PMC3 tutorial

July 31, 2008 - 8:07 am
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PMC3 is definitely one of my newest and most exciting obsessions!

This stuff is amazing! They're little balls of clay that come in packets of different sizes. I picked up a 9g one. It was enough to make two rings for my small fingers.

Basically, it works like this. You take out the clay, play with it a bit, shape it into something you want. Wait for it to dry. Then fire it in a kiln or with a torch. When it cools, give it a good scrub and polish. And...voila! You have silver!!! PURE (well, 99.9%) SILVER!!!

It is incredible! I am still in complete awe at this and cannot believe I only recently discovered this. WHERE have I been? I can barely grasp the fact that I was able to make some silver rings out of my own apartment with a few simple tools and a torch.

"Read more" to view the process of making a PMC3 ring. It's more of a long visual walkthrough of my first experience, but hopefully it'll help some people. :)

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PMC3 requires very simple tools.

For shaping the clay, I have:

 

  • Two equal stacks of cards taped to a vinyl lined surface. Any clean desk will do.
  • A toy rolling pin. You can use any round object, like a thick marker even.
  • Some small flat object for rolling the clay, like some clear plastic.
  • Two small dishes of liquids--one with water, one with a tiny bit of olive oil.
  • Clean paper.
  • An X-Acto knife and/or thick needle to cut and carve your piece.
  • Round tubing that fits your ring size + some, if you are making a ring. This can be a wooden dowel, copper tubing, a pencil, anything that is thick enough.

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Here's 10g of the clay. After firing it becomes 9g worth of silver. There is about a 10% shrinkage after firing. So you'll have to do some math if you are making things to size, like rings. Divide your desired ring diameter (in mm or inches) by .90 to get the final diameter for the clay ring.

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Moisten your hands, work surface, and tools with a tiny bit of olive oil. You really only need a TINY bit, unless it is super humid where you are maybe. Use the flat object to roll your clay until it is long and skinny.

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Place your skinny clay between the two taped layers of cards. Use your rolling pin to flatten the clay to the height of the cards. The spacing between the cards help determine the width of your ring. If clay gets a little dry, dab a drop of water on its surface. The clay becomes very sticky when it gets wet, so let the water absorb for a minute before playing with it again. If clay rolls over the top of the card, that's fine, you can trim it later.

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Wrap your tubing with a sheet of paper. If you couldn't find a tube that was your size, you can use more paper to create extra padding to make it thicker. If your tubing is just right, then use a small sheet so it won't bulk it up. You can tape it close, but don't tape it to the tubing.

Here I've wrapped the flattened long piece of clay around the paper-covered tubing. I cut off the extra bits at the end, allowing small amount of overlap. I wet the ends and stick them to each other and smooth it out. Make sure you "glue" and smooth the ends together well or you will create a weak point in the ring. Use the X-Acto knife to trim off the sides and make them smooth. And/or cut it into a shape you want and add some carvings onto the surface with the pin tool. Working on the tape dispenser helped a lot to keep the ring off the surface. All the remaining bits of clay can be salvaged and turned into a slip (like a clay "glue") by storing it in a little container, like a film can, and adding a little bit of water to it. Or you can try to wet it and lump it back into a ball with the remainder. Put it back into the packaging to reseal.

 

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Here I am trying to speed up the drying with a hairdryer. I am impatient like that. I dried it on Low setting for about 20-25 minutes.

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Here are some tools I also used after drying and after firing:

  • Nail filers are GREAT. You can easily find very fine grits of nail filers. And the ones with the polishing side are especially useful. Just grab a punch at the 99cent store or Target and you're mostly set. The metal one is good for slightly more heavy duty sanding.
  • Sandpaper for more coarse sanding, if necessary, and to sand the inside of the ring. 400 and 600 grits work well.
  • A metal brush for quick polishing after firing. It gets into the holes and cracks where sandpaper can't. You can find this at Home Depot, may take a bit of hunting. This was in the paint removal section, I think.
  • The paint dipping stick wasn't really useful. I was going to wrap sandpaper around it. Totally optional, but FREE.

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  • And the most important tool of all, the torch! Mine is Cheflamme. ::rolls mustache:: They're pretty easy to find at kitchen or home decor stores.

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When it dried, I used the sandpaper and the nailfilers to smooth down my piece. I used the metal nailfiler to create a beveled look to the edges. It's hard to see in these pre-fired pictures though. I also etched my initials on the inside with the pin tool.

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Let's get dangerous...! Not really. I laid my ring on this metal grill thingy, and laid it on top of an iron pan. It's not really recommended. You should try to use something more stable. You can lay your piece on the pan directly, but the pan might get burnt. Torches can get VERY hot. It made a black burnt mark on my iron pan and started smoking when I didn't lift the ring up with the grill. So it's best if you work outside with the pan or whatnot on the cement ground just in case. Don't use your metal pots and pans, those might get burnt too. If you have a heavy ceramic pot, that might work. I'm not guaranteeing anything though. My setup was okay, you only have to fire PMC3 for about 3-4 minutes for that size project. So it didn't do any damage. The iron pan was not used for cooking anyway.

Set your torch to medium-ish flames. Fire your piece about midway into the flames. Don't get too close, it'll be too hot and melt your piece. Don't stay too far away and into the reddish flame area, that's not hot enough.

Your piece will start BURNING up in flames very quickly as the non-silver clay particles get burned away. That's a good sign. Then your piece will start glowing red, if you are in dim lighting you can see it well. Keep firing for another 3 minutes or so, keeping the whole piece equally heated by moving your torch around.

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Here is the fired piece. You can pick it up with some tweezers and drench it in water to cool it down. Or wait for it to cool for 30 minutes. DON'T TOUCH it right away for ANY reason! I only accidentally nudged against the grill afterward with my arm, and it burnt a semi-permanent red tattoo into my skin...

Doesn't look like much, but you'll be able to tell that it's smaller, and it's more white in color.>

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Here's the fun part! Take your metal brush, and start brushing! It's so amazing when that silver starts shining through, and you realize you don't have this brittle piece of clay anymore, but a piece of metal in your hands.

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My finished ring! I sanded the main surface with some 600 grit sandpaper/filer in one linear motion, so that it looked like brush metal. I sanded and polished the beveled edges so it looked all shiny. I was so happy with the results!

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Here's a second ring I did, shortly after the first. Can you tell? It's birdies flying over clouds.

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This time, I did it in two steps. I made the inner layer of the ring first. I joined the ends on the tubing. Then I made an outer layer, cut out the cloud shapes with the pin tool, and "glued" it onto the first layer with water. As it was drying, I carved the birdies with the pin tool.

The features didn't show up so well on this ring, and I had wanted to try using liver of sulphur to blacken silver. So I tried it out. You dissolve a tiny clump of liver of sulphur in hot water. Then you dip your ring in until it turns black. Take it out and rinse it in clean water. Your whole ring is black, so you sand and polish off the parts you want shiny again. Pretty easy.

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This was so easy! I had such a great time doing it. I immediately ordered more after I was done with the 9g. I'm sure most people can make a decent ring with the 7 or 9g packages.

The place I found to be cheapest was online at Whole Lotta Whimsy. But, I recommend you do your research too if you want some. Note though: WLW charges shipping AFTER you order (but at a reasonable rate), so your total online is not the final amount. The prices go up and down with the silver market, so you may not always get the same deal.

This was a very lengthy walkthrough/tutorial. I hope this helps out those who are starting out!

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