How to make a brass framed clay pendant

I love combining wire with polymer clay. I think metal and wire can really add a polished and finished look to polymer clay pieces. And when applied just so in certain situations, wire can add strength as well as a nice finish.

For several reasons, brass wire is my thing. It's readily available (most hardware stores carry some brass wire) and soooo less expensive than gold and silver. I have also found many cool brass things I like to use for decoration, such as tiny brass nails and swivels. Just try finding a gold or sterling silver swivel! ;-)

Many experts recommend beginners start with brass or copper to learn how to handle wire, then transition to the more expensive metals. Well, I guess I'll stay at the beginning stages for a while, 'cause brass is my thing!

To make the above pendant...


Supply list

  • ruler
  • fine tip black permanent marker
  • 4" - 5" 16 gauge brass wire (you can use copper or silver, too)
  • round nose pliers, chain nose pliers, wire cutters
  • ring mandrel or a sturdy round tube or cutter approximately 3/4" in diameter
  • bench block (aka steel block)
  • chasing hammer or a regular hammer with a very smooth head surface
  • * small shot bag, sandbag, panelbeater, pounding pad (see bottom of page for details)
  • for joining the frame ends
    • 4" segment of 24 gauge brass wire and a bench vise OR
    • butane torch, silver solder, flux, pickle, firebrick, tweezers
  • pasta machine (I use a Mercato Atlas)
  • wax paper
  • 2-3 colors polymer clay (e.g. ivory, gold, blue)
  • decorative bits for embellishment (e.g. brass nails, 20 ga brass wire, pointy end fingernail file, texturing tools)
  • tissue blade or NuBlade
  • tooth pick
  • wet/dry sandpaper (200, 300 400, 600, 800, 1000 grits)
  • burnt umber acrylic paint
  • buffing appliance

* this tute will not be teaching soldering techniques. If you already have basic soldering equipment and supplies, the soldering steps required for this frame are extremely simple.


Instructions
1)

Start with a 4" (or 5" for a slightly bigger pendant) length of 16 gauge brass wire.

Starting at the bottom of the picture to the right:

  1. mark your wire halfway across with a permanent marker
  2. make a small loop by holding the wire at the midpoint with your round nose pliers, then use your other hand to grab one end and cross it over to the other side, do the same to the other end.
  3. using your bench block and hammer, flatten the ends slightly (if you hammer to much you harden the wire to the point where it will break instead of curl)
  4. wrap the wire around a mandrel or round tube or food cutter to help you form the tear drop shape
  5. curl the ends using your round nose pliers

See the next set of pictures for details on these steps.

The resulting frame is approximately 1.25" long and 1" wide.

  • make a small loop by holding the wire at the midpoint with your round nose pliers, then use your other hand to grab one end and cross it over to the other side, do the same to the other end.
  • wrap the wire around a mandrel or round tube or food cutter to help you form the tear drop shape
  • curl the ends using your round nose pliers

  • 2.

    Push the curled ends past each other just a bit so when you align them to touch each other, they actually push into each other. The wire's inherent springiness will make sure this happens.

    You have two options to join the ends of the frame - brazing (aka hard soldering) or wire wrapping. (what's brazing?)

         
     

    Brazing:

    • Place a tiny piece of flattened solder in-between where the two curled ends touch.
    • Dip the entire frame in flux.
    • Place on soldering surface.
    • Torch until the brass begins to glow red.
    • When the solder melts and the wire curls push into each other, turn off torch.
    • Drop the bezel into the pickle solution. The pickle will clean off any firescale.
    • There is not much need to do further metal cleaning, since the inner half of the wire will be covered by clay and the exposed surface will be sanded after baking.

    Not into torches and flames? Try wirewrapping the ends together.

         

     

     

    Wire wrapping: Clamp the frame into a bench vise. It helps if there is a small gap between the end of the curl and the frame, in this situation, so you can get the wire up as close to the top as possible.

    Using the 24 gauge wire, leave about a 1/2 tail to hold on to with your chain nose pliers, grab the other end of the wire with your hand; begin at the top most spot inside the curls and start wrapping. Pull snugly. Wrap 3-4 times. Snip the end, leaving just enough to tuck end of the wire into the coiled section. Snip the other end leaving enough to tuck that into one of the curls.

       

    3.

    Here are a few different shapes to spur your imagination.

    Consider this. In most jewelry framing situations, you make the frame to fit what goes inside. With this technique, it's so much easier to create something framed because you can make the clay fit the frame! People will think you are a very precise wire worker! :D

    Don't quite believe it? You'll see...

    You've done the hardest part, the rest should be easier.


    4.

    Choose the color of clay you'd like on top. Roll it through your pasta machine on the widest setting until it is well conditioned. You will need two #1 thick pieces that are 1.5" x 1.5" each. Press together, making sure not to trap air.

    Next, choose a middle color. Roll it through your pasta machine on #3 thickness. Cut it until it is 1.5" x 1.5". Press it to the double thick sheet.

    Finally, choose a color for the back of the pendant. Roll that through at the widest setting. You will only need one piece that is 1.5" x 1.5". Set it aside.


    5.

    Place your clay stack on a piece of waxed paper, double thick sheet on top. Set your frame on top of the stack.

     

     


    6.

    You will need to push the wire frame down into the stack, using even pressure. I usually use two sets of my jeweler's pliers, pressing on the top where the curls join and on the bottom loop.

    Press until the frame is near the bottom of the stack, but not all the way through.


    7.

    Use your tissue blade to trim away all the clay that's on the outside of the wire frame. Use a toothpick or something similar to poke out the clay trapped in the loop and curls.


    8. Place the trimmed piece on the final sheet of clay. Press firmly and evenly. (Don't push the frame down!)

     


    9.

    Trim away the excess clay.

    The most important thing to remember with this technique is to allow just enough clay on the top and bottom to embrace the wire frame.

    "What'd she mean by that?"

    Keep on reading. :)


    10.

    Now, you can decorate the piece anyway you like. For the piece shown here, I used a bit of 20 gauge brass wire, some brass nail (escutcheon pins), and a bit of red clay on the front. Then I used my pointy fingernail file to make little triangular dents in a few spots. However, don't be afraid to do your own thing. Let your muse take over. I did something a little different on the back.

    As you work with the raw clay, gently press the clay so it ever so slightly spreads beyond the wire frame. This will help to the clay embrace the wire frame and prevent the frame from getting loose.

     


    11.

    Bake at 275 degrees for 60 minutes. Don't worry about your piece not being perfectly smooth. A bit of carving and/or sanding will take care of any 'warts' and other unsightly bumps. ;-)

    Brace yourself for the boring part. sanding Calm down. It must be done. Resistance is futile.

    Start with the lowest number grit you feel you can get away with. If you successfully smoothed your pendant prior to baking, you could probably start at a 400 grit.

    If you want to really shape the piece or alter its shape, start with a lower grit like a 200 or 300.

    Regardless of which grit you start with, work your way up the number ladder. If you think you're going to want to skip from 400 to 1000, then don't bother sanding at all.

    12.

    After sanding, it's time to antique... or something. One of the cool effects of embedding wire, pieces and indenting the clay with tools is all the dents will be highlighted by the paint that worked its way into the nooks and crannies.

    The piece shown here was antiqued using burnt umber acrylic paint. A different color might work for you, depending on the color clay you used on top.

    Be generous with the paint. Smoosh it into any indents, etc. As the paint begins to dry, wipe off the excess with paper towels.

    Either rebake at 200 for 10 minutes or blast it with a heat gun for a few minutes. The heat helps the paint bond to the clay much better. Resand with just the final grit to remove the surface paint.

    Buff!

    Done!




    small shot bag, sandbag, panelbeater, pounding pad, Dolly shot bag

    This is one hard to find puppy. ;-)

    Mostly, it's hard to find because it has lots of different names. And since it's generally paired with hammers and hammers are such a common tool, it crops up in many different industries and everyone likes to call it something different. But when you're doing a lot of hammering metal on metal like flattening wire on a bench block, it's a nice tool for deadening a little of that high pitched bang. So it may be worthwhile finding this item.

    So where can you find them? Online, at least, here are a few places:

    Note, these places seem to only sell the bags. You may need to fill them yourself, with birdshot or sand.


    Enjoy clayin' and wirin'.

    Desiree

    Last update to this page: 2 Apr 06. Send comments, questions or suggestions to Desiree McCrorey.