When I started with Metal Clay I was fortunate to have a background in both ceramics and polymer clay. I had many of the tools I needed right away. For a new artist jumping into this field, what is crucial and necessary and what is a luxury item? Here's a list of the must haves for a beginner to start exploring with metal clay.
1. Butane Torch: not everyone has or can afford a kiln to start with. A Torch will allow you to complete small pieces and see if you like the medium enough make the big investment a kiln requires.
2. Fine Silver clay: it is challenging and in some cases impossible to fire base metals or sterling silver with a torch as they need to be fired in carbon in a kiln to sinter properly. Invest in a small amount of Fine Silver to start. Yes, silver costs more than say copper or bronze, but you will be more likely to get a usable piece of jewellery with a Torch and Fine Silver. (Ironically in an effort to save money by buying base metals, I wasted sooooo much more money on failed base metal projects, that were not sintered, than I would have spent on Fine Silver clay)
3. Work surface: it may seem like a luxury item but a good Work Surface will save you on wasted clay (a proper Work Surface will keep clay from sticking to everything and therefore being wasted) and the frustration of ruined pieces (a Work Surface will allow you to move your wet pieces without distorting them. A Tuff Card or a Non-Stick Reusable Work Surface are inexpensive and invaluable.
4. Roller and Thickness Frames or Graduated Slats: the combination of Roller and Frames will allow you to accurately control the thickness and therefore the quantity of clay you are using. You can ensure you don't waste too much clay by 'eyeballing' and making the pieces too thick.
5. Needle Tool: this is another must have tool. It is useful for cutting out clean shapes, poking holes, picking up little pieces of clay and more.
6. Sanding Tools: it is infinitely easier to refine your pieces while they are in the green ware stage (prefiring) vs sintered (post firing). There are Sanding Sticks, Sanding Pads, Files and more. Pick something to sand large areas and something different for tiny areas.
7. Release Agent: metal clay has a tendency to stick to surfaces and to your hands. Cool Slip is a release agent to ensure your clay doesn't stick. Less sticking is less waste.
8. Wire Brush: unless you have a tumbler of some kind you will need some tools to finish your piece after firing. A good starter tool is a Wire Brush either Steel or Brass.
9. Patina: If you would like to accentuate textures or elements of your design, artists tend to use Patina to darken recessed areas. Liver of Sulphur is a useful Patina for Fine Silver.
10. Spray Bottle and a Paintbrush: often you need a little spritz of water to re-hydrate your clay or a bit of water to make a slip to create a successful join. The paintbrush helps get into specific areas whereas the bottle gives a broad mist/spray to a larger area.
11. Cutter/Scraper: this is an invaluable tool for cutting straight lines or little pieces, lifting work, scraping bits and dust to rehydrate, chopping....honestly I use this every single time I sit at my bench and continue to find new uses for it.
12. Clay Keeper: well this is on the border of necessary/luxury. You can store your clay in the packaging it arrives in but honestly, a Clay Keeper will keep your clay soft and ready to use much easier than little pieces of plastic cling film or a tiny ziploc.
13. Drier: Used to dry metal clay in between wet/dry sanding. Important so your piece will not break.