Friday, June 25, 2010

Who's afraid of the BIG, BAD Torch?

Good morning, Metal Clay Heads!

We're going to talk about something today that scares the crud out of even the most seasoned of Metal Clay Heads. THE TORCH. There are a lot of professional metal clayers who will tell you the torch doesn't work. It doesn't sinter the clay properly. It's just ..... not ...... good enough. You "must" have a kiln to be a "real" metal clayer.

In my humble opinion, hogwash.

As long as you're not trying to fire a foot-tall scale model of the Eiffel Tower, you'll be just fine. (If you're THAT good, WHY are you reading MY article, anyway??) ;P As long as the pieces you are firing are under 25 grams of clay and less than 1.5" (3.8 cm) around (for the Americans, that's about the size of a half dollar), your pieces should sinter just fine.

Let's talk torch for a minute - it's lightweight, it's small, it's inexpensive, and you can store it anywhere. Just make sure little fingers can't get to it - little ones have an uncanny ability to make "childproof" items work just fine. You can buy the butane fuel canisters for your torch easily - Wal-Mart and Lowe's carry them. I tried my local hardware store, but they didn't carry the ones I need, but yours might. Give them a try, as well. One thing I did find out this winter - if you fuel your torch outside (I do, for safety reasons), you need to wait about 30 minutes before firing for the fuel to come up to room temperature. My dear husband had to point that one out for me. *blushes* Filling the torch is fairly easy, although all canister nozzles are not made the same. They may or not fit perfectly into the fill nozzle on your torch. If you're careful, this won't be much of a problem. You fit the nozzles together and push down on the can. When the fuel sputters, your torch is full. Let the torch rest for five minutes after fueling. *NOTE* The can will get quite cold during fueling.

Most (or all) torches will have a child safety lock - when you're ready to fire, push this down. Press the button above the safety to get your flame. Off to the left is a continuous flame button - press this button in (and LET GO!) so your hands will be relaxed during firing. When you start firing your (completely dry!) piece, it will smoke. It will smoke and THEN it will catch on fire. Yes, that's normal, and no, you don't need to panic. Those are the binders in the clay burning off. Don't drop your torch and scream. After it's done burning, you're beginning to sinter the piece. Sintering is defined as heating to a coherent mass without melting. Remember that - you're NOT melting your piece. That's bad. During the firing process, you will maintain a peach or salmon color in the piece. If it starts to bubble or turn silver, you are wayyyyyy too close - back off a little. The flame has two "cones" - one is hard to see unless you're in a dark room, and the other is blue. Don't use the blue part of the flame - it's the hottest and it will melt your silver.
Here's a firing schedule for torch firing silver clay:

5 grams or less - 1 - 1.5 minutes

6 - 15 grams - 1.5 - 2.5 minutes

16 - 25 grams - 2.5 to 5 minutes
Large pieces need a little more time under the torch, but I will tell you, so far, I've NEVER had a torched piece break because of improper sintering. Matter of fact, Patricia Kimle - my personal metal clay hero - torch fires ALL of her pieces.

Now, I'm not putting down kilners. If I had $700 and a place to put one, I'd get one! I want to try some of the other clays - BRONZclay and COPPRclay have to be kiln fired. However, I'm still playing with the limits I can push with the torch. Plus, it's just more practical right now. I have kids, limited space, and not enough production to require a kiln.
I guess my point is this - don't let not having a kiln stop you. There are some amazing things you can do with a torch and a little bit of precious metal clay.

Happy claying, Metal Clay Heads!!


  1. I once was afraid of the big bad torch. I really can't believe I put off making jewelry all these years because of my fears. It does help having a place to play - even if it is in my garage! Brave your fears. It's so worth it!!! Great article!

  2. Great article. I only use a torch and always feel like I need to step up to investing in a kiln. But the torch, for now, suits my needs fine.