Have you ever wondered if it’s safe to bake metal in your polymer clay? You’re not alone. This is a common question. So here’s some clarity.
Yes, you can bake metal in your clay. It won’t hurt the metal or the clay. Metal does not necessarily get hotter than your clay. That’s a myth and misunderstanding born out of our knowledge that metal near a fire is always hot, hot, hot. But metal CAN cause your clay to burn in some circumstances.
Now, a little physics. There are three different types of heat transfer.
Convection – When the heated air makes things warm. Forced air heating systems use this. Warm air warms the room.
Radiant – When heat radiates out and makes things hot where it hits them. You have experienced this while sitting in front of a fire or facing the red-hot elements of a space heater.
Conduction – When heat travels along an object, such as when the outside of a mug gets hot once you put hot cocoa inside. Contact is required for heat transfer.
If the heating elements are exposed in your oven, radiant heat will make exposed areas super hot just like your campfire will toast your face and knees while your back and sides freeze. This is why I always recommend that you cover (aka “tent”) your projects to protect them from this direct heat. Gentle radiant heat won’t burn your clay, but many ovens are pretty intense, especially while first warming up (which is why I recommend preheating).
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But in a true convection oven, the heating elements are shielded and the items are only heated by convection (ie. hot air). In that case, the metal will never be hotter than the surrounding air. (Your metal candlestick on your table isn’t hotter than the room temp, is it?) Be aware, though, that in a really intense oven, the oven’s shielding can heat up and produce radiant heat also!
Now if the baking pan or the metal pieces are too close to the heating element, they can conduct the heat to your clay. So always make sure your oven is large enough to accommodate your project.
To summarize, yes, you can use metal pans, foil coverings, and embed metal in your projects without the danger of burning your clay. However, you must shield your items if your oven’s heating element is exposed. Covering your items is always a good idea. Additionally, be aware of positioning. If the metal is too close to the heating element, heat can be conducted to your project.
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