Everything You Need from Toaster Ovens to Pasta Machines
Although many are unaware of it, polymer clay has been used by artists for the past 30-40 years. During that time, it has evolved repeatedly into the versatile material we know today. If you’re new to this exciting craft, you’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the tools, gadgets, brands, embellishments, and instructional books and guides out there on the market. Well, I can make it easier on you. Here are a few tools and associated tips that won’t break the bank but are essential for all polymer clay crafters.
Five Essential Tools
A toaster oven. Although polymer clay is considered non-toxic, it is still a good idea to dedicate a small toaster oven to your clay projects rather than finding yourself repetitively cleaning your conventional oven after each baking. Polymer clay gives off fumes during the baking process that are not pleasant to breathe (I have my oven out in our sun room to avoid introducing the fumes to the rest of the house) and would certainly not add an enticing flavor to a tasty meal. Another important oven-related item you should have in your arsenal is an oven thermometer. A toaster oven may say it’s at 275 degrees, but that doesn’t mean it is. Oven temperatures can vary wildly, so be sure to invest in a trustworthy thermometer and place it near your baking item to ensure the temperature is correct.
A heavy acrylic roller and/or a sturdy pasta machine. So now it sounds like we’re cooking, right? Well, not quite. A pasta machine is the easiest and fastest way to condition your clay and mix colors. An acrylic roller can be used for that purpose as well, but it takes much longer. I recommend an Atlas pasta machine, but they can be expensive (from $40-$100 depending on the source and model). I’ve had good luck using Ebay to find decent-priced Atlas machines in the past. I also found one on sale years ago at a Bed, Bath and Beyond store. If you can’t splurge for such a high ticket item, you’ll find several less expensive varieties of these handy machines available through your local craft stores. A hint when purchasing a pasta machine: heavier is better. The heavier it is, the sturdier it usually turns out to be.
Polymer clay. Several brands of polymer clay are available through your local craft/hobby store. I prefer Sculpey Premo! for all my projects because of itsflexibility and color variety. I suggest trying a few different brands so you can see the differences in texture, color, and overall versatility. Polymer clays come in standard colors, glitter infused colors, stone mimics (like granite), glow in the dark colors, and translucents. New colors are added each year. Of course, if you can’t buy that perfect color, you can always mix colors until your heart’s content. A storage hint: make sure to store your clay in a clean, dry, and temperature-neutral location. Many crafters use Ziploc bags to keep dust and other minute debris from being attracted to open packages. Don’t let your clay get too hot or it will begin to bake, which will render it useless without a great deal of extra conditioning.
A work surface. Once you start working with polymer clay, you’ll discover it sticks to everything and everything sticks to it. As a result, you’ll want to make sure you have a clean and clay-compatible work surface. As I discovered, an old wooden dining room table is not the proper work surface. I suggest either purchasing a special “make and bake” mat or a plastic placemat. If you go the least expensive route (the placemat), be sure to test out your clay and the mat together to make sure they are compatible. Some clays will react to other plastics making it difficult to work with them. I’ve even found that buying 8.5 X 11 sheets of cardstock and using that as a work surface will suffice as well. You may also choose to purchase individual ceramic or stone tiles from your local home improvement store to be used during the baking process. They are easy to get in and out of a toaster oven and can also be used in the floor of your oven to help regulate temperature.
- An Exacto knife and a cutting blade commonly called a “tissue blade”. These two cutting blades will take care of the majority of your slicing and cutting needs. Be careful though…tissue blades in particular have been known to “jump out and bite” unwary crafters! I can’t count the number of times I’ve inadvertently grabbed my tissue blade from the wrong side and sliced a finger open. In other words, these tools must be handled with care and should be kept away from tiny hands that might hurt themselves if given the chance (i.e. your children and even your pets).
Ready, Set, Craft!
And there you have it…the 5 most important tools and tips every clay crafter should know. Of course, there is much more to consider, but these 5 items will get you started down the right path. Once you become more comfortable with your new hobby, you will likely do what I’ve done over the years and begin to purchase clay every time it goes on sale (whether you need it or not) along with nifty new tools and instructional books. I can’t count the number of polymer clay crafting books I own, but I’ve used them all at some point. I hope this article helps you get started with this exciting hobby. Happy crafting!
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