Tools of the Trade
Posted on August 23, 2012 in Hints, Tips, & Tricks by Katie Oskin
Polymer Clay Tools from Every Department!
My tip for you today is a reminder of what you can use when working with polymer clay. Working with polymer clay takes time, energy, and is the best reason to dig into every other craft & hobby out there! My husband said to me one day while wading through every single aisle in my local Pat Catan’s, “why can’t you just crochet or something?” I laughed because I knew exactly what he meant. What he meant was that there’s a clay/sculpting aisle and we go down it to shop, but then I hit up the stamp section, knitting section, button & sewing aisles, plus the flower section, baking/cooking section, jewelry section, and eventually end up in the paints with a final trip through the clay aisle again (just in case I missed something). What is it about clayers that makes this happen?
Well, part of what makes that happen is the uncanny ability for clayers to collect, use, replace, and demand for tools. I don’t mean tools like your hubby’s have (though I do have a lot of those for clay too), but girl type tools. Today I’m going to briefly talk about some of the tools that I use every day in my studio and in my sculpting. Every clayer has something that works best for them. These are my favorites, the ones that I take with me every where I go and what I use them for (Clockwise from left).
The one in the picture is the one that I use to add “dots” to my figurines with. One end I broke off and filed down to make large dots and one end is still pointy and sharp to make tiny dots. This is one of my favorites. Why? Because when it breaks, it’s cheap and easy to replace. Not to mention that you can use them to create mini armatures in pieces that might easily break off.
But also because instead of squeezing my acrylic paint from a tube, I just stick it inside, out comes the paint, and I haven’t wasted ANY paint. In fact, to this day I still have the 2 ounce tube of white acrylic paint that I bought 4 years ago! Find this tool in any store where paper products & kitchen products are sold. Buy 800 of them on Amazon for a really low price & get free shipping!
Old Exacto Blade:
Not long ago I did a tutorial on how to make these and why you should make this unique tool. I use this for everything. There are times that I want to cut into a really hard (unconditioned) snake of clay and don’t want to knick my good blades (clay blade or exacto blade). This can also be used to do tiny detail work as well. Find new blades in the drawing, drafting, and/or painting section of your local craft store.
This is one of my favorites. I’ve had the particular paint brush in this photograph for about 3 years (can you tell). It’s old, dirty, and worn but it is by far my favorite! It’s used specifically for chalk and for chalk only. But a paintbrush has many uses in my studio. I have a fluffy one for mica powders, a thin one for detailed chalk applications, one for waxes, one for varnishes, one for patinas, and the list goes on! Never underestimate the value of a paint brush in your studio. Just make sure they all look different so you don’t mix your mica powder with your chalk and end up with metallic cheeks where you didn’t want them (yes, I do say this from experience). Find these in the painting section of your craft store.
Double Ended Stylus:
There’s not a lot to say about this one, why? Because you need it. And if you don’t have one, then you don’t know you need it, but after going out and purchasing one, you’ll never be without one again. This is an invaluable tool. The one pictured I’ve had for about 3 years (after my first one got lost – long story) and it really shows its age! It’s dirty and covered with “clay muck” which you understand if you clay a lot…it’s that same stuff that’s covering your pasta machine handle…you know, “clay muck?” Find this tool in the stamping and embossing section of your local craft store or buy an entire set here on Amazon for a really cheap price!
I use this more than I thought I would. I do a lot of mixed media pieces and sometimes you need something to “scrape” off attached elements. This is great to file down shanks from buttons once you’ve cut them off, file off rough edges from wires, and so much more. I’ve only had this about 2 months, but I use it at least once a week. You can find them in your local beauty department at the local pharmacy or here on Amazon – please be sure to buy a metal file and not a cardboard file as they just don’t hold up.
You can see I embedded my needle into red clay with a hunk of “dirty white” that I had laying around and twisted into a chunky rope style. I use this for everything, from smoothing seams to creating button & bead holes. This is an invaluable tool and my all time favorite. The possibilities for use are endless, but I highly recommend buying one and trying it yourself. They are less than $2.00 for two of them at your local craft store. You can find them in with the plastic accessories for knitting and darning. Make sure you buy the blunt and really fat needles. Here’s a link to them on Amazon where you can be sure you have the right kind.
Every sculptor needs a pair of tweezers to lift beads, place gems, move around tiny pieces of clay that your fingers are too “chunky” for, and every other thing you can think of. These however are not not often found in craft stores, but rather in your beauty section. Do not get the plastic kind, but rather the metal tweezers. I prefer the slant-tipped tweezers, but again it’s your preference.
Straight Pin or Needle Tool:
Another invaluable tool. I use this tool literally a hundred times when I work with clay. This specific tool is the one I use to indent Parker’s eyes, remove tiny “blemishes” from finished clay pieces (other clay colors, kitten fur, dust, etc), and even to add accents to finished mokume gane blends. I embedded the cute little “dot” into a hunk of scrap white and decorated mine with stars and then baked it. Covering your tools is a great way to keep you motivated and to tell your tools apart. Find straight pins in your local craft store in the sewing section, they usually come about 25-50 in a little plastic box. Or you can purchase a Kemper needle tool for clayers here.
And last, but not least is a knitting needle. This is the first knitting needle I ever purchased and it’s still my favorite to this day. What size is it? I could never tell you…but I use it for everything. Primarily I use this tool to join seams and blend clays together. The subtle rolling motion against clay allow seams to literally disappear. It also works wonderfully for making large holed beads and to make tube beads on. You can find knitting needles in the yarn, knitting, and crochet sections of your local craft store. This is an awesome knitting needle set on Amazon that ships FREE and has LOTS of different needle sizes to help get into big or small spaces.
Thanks for joining me today,
What tools do you have from other “departments” in your craft store that you just can’t live without? We want to know. Email me a picture of your item and tell me why you use it and I might even feature that item in a future blog post. Don’t miss our hint, tips, & tricks for polymer clay. And if you need some inspiration, check out some of our tutorials.
All tools above link to Amazon where I am an affiliate.