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Polyclay Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


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What is polymer clay
Where can I get it?
What can I do with it?
What can I NOT do with it?
What tools do I need?
Is it safe?
What is the difference between the brands of "clay"?
How is it prepared for use?
How do I make simple beads?
How do I attach "clay" to glass?
How is it cured?
What are the different finishes?

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What is Polymer Clay?

First of all, Polymer Clay is not true clay found in the earth. It was first developed in 1930, in Germany. It is made from PVC, polyvinyl chloride...the same family of plastics that make up the plumbing your home. It is mixed with a plasticizer and color pigment is added.

Polymer Clays are available in many colors, including, neon-dayglow, granite textures and translucent.

After preparing and shaping, the "clay" is baked in a conventional oven at low temperature for a period determined by the shape and thickness of the design. There is no shrinkage and colors remain true through baking. The finished product can be sanded, drilled, polished, painted.

Properly stored unbaked polymer clay has a very long shelf-life of upwards to two years. The shelf-life can be prolonged by storing in the refrigerator or freezer.
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Where can I get it?

Craft stores, discount stores, and mail order. Look under artist's supplies. There are several brands available and the differences will be discussed later. FIMO is manufactured by Eberhard Faber in Germany, Cernit is manufactured by T+F GmbH of Dreieich, Germany and Modello is made by Rudolf Reiser, of Nuremberg, Germany. Sculpey III and Pro-Mat are made in the United Stated by Polyform Products Company.Top Buttontop

What can I do with it?

Beads, jewelry, figurines, pens, pictures, dolls, miniature furniture, simulated gems, boxes, vases, sculptures, picture frames, etc.

Polymer clays can be incorporated with other materials, i.e, plastics, metals, wood, fabrics. It can be mixed with powders, glitter, metallic leaf and anything that will not melt when baked.
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What can I not do with it?

Polyclay by itself will not support heavy objects. You cannot make items with appendages unless those appendages are reinforced with wiring or supporting base material.

Do not leave your unbaked polymer clay exposed to the sun for any period of time. It will bake.

Avoid making items that young children can place into their mouth. Do not make items that will come into contact with food.
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What tools do I need?

It is entirely possible to make an item from polymer clay using only your hands and your oven. Your HANDS are your most important tool for working and conditioning polymer clay. But, there are many tools available to make working with polymer clay easier. The following is a list:

Most important is an OVEN. Either your kitchen oven or you may use a toaster oven that you can set in another area, such as garage, patio or someplace away from the living area of your home. If your polyclay accidentally burns, the fumes can be quite nasty, not to mention, your oven will need a thorough cleaning. A small toaster oven purchased at a discount store for under $20, is suggested.

The tool that should be renamed the Polymer Clay Conditioner is the PASTA MACHINE. Not the extruding type, but the roller type. The price can range anywhere from $40 down to below $20 when on sale. It is an indispensable tool for conditioning and rolling thin sheets for wrapping. {see how to condition). Purchase one that can be secured to a table top.

An optional tool, the FOOD PROCESSOR is gaining favor for conditioning polymer clay. Try to find one at a discount store or yard sale. Do not reuse the same food processor for food. The clay needs to be softened with a few drops of mineral oil to take the strain off the machine. (see conditioning instructions)

Glass, tile or Plexiglas WORKING SURFACE. Glass surfaces can be purchased at a kitchen store. Some are rough on top, but the other side is smooth. Remove the skid-proof feet and turn. To keep from sliding, reglue the feet to the rough side. Large ceramic tile sections can be purchased at a discount store or a tile store. Look for a smooth surface and attach rubber plugs to the underside to avoid sliding.

A glass table top can be used or any smooth surface (polymer clay can ruin some wooden surfaces). Clean thoroughly before using that surface for food preparation.

CLAY EXTRUDERS are handy for making uniform shapes to incorporate into canes, hair or wherever a pre formed shape is needed. (Clay must be well-softened and warm to extrude with ease. Clay guns are also available at craft stores.

BRAYERS or ROLLERS are handy for flattening the clay if you do not have a pasta machine. They are helpful for making square logs.

An X-ACTO KNIFE is useful for cutting shapes and trimming.

For fine slicing of canes, the TISSUE BLADE is a must. Long blades from replaceable craft knives can also be used. A PIERCING tool is necessary for making holes in beads. Substitutes may be DARNING NEEDLES or toothpicks.

Disposable or dedicated OVEN PAN. One that will fit into the oven and support the FLORIST WIREs necessary to bake the beads. Cover bottom of pan with parchment paper when baking flat pieces.

Some other useful tools are small PAINT BRUSHES for smoothing, a RULER for measuring, SHAPE CUTTERS (the smaller the better} and any shaping tool suitable for earth clay work

Another tool, especially designed to aid in sizing is the TEMPLATE. This TEMPLATE will give you the ability to achieve success and greater satisfaction in your attempts to make the designs in the many publications available. If you make beads and jewelry, it will give you accuracy and consistency in ball sizes. You will also be able to duplicate your work from the suggested clay to a clay of your choice or to the clay that is available in your area. If you cannot locate this TEMPLATE, please contact by email, diana-crick@mindlink.bc.ca and she will help you.
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Is it safe?

Polymer clay is certified as non-toxic, but it is advised that you do not use the same utensils or other tools for any food preparation. Thoroughly clean any area used for polyclay manufacturing before preparing food in the same area. Clean your hands well before handling food using a light abrasive such as liquid cleansers. Follow up with hand cream as the clay is very drying to your hands.Alcohol wipes, like "Wet-Ones" are great for hand-cleaning. They are also good for cleaning surfaces and equipment.

The metallic powders used with the polymer clay will irritate your throat and lungs. You are strongly advise to wear a mask and gloves while working with powders. Read the labels of the products you are working with and follow directions carefully. Polymer clays, baked at the proper temperatures do not present a hazard. Prolonged inhalation of the fumes is not recommended. Polymer clay is petroleum base material so you should avoid excessive fumes if possible. If you accidentally burn the polymer clay, immediately ventilate the area. The gases produced from burning polymer clay can be irritating to your lungs and eyes. Avoid the area until the fumes dissipate and thoroughly clean the oven before using again. The fumes are particularly hazardous to small pets.

Avoid breathing the powder residue from drilling and sanding the polymer clay. Careful handling of instruments and equipment can eliminate accidents as well.
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What is the difference between brands of "Clay"?

POLYMER CLAY BRAND COMPARISON (NON-SCIENTIFIC)

All Clays Bake at 260-275 F (Fluorescent and Glow in Dark usually lower, Formello higher). Read labels -- Formulations of FIMO are changing, don't make any assumptions. Use an oven thermometer --don't trust your oven to be accurate. Most ovens are off 25-50 degrees.

The thicker the item, the longer it must be baked. Small beads may need only 20 minutes. When in doubt, bake longer. The clay gains strength up to 2 hours. Because the clay has no water in it, it can be baked for over 24 hours without being harmed if the temperature is not too hot. My oven keeps an even temperature for about 45 minutes and then the temperature starts climbing. Clay baked too hot will discolor, brown or burn. Burned clay (300+ degrees will burn) creates toxic fumes. Air out the room immediately. Use caution, stay safe, and you will have success.

CERNIT

Cost: Medium
Strength: Good to Excellent - Tough, Strong
Baked Texture: Hard, Cool to Touch
Working Text.: Not Mushy, Not Stiff - Very Nice
Conditioning: Needs Time, but not too Tough
Colors: Waxy, not much Pigment - "Glamour" Colors Better
Availability: Somewhat hard to Find
Finish: Semi-Matte
Weight: Medium
Manufactured: Germany
Best Uses: Great for Thin Sheets in Wrinkled Textures - Strong against Abrasion and Pressure - Best product for doll making
For more information see

FIMO

Cost: Medium/High
Strength: Good to Excellent - Resilient
Baked Texture: Slightly Rubber-like, Warm to Touch
Working Text.: Slightly Stiff, keeps integrity well
Conditioning: Tough to knead, sometimes crumbly
Colors: Excellent (dark colors get darker after baking)
Availability: Excellent
Finish: Semi-Glossy
Weight: Heavy
Manufactured: Germany
Best Uses: When Resilience is Necessary When Color and Strength are Both Important -Best product for cane making.

For more information see

FORMELLO

Cost: Medium
Strength: Good (Must Bake at 275F/20 min. or Very Weak)
Baked Texture: Warm to Touch - Quite Flexible in Thin Layers
Working Text.: Sticks to Itself, Easy to Slice
Conditioning: Easy - Not too Mushy, Not too Stiff
Colors: Pretty Good - Some Colors Slightly Waxy
Availability: Difficult to Find
Finish: Semi-Matte Sheen
Weight: Medium/Heavy
Manufactured: Germany
Best Uses: When Flexibility Needed; General Use
Special Concerns:Can crack unpredictably when not smooth on the surface before baking.

PROMAT

Cost: Medium/High
Strength: Strong
Baked Texture: Waxy
Working Text.: Resinous, Sticky, Wax-like
Conditioning: Stiff but not Crumbly
Colors: Translucent, Except for Frosted Colors, Metallics (Does have three Glow-in-the-Dark Colors)
Availability: Somewhat Difficult to Find
Finish: Semi-Gloss
Weight: Medium
Manufactured: U.S.A.
Best Uses: Tensile Strength, Glow Colors

SCULPEY III

Cost: Inexpensive
Strength: Brittle in Sheets, Fine for Beads
Baked Texture: Porous, Dry to the Touch
Working Text.: Soft, Mushy in Hot Weather (may smear when sliced)
Conditioning: Minimal Kneading Necessary
Colors: Strong Pigment, Sometimes Garish, Good for Blending
Availability: Excellent
Finish: Matte, Ceramic-Like
Weight: Lightweight
Manufactured: U.S.A.
Best Uses: For Children or Arthritic Hands (Less kneading); beads; when Weight is a Problem. Large earrings, center of large beads.
For further Information on Sculpey and Supersculpey see: PolyproductsTop Buttontop

How is it prepared for use?

There are a number of ways to warm polyclay for use and some are quite inventive. You may use whatever it takes to warm the clay, short of baking. Some will carry the packaged clay in their pocket and use body warmth. Some use a heating pad on the lowest setting. Placing the opened product in a sandwich baggy and floating in warm water will also work. Add more warm water as it cools and turn the baggy often for approximately 15 minutes. You can even warm it with your hands, rolling it until pliable. Microwavable gel packs, meant for warming baby bottles are another good suggestion.

If you place the clay on a window sill to soften by the sun's warmth, be careful not to leave it for more than a few minutes. The sun can begin to bake the clay quite rapidly. If the temperature of the clay rises above body temperature, it will begin to cure.

One of the most popular methods for warming the clay uses the microwave oven. Place the opened clay on a glass dish or tray and warm at high power for 12-20 seconds. Any longer then this and the clay may begin to bake.

By popular opinion, the food processor is the conditioner of choice. Not only does it warm the clay but aids in the conditioning. The food processor should be dedicated to this purpose only and not used for food preparation. First the package of clay is cut into 1/2 inch pieces and dumped into the processor. The processor is then pulsed off and on until the clumping stops. Then, run the processor for approximately 30 seconds. This turns the clay into tiny balls, and also warms it. If it feels dry and won't press together easily, add one or two drops of mineral oil, vegetable oil or Sculpey Dilutent (a plasticizer in a bottle) and run the processor again. Too much oil, however, can make the clay sticky and too soft. Press the clay balls together and take out of the processor. It can then be flattened and run through the pasta machine.

Before kneading begins, wash your hands. Especially, clean hands thoroughly before changing colors.

Clay that is warmed by methods other than the food processor, must be kneaded by hand until it no longer crumbles when twisted. Kneading is accomplished by squeezing the clay in your hands it will soon yield to the pressure and you can begin to roll it between your palms making a snake shape. Fold the snake over onto itself and twist the two side until it breaks and repeat the process until pliable. The pasta machine can also be used to knead the clay. When the clay is pliable enough to make a snake shape, it can be pressed through the pasta machine, starting at the widest open position. Flatten the clay with a roller or brayer and pass it through the pasta machine. Continue folding the sheets and running it through the machine adjusting the opening smaller as the clay becomes softer and more malleable. About 15 passes should condition the clay for use and ensure that when the clay is cured it will be stable and not brittle. Improper kneading can cause the finished product to crack or have a porous look. Colors can also be mixed together using any of these methods.

MixQuick is a softening medium developed especially for FIMO to make it more workable. Adding one part to 4 or 5 parts is the general rule. It is also acceptable to incorporate a dab of petroleum jelly. Though Sculpey is a much softer composition, it still requires proper conditioning to produce an acceptable product.
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How do I make simple beads?

Let your imagination work for you. Simple beads can be made by taking a piece of preconditioned polyclay and rolling it between your palms until it is a round ball. Pierce the ball with a needle or piercing tool, being careful to just break the surface on the opposite side, then complete the piercing through the bead in the opposite direction, thread onto florist wire or a wooden skewer for larger holes and bake at the recommended temperature previously mentioned.

Makea marbled bead by taking two or three complimenting colors. Either blend by hand or use the pasta machine, blending until you have a neat marbled effect that appeals to you. Then, proceed to roll intoballs, pierce, thread and bake. To make all your beads the exact size, roll a snake with an amount of conditioned polyclay to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Measure a 1/2 inch length and cut. If this makes a bead the size that you have in mind, continue to use 1/2 inch slices for the remainder.

Another simple bead is made from a bull's eye cane. Start with a center of any color you wish. Roll it into a snake shape, about 2 inches long and 1/2 inch thick. Roll out a thin sheet of polyclay of another color to cover the center piece. Roll to about 1/8 inch thick by 2 inches wide by 2 inches long. Make certain the sheet is long enough to cover the snake shape. Place the centerpiece snake along the 2 inch wide end of the strip and roll to cover. The cover strip will wrap around and just meet at the joint. Roll another thin sheet of another color to the same thickness as the first, only the strip must be 1/2 inch longer. Apply in the same manner. Next, roll a bead of a color to compliment the bull's eye cane and slicing thin sheets of the cane, apply them to the bead in an attractive pattern. Roll the bead between your palms until the joint lines disappear. Pierce, thread and bake.

Other simple beads can be made from jelly roll cane. A jelly roll cane is produced by rolling two thin sheets of polyclay together. The cane is then sliced and applied to a bead as demonstrated above.

For variation, apply 5, 1/2 inch thick by 2 inch long bull's eye canes around a center bull's eye or jelly roll cane. Wrap these with a complimentary colored sheet of polyclay and then proceed to roll the cane applying gentle pressure until the length reaches about 10-12 inches. Stop sooner for larger cane slices or later for smaller slices. Roll a bead from a complimentary color and apply thin cane slices. Roll the bead between your palms until the seams disappear, pierce, thread and bake.
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How do I attach "clay" to glass?

Most things will stick better if they are glued on, but most things will fit better if they are baked on--so combine the two. Almost everything but some plastics will stand the oven temperatures needed for Fimo--even with baking for an hour at 275 as City Zen Cane has recommended. Paper burns at 451 F and glass at several thousand degrees. Apply the canes to the glass, but make sure that you can get them off again without breaking--either separate sections if the glass is odd-shaped, or by slipping it off if it is a round and smooth. Bake--cool completely--then use "Zap-a-Gap", "Goop" or a similar glue to fasten the pieces down permanently. Glass will hold in the heat, so you may want to bake at a lower temperature.

A hint for ease in baking odd shaped glass objects is to place in a bed of fiberfill. It will not burn at low temperatures and the fiberfill holds the item in place.
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How is it cured?

All clays bake at 260-275 F (Fluorescent and Glow in Dark usually lower, Formello higher). Read labels -- Formulations of FIMO are changing, don't make any assumptions. Use an oven thermometer. Don't trust your oven to be accurate. Most ovens are off 25-50 degrees.

The thicker the item, the longer it must be baked. Small beads may need only 20 minutes. When in doubt, bake longer. The clay gains strength up to 2 hours. Because the clay has no water in it, it can be baked for over 24 hours without being harmed if the temperature is not too hot.

Clay baked too hot will discolor, brown or burn. Burned clay (300+ degrees will burn) creates toxic fumes. Air out the room immediately. Use caution, stay safe, and you will have success.
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What are the different finishes?

Baked polymer clay has an attractive finish as is, but if you wish to give it a shine there are several things you can do. Simply buffing with a soft cloth will enhance the shine. There are acrylic lacquer products available that can be brushed on the surface and allowed to dry thoroughly before handling. The most common ones are varnishes offered under the brand names, of Fimo and Sculpey, available in both a glossy or matte finish.

Another simple way to enhance the shine is by using a polymer floor wax, such as "Future". The wax can be applied with a Q-tip, sponge brush or dipped. After drying, another coat can be applied. Coating your finished work with polymer floor wax will give it a "plastic-look".

Sanding the item is a preferred method of finishing the clay. Using progressively finer "wet/dry" sandpaper will result in a harder appearing 'stone-like finish. Holding the item under a trickling stream of water or dipping it into a container of water using , for example, 320 grit to 600 grit and ending with the highest possible, a 1500 grit or better will yield attractive results. Polymer clay powder resulting from dry sanding should not be inhaled. Always sand the clay under water. "Wet/dry" sandpaper is available at hardware stores. Finest grit may be available at automotive stores.

There are other commercial products available, such as acrylic spray lacquers and plastic varnishes. Experiment with caution. Many of the products can dissolve polymer clay.
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FAQ Continued


Air dry Clays
Fimo and Cernit
Other Clays
Paperclay
Polyclay
Promat
Resin
Sculpey (a)
Sculpey (b)
Supersculpey
Granitex
Elasticlay

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