Silver Clay is a great medium to work with to create your very own sterling silver pieces. It doesn't take a HUGE investment to get the materials and tools you need to make some basic items. Chances are you may also be able to take a class at a bead store near you, where they will let you fire your items in a professional kiln. However you actually can fire them at home rather inexpensively if you pick up a low-cost kiln. More on that later.
Silver clay is sold in typically 10, 20 or 50 gram packages. I usually get the 20 gram packages, and if you want to know how much you'll get - it's a square piece of clay about the size of a 50 cent piece or smaller. It's not a lot! And since it's sterling silver, the prices will vary based on the silver market.
I would also recommend using the slow dry formula. Silver clay starts drying out the moment you take it out of the package, so you don't want to waste time when working with it. I started using the slow dry silver clay, and found that it works much better for me. The trick is to roll out the right thickness, and if you have to keep picking it up and reforming the piece it's going to dry out quick.
Although it dries out quickly, you need to wait for the piece to be completely dry before you fire it. I found that putting it on a coffee warmer for about 20 minutes to 30 minutes it will sufficiently dry out a small pendant. You could try this method, otherwise wait 24 hours before firing your piece.
If you're going to make simple pendants, find some cookie-cutter shapes and texture plates. Be sure to poke a hole in the piece before you let it dry, and be sure that the hole isn't to tiny where you'll be able to fit a jump ring, etc. through it to attach it. Silver clay cracks very easily before it's fired, so be careful when you're working with the piece, filing the rough edges, etc.
One tip if you do break a piece - DON'T THROW IT AWAY! They sell a liquid clay, called slip. You can make it yourself if you put the broken clay or any small clay scraps, bits, pieces, dust, etc. in an old pill bottle with some water. This comes in handy when trying to "glue" pieces together or seal up little knicks, etc.
For firing, you can use a butane torch as the cheapest method of firing. I tried this once. The second time I tried the torch seemed to "spit" a little and it scared me so I decided I would look for the next cheapest method! I started with the Speed Fire Cone. (I researched places to buy this particular kiln, and Delphi Glass was the best price.) I liked this system. It uses a small propane tank. Everything I made with this turned out well. However, since I live in WI and this has to be used outside, it wasn't too useful when I wanted to work on projects in winter. If that's not an issue for you, or if you have a nice garage or a place with good ventilation and little wind, I recommend this system. I also picked up the Ultra Beehive Kiln to replace the Speedfire kiln. This one is electric and can be used inside. I admit I haven't even tried this yet!
After firing, don't panic if your piece isn't nice and shiny. It'll be a white-silver sort of color. You need to brush the piece with a wire brush to burnish your piece, wich removes the crystaline particles. You can get some liver of sulfur to dip your pieces in to give them a patina.
1. Torch or Kiln
I recommend either of the 2 kilns I have mentioned above. Of course there are the professional kind, if you want to pay a minimum of $300+ for it!
2. Clay sculpture tools
Check out the set below, or check out your local craft store for something similar. I haven't figured out exactly what to do with all of these tools yet, LOL, but I believe you will need them if you want to do any type of etching, carving, hole punching, etc.
3. Coffee Warmer
Lay your pieces on this for 20-30 minutes to dry it out before firing.
4. Texture Sheets
These come in very handy for adding texture to your beads and pendants. You can try some of the ones below for starters.
Rubber stamps work very well for clay too. I have links following this section which will give you some good places to look for more texture sheets.
5. Clay Cutters
These come in VERY handy for creating even, perfect shapes. I've used them for both polymer and art clay.
I've stuck with standard shapes of round, square, oval, etc. for my clay projects
6. Clay and Cutting knifes/tools.
Last but not least, you need some clay! Check the prices at your local bead shop. You can also try Firemountain Gems (that's usually where I get mine) or try Cool Tools or Amazon. You will also need a blade of some sort to cut straight edge, etc.
7. Clay Board/Rolling supplies
You will need to roll out your clay onto a non-stick surface. There are several varieties of clay boards and mats you can use. Here's a nice clay board from Cool Tools.
For rolling, you can buy a clay roller, which would be a very useful tool to get the right thickness. You can also use a deck of cards. Most instructions reference the number of cards to set down to achieve the right thickness. So depending on how much you want to spend, you can go the low-cost route and start with the cards and an acrylic roller, or try out that cool roller.
8. Other Supplies
Liver of Sulfur - if you plan to add a patina to your piece to give it an antiqued look. And yes, it does smell like rotten eggs. Use ventilation!
Here are some useful websites for tools, techniques, tutorials, for working with polymer clay.
Cool Tools Videos - Video tutorials
Cool Tools Projects - several tutorials for beginner, intermediate and advanced students
Clay Factory for tools and supplies. This is mostly a Polymer clay site but there are tools you can use for both.
Clay King - clay, kilns, supplies.
Cool Tools - this is really a site for art clay. I've referenced them several times in this article.
Whole Lotta Whimsy - for tools, supplies, etc. I usually check out their booth every year at the Bead and Button Show.