by Tammy Honaman, Author, Jewelry-Making Expert and Educator,
Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

Polymer clay is a very versatile medium to design with. It is great for sculpture, caning, carving and stamping, among many other things. Working with this material requires tools--and what is more fun than tools? Well, working with polymer itself, of course, but tools rule!

When using tools for polymer it is important that they are dedicated to polymer use only or that they be cleaned well before using with other art materials--they should never be used with food after being used with polymer. Most tools clean up well with hand or baby wipes--any moisture should be dried before storing the tools to avoid rust or corrosion.

The Go-To Tool

Bracelet with Kato Polyclay™

Multi-Strand Bracelet with Kato Polyclay™
A Polyclay roller or pasta machine is an essential tool when working with polymer. The Poly-Roller has seven different thickness settings, ranging from 0.5 to 3mm; the following are just a few of the tasks it is good for.

Conditioning Polymer - Conditioning is a process which is necessary before you do anything with polymer. A Poly-Roller makes the task much easier to accomplish.

Even Sheets of Polymer - Once conditioned, the clay can be rolled through the pasta machine to produce even sheets of clay which are then put to good use in creating striped loaves of polymer as well as canes of many variations.

Thin Sheets of Polymer - The pasta machine is great at making paper thin sheets of clay which work well when layering different colors as well as for translucent techniques. When rolled thinly, you really can see through the translucent clay which is great when layering materials like metal leaf, inks, slices of canes, etc. The material can still show through yet be protected by the clay.

Cutting Polymer

The next most important tool is the clay blade. There are several to choose from. The tools in the Super Slicer and blade set each have long and very sharp blades, perfect for cutting through the blocks of clay in one motion. The long sharp blades are also essential when trimming the edges of sheets of clay and for cutting through canes for even slices. These sets also include a waffle or wavy blade which is fun for adding texture and dimension to your designs. You must use great care when using this type of blade.

Earrings with Kato Polyclay™

Craft blades or knives are smaller blades which are great for fine tuning designs. These sets come complete with handles making using the blades manageable and safe.

When slicing a cane or other polymer component, a tool that helps with measuring and "remembering" the spot for you is the way to go. Place the lined hexagon onto your clay (using the measurement that is ideal for your design), press lightly, remove and then slice at the marks for even slices, every time.

Clay cutters are also great at cutting through the clay and offer the convenience of cutting the clay into shapes, and with some in graduated sizes.

Design Aids

Polymer clay is great at receiving and keeping textures applied to the surface. This ability is played out in many techniques, from using the textures as the surface treatment itself to a mokume gane technique that makes a great play on this traditional metalsmithing technique.
Pendant with Kato Polyclay™

Clay extruders make ropes of clay in different shapes. These ropes can be used to embellish designs or even to add details to sculptures. Their only limit is your imagination.

Pendant with Kato Polyclay™ and Seed Beads
The Finishing Touches

Polymer clay needs to be cured. It is essential that the curing be done at a set temperature for a set amount of time to achieve a flexible yet durable piece. The Clay Craft oven is an ideal tool for this purpose; an all-purpose toaster oven or convection oven dedicated to polymer clay use are good alternatives. If you decide to use a conventional oven, consider baking your pieces in a basting bag (the kind used to roast a chicken in your regular oven), as this will trap any fumes released from the polymer while it is baking.

Once the clay is cured, it can be left with its beautiful matte finish or sanded to a high shine. Sanding with a progression of polishing papers followed by the Foredom® Bench Lathe will make bringing out the shine a snap--well, close to it anyway.

There are lots of other tools to use when working with polymer. Have fun exploring them all and creating your own works of art.

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