I have worked with polymer clay for over 18 years. My work has been featured in books and magazines. I have won national and international awards for my pieces. I sell my work at local Fine Craft Shows, in a few Vermont Galleries, Breweries & Home Brew Shops in several states, and on Etsy.
I love polymer clay as a medium because it can be used in so many ways.I love experimenting with its properties and the various ways it can be used to create all types of artful and functional pieces.
I do some custom designs for a cute little quilt store in Williston, VT – Quilting With Color. She contacted me awhile ago about a special project. Apparently quilt shops do this thing called a Shop Hop. Each shop comes up with a special quilt kit to sell for the event. Customers go to each shop with their ‘passport’ and and get chances to get some great prizes. Jennine wanted to use this beautiful butterfly fabric.
She wanted to embellish the kit with polymer clay buttons. Because I loved the fabric so much my immediate thought was polymer clay transfers. I do transfers a lot in several applications and this seemed the perfect technique for this project.
So the first thing to do was to scan in the fabric and isolate the butterflies. It took a bit of Photoshop Elements work to get them isolated.
Once the transfers are cured they can be removed from the paper. The T-Shirt Transfer Paper is activated by heat so it moves the ink into the liquid polymer and the image is now transferred into the polymer.
Next the transfers get cut to shape and they are placed on raw polymer clay sheets and the excess clay is trimmed away. The buttons are baked and drilled for button holes.
The buttons were a big hit. And they looked great on the quilt. She even quilted it with a butterfly pattern.
If you would like to learn more about my techniques for transferring images to polymer clay take my class on Craftcast.com
I’ve been working with polymer clay for over 17 years. About 6 years ago I started cutting polymer clay with digital cutters to help me with production work and to cut out shapes of my own design. I have tested the machines tirelessly for several years and have great fun creating new projects to share with others. I have several classes on CraftCast.com that use the Silhouette Cameo and Curio machines with polymer clay.
Cutting and engraving polymer clay can be done successfully with a few minor adjustments to the tools and settings. Before my experimentation, it wasn’t possible to get a clean cut on anything but very, very thin polymer clay. It either wouldn’t cut all the way through or it would cut, but leave the impression of the blade cap on the clay. I discovered that removing the blade cap from the cutting tool solved both of those issues. The blade is now opened up to its full cutting edge.
You can use the regular Ratchet Blade – with the blade cap off – with the Curio. It is a better choice when cutting very thin clay. For thicker sheets of clay, the best choice is to use the Deep Cut Blade, but you still need to remove the blade cap.
Because the Curio has a dual tool holder you can set up two tools with different tasks and settings. So you can engrave and cut without having to stop and change tools and settings.
You have two choices to engrave the lines in your bowl. The Fine Embossing Tool comes with the Curio machine. It works well for this project. However, if you want a finer line of engraving then you will want to use the Chomas Creations Engraving Tip. The settings are different and they are listed below as an option.
In this tutorial we will take an ordinary cut file from the Silhouette Design Store and turn it into a polymer clay trinket bowl. It’s great for rings, candy, or well… trinkets. (This project can be done on a Cameo 3 with minor changes to the settings)
Open up a new file in the Silhouette Studio Software. Click on the Library tab and select the Celtic Knot Flower design. Resize the object with the two layers still grouped together. You may want to do a size test to see what fits your form best. I used 3.25” for the round lightbulb and 3.75” for the Fat Daddio hemisphere bowl.
Once you are at the size you want you can Ungroup and Release Compound Path until you get all of the elements surrounded by grey boxes. Fig 2
Delete the star cutout in the middle of the base piece and then move that piece off to the side. You will cut that separately.
Go to the top layer and select the cut lines that we want to engrave instead of cut. You can hold down the shift key and select multiple elements all at one time. Once they are selected then you can change the line color to blue. I use blue for engraving lines and leave the red lines as cut lines since that is the default color for cutting lines in the software. Fig 3
Refining the File Video
Next, you need togo in and remove some of the nodes to make the file easier to cut in clay. Choose the red cut line and then select the Node Tool. You can select multiple nodes by holding down the SHIFT key. Once you have removed the nodes go back and straighten out the lines to make the cuts more uniform.
Point Editing Video
Regroup all the elements of the top layer.
Open the Send tab and click on Action by Line. This will open up the Line Color cut options. Fig 4
We want the Curio to do the engraving function before it cuts. So move the Blue line color box to the top position. Select the Blue Circle in the Tool column.
I created a Custom Material Type for each function to keep track of the settings that work best. The settings for Clay Etch are Blade Type = Embossing Tool Fine Platform = 6 Speed = 4 Force = 20. (If you are using the Chomas Engraving Tool the Settings are: are Blade Type = Embossing Tool Fine Platform = 6 Speed = 4 Force = 6.)
Now select the Red Line Color. Create a Custom Material Type for the Clay Cut function as above. Settings are: Tool = Ratchet Blade=1 Platform = 6 Speed =4 Force = 5.
You may have to adjust your settings slightly to get the best result. Do a test sample on scrap clay before starting your project. Your goal is to cut the clay without cutting completely through the freezer wrap and/or gouging the cutting mat. Start with changing the Force up or down.
Cutting the Bowl
1. Condition each package of clay and roll out to about 1.3mm thick (#4 setting on most clay conditioning/pasta machines). Cut each sheet into a 5” square. Fig 6
2. Cut two 5.25” squares of Reynolds Freezer Paper. These will act as a carrier for the clay. Putting raw clay on the cutting mat will make a huge mess. DON’T do it. Attach the freezer paper – wax side up – and then place the clay on the freezer paper. If your mat is losing its ‘sticky’ you can use painter’s tape to tape down the edges. Use your hands to smooth out any air bubbles and adhere the clay to the mat. Cover the clay with a piece of Patty Wax or parchment paper and roll from the center out with the rubber brayer to get rid of any air bubbles. If the blade catches an air bubble it can pull up from the freezer paper, stick to the blade and ruin the cut. Fig 7 Make sure that your clay is placed on the same part of the grid as it is on your Design page. Since I originally wrote this tutorial I have found a better option for a carrier for clay on the Curio. Craft Chameleon makes a plastic template material that has the holes for the Curio base already cut for you. It is a frosted plastic so you can place it over the cutting mat and still be able to see the grid. I set up the cutting base with 2 of the #2 platforms, a Craft Chameleon plastic template, the cutting mat, and finally, another Craft Chameleon plastic template. These templates are very inexpensive and I usually buy 5 – 10 at a time so that if I ruin one by cutting too deep I will always have another one handy. The clay adheres very nicely and also releases pretty easily. Just make sure you don’t have any air bubbles between the clay and the mat. I usually place a piece of scrap cardstock on top of the clay and use a roller to help adhere. But check again by running your hand over the clay surface after you remove the card stock.
3. Place the cutting base into the Curio. Place the Ratchet Blade into the left side holder (red circle) and the Fine Embossing Tool or Chomas Engraving Tool into the right side holder (blue circle).
4. Double check the settings and send to the Curio to do it’s thing.
5. Remove the excess clay and then place the clear plastic wrap over the top of the clay. Smooth it tight and then carefully pull up each corner of the freezer paper from the mat until the entire sheet is removed from the mat using the clay blade to help if necessary. Once it is removed from the mat you can pull the freezer paper off of the back of the clay. The plastic wrap will keep it from stretching and help you layer the pieces later. Fig 8
6. Now we will cut the base layer of the bowl. Go back to the Design tab in the software. Remove the top layer off of the mat and bring over the base layer that you put aside earlier. Open up the Send tab and double check the settings. Fig 9
7. Secure the other color of clay to the mat as instructed above. Then send the file to cut. Remove the clay and freezer paper from the cutting mat. Remove the freezer paper from the clay and place the clay on a square of patty paper or parchment paper.
8. Retrieve the engraved layer with the plastic wrap attached. You are going to hold on to the plastic wrap to position the clay over the base layer. The design is not perfectly symmetrical so you will need to turn the bottom layer around to find the “sweet spot” where everything lines up. Fig 10
9. Press the two layers together to attach them and remove air bubbles.
Curing the Bowl
1. Preheat your oven to 280 degrees. Always use an oven thermometer to test the heat. Let it run for at least 30 mins. before you put your piece in.
2. Choose your shaping form and place the “bowl-to-be” onto the form centering it as best as possible. Gently press down the edges of the clay to the form. Take your time going around the bowl adjusting and gently nudging the clay into place. Fig 11-13
3. Once it is secured you can use something to texture the outside layer to get rid of fingerprints and other boo-boos. I’m using a piece of air conditioning filter. Fig 14
4. If you are using your kitchen oven you will want to place your piece inside a covered vessel. Check Goodwill or garage sales for a cheap covered roaster that you can dedicate to your clay baking. You can also use disposable aluminum pans that you clip together with a binder clip. If you are using a light bulb as your form then you can use polyester fiberfill or paper towels to prop the form so that it doesn’t roll around.
Fig 15 & 16
5. Bake for 40 mins.
6. Allow the piece to cool and then gently pop it off the form. Usually, all it takes is a fingernail slipped between the form and the bowl.
Finishing the Bowl
Sanding the bowl
Now we need to finish up the bowl by sanding and then accenting the engraving lines. Souffle clay has a nice sueded finish to it. It’s not a clay that you want to sand to get a shiny, high gloss finish. However, you can get some ‘shiny’ spots on the clay from the form that you use to shape it, especially if you used a light bulb or a glass object. We need to get rid of that and any rough edges from the blade. Sanding polymer clay is best done with wet/dry sandpaper. Sanding blocks and sticks for nails are good to use to clean up edges and when they wear down you can wrap sandpaper around them. Fig 17 When you are using wet/dry sandpaper you want it to be nice and flexible to get into grooves and curves. let the sandpaper soak in water for at least 5 minutes. Use 400 grit sandpaper to sand off any sharp edges, shiny spots on the inside of the bowl, and any clay crumbs in the engraving lines. Fig 18
An alternative to the wet/ dry sandpaper is 3M Radial Sanding Disks. I like these for the inside of the bowl and the engraving lines. However, if you use these dry then you want to make sure and use a dust mask. The blue disk is the closest to 400 grit sandpaper. Fig 19
Once the bowl is all sanded to your desired finish you may want to accentuate your engraving lines. In this example, I used an opaque gold alcohol ink by Viva Decor. However, it has been discontinued. There are many alternatives out there and you may already have something similar in your stash of supplies. I also like Golden’s High Flow Acrylics for antiquing. But you can use acrylic paint or another antiquing medium. I like to use a very fine line paint brush and/or a very small metal ball stylus to keep as much medium in the lines and not on the surface of the bowl. Once you get all the lines accentuated you can go back and clean up any stray spots with a Q-tip dipped in alcohol. I like these pointed tip cotton swabs. They let you be a little bit more accurate at removing the stray marks. Fig 20
Antiquing Your Bowl Video
Once the medium is totally dry I I go back in with either 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper or the pink 3M Radial Disks and sand off any excess medium that still remains. Then I apply some ArmorAll Protectant Spray to the bowl and let it sit overnight. The ArmorAll has a similar chemical composition to the polymer clay and it will soak into the clay to give it a soft sheen. The next day I wipe off the excess and buff with a dry cotton cloth.
I have a Facebook Group for polymer clay and the Silhouette machines called PC SILie Lovers. There is a Files section that contains lots of info about settings and other tips. Members share their accomplishments and questions.
I have classes available on Craftcast.com. Although she works in different mediums, Cindy Pope’s classes on Craftcast are very helpful in learning the Studio software.
For guidance on using the Cameo, Curio, and the Studio software I usually go to the Silhouette School Blog. Melissa is a real pro and you can usually find that she has already answered your question on her blog. There is also a Cutwork Bowl Tutorial that I did for the blog last year.
I hope you enjoy this project. I’d love to see your bowls on the PC SILie Lovers Facebook Group. If you have any questions, please reach out to me in the comments or at email@example.com.
Polymer clay is a man-made clay that uses PVC as its base. What makes Polymer clay so wonderful to me is the infinite ways that it can be used. It can be molded, sculpted, and extruded. The surface can be stamped, textured, embellished with powders, paints, or metallic leafs. Once baked it can be carved, sawn, cut, drilled, glued, painted, sanded, and buffed. It is compatible with – and often bonds to – objects and other materials that can withstand the low baking temperature required to cure the clay. It is available in a wide variety of colors that are mixable to produce an infinite palette. It can be made to imitate other materials, such as leather, gemstones, glass, stone, or wood. Perhaps the most amazing property of PC is its ability to stretch, reduce, and retain the color and proportion of assembled shapes – called “canes”.
There are many brands out there to work with. I’ve used them all over the years but prefer Premo and Souffle which are both made by Polyform Products. I particularly like Souffle when working with the cutters. It is durable and has a suede like feeling that seems to give a slightly cleaner cut. I have also done testing with Cernit, Fimo
Professional, and Kato Polyclay. They are all excellent products and if you are already experienced with a particular brand it will work fine with the cutters. No need to go out and buy more clay. I would not suggest Sculpey III or non-branded clays from the Big Box stores. They are made for kids and the quality of the finished products is not very good.
You needn’t spend a fortune to get started with polymer clay. Tools can be stolen from your kitchen, someone’s workshop, and picked up at garage sales (a great place to find the manual pasta machines). Tools used with polymer clay should NEVER come in contact with food again.
The Must Haves:
Work Surface – a large, smooth ceramic tile or smooth glass cutting board is best. Do not work on, or store, raw polymer clay on unprotected wooden furniture. The chemicals in polymer clay can dissolve the finish. Paper is not enough protection between your clay and wood furniture. The plasticizers will leach through the paper very quickly.
Cutting Tools – an Exacto knife, or scalpel, plus a polymer clay blade. This is a very thin long blade and is particularly helpful when working with clay and the cutters. In a pinch you can use
a scraper blade that is made for scraping wall paper from walls and can be found at most hardware and home improvement stores.
Conditioning and Sheeting Clay – Polymer clay needs to be ‘conditioned’ before you work with it. You can use your hands by squeezing and twisting the clay to soften it and redistribute the plasticizers that have settled in the package. You can also use a lucite, plastic, or metal rolling pin. However, the best way to condition the use a manual pasta machine or a made-for-polymer clay conditioning machine. Soften and flatten the clay before putting it though the machine at the thickest setting so you don’t strip the gears. Continue by folding and rolling the clay through the various settings until the clay is soft, supple, and has a slight sheen. When cutting the clay with a cutting machine it is very important to have a consistently even sheet of clay and to know the thickness of that sheet. The best way to measure the thickness is with a conditioning machine.
Curing the Clay
One of the great things about polymer clay is that it cures in a normal oven and does not require a kiln. It is VERY important that you follow package directions about baking temperatures. You MUST use an oven thermometer to test the actual temperature of the oven you’re using. Polymer Clay will BURN above 325 degrees and can emit noxious fumes. I suggest that you calibrate your in the following way:
Set the oven at the temperature recommended on the package.
Place the oven thermometer in the oven.
Check the thermometer every 10 minutes and note the temperature. All ovens spike but in different degrees. You want to make sure that the oven does not reach more than 325 degrees, or less than the package’s directions, for any significant length of time.
The length of baking depends on the thickness of the clay. Minimum time for complete curing is 20 minutes. Polymer can be baked for longer periods as long as the temperature does not change significantly. It can also withstand multiple bakings. I bake pretty much everything for 40 – 50 mins.
If you use your kitchen oven you should bake your clay inside of a baking bag, a covered casserole, or two aluminum foil baking pans clamped together which are only used for baking clay.
NEVER use a microwave to warm or bake. Small toaster ovens are not a good choice because the temperature spikes too much. A tabletop convection oven/toaster is ideal.
Polymer clay should be stored in a cool place away from heat and sunlight. Storing near a window that gets a lot of sun is a no-no. Also, don’t leave it sitting in the car in warm weather as it starts to cure when exposed to 90 degrees for a period of time. Polymer clay reacts with most clear plastics but stores well in frosted plastic like Plano fishing tackle organizers and rolling plastic drawers found at office supply and discount stores. It can also be stored in ziplock plastic bags and clear plastic wrap.
More Curing tips:
Parchment paper or card stock should be used to line metal or glass baking surfaces because both surfaces can cause shiny spots where the clay comes in contacts
There are several ways to support rounded surfaces (beads, pens, sculptures) from developing flat spots while baking:
Place on a thick layer of cornstarch in an oven safe container
Create a bed of polyester fiberfill to rest objects on
Fold a piece of card stock into accordion pleats and place beads in the pleats to limit flat spots.
Support with crumpled aluminum foil covered with paper towel or fiberfill.
I’ve only scratched the surface about working with polymer clay. The following links and books will help you find you way with issues I haven’t touched on here.
POLYMER CLAY RESOURCES
Craftcast – www.craftcast.com – Allison Lee’s great site for live webinars, podcasts, and video tutorials
The Blue Bottle Tree – www.TheBlueBottleTree.com – Ginger Davis Allman has compiled a super site that includes tutorials, comparisons of products, and general information.
Polymer Clay Tutor – www.beadsandbeading.com – Cindy Lietz runs this blog site and there is a lot of good information for beginners there.
CraftEdu – www.craftedu.com – is a project from Donna Kato that offers online classes in lots of mediums, but especially in polymer clay. Also includes a lot of free tutorials.
Polymer Clay Express – www.polymerclayexpress.com – They carry any and everything that relates to polymer clay. Great to deal with and their prices are very good, although freight can be high on clay.
There are a ton of books that focus on all types of polymer clay techniques and projects. And new ones come out almost every month. If you can only buy one book each of these cover a lot of information.
So, almost everybody knows that Adult Coloring is quite a thing. Folks have coloring parties. It was/is so popular that Prismacolors had a horrible time keeping stores and websites supplied. I waited 6 months for a few specific colors last year. People fill up Craftsman tool carriers with all of their pens, pencils, crayons, and markers.
I LOVE coloring. I do it at night while watching TV. Sometimes I get so lost in coloring that I look up and it is 2am. I have 2 YHUUUGE notebooks full of finished pages. I created a form to keep track of my pens, pencils, and markers by color family so I can easily pick which color I need.
I use coloring to try out color schemes that I might use in my polymer designs. I see design elements that may show up later in a cane design. I try and justify it as a important part of my art/business. But in reality, I just like coloring. Always have. But what to do with all of these finished pages? One day in a future studio they might be framed and grace the walls. But I don’t have wall space now. And so they sit in page protectors.
Then I had a great idea! Why not make transfers of the images and create some jewelry pieces. Well, it turned into a class for Craftcast.com that was so much fun to develop. The ideas just kept coming.
The class is Creating Polymer Jewelry from your Colored Artwork. It takes you step by step to create transfers from anything that can be printed on a sheet of paper. The BIG secret??? Avery Fabric transfer paper for ink jet printers and Fimo Gel. I’ve tried all the other alternatives and this is what works best for me. You can also do a direct to clay transfer with Avery transfer paper as I did with the green bowl shown above. You just have to remember that they are ‘see through’. So anything that is white in your images will show the color of the clay underneath. And the clay color will affect the colors in the transfer.
I also experimented with some shrink plastic and resin to make jewelry. I had never really played with ‘shrinky dinks’. But I had always been mesmerized when ever I saw the magic that happens when you put a flat piece of film into the oven. However, it always looked ‘cheap’ to me. Once I coated the pieces with doming resin my mind was changed. I used the new white and clear shrink plastic from Silhouette Shrink Plastic and the Grafix Injet Shrink Film. These are some more of my coloring pages that I used. I think that I will be playing with this a bit more in the near future. Watch this space….
I make and sell an awful lot of hop inspired jewelry and beer related accessories. Hops are what make beer taste like beer. My DH is a home brewer and we are entrenched in the craft beer scene in Vermont and Asheville, NC. What started as a lark to wear at beer festivals has become a serious piece of my business. So much so that I couldn’t keep up with the demand just using aspic cutters to make the beads.
My DH said that there had to be another way. And he was right…..as always. I started with the Cricut Cake Cutter. It was meant to cut fondant and that’s about the same consistency of raw polymer clay. And it worked for awhile. I switched to a MAC and they decided not to support that OS. I was able to cobble along with a half broken PC laptop while desperately looking for another option.
We searched around and found a professional cutter – the Silver Bullet – that looked like it could handle the raw clay. And it does. It’s BIG and powerful and able to cut, etch, carve, and all kinds of wonderful things on all kinds of media. It was a huge investment.But something that we needed to do.
About the same time Alison Lee at Craftcast.com found out I was cutting raw polymer on a digital cutter. She asked if I could do a class using the Silhouette Cameo with polymer. She already had several classes using the Cameo to make projects from paper and metal clay. Her base had the machine and she wanted to give them something else to do with it. I wasn’t sure if I could get it to work with polymer. I googled and didn’t find a lot going on with polymer. There were just a few instances and in all cases the clay had to be very, very, very thin.
I had a friend come over who was using the Cameo with metal clay. We tried everything. We could get it to cut, but it left ‘smoosh’ marks all over the clay. The only way it would work was if the clay was really, really thin. I didn’t think that would be every useful. Then the DH poked his nose into the studio to see how it was going. Hair was being pulled out at this point and there was a lot of swearing. We recapped the problems and he looked it over. Then he very casually said -“why don’t you take the cap off the blade?” Yet again…. he was right. That was the secret.
It was the cap that was causing the ‘smooshing’.
With that gone we were now able to cut thicker pieces of clay that were more usable. But the Cameo still had a limit to the thickness it could cut. Mostly because of the layout of the machine that was meant to cut paper, card stock, and vinyl.
I was able to create a version of my Fantasy Flower Garden necklaces for the class. (The image at the top of the page is a bridal version of that collection). I even used the Silhouette Studio Software to design the flower shapes, colors, and layout of the piece.
I continued to experiment with the Cameo to create other projects. I made some ornaments and some what-not bowls.
About a year later Silhouette announced a new machine – the Curio. It was built to handle a variety of media in different thicknesses. It has adjustable platforms and a dual tool holder. By now I was on Silhouette’s radar and was able to score a machine early on for testing with clay. It worked great. I could cut much thicker clay and could even use special tools to carve the raw clay.
My next class on Craftcast took advantage of those properties. I taught my recipes for faux gemstones and ivory. Then we created a box using the faux ivory and the Curio to cut out spaces to inlay the faux gemstones and carve designs on the lid and sides of the box.
Last year I connected with Terri Johnson who organizes the All Things Silhouetteconferences. I did presentations at two of the conferences last year and will be participating this year. The conferences are held outside Atlanta, GA – June 10-11 and November 4-5. Terri puts on an A+++ event. Lots of great people sharing lots of tips and techniques. Since I never got these machines to use them for the purposes they were intended I learn quite a lot at these events. lol
I host a PC SILie Loversgroup on Facebook. The ‘files’ section has lots of documents that cover the settings I use to cut different thicknesses of clay. There is a lot of useful information there. But the best way to learn the tips and tricks is by taking the Craftcast classes.
The hardest thing I have to do as an artist is coming up with new designs and color ways. I use my Pinterest page to tag all kinds of beautiful things that I see during my hours of surfing the web. A week or so ago someone posted a picture on Facebook of the painted rocks that artist Elspeth McLean creates. She is an Australian artist who is currently living in Canada. The vivid colors and dot designs really spoke to me. I tagged the post knowing that someday that image would be helpful. But it stayed in my mind for days. I went to her website and just sat back and took in the colors and designs. I knew that I just had to do something with what I was seeing.
I picked one image that I really liked a lot. I blended colors to replicate the vividness of her painting. I love blending colors. Figuring out recipes is fun for me. I seem to have a knack for figuring out what colors are needed to create a certain shade. I don’t have any art training but I did work for a catalog company as a merchandiser in my previous life. I had to check the first print runs to make sure colors were true to the actual product. I learned a lot about correcting colors from the people who were in charge of making the necessary changes. I think that has been a great help for me as an artist. But I digress…
…I mixed up all the colors and used my PCE extruder to spit out the snakes of color to be wrapped by black or other colors. (More on that part in a later post.) I had a lot of the chosen colors left over and decided to play with some extruded canes. Some call them Klimt or Retro canes. Almost every clayer does these at some point in their journey with polymer. They are so easy to do and can create canes that look very complex. The key is to make sure there is good contrast in the colors that you select. I wanted to test how arranging the colors in different combinations would effect the outcome.
For the first test I arranged the colors in a rainbow with the pink in the middle. Each color family is separated with black and white layers for heavy contrast. And that’s what I got. Good separation of colors with a nice mix of black and white .
For test number two I doubled up the colors and separated them with black and white again. I thought this line up would give me more tone on tone circles…but it didn’t. Still, I like the result but has a bit more green than I had hoped for.
For test numero tres I decided to get rid of the black and white to see if I could get the tone on tone look of the painted rock. And I did get some of that, but not as much as I hoped. However, that’s OK with me. I like how it looks anyway.
Next challenge is to decide what to make with them…..
Like so many of you, I LOVE the look of sanded polymer clay pieces. But, also like pretty much everybody – I HATE sanding polymer. It’s messy, it hurts – especially when you sand your fingertips…yes, I have – and it’s boring. AND….if like me….you have issues with chronic pain it is very painful to do the amount of sanding needed for production work. Over the years I have tried several techniques to get the look I want without putting myself into a heightened state of pain.
Many years ago I stumbled across Desiree McCory’s site that described how to use a rotary tumbler and sandpaper to sand beads. I used her techniques for several years but found the process very labor intensive. There HAD to be a better way. I think I have finally found that better way.
I use a rotary tumbler with plastic media cones from Rio Grande followed by rotary buffing using jean scraps. The media that I been using is the “Standard Plastic Pyramid Media” in Blue, Medium and Green, Fine Cut along with the “Standard Plastic Cone Media, Extra Fine Cut”. I find that this process makes sanding beads a breeze. If I want a bit more gloss to the bead I ‘paint’ on Armor-All Car Finish. I really like the finish I get and it is easy-peasy and pain-free.
I have cheapo tumblers from Harbor Freight, but I’m sure that this process will also work with Lortone tumblers. The black rubber drums can stain/yellow polymer so they must be lined.
Tall yogurt/sour cream/ricotta containers work well. Liners may need to be cut down the sides to fit the tumbler container. Cut a circle out of the liner’s lid to fit on top. You don’t want any of the black rubber touching the clay. Load the tumbler starting with a handful of plastic media, then beads, then more media, more beads until it the contents are about an inch below the top of the container.
Fill with water leaving about half an inch free to allow for media and beads to move around the container.
You can start with either the blue or the green media depending on the smoothness of pieces.
I usually let the tumbler run for 12 – 24 hours on each media grit. I have not found that a longer time does any damage to the pieces. After the tumbler has been run pour the contents into a colander and rinse. Make sure to clean the liner and barrel between grits.
To buff by tumbler you need to cut up a pair of old jeans or purchase denim – some suggest using white denim – into 1 – 2 inch square pieces. Layer the jeans and the beads as before but you will be tumbling these dry. I allow this stage to run for between 12 – 18 hours. Again, it doesn’t hurt to run it longer and you can probably run it for as little as 8 hours.
I have seen some post recently that people are using polished rocks. I haven’t tried this yet and would be interested if anyone can share some before and after shots.
I’ll post some other alternatives to hand sanding in my next post.