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Article: Minimal Metalsmithing

Here is an article from my blog, which you can find at this address:

Minimal Metalsmithing: which techniques you should add to your
jewelry making choices and why

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If
all you know how to use is metal clay, then that’s all you use.
And that’s okay, you can make wonderful jewelry using only metal

I believe that each art material should be used to the best of
its characteristics. What does metal clay do best? What does lost
wax casting do best? What is done more easily and efficiently, or
better, in metalsmithing?

Here are some of the strengths of Precious Metal Clay ®:

  • Easier to make a hollow object than with conventional metals
    and metalsmithing (form over a combustible core vs. hollow

  • Takes a texture better than wax and faster results than lost
    wax casting.

  • Sculptablility just as good as wax, but for many people
    working with PMC has shorter learning curve than wax. Need many
    different types of wax to create something, PMC will do it all.

  • Fast, fast, fast. Faster than metalsmithing, faster turn
    around time than casting.

Here are some of the weaknesses of PMC:

  • I feel that some of the PMC stone setting methods are clunky
    and ugly.

  • Sometimes bails are overly heavy, ugly, or shrink too much.

  • Limited options for firing natural stones in place.

  • It’s so fast, that if one isn’t careful the results can look
    Play- doh ® ish

How can we resolve this? How best to fix it?

The weaknesses of metal clay (in my opinion, others may disagree)
can be worked around using just metal clay. You can learn better
ways to set stones, you can make a better bail.

But sometimes, you can go to a lot of effort to create a
solution that still isn’t as good, as strong, as clean looking as
it could have been had you added some metalsmithing techniques to
your bag of tricks.

While you can stick with only metal clay and still do great
work, if you add even a little metalsmithing, you will have more
choices. You will be able to look at a technical problem in a
piece of jewelry and say, what is the best way to do this? Not,
just, how can I do this in the clay?

You will have more options when something goes wrong, and know
how to fix it.

What metalsmithing skills do I think you should learn?

Here’s my ideal list of skills for metal clayers to add to their

  • Soldering
  • Basic forming on steel mandrels
  • Making your own jump rings
  • Bezel setting cabochon stones using soldering (setting stones
    after the metal clay is fired)

If you want to go a little further, I’d add:

  • Learning to safely use the flexible shaft to drill, grind and

More on that next time.

© Elaine D. Luther 2007 All Rights Reserved

Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

Dear Elaine,

Here are some of the strengths of Precious Metal Clay (R): Fast,
fast, fast. Faster than metalsmithing, faster turn around time than
casting. Here are some of the weaknesses of PMC: I feel that some of
the PMC stone setting methods are clunky and ugly. 

I read your article and found that the major weakness of metal clay
continues to be omitted from the discussion. The fact that sintered
metal clay, depending on the formulation is over 200 times more
porous than cast metal. This porosity seriously impacts the
longevity and wearability of jewelry objects made from this product.

I was approached by the Mitsubishi Corporation in the mid-1980s (as
where dozens of other bench jewelers) to experiment with the as yet
un-named new product of metal clay. We were to see if the product had
properties that could make it usable in commercial jewelry
production. Since the sintered metal clay could not be forged, filed,
soldered, or even handled too roughly without breaking, and it shrank
during sintering, it was not a viable candidate for model making or
jewelry production.

Yes, it is fast and tons of fun to play with, allowing many people
who might never be able to make jewelry any other way to express
themselves creatively. But, the quality of the jewelry produced is
seriously inferior to traditionally fabricated or cast jewelry due to
the physical properties of metal clay.

The differences could be compared to furniture made from solid oak or
furniture made from medium density fiberboard (MDF).

This is a critique of the material, and not the objects made from

Nanz Aalund
Associate Editor / Art Jewelry magazine
21027 Crossroads Circle / Waukesha WI 53187-1612
262.796.8776 ext.228

I read your article and found that the major weakness of metal clay
continues to be omitted from the discussion. The fact that sintered
metal clay, depending on the formulation is over 200 times more
porous than cast metal. 

According to Tim McCreight and the engineers at MMC,

PMC+ when fired at 1650 for 2 hours, gives you an increase in
density of 5%, resulting in a density of the PMC+ equal to that of
cast fine silver.

That’s certainly strong enough for a pendant or earring. By soldering
your findings on with sterling silver, all’s good and right with the

Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

I’ll start off by saying that I have never been a huge fan of any
metal clay, but I have to disagree with the statement below:

Since the sintered metal clay could not be forged, filed, soldered,
or even handled too roughly without breaking, and it shrank during

I have found that soldering, although not easily done, can hold up
quite well when using metal clay product and sterling. I have not had
difficulties with filing either. Although, most of what I made was
thicker than 20 gauge sheet.

I have to agree that some of the designs do not hold up the way
cast, forged or fabricated pieces do.


I think you may have outdated about PMC. It is amazing
material, and while, as you say, it is porous, you can achieve quite
durable external surfaces by tumbling with steel shot. I imagine
Elaine will have quite a lot to say on this matter, but it certainly
is not fair to write it off as unsuitable for jewelrymaking.

Nor can I imagine Tim McReight would have written two (or is it
three?) books advocating its use if it was as brittle and weak as
you imply. Both PMC and Art Clay versions on the market today can be
soldered, shaped, filed, sanded and otherwise worked. No, they don’t
have all the properties of sterling silver, but the ones they do
have (extraordinary workability and flexibility prior to firing) make
PMC highly attractive for one-of-a-kind and unusual pieces where
casting is not economical.

John Walbaum

Hello Nanz,

I am replying to your post on PMC’s deficiencies. I have never used
the stuff. Therefore my response is not nearly as informed as yours -
but your take on it confirms my intuitions and i am very happy to
have the benefit of your experience rather than only of my own
prejudice. Writing more as a woodworker than as a jeweller, I found
your analogy with MDF vs. solid wood to be most apt. Yes you can make
things out of MDF which look as though they’ve been made of wood -
but they don’t behave as wood. And similarly with PMC and solid

The forms which which metal or wood objects take have evolved over
thousands of years by working with those materials and their
intrinsic properties, both their virtues and their limitations.
Imitating those forms with a different material produces objects
which are is some deep way senseless and even (to me) somewhat
offensive, no matter whether they are good imitations in surface

I might feel just a bit more charitable towards PMC if people used
it more or less analogously to a ceramic rather than trying to make
it look like a material with which it shares few intrinsic
If I’d ever had any interest in being a potter I suppose the stuff
would appeal to me.

My own designs, in whatever material, always feel better to me if
they evolve in harmonious relation with the material, ergo a metal
chair looks different than a wooden chair.

I thought I’d write “off-line” so to speak as i have the
uncomfortable feeling that you will be getting a lot of negative
response to your post. There is a lot of money being made selling
this goop to people who think of themselves as instant metalsmiths.
While I am happy to support your point of view in public as well as
in private, I am not up for another round of flaming. I’m going to
sit back for this round and watch the mud fly - hoping not to be
provoked into joining the melee.

Best wishes,
Marty Hykin - In Victoria BC - being a woodworker this week

thank you, thank you thank you.

Finally someone has put into words what I have been trying to
express about the material (not even going into the “ethics” of
Mitsubishi Co.)…Perfect analogy although particle board may be more
to the point!

J L Collier, one of the USA’s up- and -coming metalsmiths and me
have been discussing why some magazines (metalsmith) are not
’divulging’ that pieces printed in their galleries, are not listing
that the medium a given piece is made of is in fact PMC, when every
other art related anything lists artist, title - if there is one, and
medium(s) …yet in the last issues of Metalsmith, PMC pieces were
obviously not listed as PMC… Not that you Nanz, are being asked the
favour of an opinion here… it’s simply to point out that while the
material has serious few applications in metalsmithing!-For example
it can not be smithed at all! - It is being given credence as a
workable metal by SNAG, for one, when as you concisely point out its
porosity makes it virtually useless - (not to mention three times the
cost of the actual metal the particles come from) as an enduring work
of art jewelry…One of the art world’s newer mysteries perhaps, but
Metalsmiths/SNAG’s board of directors cross ties with the PMC
industry are my best guess…

Writing more as a woodworker than as a jeweller, I found your
analogy with MDF vs. solid wood to be most apt. 

Actually it is not. MDF and wood are not the same thing. PMC is fine
silver and fine silver is fine silver.

I repeat, PMC+ when fired at 1650 for 2 hours has the same density
as cast fine silver.

I am baffled by such hatred of a mere material from people who have
never even used the stuff.

There is a lot of money being made selling this goop to people who
think of themselves as instant metalsmiths. 

Now this is just uncivil. This is not the tone we should take on

If you don’t care for PMC, you needn’t use it.

Beginning metalsmiths can make some rather horrid things, but you
don’t see me ranting and railing against copper.

I have a guess that metalsmiths only “recognize” metal clay as metal
clay when it is poorly done. When it is well done, I think
metalsmiths assume the item was cast, and are not aware of the
amazing work being done in metal clay. It would knock your socks off
it you knew.

Take a look at Tim McCreight’s book “PMC Decade.” Look at the back
page of the current issue of Art Jewelry, the box by Gordon. Look at
the Saul Bell award winning work.

Furthermore, people who work with metal clay do not consider
themselves instant metalsmiths. They consider themselves metal clay
artists, unless they are already a metalsmith, and there are many of

Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

Nan - Metal Clay has come a long way since the original formulation.
Although I have to agree with your comments about its’ usability in
production jewelry, it is a very viable medium in fabricated
jewelry. It can be soldered, filed, and altered in any way that fine
silver can be altered. However, it has the ability to be formed in
clay state, and altered in that state much easier than altering
sintered metal. I am a traditional metalsmith and love working with
my torches and hammers. But I am also a metal clay artist and work
within that medium also. I think that you are entitled to your
opinion, but that your opinion is based on outdated And
I strongly suggest that you try working with the newer formulations
under the direction of a qualified instructor such as Celie Fago, Tim
McCreight, or Gordon Uyehara (there are others who would be equally
qualified) and then post again. I believe that your expressed
opinion would change.

BBR - Sandi, Beadin’ Up A Storm
Beads, Leather and Metalworking Supplies

Interesting opinion on PMC…how do I put this politely…I have
found that any material used in any art is only limited by the users
understanding of its properties. To know its strengths and weaknesses
and to use it in conjunction with whatever you can think of to get
the desired end result.

I have used PMC now for 3 months and I have filed it, soldered it,
made my own molded forms and plan on other experiments with it and
find it a quite pleasant material.

While my fabricated items soak in pickle or flasks heat in kiln I
can work in a third medium in my air conditioned office and get very
pleasant results.

I am a supporter of PMC. I am a supporter of education. The two
together can prevent sour opinions and bad results.

Teri Davis
Silver & Cameo Heritage Jewelry


Are you really basing your opinion on a product you tested briefly
in the early 90’s (not 80’s it wasn’t developed until the early 90’s
and wasn’t being tested in the U.S. until 1994)? Have you worked with
it extensively since then as hundreds of fully trained and educated
goldsmiths have? Don’t you think the product and working knowledge
of metal clay has changed within that time? The material that you
worked with is now called PMC Standard and is a more porous version
than the later recipies with 30 percent shrinkage, but the material
has been improved and re formulated twice since then with PMC+ and
PMC3 joining the line (not to mention Art Clay Silver’s wonderful
metal clay products). These two versions are stronger, denser and
able to be more fully sintered than the first offering.

Where on earth did you get your figure that metal clay is 200 times
more porous than cast metal? Were you talking about fine or sterling
silver? Tim Mc Creight will be able to give definitive figures (if
he’s interested in entering the fray), but PMC3 fired at the maximum
time and temperature is only slightly less dense than cast sterling.
And in ten years of use, has been proven to be a viable, strong and
beautiful jewelry making material. Certainly more durable than
plastic animals glued to crochet (although I do love Frelieke van der
Leest’s work) or crocheted fine silver/gold (ditto Michael David
Sturlin), resin, tin cans, hair or bakelite. Should we all start
making jewelry the way you do? Should we stop pushing the boundaries,
searching for new methods and materials, stop moving forward in our
quest for beauty?

And I hardly want to dignify your ill worded, rude and ridiculous
comparison with medium density fiberboard with a response. Perhaps
if you find metal clay such an inferior jewelry making product you
should stop committing so many pages to it in your magazine. I’ve
bought every issue since the premier at the newstand price, but I’ll
help you out in the effort to stifle the advance of metal clay (and
any other new technology) by never picking up a copy again.

You need to do a little more research before you make such negative
blanket statements and I think you owe the metal clay community an

Lora Hart

I read your article and found that the major weakness of metal clay
continues to be omitted from the discussion. Below is my response to
Nanz Aalund’s attack on Metal Clay and Elaine which I posted to the
Yahoo Metal Clay Group earlier today. I am currently learning some
"traditional" metalsmithing skills to add to my Metal Clay work. But
truly, I can find so many ways to create/work with Metal Clay that
cannot be done with sheet or wire or casting. On the other hand I
see so few things that can be done with sheet/wire/casting/etc. that
cannot be done with Metal Clay.

Nanz-I don’t know what the prototype PMC product was like in the
’80’s, which you tested, but it most certainly cannot be the product
we create with today. One: I have quite a few pieces-many of which
rings-that I personally wear daily (24/7 for the rings) and have for
some time that have not cracked, split–or scarred/marred anymore, if
as much, as SS or gold. Believe me, I’m hard on everything I own/use.
No time or patience for weak &/or fragile anything. Two: I have
soldered, filed, sawed, etc. fired Metal Clay. Have you even tried
Metal Clay since those '80’s prototyope/sample tests? Three: I find
it shocking that someone in your position, with a very major jewelry
Arts magazine, has such a negative view of a product that is fast
becoming recognized as an important new technique in jewelry making,
especially Art jewelry. One can only wonder if or how your bias will
affect the future of Metal Clay presentation/articles in your

Sorry for the long-windedness, but I’m very passionate about Metal
Clay. Most of those on this list are of far greater talent,
Artistically & technically, than I. I’m sure they can attest to Metal
Clay’s viability as a long-term, long-lasting, and ever & endlessly
evolving product/method of jewelry fabricating.

Debra Newell

I’m coming into this discussion a bit late, but feel I must say
something, because unfortunately, the on Metal Clay
(there are two brands, not just PMC but also Art Clay) is incorrect
and I hate to see that happen.

My first venture into jewelry fabrication was traditional
"silversmithing". However, the cost of the equipment and the room
necessary to house it was daunting. Silversmithing, or more
correctly goldsmithing was not my first career and is more of an
avocation, due to my already having a successful business with which
I earn my living.

At any rate, I discovered metal clay a couple of years ago and was
just overjoyed. I was like many people and thought that metal clay
was some type of clay, polymer, I guess that looked like metal but
that was not really metal. When I learned that metal clay is real
metal, fine silver and at the time 24K gold in powder dispersed in a
binder to create a clay-like substance, I was very excited to think
that I could create things I wanted to create, but didn’t have the
equipment to create in my home studio.

One forms the object they want to create, which is NOT easy, btw,
and then fires it at a high temperature which burns off the binder
leaving the pure metal behind.

If the clay is fired at a sufficiently high temperature, the binder
totally burns away and the metal sinters. At this point the metal is
not porous or weak. I have created tons of rings, including 22K gold
rings, with metal clay and they are VERY strong. I wear at least one
of them everyday and they have stood up admirably. Once the fine
silver is fired you can use any technique with it you want that you
would use in traditional silversmithing. You may apply 24K gold for
Keum Boo, you can bend it, you can hammer it, drill it, solder it,
etc. All you need to keep in mind is that you need to anneal the
metal, just like regular silver or gold.

I see that someone called it “goop”. Nothing could be further from
the truth. It is a material that is delicate and interesting to work
with. It has absolutely nothing to do with pottery.

It is in fact a new way to create metal objects of fine silver and
(now) 22K gold objects.

I agree that there are folks who use metal clay in a craft like way,
but I have seen plenty of “crafts” made with traditional
metalsmithing as well.

There are truly great artists creating wonderful pieces of wearable
art using metal clay.

I continue to increase my supply of metal working tools and my
skills in the traditional metalsmithing arts, but I use metal clay
often and enjoy it and have created some pieces that I think are
quite beautiful. I like to combine both traditional goldsmithing and
metal clay elements.

I really think you should look into the work created by out modern
metal clay artists before you decide to throw over this new

You can do some fantastic things with metal clay and there are new
innovations and techniques being discovered all the time for its
use. I think as jewelry artists, one should keep their minds open to
new materials and this is a fantastic one you ought to look in to.

My opinion,


Laura H. Hastings
Certified Artisan
Rio Rewards-PMC
ACS Level I Instructor
Eclectica Jewelry
Tucson, Arizona


Why bother providing all the commentary on PMC if you’ve never even
tried it? Do yourself a favor, buy 20 grams of PMC3. It will cost
about $30. Follow the instructions on the package to make something
interesting, fire it with a torch or a kiln, and let everyone know
how it turns out.

After that if you still think it’s “goop,” fine. At least then you
will have some basis for your belief.

John Walbaum

Why bother providing all the commentary on PMC if you've never
even tried it?

I have never tried to drive a car from the rear seat, but I do know
that it is not how it should be done.

PMC is an abomination for many reasons, far too numerous to go into,
but the biggest problem is that a technique used to create a
jewellery is a integral part of the design. To use a variation of
the playdough to create metal object only betrays the ignorance of
that fact on the part of the designer.

Leonid Surpin

Hi Laura et al

Yesterday I got Tim McCreight’s new book “PMC Decade”. I can’t put
it down.

I first took a PMC class from Tim McCreight at Tucson many years ago
sponsored by Rio. I have been a metal smith for 33 years, but the
idea of creating with PMC opened my eyes to a new, exciting way of
design. I certified with CeCe Wire soon after that, and teach
regularly, both in PMC and regular fabrication, and in Channel Inlay-
the fabrication type - not casted items.

I have taught two classes in PMC at Ghost Ranch, as well as Channel
Inlay classes over the last 15 years. Right now am in the process of
trying to figure out how to overcome the negative feeling toward PMC
and write an inviting caption for a class I would propose to teach
again next year at Ghost Ranch.

The new book “The First Ten Years of Metal Clay” is so wonderful,
and the creations quite remarkable. Thanks Tim.

Rose Marie Christison

But truly, I can find so many ways to create/work with Metal Clay
that cannot be done with sheet or wire or casting. 

The only 2 limiting factors in creating objects directly in metal
are skill and imagination.

Leonid Surpin

One comment on the PMC issue - I have virtually no experience
working with it - however, I have had several customers bring broken
pieces into my booth, asking if I could fix them…I can only
assume some PMC artists are not working with it properly and that it
is not inherently inferior material. It is what it is and has its own
qualities. But I do agree that pieces made with PMC should be noted
as being PMC, not Fine Silver as is is my understanding the two are
not identical. Am I incorrect?


I’m with Nan and the other naysayers on pmc. Most of the pieces I
see are poorly made and look awful. Yes, there are some notable
exceptions, but those are rare. I also find the pyramid scheme of
teaching people to be instructors of the material somewhat suspect.
How can one become proficient in instructing in one workshop?
Metalsmithing skills take years to acquire.

I bristle when people look at my etched work and ask if its pmc. No.
Others ask if I use it, “No, I don’t need to, I am skilled in working
with real metal.” I know it’s snobbish of me, but I have great pride
in my hard earned metal skills, that have been perfected over years
of effort.

As to Tim McCreight’s high praise of it…I have assumed he has a
financial interest in its success. I have total respect for Tim’s
skills and his contributions to our field, but I find his support of
pmc puzzling.

I do wish all pmc jewelry was labeled as such. I think the public
should be informed of what they are buying. And Elaine I had to
laugh at your comment on copper. Its a metal I still use and find
fascinating as it is so reactive and difficult, it challenges me
every time I work with it. But it is it’s reactive nature and ability
to take on different colors that keeps bringing me back. It many ways
I think copper is the king of metals. But that’s just me. Give me
copper, boo-hiss on pmc. Ain’t life interesting? And aren’t we glad
we all like different things.


Actually it is not. MDF and wood are not the same thing. PMC is
fine silver and fine silver is fine silver. 

It is an excellent analogy wood is ground up to make MDF and silver
is atomized to make PMC they both have a binder to hold them
together while in paste form and the only difference is one uses a
polymerization to keep it together the other uses diffusion. They
both lack the mechanical properties of the parent material.

I repeat, PMC+ when fired at 1650 for 2 hours has the same density
as cast fine silver. 

BS, there is no way to get near cast density from powdered metal
products without lots of pressure either by Hot Isostatic Press
(HIP) or some other form of hot press process. Who ever told you that
is just plain wrong. Do a little research on powder metallurgy.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with powdered metal products
when processed correctly. Powdered metals processes are a low cost
way to mass produce net or near net shape parts with appropriate
physical properties for their intended use. There are powdered metal
products that have properties that would be difficult if not
impossible to achieve in other forms of manufacturing. But these are
all highly engineered industrial products. PMC lacks strength and
density because it is not compacted before sintering and is not hot
pressed or post sintering HIPed. So it is not the material but the
processing. And unfortunately the proper processing is beyond studio
metalsmithing capabilities and pocketbook.


James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts