Metal clay isn’t much to look at. It’s a moist, grey lump, very similar to standard modeling clay. Until you add fire to it that is!
Metal clay is a mix of metal powder; non-toxic, organic binders; and water. When you apply heat, the heat burns off the binder and the metal particles sinter together to make a solid metal piece.
Currently, I use a butane torch to fire my beads. I was originally concerned about the risk of the flame with pets and small children, but the firing time is short (about three minutes) and our cats pay no attention to it.
The kids are a bit of a different story.
The first few times I fired the beads when they weren’t around, but got flack for not letting them see. So, I let them watch a few times. Maybe they thought that it would be faster, or brighter, or more like a sparkler, all shiny and showy. Whatever the reason, a few times was all that it took for them to lose interest. Which is good because I still worry about them trying to touch the metal before it cools. Once or twice a bead has looked cool on the surface, but has still been very hot when I’ve tried to pick it up!
Firing is fairly simple: run the torch around the edges of the bead until it bursts into flames. When the flames go out, run the torch over the surface of the entire piece until it glows. Continue doing that for two minutes, keeping the piece evenly heated so that you maintain the red glow.
Since beads obviously get quite hot when subjected to flame, I use a firing brick to absorb the heat and make sure that nothing but the bead burns. After the bead is fired, it also cools on the brick; unlike glass beadmaking, you don’t quench it in anything, you just let the air do its thing. For the small beads that I do, it only takes about 15-20 minutes for them to cool enough to touch. But, it’s still so hard to wait that long when I’m excited to see how a bead turned out!
Are you a patient person? Or does your excitement get the better of you?