F is for Fire! (AtoZ 2016)

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?



    1. It’ funny, I usually don’t mind waiting for the clay to dry before firing (I will usually give it extra time, in fact). I don’t mind waiting to oxidize a bead. But I’m always really antsy when it comes to waiting for it to cool so that I can burnish it! Maybe because after it’s fired is the first time that it finally really feels like a bead. :)

    1. It doesn’t take long for them to lose the red glow, but they stay quite hot for a while afterwards. I usually tap them quickly with my finger to gauge the heat, but once one seemed cool enough when I tapped my finger on it so I picked it up – and then very quickly dropped it on the floor as it burned my hand! Nothing too serious, just still waaaay too hot to hold. I really should set a timer or something so that I don’t get distracted by other things, but can also start burnishing it as soon as it’s cool.

  1. Excellent post.

    I am a very impatient person, I hate having to wait, instant gratification would lead to burnt fingers if I got anywhere near bead making!

    1. I think overall I am pretty impatient with most things. :D But, I’ve only had a burnt hand once, and it really wasn’t anything serious, so I guess I’m not doing too badly with this! *knockonwood*

  2. Lol how I wish I could pick them up in 20 mins… I can understand your impatience, I try not to peek at the beads in the cooling bubbles, they take a few hours to be cool enough that the risk of cracking has reached an equilibrium, I write more about this next week in the A to Z.

    Such an interesting read, as I hadn’t realised all the processes that are involved.

    Mars xx
    @TrollbeadBlog from
    Curling Stones for Lego People

    1. I actually thought of you and your glass beadmaking as I was writing that sentence. I know that I have it pretty good with only having to wait 20 minutes for it to cool. :D And then there’s the kiln time for glass beads … and I’m sure that there are some processes there that I don’t know about either!

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