Repairs and Reparations

Repairs and Rep


How do you repair a piece you’ve worked on and taken to the dry-clay stage? How one repairs a broken piece totally depends on the piece itself and the qualities it possesses. In this Tidbits & Tricks I show you repairs on a highly textured piece and a piece that has wide, smooth areas to hopefully demonstrate anything and everything you might come across. While teaching everything is unrealistic, I hope to give you the fundamentals in reparations so that you have a knowledge base from which to make your own repairs.

In any case of breakage, the first thing you need to do is decide if you want to scrap the piece entirely and maybe begin over or if you want to attempt to repair it. This decision can be based on a few things: 1 — whether or not the piece would maintain its integrity and appearance, 2 — whether or not the location of the break would significantly impact the piece’s functioning, 3 — how easy the repair would be, 4 — how much clay would be lost if scrapped.

As a disclaimer, I will say I have never taken a course or learned from someone else how to make metal clay repairs. Most my learning is by experimentation. So, if you have some good skills, methods, processes for reparations, do share!


First Piece—Highly Textured

The first piece that broke in my hands was highly textured and an earring. How did this happen is a good learning question. I had used a homemade texture that was not uniform in height. This translated to earrings that were thin and thick in various places. As I was sanding the edge of one, it snapped in my fingers.

Broken 2

Here I am pointing at the broken earring with my scrap container close by, just in case I had decided to scrap it.


For repairing, first and foremost, you want to build a surface that fully supports all parts of the broken piece. This earring was pretty flat, so I set the two pieces on a small piece of glass (see Parts I and II of Twenty Ways to Use Glass . . .). 

If my piece had a curve to it or any other shape, it would have been important to make a support. I often use a 3M Sanding Sponge for a support since it has a nice concave or convex curve to it, one that often matched my pieces after they dried on the coffee mug warmer.

I applied watered down paste to both broken parts, pressed them together as matched as possible, then held them in place for a half minute. I used an eyeglasses lens to mix my watered down paste. After I applied the paste, I let this earring sit at room temperature for at least two minutes. Why? See Adhering PMC3 to PMC3, which will give you a critical understanding on the topic of how silver molecules in clay behave.

The other reason for the good supportive surface is that your piece is very fragile at this stage. I put the support on on the dryer, which allowed me to move my piece without touching it or applying a slightest pressure any where on it.

Broken 4 support 2


When the piece was dry, it had a little more strength but was still super fragile. I inspected it and decided to fill in the crack on the back first. I added a strip of syringe clay, some water, and then smoothed this down with a finger, ALL THE WHILE supporting this piece with my finger underneath. I allowed this to sit again, then dried it. 

Broken 10 dried zBack 2


At each repair, I left any cleanup for the last step.

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Then I decided I could put a strip of syringe on the front of the earring and make it look like part of the texture. So, again supporting from behind with a finger, I put a strip of syringe on the front crack, added water, let sit, then dried. 

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Again, I left any clean up to the final sanding. This way my piece would be at its strongest for me to further work on it. On the back, I added an element that I add to each piece I make, my maker’s mark. It says, “KK.960,” indicating the amount of silver. I can add the maker’s mark anywhere, so I chose to add it over where the earring had cracked. Again, notice the support—half a jewelry box with slits and more cut in it.

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I added some straight paste clay to the area below the maker’s mark, making sure I included the cracked area on the side of the earring. I did this to beef up this area on both earrings (both were still a little thin in that area for my liking) and to further reinforce the cracked area or should I say the formerly cracked area.  Whenever you add paste or watered down paste it is best to add a layer, dry, add another layer, dry, add another layer, dry, and repeat this many times. 

Many metal-clay folks think paste will fill nicks, holes, and cracks, but it doesn't. Syringe fills nicks, holes, and cracks. Paste just adds layers, keeping the same surface shape. So a crack will still be a crack after many, many applications.

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I took a scalpel and scrapped the front syringe strip so that it looked angular like the rest of the texture and not like a round strip of syringe. This is a key element to repairs and reparations—make sure the added clay blends in with the original design and texture.

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Now I sanded my piece and readied it for the firing stage. I drilled and beveled holes. I sanded and beveled the edges. I left the ridge on the back, thinking it would not be too obvious and would offer strength in the end.

Broken 24 sand finish


After I took the earrings through the rest of the steps to completion, I compared them side-by-side to my other earrings. Fronts looked good. Backs looked acceptable.

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I fired and finished them. And here are the fronts. These earrings were one of eight that I had been making. On many of these earrings, I had to hammer them flat during the finishing process. I hammered these, and they conformed to my rubber mallet’s request without issue.

Broken earrings 1


And here are the backs. Now, in this first photo the repaired earring looks rough. So does my thumb in the next photo. This is digital photography for you; as in, if you want to see more than you want take a digital close up.

Broken earrings 1
Broken 9 dried zBack 1 - Version 2



Here are the backs at a little more distance. In real life in my hand, they looked even more normal. I mean an inspection by a metal clay artist might have raised some eyebrows, but they matched all the other earrings in appearance and strength and function. Earrings don’t have to take much pressure or stress, but they do have to hold up if, say, they were dropped on a tile floor or something like that.

Broken earrings 1



Second Piece—Highly Smooth

I decided to make a bracelet, because this is a highly functioning piece. By this I mean, a bracelet needs to have good strength to function as a bracelet. It incurs stress all the time.

For this piece, I turned all my 960 scraps and filings into clay. I did not let this sit, as I should have, and made a bracelet. So, for starters, this was inferior clay, having lost it’s integrity a little, perhaps a little dirty, and for sure not totally homogenously moist.

I pressed a thick rope into a mold, then allowed the clay to fall out onto a glass jar. I dried this in a food dehydrator.

Repair
Repair


I then broke it, which really didn’t feel good.

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The support on this piece was quite a challenge. I could not use the glass bottle because the piece had warped a little in drying. I tried many combinations of slats and positions and finally arrived on this configuration.

Bracelet Broken 8


I added watered down paste to both broken ends, pressed them together, visually checked both sides, and then held the joint at least 30 seconds. I added a bit more watered down paste (touching it only with the paintbrush), let this sit at room temperature, and then since the set-up was on glass, I transferred the whole set up to the dehydrator.

Bracelet Broken 15


When this was dry, I put it back on my workbench. I did pick it up for the first time to add lots of thick syringe on the inside. Water, wait, and dry, as usual.

Bracelet Broken 18


I added a small strip of syringe on the outside. Again, water, wait, and dry.

Bracelet Broken 22


I want to discuss sanding tools now. Here is an assortment. Which ones would you use on this fragile piece? Which ones require the most pressure to sand? 

  • Emery Boards  
  • 3M Sanding Sponges
  • Battery Sanders
Bracelet Broken 23


The truth is, the amount of pressure any sanding tool applies is determined by how much pressure you place on it. How much clay do you need to take off and how fast to do you want to accomplish this? Hold your piece in the area that offers the best and most independent support. The angle at which you file or sand is critical, which challenges you to always consider the part and direction in which your piece is the strongest. Or the weakest. How you hold your tool also determines how much pressure you exert with that tool.

It is truly an acquired skill, being able to use one hand with feather fingers while applying a fitting amount of pressure to effectively sand with the other hand.

I decided against the emery boards, altogether. I started with the battery sanders because when I use them I can hold the piece with feather fingers and the sander removes clay effectively and evenly. I sanded top and bottom and put a beveled edge on all edges. I held the bracelet by resting it on the concave back of a 3M Sanding Sponge.

Bracelet Broken 25


I then worked on the inside of the bracelet. I began with a rough 3M Sanding Sponge, which made me nervous because I had to curl the sponge and apply a lot of back supportive pressure to offset the pressure needed on the Sanding Sponge to achieve results.

I then used this 3m Sanding Sponge and touched up the tops of the braids, holding the paper differently, like I was dealing a playing card. As you can see, I sanded with a light touch with this hold.

Bracelet Broken 26


I then took my finest battery sander and hit the tops of the outside. This went well. 

Bracelet Broken 30


I then took a scalpel and beveled the braid’s edges that I had sanded off with the sander. Then I improved some grooves. At this point I realized I could not tell where the break was. I was feeling pretty hopeful, and then . . .

Bracelet Broken 32


The bracelet broke. I can’t even remember if I was still cleaning up areas or about to put it down. It seemed like it simple fell out of my hand, which it did. Perhaps all my working on it had weakened the repaired joint. Who knows.

Bracelet Broken 35


So, I took my frustration out on the two pieces and pressed them flat. Breaking them was not as easy as I would have thought. 

Bracelet Broken 36


Here are my pieces. Can you tell which one I had repaired? The syringe and paste on the back gives it away.

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I wanted to see how this braid looked when taken to completion so I fired these and finished them. 

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The original break


Here are some conclusions to the unhappy ending to this story. Remember this? My decision to repair a piece or scrap it was based on these four assessments.

1 — Whether or not the piece would maintain its integrity and appearance
2 — Whether or not the location of the break would significantly impact the piece’s functioning
3 — How easy would the repair would be
4 — How much clay would be lost if scrapped,
and I’ll add one more,
5 — Was this piece one-of-a-kind; as in, CAN it be re-made

With regards to this piece, I will ask and answer these questions.

1 — Will the piece still maintain its integrity and appearance? I was looking forward to this broken bracelet experiment to determine this. I had never made a bracelet before. If this bracelet had turned out, I was going to have to hammer it into the wrist shape. Even if it hadn’t broken, I was looking forward to shaping this bracelet to see how it held up to that. In terms of appearance I do believe this piece would have looked flawless in the end. I believe its integrity would not have held up though. Bracelet and rings require high integrity.

2 — Would the location of the break impact the piece’s functioning? Oh yeah. Since I broke this bracelet by pressing in on the ends, it broke at its most vulnerable part, which any piece will. So, the repaired piece’s vulnerable point will be the same location. Most likely the bracelet would have broken the first, second, or tenth time a person put it on, stressing it each time to fit over the wrist.

3 — How easy did I anticipate the repair to be? No repair is easy, in my mind. I have never sold a piece that I had repaired, except the dragonfly earrings above! I just can’t bring myself to do that and will likely never do this again. In the case of the bracelet, the repair went better than I had expected, in terms of appearance. I would conclude a smooth surface is easier to repair than a textured one. And know that some textures cannot be “replicated” after the addition of clay to reinforce a break with the best of tools.

4 — How much clay would I lose if I scrapped it? In this case, lots. Like 15 grams. This is why I had used recycled clay instead of commercially prepared clay. Again, this may have contributed to the fragility of the bracelet. I guess I was going for maximum breakage conditions, because then if the bracelet turned out in the end, I would have fully explored limitations in repairing breaks. Now that I’ve fired it, it will be going into recycling as sterling scrap.

5 — Was this piece one-of-a-kind; as in, could it have been remade? I could have remade this bracelet and likely improved upon it in the process.


Final Conclusion

The more you work with metal clay, the better your ability to answer these five questions if/when you accidentally break a piece.

Okay, let’s hear from you. Any tips?


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 2017