Monday, October 8, 2012

Part 2: My 25 Favorite Polymer Clay Studio Tools + Gadgets + Glues

 ..........continuing our countdown of "My 25 Favorite Polymer Clay Studio Tools, Gadgets and Glues Pt.1 from the previous post. If you missed PART ONE please click on the link directly above...............

Genesis Heat Set Oil Paints mixed with TLS
#12 Genesis Heat set oil paints produce vibrant colors and a shiny jewel-like surface when mixed with Kato Liquid Polyclay or TLS (Translucent Liquid Sculpey) and painted onto poly clay. I think the colors on pieces painted with Genesis mixed with Kato are more shiny and jewel-like after curing than those mixed with TLS. Both Polymer Clay Express and Clay Alley both sell jars of Genesis as well as a much more economical sampler pack that contains small tubes of some of the popular colors. You may need to scroll down a little to find the sampler packs listed at both places and there could be some important colors missing. I keep the mixtures in small metal screw top jars they sell for organizing little scrapbook treasures (see first photo at top of this article). I find that KATO Liquid Polyclay settles, so if using Kato make sure it is mixed well first by inverting the container several times (top well screwed on!) and letting it sit for 5 minutes each time time before adding the Genesis....... and the mixture will also need to be mixed well again if it sits for any length of time.
 Soft Plastic lid tops are safe for use with Polymer clay
#11 Soft Plastic food container lids (HDPE recycling code #3, from yogurt containers, etc.) are safe to use with uncured PC and help me organize my work table to hold each specific component as I work on a piece. I also use them as a paint palette for TLS mixed with Genesis heat set oil paints, "corral" storage for beads so they don't fall on the floor as I'm working, "trays" for jewelry findings etc., glue catcher, etc.

D.R.E.A.M. Machine (pasta-like machine) from Polymer Clay Express
#10 D.R.E.A.M. brand "pasta-like" machine from Polymer Clay Express is terrific for conditioning clay, rolling out sheets of clay, mixing color formulas, making Skinner Blends, etc. I LOVE IT!!!!! It's such a solid and strong workhorse. It makes very flat sheets and is able to make very thin sheets, as well, much thinner than I was able to make on my Atlas. It is able to tame slabs of clay that are quite a bit thicker than a #1 on an Atlas. The thickest setting on the D.R.E.A.M. machine (#1) makes a sheet approximately 1/6" (3.556mm) thick. It's so powerful that it's easy to crank by hand and unlike the Atlas, this machine doesn't leave tiny ridges in the rolled out sheets and doesn't leave black streaks on light colored clay. Plaquing on my PC sheets appears to have diminished a lot, too. I think that might be because there is much less slippage and abrasion to the clay. The machine also has adjustments so one can easily make very narrow Skinner blends.

I did eventually get the matching motor for it from Polymer Clay Express and love it, too. It's such a heavy workhorse that I expect it to have a long life.

For simple "in between" scraper cleaning I use a dry paper towel folded over a number of times so it's just a bit thicker than the width between the rollers when set on #1. I do this whenever I change colors, as recommended by Wilma at Polymer Clay Express. I only actually take it apart to clean the scrapers every few weeks, or when I want to work with very light colors.  Compared to my "OH SO EASY to clean" Monafied (modified) Atlas pasta machines (that I still use from time to time and HIGHLY recommend as a mid-price pasta machine),  I found that removing the scraper blades from the D.R.E.A.M. machine to clean them was not particularly easy, especially if one follows the written directions that come with the machine, however.........

EDITED: Sue C. shared a MUCH simpler way of cleaning the scrapers than what is described in PCE's  directions. First do the complete operation on the front side and then do it on the back side. Simply remove the 3 hex nuts (PCE may call these "screw heads"?) that hold the long black scraper blade in place, clean the scraper blade with a paper towel and replace it.  I  find that for ease in applying the hex nuts it's helpful to follow this specific order: Insert the center screw through the hole,  add the screw head and barely tighten just enough so that it grabs,  then do the same for the other two. Once  all three are gently tightened then FIRMLY tighten all three (but not tight enough to risk stripping the threads).  Repeat on the back side. It's a bit tricky, but once you've done it a few times you can even accomplish this without even having to un-clamp the machine. I still find that maneuvering the scraper blades back into place and manipulating the screw heads takes finger dexterity, good vision and is not really easy, but this method is SO much quicker than following the directions that come with the machine. Thanks Sue C! 

To remove the scraper hex nuts that hold the scrapers in (i.e. scraper retainer nuts) I used to use a 2 1/4 inch (6cm) long mini flat wrench the size of the hex nuts. Clearance was a problem if trying to use a wrench with a handle any longer than that. Then I discovered a 5/16 inch  "deep socket wrench"with a 3 1/2"(9cm) short handle that fits the hex nuts and it works well

The more firmly you tighten the screw heads, the less clay gets stuck underneath the scrapers and the less often you need to clean it with anything other than a dry folded paper towel. However, don't tighten so firmly that you risk stripping the screws. I believe Wilma recommends one turn past where it it grabs when tightening by hand. 

That said, I really LOVE my D.R.E.A.M. machine and compared to IT, all the other pasta machines I've had in my studio seem like children's toys!

"Magic" Tissue Blades from CarolynsClayCreations
#9 CarolynsClayCreations tissue blades make it so easy to slice canes that even I have FINALLY been able to make super thin clay slices. Look for it at Carolyn's site listed under "tools". EDITED 1/2016. Carolyn's blades are no longer available, but I'm keeping this on the list in her memory until I locate another source I like. She will be missed.

I protect the sharp edge of the tissue blade when it's not being used by sliding it (via an open end) inside the colorful triangular shaped plastic edge of a "slide bar report cover" from Office Max, the kind you use in conjunction with a clear plastic folded-over page to protect and hold thin document pages together. I cut it to a bit longer than the length of the tissue blade using a sharp kitchen shears or a jigsaw. I suggest making it a bit longer than you need it to be to begin with, because the cut end often needs a bit of extra trimming to make it smooth. Make sure when you slide the blade in that there is plenty of clearance between the "business" edge of the blade and the plastic, so as not to dull the blade.

Kemper and Wilton cutters
#8 Cutters: I use the Kemper mini cutters (called pattern cutters) in a number of sets and sizes. I primarily use them for easily cutting out uniform polymer clay embellishments and for measuring the amount of clay to put in a bead roller. They come in ten sets of different shapes. My favorites are the square, round, heart, teardrop (useful for making petals), flower and stars. They are available at many polymer clay supply venues. I purchased mine from Marie Segal’s Clay Factory because it is one of the few mail order clay stores that carry the cutters in open stock rather than in sets, so one can purchase single cutters if they wish. They also carry them in sets, including one complete Set of 55 Pattern Cutters.

In order to get a nice tapered edge to the cutout piece of clay when you use a Kemper or other type of cutter, you can place a layer of Saran Wrap (plastic food wrap, but I prefer the Saran Wrap brand) between the top of the clay sheet and your cutter before you cut. Press the cutter FIRMLY into the Saran Wrap and move it slightly back and forth, up and down a few times. It gives a nicer edge to the cutout. The cutter releases easily from the wrap and it's usually easy to peel the PC cut shape off the Saran Wrap. I especially like the nice plump and rounded hearts that this cutting method produces.

Some of the cutters are quite small and I have them in many sizes. It's not always easy to tell the sizes apart, so I wrote the size on the cutter with a Sharpie Fine Point. Once the ink was dry I put a piece of clear tape over it to make it more permanent.

I have found that the larger Kemper cutter sets, like the Kemper Rose Cutter Set or Leaf Cutter Set, have edges that are too dull to work well on polymer clay, though sharpening the cutting edges with a file does help a little. I like the nesting round set of cutters I have  from Ateco.
Wilton Cutter with "empty" Rubber Stamp mount to use for pressing on cutter.
I use a set of sharp square Wilton cutters to measure out clay when assembling a large batch of a certain color recipe that utilizes, for example, 1X of one color and 5X of another, etc. I have some smooth and ergonomically shaped wooden mounts left over from rubber stamps after I removed the rubber dies to store them in an unmounted form. I find that after using the Wilton cutters to press through thick clay the hard metal edge of the top part of the cutter digs into my hands and hurts. I found that if I put the wooden stamp mount on top of the cutter and press directly onto the stamp mount it makes it much easier to use the cutter with a firm and even pressure and it protects my hands.
Pen Tips to apply colored TLS
#7 Once the ink supply of a Micron Pigma, Sakura MicroPerm, or Sharpie Fine pen is used up, the "spent" pen is super for applying tiny lines and dots of liquid polyclay mixed with Genesis Heat set Oil paints when decorating faux lampwork-type pieces. For wider lines I use the "used up" ink refill cartridges from various other brands of traditional ball point pens that I've forced into a large wooden bead for a handle. I particularly like Dr. Grip refills. Clean up between colors is as easy as a wipe on a paper towel.

Crafter's Heat Gun 
#6 I find a Crafter's Heat Gun is so valuable for setting liquid polyclay prior to curing so that it doesn't smear and very helpful to give a preliminary curing to delicate regular polyclay pieces prior to curing. I think that the key to successful use is continually moving the heat gun and keeping it at least 6" away from the clay surface. Otherwise it can scorch the PC. It can also be used on cured Kato Liquid PolyClay for a few minutes after it comes out of the oven to increase the shine a bit.

Bead Piercing Pins
#5 Bead hole-making "stuff": I find that if I initially attempt to make too large a hole in the raw beads (even in chilled beads) I tend to produce squished beads, so depending on the relative size of the bead I'm piercing, I use the smallest appropriate pin to effectively make the “starter hole” that will be eventually be enlarged with drill bits after curing. My piercing “stash” includes re-purposed new injection syringes, pins used for sewing, bead piercing pins and needles set into polyclay handles. For average sized beads (like #8-#10) I use a dressmaker's pin to make the initial tiny channel hole in the raw bead (coming in from one end and then the other) and then enlarge the channel hole with a pin the diameter of a corsage pin or poly clay piercing pin, also coming in from both ends.

Once the bead is cured, the holes are hand drilled to make them wider. I use drill bits embedded into ergonomically designed poly clay handles, cured, and then permanently glued into the handles using two part epoxy. I use bits ranging from a tiny #78 wire gauge all the way up to a jumbo 9/64ths. I prefer the control of hand drilling over power drilling, especially for smaller beads. I generally start the drilling process with #54 drill bit (a bit smaller diameter than 1/16”) and progressively work my way up through increasingly larger diameters.

In order to make LARGE diameter holes that are tidy, strong, and resist tearing when ultimately drilled to 1/8” diameter I add an extra step to the initial bead channel process in the raw clay by using the tip of a wooden skewer in a screwing motion to enlarge both the edges for about 1/16”.

Knitting Needles
#4 Knitting needles: I use them in several sizes, from the very thin #000 sock needle to the big #10 1/2. The little #000 and the slightly bigger #4 are great for inscribing vein lines on leaves and making channels in cherries so that the stem wire can be inserted. The #6, #8 and big #10 1/2 are perfect for wrapping with wire to make my own jump rings.
X-Acto Knife Handle and #11 blade
#3 I would be lost without my X-Acto brand X 2000 with #11 Classic fine point replaceable blade. I can no longer find the replacement blades for sale by themselves locally without having to buy a collection of various other numbered blades, so I now mail order them directly from one of my favorite companies

Large Vintage Farberware Convection Oven
#2 My vintage Farberware Convection Oven is big and beautiful and keeps a very steady temperature when lined on the bottom  with terracotta tiles. I buy used Farberwares  from eBay and currently have 4 in residence in the garage. Some people stock up on food and water in case there's ever a disaster, while I........

My favorite model of Farberware is a T 4850 and the remainder are the woodgrained 450's and 460's. If one is purchasing a Farberware that will be shipped I recommend making sure that it is insured. Unless they are packed VERY well with a lot of cushioning between the oven and the carton, the glass can break in transit. I've had two experiences with a lot of glass to sweep up after I unpacked the shipping carton!

An important hint about using the Farberwares that was shared with me by Laurie Prophater, “If you do find one...Be sure to use a power strip to turn it on and off! I cannot emphasize this enough. The on/off knob will be the first thing to go. There is a “stays on” set that and forget it.”

Ta-da........................and NUMBER ONE on the list:
1/4" x 6 "Magic Wand" acrylic smoothing rod roller
#1 The "Magic Wand", a 1/4" diameter 6" long clear acrylic rod that is fabulous for just about any clay smoothing application. I LOVE this acrylic rod for rolling across the surfaces of my jewelry pieces to smooth them and it's SUPER for smoothing down thin applied cane slices and appliques.  Polymer Clay Express is now carrying the smoothing rod. They also carry the 1/2" diameter version for working on larger pieces. For further smoothing rod info and availability please see this more current smoothing rod blog post.

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