Sunday, September 9, 2012

My 25 Favorite Polymer Clay Studio Tools + Gadgets + Glues Pt. 1

I saw a TV program on the History Channel where the editors of "Popular Mechanics" came up with their choice of the “101Gadgets that changed the world”. I thought it would be fun to come up a list of my favorite 25 polymer clay studio tools, gadgets and glues that changed MY world. I discussed it with my husband, trying to figure out what I would include on the list. He happened to be holding his camera at the time and he told me to hold up my hands. HUH? Click, click...........and he then proceeded to photograph my 10 fingers and told me, "Now you've got your first 10 items on the list done!" Moving on........

I plan to divide this into two separate blog posts over the next few weeks........................and here's the countdown starting at #25

Ball bearing tools 

#25 I made one of my favorite tools from ball bearings purchased at our local hardware store and glued with epoxy to the ends of a pieces of dried bamboo-like plant material that was growing locally. I have a variety of sizes and use them for sculpting, softening angular lines and making eye sockets in my cat jewelry.

Epoxy 220 

#24 I use two part epoxy to glue my silky cords into cord-ending findings and also to adhere anything metal (like bails, wire hangers and pinbacks) to polyclay. So far I have never found it to fail, except on Kato clay (which may need the surface roughed up a little and/or a brief alcohol wash with a cotton-tipped swab). I use the "Epoxy 220" because it’s ultimately stronger than its counterpart, "Epoxy 320", even though it takes longer to dry to full strength. It needs 24 hours to be fully cured. I found these directions and hints for mixing/using the two part epoxy very helpful. (located near the bottom of the home page). Fire Mountain Gems also carries it.

Zap-A-Gap glues 
#23 Zap Glues are a family of cyanoacrylate glues (like Super Glue), but they have a special formula designed to efficiently glue pieces that may have gaps and not fit tightly together. I find that they are not as strong as Epoxy 220, but they do dry to the touch very quickly. The more common Zap A Gap CA+ is a medium thick glue which allows for positioning for 7-10 seconds, though it doesn't reach it maximum strength for 24 hours. The less common Slo-Gap CA is a thicker formula that allows 30 seconds for positioning, and cures in 60 seconds. I use both, but in the dry humidity of Arizona I find myself really appreciating the longer window of open time for positioning that the Slo-Zap CA provides. The longer window also allows me more time to clean up any "oopsies", too. I use the Slo-Zap to glue brush bristle whiskers in my cat pins, to adhere thin polyclay covers over pin backs and to glue on glass embellishments. Hobby Lobby stocks both via mail order, but they usually only stock the Zap A Gap CA+ at their bricks and mortar stores. Shops that cater to fishermen who make their own flies also often stock it. Note: I had read that though cyanoacrylic glues dry to the touch very quickly, they also take 24 hours to reach their ultimate potential strength.
Crafter's Pick "The Ultimate" glue 
#22 I use Crafter's Pick "The Ultimate" waterbased PVA glue for many of my gluing needs. It's non-smell, non- toxic and strong, still strong even on pieces glued 15 years ago. A big PLUS to me is that it's also removable if one really works hard enough at case of those inevitable oops. I use it to adhere the components onto the macramé base of all my collar type necklaces.

I live in a dry climate and have finally figured out a way to prevent the glue in the bottle from drying out so quickly and to also make working with it more manageable. I never use the applicator part of the glue bottle, but unscrew and screw the entire applicator top instead. I keep a wooden skewer inside a weighted empty plastic bottle and use the skewer to take out more manageable glob of glue on the skewer tip to work with. If I need to use a lot of glue I use the skewer as an applicator. If I’m gluing tiny areas I usually apply the glue with a toothpick, taking off tiny bits of glue from the glob on the skewer as I work. This way I have to open the bottle much less often. The nice thing about using the wooden skewer is that I can use my utility scissors to cut off the gunked up end many times before it needs to be discarded and replaced.
Ott Lite CFL full spectrum replacement lights bulbs in ceiling fan
#21 In December, 2011 we replaced the regular CFL light bulbs in the fan/light fixture on the ceiling of my studio with with 25 watt Ott Light full spectrum and "true to color" replacement light bulb. They have made a HUGE difference to my vision-challenged ability to clearly see details as I work. I find that I need to use my magnifier a great deal less. --> --> Check out the photos at the following ink that visually demonstrates the difference in the clarity, glare, and brightness as compared to using regular CFL's or traditional incandescent bulbs. We also now use our Ott Lite bulbs in our 3 gooseneck lamps when photographing my jewelry and the positive changes in the quality and true color of our photographs has been amazing. All full-spectrum, color corrected bulbs are not the same and after testing a few brands I'm so glad that we made the change to Ott Lites.

Deli Sheets

#20 Deli Patty Paper sheets (greaseproof, waterproof and non-absorbent) easily provide a non-stick, non-leaching surface to any polyclay work area. I tape them around tiles or self healing mats for a strong and non-stick work surface. I like to use them so the pieces I'm working on won't get stuck to the tiles on my work surface. I used to use plain paper, but it leached the clay if the polyclay pieces sat on the paper too long. I also sometimes use deli sheets over trays of work waiting to be finished to protect the pieces from dust and also sometimes use them to help smooth polyclay surfaces as I work. While I currently use "Quicksheets" that I purchased several years ago from Polymer Clay Express, they are now stocking Papercon CP-8 (and scroll down) instead and I have heard good things about the brand.

Amazing mold Putty
#19 Amazing Mold Putty is my favorite molding compound. Even though it is relatively expensive, I find that it makes excellent detailed molds and it has the added plus that it can withstand the heat of curing, so that polyclay and liquid polyclay can actually be cured IN the mold.The green frog on the left was sculpted using PREMO polyclay. I then made a AMP mold of the frog, that's the yellow piece in the picture above. Then I poured liquid polyclay into the mold and cured it in the bakeable mold. I have had some unfortunate experiences that seem to indicate that perhaps AMP and the new "no phthalate formula" Kato clay are not compatible,
--> both to make a AMP mold FROM and to use to make a mold pull. AMP Stated shelf life of 6-8 months (Sarajane says hers is still good after 2 years). At least some Michaels and Hobby Lobby stores in the USA carry it.

#18 ArmorAll spray protectant is intended to be used to lubricate and protect rubber, plastic and vinyl and is primarily used on the interior of autos. This product is also very effective as a mold release when a very small amount is applied to a mold with a cotton tipped swab. Polyclay mold-pulls just slide out.

Colour Shapers

#17 Colour Shapers are rubber clay shaping tools from "Royal Sovereign, Ltd. They are usually available in sets of 5, but I only ever use the flat chisel and the taper point. While they do come in FIRM, I prefer the kind labeled SOFT because they leave less marks behind in the clay and in the smaller 1/8" wide mini size #0's because much of my work is detailed. I find they are invaluable for shaping and smoothing clay.

Olive Oil

#16 Olive Oil (I use extra virgin organic) in a dropper bottle. A TINY VERY SMALL bit rubbed into a finger tip and then almost all blotted off with a tissue is all you need. It helps lubricate the finger for more effective finger tip smoothing of a polyclay surface. I also apply some olive oil to my hands before I start working in my studio. It helps keep the hands soft, isn’t expensive……..and I love the faint aroma associated with PIZZA that it imparts!

Self Healing Cutting Mats

#15 Self-healing craft or rotary cutting mats provide a flat cutting while protecting the sharpness of a the cutter. The Fiskars brand comes in several sizes and they are usually available in craft, quilt or sewing stores. I have a large 18" X 24" one that is on the center of my work table. I also use two smaller 9"X 6" ones that I use I use when I cut out clay pieces or use Kemper cutters. I wrap in a sheet of deli wrap around the small mat and anchor it with drafting tape.

Ceramic or terracotta tiles on curing tray covered with plain paper for curing
#14 I use ceramic or terracotta tiles in two sizes as flat small work stations covered with deli wrap (held in place with ma king tape) while I work on a piece so that the clay doesn't stick to the work surface. I cure my pieces on tiles (WITHOUT THE DELI WRAP) because the tiles tend to help moderate the temperature and diminish hot spots. When I use the tiles for curing I cover the tile with a piece of white printer paper so that the back side of the PC pieces doesn't get shiny. One can usually purchase single tiles very inexpensively from tile-floor covering stores or home improvement centers. One big box  store even cut my tiles to size for me. The entire bottom of my oven is also covered with thick terracotta tiles to help moderate temperature.

Cocktail straw hole punch
#13 Tiny plastic cocktail straws are invaluable to punch clean jump ring holes into flat pieces of polyclay. I find that using the cocktail straw in a screwing motion forward and backward a few times makes for cleaner and more round holes. Each time I use the straw to create a hole I, snip off a short length of the straw the contains the little round bit of clay and discard it and then I'm ready to punch a new hole.

EDITED:After I published this blog post I read a clever blog post about using a coffee stirrer (shaped much like a cocktail straw) to punch out the holes and a skewer to push out the extra clay pieces by BJ of Knightwork Studio. So, now I'm using a very thin knitting needle to push out the pieces of clay from the cocktail straw. Thanks BJ!

I'm going to leave you hanging at #13. For the remainder of the list please check out the oh so creatively titled, Part 2 My 25 Favorite Polymer Clay Studio Tools, Gadgets and Glues .

You also might enjoy reading my tute:Varnishing Polymer Clay with Rustoleum Varathane ©

If you'd like to see the finished pieces that were made using the tools listed above, I invite you to visit my shop MelodyODesigns at Etsy