clay in the preparation stage. You can opt for a more pricey option of a solid roller, but I use plumbing pipes which I buy in a longer length from my local DIY store. That way I can cut them to the size I require, they are fabulously non-stick and they are inexpensive too.
  • Slats – these are to ensure that you roll out your clay to a uniform depth. But purpose made slats can be an expensive addition to your kit and you can use plastic playing cards in their place.
  • Release agent – this is to ensure that your clay does not stick to any surface (including your workmat, roller and texture sheets). There are a few especially made for metal clay, including Cool Slip and Slik. But if your budget is tight, or you are just kicking the tyres a bit with regards to Silver Clay, you might want to use something closer to home. Olive oil works really well as a release agent and is easy to use. You can place a small piece of sponge in the bottom of a shot glass or similar and use your fingers to apply. Or you can put it into a small spray bottle.
  • Textures. Well you really don’t need to go and splash out on texture sheets! Textures are all around you and very easy to find. Have a look at the bottom of a pen lid, the texture on the bottom of the next meat tray you buy. Have you got any old textured wallpaper lying around, some lace in the back of your sewing basket? Use old toothbrushes, nails, cocktail sticks to stipple. Use beautiful leaves and pods to add something unique. When you start thinking about what you can use, you’ll be surprised at exactly what’s out there.
  • Cookie cutters – you can invest in some cookie cutters – but there are so many shapes and it can be an expensive business. A less expensive way is to invest in templates – they take up less room and generally have lots of different sizes of the same shapes. If you don’t feel like investing in templates, make your own. You can find lots of shapes on the internet, size them up or down and print out. Once you cut them out, they can be used to cut round – make sure you use plenty of your release agent if you want to re-use the template. Or you can always laminate (yes, we are back to that!) and they will last much longer. Use a sewing needle or a needle tool to cut out your shapes when using a template.
  • Drill – this is used to make holes in your Silver Clay piece before you fire. It certainly makes things a bit easier to have one or two suitable drill bits (1.5mm and 2.00mm for example). So you might find some smaller ones if you raid your husband’s drill kit like I did – he never used the smaller ones anyway! But you can make holes before the clay dries; freehand with a sewing needle or with a small drinking straw.
  • Sandpaper – you will need some sandpaper to tidy up your pieces before firing. But not expensive sponge backed ones, you can buy a 600 grit sandpaper from a DIY store for not too many pennies. Cut to a small size for use and the packet should last a long while.
  • Firing torch and firing block – yes, there’s no getting away from this – you will need something to fire your Silver Clay pieces with and I would recommend buying a torch and firing block. If firing by hand is something that worries you; you can either face your fear, practise and persist and get it right or you can find someone who offers a kiln firing service. You’ll need a jeweller’s butane torch – the kind that uses lighter fluid. And you will need a firing block too. Place it on something that’s not flammable – a housebrick or breeze block is a good option. But I would encourage you to try and fire your own pieces, especially if Silver Clay is going to become a fixture in your life.
  • Wire brush – this is for brushing your Silver Clay creations once fired. It does an initial job of burnishing them (I.e. pushing all the particles of Silver Clay together to form a shiny surface). You can buy stainless steel or brass brushes. My favourite is stainless steel, but brass works well too, just make sure with the brass brush, you brush under water as particles of the brass could transfer onto your silver making it a different colour!
  • Burnisher – this is to further burnish your Silver Clay – that is to push the particles of silver together. I would invest in an Agate burnisher, in my humble opinion they are the best burnishers. You can buy stainless steel and people even say that you can use knitting needles and the backs of spoons to burnish, but if you are hand finishing your pieces, you owe it to yourself to get the best one for the job and that’s an Agate burnisher.

I can’t say that as your Silver Clay hobby goes on you won’t want to invest in some more tools, because you most definitely will. And as for tool envy (i.e. the coveting of other artists tools – not that I EVER indulge in THAT!), well it’s just par for my course!! But this list is to reassure you that the initial investment doesn’t have to be huge. You can reappropriate other craft items, pinch some things from your husband’s tool kit and use things that you have around the house when you are just starting out. And what’s even better, all your kit will fit into a shoebox!

Til next time
Emma x