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by Marie Segal

TOOL TIPS FROM MEMBERS

From Beki Amador

Tip: "When I need to smooth down a bead or any piece, I file it down using fingernail files. The ones I'm talking about are for professional nail technicians. They are in the shape of a block so it's easy to hold and on each side there's different grit. You can work it all the way down to really smooth. Some are the same grit on all sides. It's fun to go to Sally's Beauty Supply and get a bunch of different files."

From Weslynn
Tip: "I am always having trouble working the clay due to psoriasis. I was looking through my handy dandy drawer and realized I had found a new clay slicer. The new tater peelers are thicker than the old metal ones and I am able to hold onto them. Just cut the clay as you would peel a tater. It is especially great with mokune gane. Makes wonderful full slices as you learn what pressure etc to use. Also, for some strange reason, my psoriasis heals up when I work with the clay. I don't know why, but it does.
I also have trouble sanding and polishing beads etc. I found the automotive stores have blocks of sanding grit that is easy to hold onto and even works for wet sanding. When your item is as smooth as you want it, take a small piece of scrap leather and buff it. I use the rough side first then finish with the smooth side. Makes a wonderful soft sheen. You can get it at any show maker/repair shop, tack shop or online."

From Susan Shafer
Tip: "With all my neighbor's babies growing up, there's been a surplus of formerly-used baby bottles. I've also found them cheap at the thrift shop. I use the bottles, complete with nipples and caps to hold liquids that I want to be able to sqeeze out in small portions. I keep a bottle for TLS, Future, and alcohol. the plastic doesn't combine with any of these. And of course, you can also make the hole in the nipple larger."

From Sharyn
Tip: "I've found some of the best sculpting tools in the makeup aisle. In particular the nail styling area. My favorite tool which I could use to do almost everything is a cuticle pusher(?). One end has a flat blade and the other end has a slightly cupped 1/8" wide tip. It works great for outlining and rounding up the edge of eyes on dolls and you can flip it over to smooth rough places.
Make your own tools. Use some scrap clay to insert a pin, an upholstery needle, several pins side by side for drawing hair and break a curved needle and insert into polymer clay and bake. The curved needle has a useful tip to draw, cut and works great to smooth with. Regular ceramic clay tools are good, especially the wooden ones that are narrow and curved at the tip. They work as a very gentle easily-controllable smoother."

From Bobbie Lathrop
Tip: "Slicing Canes for Beads - I could never get the same size while cutting a cane for beads, I went into the kitchen (as we all normally do) and grabbed my egg slicer. I sprayed a little Armorall on it, or even tried brushing powder on the blades, cut off part of the cane enough for the width of egg slicer and wow, to my surprise it worked. After cutting you can leave as is or round them off for beads. Worked for me and hope it will help others."

From Robin E. Lee
Tip: "If one of your kids owns one of those Shrinky Dinks(r) baking "ovens", they work AWESOME for baking a small amount of clay. It needs 10 minutes to heat up to 275*, and maintains the heat evenly during baking without spiking!!! It takes 15 to 20 minutes to bake whatever will fit in the tray. The tray is 4"x4", and the piece has to be no taller than 1/4". I use it for slices of canes, TLS "Stained Glass", flat beads, jewlery making, and cookie cuts like Christmas decorations.
It works by using a round light bulb (included), and doesn't heat up the kitchen like a toaster oven. Plus, the oven is a funky purple and orange.
You can find them at yard sales and Goodwills, because once the purchasing child runs out of Shrinky Dink(r) plastic, they don't usually go out to buy more and it becomes obsolete. If you want a new one, check the toy department, and they run about $17.
Also, it has a safety mechanism to prevent burning little hands. There is a cooling drawer and a timer. The cooling drawer can not be opened until the timer has been turned all the way on and run down. There is no way to bypass this. It takes about five minutes."

From Debbie Goodrow / Twinkle
Tip: "Work Surface- portable! Check out the 'dollar stores' for 'chopping mats'. They are about 12" x 15", flat, thin, frosted looking, and usually come 2 or 3 to a pack. They're made for foodstuff choppping and cutting. It works great for cutting clay, and cutting on this surface seems to leave no marks! And it can be rolled or bent easily to take along on your clay days... And at a dollar for 2 or 3 at a time...
Suggestion - duct tape the edges down before you start to work so it stays put while you're rolling or such."

From Louise Plant
Tip: "I was asked to make a 9inch high topper for a wedding cake and found using the flesh coloured fimo tricky as I kept leaving dirty marks no matter how much I washed my hands! Acrylic paint made it worse so as a last resort, I took a metal nail file and gently filed over the baked fimo. It worked! I am quite new to polymer clay and was surprised at how versatile it can be. The cake topper turned out perfectly and I am now completely hooked!!!"

From Karen Perry
Tip: "If you are tired of trying to get a piece of wire strait enough to go across the bottom slice of beads to line them up, look in your grocery or department store for a turkey truss kit thingy. It comes with 6 or 8 thin but strong metal spikes with loops on one end and some string. The spikes can be used to pierce beads, or you can sandwich them between two clay slices. They won't bend like wire so you can have nice, strait holes across 3 or 4 beads. I just wish they were longer. They only cost about a dollar and are thinner than any skewer I've seen."

From Susan Fadl
Tip: "I have recently added a pastry board scraper to my tool collection. It is a flat piece of metal about 4 or 5 inches square with a slightly sharpened blade on one side and a handle on the other. Its great for lifting clay for surfaces but its marvel is that it cuts through 1 lb bricks of clay like warm butter."

From Candace
Tip: "The little coffee stirrer straws are perfect for punching holes in unbaked clay. It's the perfect size and they're cheap!"

From Susan Fadl
Tip: "I have been claying for quite awhile, and have collected many tools, but my favorites remain from the time I started. For sculpting and smoothing: a nut pick with a slightly curved point at one end and a slightly pointed oval at the other. The texture in the middle is interesting too. I also rely on toothpicks and my most recent favorite - a long knitting needle originally used for cord channels in bracelets but with a dab of fresh scrap clay on the button end is marvelous for picking up dropped bits and pieces."

From Jocelyn White Conforti
Tip: "Smoothing rounded objects before baking can be difficult. I found this when creating bowls using old light bulbs for molds - a lid from a coffee can makes an exellent smoother. It fits in your hand, the internal grooves give you a handhold, and the clay doesn't stick to the metal surface. Just cover the sharp edges with duct tape or file. Weird, but whatever works...."

From Karen Lucas
Tip: "I use a tool that I like to call the rollie-pollie. It is a 8x10 inch piece of plexiglass on which I have drilled 8 holes in four sets of two. The sets are 3-4 inches apart. I cut two 1/4 inch dowels 10 inches long and attach to the pexiglass with twist ties so I can change the dowels to make thicker clay slabs. I use a PVC tube which is at least 10 inches long to roll out my clay. If my clay is sticking to the pexiglass sheet, I lightly powder it. Works like a charm."

From Jenn Orr
Tip: "I've been using Sculpey for a very long time, but never for more than just fiddling around. Now that I'm getting into serious miniature making, I'm needing to gather tools and supplies. One thing I notice a lot of in the different idea sheets or lessons is the need to roll out the polymer clay between two rulers taped down in order to get a uniform thickness. I lose things like rulers, very easily. So, I went to Home Depot and bought a one inch diameter galvanized steel pipe 'nipple', which is about 8 inches long. It is threaded on both ends. I also grabbed two end caps for the nipple, and when screwed on, the caps extend about 1 to 2 millimeters beyond the pipe itself. The other nice thing about this little tool is that it's got a good solid weight, so less force is needed to roll out your polymer."

From Amanda Byrne
Tip: "If you make lots of Mokume Gane, Canes or faux pieces, then, boy! will you wish you'd done this years ago! Soooo.... Go to your kitchen drawer, rummage around until you find a cheese slicing tool, (you know, the triangular shaped thingy with a handle)return to your clay and slice it, just as if it were cheese (don't eat it though!). This method takes complete slices, not broken pieces. It's safe, takes nice whole pieces and the harder you press, the thicker the slice and vise versa. I thought of the idea, but didn't think it would work, then I tried it and just had to share it with all of you! Many "Thank you's" to Kehtore for testing it out on her canes.

I'd be very interested to know how you get on with this method, or if you have any further ideas or comments, so you can contact me at: abyrne@beadmaker.fsbusiness.co.uk "


From Lee Radtke
Tip: "Very useful tools may be made by using different sizes of yarn needles imbedded in a handle of clay. If the needle has an eye, you might run a thin piece of wire through it and then twist it around the needle. This will help it stay attached to the handle after much use. Some people imbed the needle, remove it and then use cyanoacylate glue when replacing it. Make the clay handle of your tool useful by making a specially shaped tip that you use often. Also, making your handles of different colors or patterns allows you to grab the right tool on the first try. Matched handles are handsome, but it takes longer to pick the right one."

From Bonnie MacDonald
Tip: "I recently added a pasta machine to my tools, now I can't imagine how I could have gone without it! Utility knife blades work well for cutting. I super glued a piece of soft rubber foam to the back of the blade to make it easier on my fingers. Also, you should check out getting a set of 'dental explorers' on ebay, there great variety and anyone doing any kind of sculpting should be able to make good use of them."

From Carole
Tip: "My favorite tool over the years has been an antique nut pick with a flattened point."

From Kate Dillon
Tip: "I had bought some of the new Saran disposible sheets. The backs of them are a VERY smooth plastic. Tape them down and they are great to work with clay on. And I really like it better that the plaxiglass sheet I have. Try them, they are great! "

From Patsy Monk
Tip: "I use an empty water bottle. Cut the top about 85-90% all the way around, near the top, so the bottom sort of looks like a plastic cup with the top still hanging on.Use the part still attached as a hinge. Fill the container with lots of 'clay-things.' Your tools will stay confined in this capsule. After filling it, I swing the top back over and tape it down to make sure nothing falls out. Make sure you put the cap on the bottle, too, so small sharp things do not fall out! "

From SueLee
Tip: " I use a marble slab to work on and I have found the clay does not stick and very thin pieces can be easily repositioned from time to time. The qualities of the marble are that it stays cool so no matter how warm the clay gets from working, marble adds a nice balance. Sound expensive? Nah! Just go to Home Depot and find a nice smooth polished marble tile used for flooring and purchase! Simple as that. Plenty of work surface for me and it's practically indestructible. Don't forget those baby wipes for keeping it clean! Now if i could find a way to keep cat hair away... "

From Rhonda Guy
Tip: "I have found a wonderful, inexpensive tool for making holes in clay beads! I picked up a package of basketball inflation needles - each one came equipped with a nice little wooden handle that is easy to hold onto. Also, after being baked, the bead hole is a nice size - small enough to be used for basic stringing, but large enough to accomodate thicker cord or multiple thread passes or headpins. Once I started using these, I have used nothing else! For an added bit of fun, the handles can be customized with slices of favorite canes. "

From Izzy Harris
Tip: "Craft stores will always be stocked with "clay tools" - impressive looking gizmos made specifically for sculpting or shaping clay. However, before you go gonzo in the store (and spend way too much money), be sure that you know exactly what the tool does. Chances are, there's something around your house that does the exact same thing. Sewing needles, thumbtacks, forks, and even other pieces of cured clay can easily imitate the looks of expensive clay tools."

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