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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Working With Kiln Silver Clay in a Hot Pot

One of the difficulties of working with metal clay, like kiln silver clay, is the problem of how it ought to be fired after the pieces are shaped and dried. Many hobbyists demurred from using metal clays because it is necessary to have a kiln in order to accomplish this task. However, now that low-fire metal clays are readily available, ceramic kilns are no longer needed so long as the pieces to be fired are not larger than a silver dollar. Many low-fire metal clays fire at low temperatures so that pieces weighing less than twenty grams can be easily fired with a butane torch. But another possibility is to fire them in a hot pot. Hot pots cost around forty dollars, and require gelled ethanol fuel which costs about one dollar per use.

I had tried a hot pot which belonged to the instructor in a metal clay class which I took at a local university, so I was only able to use it in class. Before purchasing my own I inquired on the internet about what other jewelry-makers thought about
them. I received mixed reactions to my internet inquiry. Some jewelry-makers liked it, but some didn't. Complaints against the hot pot were that the fuel is expensive, and that it can crack eventually, which limits the number of firings you can do in the same one. When I purchased mine the instructions said that cracks will sometimes occur in the pot, but it is sill okay to use it so long as the cracks don't split the pot open.

So, I figured that for forty dollars the thing was worth checking into, especially since it represents a considerable savings over the cost of purchasing ceramic kilns. For quite a while I continued to use my butane torch, but eventually I tried out the hot pot, and I immediately loved it. For one thing, it is very convenient. I usually make lots of clay pieces at one time and let them dry naturally, which means it may be a day or two until I get to firing them. Using the torch method I'd have to sit there and do one piece at a time, and since it can take 5 minutes to torch-fire each piece, and when there are lots of pieces this takes a considerable amount of time. On the other hand, with the hot pot it just takes a few minutes to set up the pot, and lots of pieces can be fired at the same time so long as they are small. Then I can just let the hot pot fire, which takes around 15 minutes.

There are some safety precautions, as with kiln ventilation, which must be taken into account. Although the fuel used in hot pots is supposedly non-toxic, nonetheless it has a bad smell, so it is a good idea to use it outside and keep an eye on it. Also, they get extremely hot, therefore they shouldn't be touched and children and animals should be kept away until they are completely cooled down.

Hot pots can be considered miniature ceramic kilns well-suited to making small ceramic items out of kiln silver clay. As is the case too with kiln ventilation, simple safety precautions should be observed to make your hot pot experience a happy one.

Written by Alice Lane

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