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   The Polymer Clayspot
       Polymer Clay FAQ

The Polymer Clayspot:

Welcome to Polymer Clay
Choosing & Mixing Clay
Conditioning Polymer Clay
Using the Food Processor
Using the Pasta Machine
Forming Clay Pieces
Firing Polymer Clay
Finishing Clay Pieces
Storing Polymer Clay
Using Stone Clays
Using Translucent Clays
Molding & Sculpting
Creating Surface Effects
Making Polymer Clay Jewelry
Safety & Cleanup
More Information Sources
Working Surface
Used for: laying out the clay

A working surface needs to be smooth, large enough to work on, and made of something that won't react with or be damaged by the plasticizers in the clay. You can work on a surface made of glass, tile, or plexiglass. (Marble or stone also sometimes used, but if you work on a marble surface in cold weather, the clay may get too chilled to work with easily.) If it's more convenient to work on a surface made of wood, plastic, or something else that might be damaged by the clay, tape down a large sheet of waxed paper and work on that.

You may also need a surface to slice on. A sheet of cardboard covered by waxed paper is convenient.

Used for: slicing canes

It's critical to use as sharp a blade as possible when slicing a cane, because dull blades will cause the clay to drag, smearing the pattern and distorting the cane's shape. The sharpest available blade is the tissue blade. These blades are used by pathologists to make thin slices of tissues for examination under the microscope - hence the name. You can get them from scientific supply houses and some craft stores. Tissue blades are extremely sharp, and some mail-order houses will not sell them except to professionals, for fear of liability.

An alternative to tissue blades is the wallpaper scraper blade. These look like long single-edged razor blades without the little metal "handle", can be found in most hardware stores, and are almost as sharp as tissue blades.

Tip: Embed the non-sharp back edge of your blade into some scrap clay and fire it. The clay serves as a handle, and it will ensure that you don't accidentally grab the blade by the sharp edge.

Used for: rolling flat sheets, reducing square and triangular canes, laying metallic leaf onto clay

A brayer looks something like an undersized rolling pin with a handle. Brayers were originally used by printers for laying out ink evenly. For use with polymer clay, try to find a brayer made of clear acrylic, which won't stick to the clay the way wood can. Brayers can be found in art-supply stores and some bead and craft stores.

Food processor
Used for: conditioning and chopping clay

See "Using a Food Processor" for information on selecting and using food processors for use with the clay.

Used for: giving clay a smooth finish, removing flaws

Polymer clay should be sanded underwater to avoid scattering dust. For this sanding, you will need wet/dry sandpaper; this usually is black and can be found in any hardware store.

Suitable grits for polymer clay start at 400 and go up from there. Many hardware stores only carry wet/dry sandpaper up to 600; some auto-parts stores carry finer sandpaper grits, up to 2000.

Used for: creating a shiny, glossy finish

You can find a variety of electric buffers at your local hardware store. You can also try using a bench grinder (although some clayworkers have found them too hard on the clay) or handheld Dremel tool (best for smaller pieces such as beads).

To buff polymer clay, use a muslin or cloth wheel. Don't use polishing compounds (which will scratch the clay) or felt buffing wheels. While buffing, use a gentle circular motion. Avoid pressing the clay into the buffer, which will create gouges. The heat from the friction of the buffer can soften the clay enough that your fingerprints may appear on it, so keep the clay moving and avoid buffing any one spot long enough to heat it to that point.

Steel Wool
Used for: shining fired clay, rubbing a patina

This steel wool is not the coarse kind you use in the kitchen, but fine steel wool of the sort used by woodworkers to make a smooth finish after sanding or varnishing. It's available at hardware stores. Either steel or synthetic wool can be used; look for grades 0 (coarse) through 0000 (finest).

Needle file
Used for: enlarging and smoothing holes in beads

Needle files can also be found at hardware stores. Look for the round (cylindrical) type, and if possible, get a variety of sizes. Don't push the file too hard when reaming, or you may split the bead.

Used for: attaching clay pieces to other clay pieces, jewelry findings, or veneered objects

E6000 cement and gel cyanoacrylate adhesive (Superglue, Krazy Glue, Zap-A-Gap) seem to work well with polymer clay. Look for a gel-type, thick formula - the thick adhesive bridges gaps better than thin glue.

To attach clay to an object such as a box, try brushing a thin layer of ordinary white glue or Sobo glue onto the object, letting it dry to tackiness, then applying the clay. The layer of sticky glue helps the clay adhere better.

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Jeanne A. E. DeVoto
Copyright © 1996-97 Jeanne A. E. DeVoto