My Top Ten Favorite Polymer Clay Tools
(in no particular order)
- Pasta Machine-- Not exactly original, but true. Before I had one, I wasn't sure I really wanted one, but it's a wonderful time-saver. (Now I'm even daydreaming about getting another one so that I can reserve one for translucent clay and avoid having to clean a machine every time I want to use translucent clay.) Making uniform sheets of clay (in a variety of thicknesses) is so easy with one of these things!
- Needle Tool-- You really have no choice; if you're going to make beads, you need a needle tool of some kind, be it store-bought or just a regular sewing needle baked into some scrap clay. Needle tools aren't restricted to making stringing holes, either. I use mine for stippling texture into clay, drawing lines in the clay, and so on.
- Darning Needle-- At least I think that's what it's called... Back when I was "setting up house", I bought some cheap packs of needles. Some of them were odd shapes that I've never found much use for-- but one of them was a nice, fat, fairly blunt needle that I've found plenty of uses for-- with polymer clay. It's great for making larger bead holes, smoothing seams (sometimes), and more.
- Craft Knives and Tissue Blades-- I'm cheating a bit by lumping these two together, but they perform very similar duties. However, I do suggest getting them both, if you haven't already. The tissue blade, while essential to cutting thin slices (as in mokume gane) and very useful for making long, straight cuts, is a bit unwieldy in certain other circumstances. For cutting off small bits of clay and other more delicate tasks, I constantly reach for my craft knife. I've also found the "end" of my craft knife (the end without the blade in it) to be very useful for smoothing seams and blending away marks in the clay.
- Shape Cutters-- I get the impression that some people think that using shape cutters is a sin. (g) Or at least that anyone who uses a shape cutter must have limited artistic skill. These days, if something is referred to as "cookie-cutter"-- cookie-cutter houses, for instance-- it's *not* a "good thing". Well, I for one will admit to a fondness for shape cutters. They're not perfect for everything-- and we shouldn't let them limit us ("I can't make an octagon! I don't have a cutter in that shape!"-- but they're very useful, and sometimes they cut down on the "busy work" side of working with clay. Personally, I love them and will be happy to expand my collection. ;o)
- Ball Stylus-- This tool, I'll admit, has a somewhat limited range of uses, but I've found several already, and will probably come across more in the future. I use a ball stylus to adhere small balls of clay in an "appliqué" technique. (See the marble picture pendant tutorial here for a visual aid.) You can use them any time you need to make a void or indentation-- as when making faux stone (Faux Lava Rock Tutorial) or when making mokume gane. I use them sometimes to add texture to the clay. Stipple them over the clay randomly or place them in a pattern for a "polka-dot" effect. You can also use them to apply nice dots of paint.
- Ceramic Tiles-- I don't know if many people count a tile as a tool, but I do. I have built up a small collection of tiles-- multiple large ones that I leave on my clay table for a safe work surface (because I can't help myself-- I always have several projects out "in progress"), one lovely medium-sized one that just happens to fit perfectly in my toaster oven (and which I leave there most of the time, to help regulate the temperature), and most recently a few small tiles that I think will be useful for working on and popping directly int the oven. (Very) lightly textured tiles may be best for working on, as they make it a bit easier to lift the clay when it's time to move it. Completely smooth ones are useful for baking on when you want a glassy finish on the bottom of your work (as with Donna Kato's faux opal technique).
- Drinking Straws-- Save them when you get fast food, because different restaurants use different sizes of straws. Cut them into shorter lengths, because this makes it easier to remove clay that gets stuck in them. (It also gives you 4 or more cutters per straw.) I use them for making "little bites" in my mini foods. I also like them for punching out holes in pendants. Obviously, they can also be used for cutting tiny circles. If you find one straw that is just slightly smaller in diameter than another, you can put one inside the other and use it as a "plunger" to help push the clay out of the straw. (I can't remember where I read that, or I'd give credit... I just tried it recently. It works, but it does leave a slight circular mark where the "plunger-straw" touches the clay-- or at least it did for me, but it's September in Alabama, and I use soft Premo clay, so it may be less of a problem for others or in a cooler time of the year.)
- Texture Sheets-- Again, this is something I wasn't even sure I wanted, at first, but I've had a lot of fun with them. I like the Shade-Tex sheets and similar products, because they're so affordable-- much cheaper than buying large rubber stamps. They have the added advantage that you can feed them through the pasta machine with the clay to be textured. Personally, I haven't done that, preferring instead to just roll over the sheet with a brayer or press it down by hand, but maybe I'll give it a try sometime. (And when I do, I'll probably wonder why I haven't been doing it all along... (g))
- Found Texture Tools-- This one really deserves a "Top Ten" all of its own, so for now, I'll just list one-- an old toothbrush. I'd been saving all our old toothbrushes for a few years because I knew that they had uses in cleaning around the house. (They're great for getting in all those little nooks and crannies that a larger scrub brush can't reach. I also keep one in the laundry room for working stain removers into fabrics.) Now, I have a few in the clay room. You can get quite a few different looks from one toothbrush, just by varying the degree of pressure you apply, how many "passes" you make over area, whether you stipple or brush, and so on. And best of all, it's absolutely free. You can't beat that! ;o)