A fundamental way of working with metal clay is to texture a consistently even sheet of clay and cut a shape to make pendants, earrings, bracelet components, or to drape over an armature to create 3 dimensional objects like hollow beads or vessels.
Minimum thickness considerations vary slightly between clay bodies (fine silver is very soft and should be a little thicker, while bronze is very dense and could potentially be rolled thinner), but I like to use the same formula for all metal clay types.
• Earrings 3-4 cards thick (maximum is determined by the final weight of the earrings)
• Pendants 4-5 cards thick
• Rings 4-6 cards thick depending on the clay type
• Bracelet components 4-6 cards thick
• Bails are usually structurally sound when made 2-3 cards thick
• Voluminous objects like beads and vessels can be thinner than you might think because the rigid shape is adding to the strength of the structure. I often build beads and bottles that are only 2 cards thick. Read More About It
Maximum thickness considerations might be determined by the maker according to design preferences, wearability (weight) or cost of materials. A maker must also take into consideration mass when thinking about thickness. A small item can be thinner than a similar but larger item. Mass is not only the general circumference of an object, but potentially it's length too.
Imagine cutting a .25" length of wire, it would be very difficult to bend wouldn't it? Now think of a 6" length of the same gauge wire - much easier, right? It's the same with any metal, the more mass the easier it will deform.
• Metal clays tend to be sticky. This means that they bond to surfaces unless lubrication is used as a release agent. (see 'Lubricants') Rubber texture mats and wooden stamps are particularly annoying if this step is forgotten. I always rub a thin film of balm or oil on any tool or material that will come in direct contact with fresh clay. If a texture material you're using has very deep indentations, use a flat ended 'stencil' brush (available at any craft supply store) to move lubricant into the depressions. Be careful not to fill the depression with a solid lubricant like Badger Balm or Burt's Bees.
• To achieve a good impression of a texture, whether it is deep or fine lined, takes even and consistent pressure. Everyone has different capabilities and weaknesses. It is sometimes easier to produce a good texture impression while standing upright as you roll the clay, rather than when you are seated in a chair.
• The larger in circumference the roller is, the more even the sheet of clay will appear. If you used a tool the size of a pencil, you'd notice a rippled surface. Rolling with a tool the thickness of a dinner candle would produce a more uniform topography. I like to use a piece of PVC pipe that is between 1" and 2" around. (Note the difference in the way the hardware store labels plumbing pipe. The measurements they use relate to the interior diameter. When used as a rolling tool - you're interested in the exterior circumference.)
Reduction Rolling aka The Drop Card Method
• Another way to create a pleasing texture is to roll a slab of untextured clay that is 1-2 cards thicker than is needed. When transferring the pre-rolled slab to the texture mat, take away the extra 1-2 card spacer(s) and roll over the slab again. This allows the clay to be pressed further into the depressions of the texture, producing an image with more detailed relief.
• At some point you might like a shallow texture for a specific project - experiment with this technique by placing clay directly on the texture using the desired spacer thickness, then using the reduction rolling process with one card, and again with two cards. Take note of the differences in the raised areas of the design, and remember the results for future reference.
• I talk about how to make Thickness Gauges from playing cards here. I provide playing card spacers for my students, and use plastic slats in my studio. Cards, spacers, slats, and thickness gauges are all names for the same tool. 'Cards' is a word that is commonly used to convey thickness requirements, even if the maker is not actively using playing cards. Don't let this phrase confuse you or influence your choice of tool. They're all good.
• A spacer is only effective if used correctly. The spacer is meant to be positioned between the texture and the clay. If they are laid next to the texture, there will be no benefit and the user will most likely roll the clay as flat as a piece of paper. Which will make it very difficult to remove from most texture mats. Some makers like to position the texture on top of the clay, but I like to position things the other way around - with the texture first, followed by placing the spacers on top of the texture mat, and finally putting the pre-rolled sheet of clay between the spacers. I like to see the clay as I'm working with it. I frequently remind my students to "Always put your spacers ON TOP of the texture, not next to it"!
Two Sided Texturing
• The back of your piece is arguably as important as the front. If it will be untextured, be sure to sand and perfect it before firing. I use a technique I call 'finger sanding' or 'damp sanding', before I switch to sandpaper or jeweler's finishing paper. When you finger sand, you're removing material from the high points and depositing it into the low points - you're moving it around to create a level surface with no scars, marks or indentaions. When you use sand or finishing paper, you're just removing material and thinning your work. Which is fine if that's your goal, but dangerous if you hadn't planned for it.
• ˙insert how to finger sand here
• Texture on both sides of a flat object is beautiful - but how do you do one side without ruining the other? Here's the trick. You have to do them at the same time!
• If you're impressing texture into two sides of a single piece of clay - the slab has to be thicker than usual before you begin. Otherwise where two depressions meet in the middle, you may develop a hole or tear.
• If you want to texture both sides with the same texture - you'll have to have two pieces or copies of the same texture material.
• It works better if you use an ultra thin texture 'sheet', like a skeleton leaf, a tearaway, or a piece of fine lace, instead of two high relief textures like the rubber mats.
1. First use the reduction rolling method or create an untextured slab of clay two cards thicker than the final desired thickness.
2. Place the slab on the texture and reduce only by ONE card thickness. Roll over the slab to imprint the texture. DO NOT TOUCH THE CLAY. Leave it in place.
3. Place the second texture on the top side of the clay slab, remove one more card thickness and roll over it again.
4. If you are using lace or a skeleton leaf, because it can be pressed INTO the clay (as opposed to on to it) You do not need to remove additional cards after the first texture is impressed. Roll two cards thicker for an untextured slab, take away both cards and texture one side, place the leaf or lace onto the back of the slab and re roll to texture the back.