Carving Metal Clay


Shall I carve wet or dry? What tools can I use? Why do I carve? What do I gain by carving? What does carved clay look like?

The areas that are carved out will likely be the areas that hold the most patina and thus be the darkest areas in your piece.

Carving Wet Clay

Carving Wet

You can carve clay while it is wet with any tool or device. Generally, carving wet clay results in excess clay rising up along the carved areas, and most folks try to remove this while the clay is wet. Don’t. Let the ridges remain in place, then sand them away — if you want — after the clay has dried. Then be sure to brush away the clay filings out of the carved cracks and areas.

Wet carving is not forgiving; that is, it’s like real life in real time. If you mess up, you’ll have to deal with the faux pas now (wet) or later (dry). But remember, some of the best designs and most beautiful pieces result from mistakes. 

Generally, one would think curves would be easier to achieve in wet clay, but soft curves, curls, and lines have to do with the skill of the carver. How precisely you sand, drill, and carve your dry-clay piece to finish it is the truer determining factor.

Freshly applied syringe clay and paste can be carved to modify their look.

Carving Dry Clay

Carving Dry

When I think of carving dry clay, I might imagine a more angular and chiseled appearance, but again this is not necessarily so. While this might be true for novice carvers, it is certainly not the case for work from Terry Kovalcik, a metal clay artist who I consider the master carver. Do a search for Terry Kovalcik on the Internet, Facebook, and YouTube to see his incredible work. He offers classes, too.

I often further embellish my piece after it is dry. I imagine how the piece or a certain part will look after I’ve patinaed and finished it. If I want more detail and/or depth to hold the black patina, I carve that part for that effect. I typically use a needle tool or scalpel for this.

If you like a beveled edge on your pieces, you can achieve this by running a scalpel at an angle along the edge. And you can clean the edges of textures, that point where texture meets smooth, also with a scalpel.

Dry syringe and slip or paste work can be modified using carving tools. 

Wet and Dry and In Between . . . for Your Desired Look

There is no rule that says you have to carve on a piece when it is wet or dry. Carve when it seems you have the best chance to achieve the look you want, which means you may have to gain some experience in carving to have foresight into your results. 

I wanted to mention the In Between because truthfully, the easiest clay to carve is partially dry clay. That’s because it is strong enough to hold and maintain the shape of your carving and perfectly weak enough to make carving easier and smoother. You can’t tell the bronze salamanders below are partially dry, but they are.

Carving Embellish


As you construct your creation, you likely use the usual metal clay tools but may not necessarily think about using a scalpel or a carving- or needle- tool for moving and shaping your wet clay. My theory is the more you carve, the more used to the tools you become, and the more likely are you are to use them throughout the entire construction process.

Carving to Embellish

I’ve been making a lot of bronze and silver earrings of late. I seem to be fixated at the moment on fabricating beetles and other creatures, probably because they are fun. If I use a mold and after I pop out the critter, I embellish and customize it with a needle tool, scalpel, or any other fitting tool. This is what I am doing to the salamanders above.

You can also embellish textures, making them more dramatic or soft or whatever. One of my favorite tools for carving to embellish (and more) is a Precision Point Needle Tool. I also have a favorite brand of scalpel, as you most likely have yours. I like the X-Acto Designer Series Knife #1 because of the grip.

Flexible Shaft Tools

The spirals in these bronze post earrings were carved using a small bur tool on a flexible shaft on dried pyramids. Hmmm. This opens the door to a whole new world of carving, yes?

13-749 1 small


Drilling counts as carving and is best done on dry clay. Here are two examples of carved and drilled pieces.

13-790 side b 1 copy
13-791 side a 1 copy


When you first carve, there may be a lot of Oops-slips, most often when the carving tool continues on when you wanted it to stop. You can always repair these Oops with your basic metal clay skills. But you could prevent Oops by placing your finger or better yet your fingernail where you want the carving tool to stop. If you watch the pros, they have fingers everywhere they don’t want the carving tool to go, along with low grips on tools and hands that are anchored well on a steady surface. Your grip is important! If you want to save your hands over the long run, read Save Your Hands.

Carving Scraps

Save them! There are usually a lot. You can pulverize and make clay from these or simply recycle them. See Scrap and Filings Into Clay and Recycling PMC.  


Carving Tools — for Wood, Wax, Ceramic Clay, Linoleum
Micro-Carving Kit
Precision Point Needle Tool
X-Acto Designer Series Knife #1

If you want all of this information and more, you can purchase an online course on carving at I Love Silver. The online course contains more explanation, photos, and videos and shows exactly how I use the above mentioned tools and the results. In this course, I make a necklace by carving a river flowing between mountain ranges. The online course will become available around December 1, 2016.

For online courses in metal clay, go to I Love Silver, where you learn how to design and create your own silver creations.

© Kris A Kramer 2018