Stretch Bracelet with Metal Clay

Design by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc

Reversible Copper Shield Bracelet

: : : Materials : : :

  • Slats, acrylic, assorted colors, 6 inches
  • Teflon sheets
  • Hadar's Clay, Quick-Fire, Copper
  • Badger Balm
  • Design frame sets, rectangle
  • Clay roller, jumbo
  • Scalpel
  • Blade, tissue slicing
  • Brush, #3 round
  • Sander set, sponge, 5-piece
  • Firing vessel, stainless steel
  • Firing media, coconut shell carbon
Prepare the clay:
Mix copper clay so that it can rest while you prepare the texture plates. I have found that mixing the clay and letting it sit in the bowl for an hour or so means that the clay is easier to work with and evenly moist. I tend to mix my clay too wet so it has to dry a bit. Mixing metal clay from a powder form is a bit of a personal science. I imagine that we all like the clay mixed to our preference.

Create the texture plates:
I used hard foam food trays from the grocery store to make the texture plates for this project, however, other artists using the Scratch Foam brand find they are able to achieve more details with different depths of designs. Cut two 5cm x 5cm (2-inch x 2-inch) texture plates from the trays or foam boards. Draw a design on the foam, compressing the foam as you draw with a ball point pen. I like to use a pen that doesn't write well so I don't get ink in my design. Lightly spray the texture plates with olive oil.

Roll and cut out the front and back plates:
(Note: I used two kinds of clay for the demonstration to make it easier to see the assembled sections. The final piece is made with only copper clay.)

Once the copper clay is ready, roll it out using the 1mm blue slats (six cards) as a thickness guide. Then place the rolled clay on top of one of the foam texture plates, place a purple slat and a blue slat on either side of the texture plate and gently roll across the clay with your roller. Flip the clay over onto a sheet of plastic from a plastic report cover or a Teflon sheet that you are willing to cut up. Place the rectangle design frame on the clay, and move the frame around until the clay you see in the opening has a pleasing design. Cut out the rectangle using a scalpel. Lift the design frame up, and set the rectangle of clay aside to dry. Repeat this process to make ten rectangles. I am aiming for eight rectangle sections for my bracelet. I made two extra rectangles to use as testers to check that the pieces have sintered during firing. (Note: Periodically you will need to re-spray your roller, texture sheet, plastic report cover or Teflon sheet with olive oil. I wear an apron while I work and wipe off the excess with my hand and then wipe my hand on my apron so that extra oil is not worked into the clay.)

In between making a rectangle section, ball up the clay you are working with in your hands and push it flat between your palms. I found this helped keep the clay smooth and when I added more clay to the ball I was working with, it helped to merge the newer moister clay together with the clay I had been using. Compressing the clay several times helps to eliminate air pockets. If you see air bubbles in the rolled out clay, don't use that piece, ball it back up and roll and compress in your hands again.
Repeat Step 3 using the other texture plate:
You will now have 20 pieces textured and cut out. (Ten for the front of each shield section, and ten for the back of each shield section.)

Make the inside support for the bracelet rectangles:
Roll out the remaining clay, using the 2mm purple slats (eight cards) as a thickness guide. Cut out as many rectangles as you can fit on this piece of clay with the rectangle design frame. Ball up the leftover clay, spray it with the water sprayer and work the clay in your hands to push the moisture into the clay. Roll out this remaining bit of clay. You are trying to make as many rectangles as you need for the bracelet sections. (I need to make eight for the bracelet and another two for test pieces.)

Using a ruler and scalpel, slice the rectangles into four pieces. Cut 5mm from the top and from the bottom to make two pieces and cut the middle piece to be 15mm long. Do not make any cuts to the sides of the rectangle. The section marked with an "x" in the image is clay that will not be used. Take it out and ball it up with your moist clay. Let all sections dry on a flat surface. I prefer to leave the project overnight to dry rather than rushing it by using a dehydrator which may warp the pieces.
Assemble the bracelet shield sections:
Gather all the shield bracelet sections, some water in a small dish, a clean brush and start to assemble! The internal pieces for the bracelet sections will be attached to one set of rectangle sections. To do this paint each part that will touch another part with some water. The clay will absorb the water quickly, so you will need to reapply water with your paintbrush for each section and then gently, but firmly press the sections together. This is called laminating the clay pieces together.

Start by attaching the top and bottom internal pieces on each rectangle, and then center the middle piece and attach. Then add the other side of the rectangle, again painting water on each piece and gently but firmly pressing all sections together. Take care to assemble the rectangles with the patterns running the same way on each piece and be careful not to press in the open section that has no clay in the middle. Allow the pieces to dry, and then sand the edges smooth.

Pre-fire: Phase 1: Place your bracelet sections and test pieces for pre-firing on a kiln shelf. Ramp the kiln at 500-degrees Fahrenheit (277-degrees Celsius) to 600-degrees Fahrenheit (315-degrees Celsius) and hold for 30 minutes. Let the kiln cool to at least 100-degrees Fahrenheit (37-degrees Celsius). Check that the pieces have turned black.

Put 1-inch (25mm) of carbon on the bottom of a steel firing container (that fits inside your kiln). Place only five bracelet sections per layer making sure they are 1/2 inch (12mm) from each other and add a test piece. Carefully cover pieces with 1-inch (25mm) of carbon. Lay out the next five bracelet sections and a test piece and cover with another 1-inch (25mm) of carbon. ( Tip: If you have more than one layer, be sure to have 1-inch (25mm) of carbon between layers vertically and 1/2 inch (12mm) between pieces horizontally. Do not fire more than two layers.)

Phase 2: Ramp at full speed to: 1700-degrees Fahrenheit/927-degrees Celsius (brick kiln) or 1780-degrees Fahrenheit/971-degrees Celsius (muffle kiln). Hold for two hours.** Let the kiln cool to below 100-degrees Fahrenheit (37-degrees Celsius) before opening the kiln. Do not handle the firing container and carbon while they are hot.

** Be sure to have a test piece (or two) in the firing so that you can check if the firing was successful with this piece and not your master pieces! After firing, try to bend the test piece. If it breaks, you will have to re-do phase 2 firing as the pieces did not sinter.
Finishing the shield sections and assembling the bracelet:

Brush your pieces with a brass brush and polish with a soft cloth and metal polish. You can polish your pieces to a high shine, add a patina with liver of sulphur or heat the piece with a butane torch. The finish on the pieces is up to you, but note that unless you coat the copper pieces with a metal coating for jewellery, over time the metal colors will change. I used a butane torch to color my bracelet pieces.

I chose to put a copper bead in between each copper bracelet piece. This is an optional step. Thread 30cm (12 inches) of elastic cord through the holes on the copper bracelet pieces and finish with a surgeon's knot. Add a drop of jewellers glue to the knot and gently pull the knot inside one of the bracelet sections. Repeat this for the 2nd set of holes. And lastly, enjoy showing off your copper shield bracelet to your admiring friends. And don't forget your bracelet is reversible!

Surgeon's Knot (simple instructions): Hold an end of the elastic cord in each hand; overlap the strands of the cording twice. Pull the ends of the cording until the knot is tightened down to the beads, with little space between the two end beads. Overlap the ends of the cording one time. Pull tightly to finish the surgeon's knot. ( Tip: There are instructions, images and videos online to help you make this knot.)

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