To condition, mix colors, and make sheets with polymer clay, it is immensely helpful to use a machine, such as a pasta machine. But commercial brand-name pasta machines can be expensive. Luckily, there are several brands of cheap pasta machine clones that are marketed to polymer clay artists and sold through craft stores. But are these cheap pasta machines for polymer clay any good? Are they a waste of money?
This is the second of a series of articles that I’ve written about the various pasta machines, clay conditioning machines, and clay roller machines that polymer clayers use. You can find those articles here:
- Pasta Machine Problems
- Cheap Pasta Machines (this article)
- Atlas and the Modified Atlas
- The Dream Machine
- LC Machine
- Summary – What’s the Best Pasta Machine for Polymer Clay?
About My Observations
I am just one person, and I’ve only worked with one unit of each of these brands. If quality control is inconsistent for a given brand, there will be great variability in the quality of one machine to the next. In that case, my results would surely contrast with what other individuals have experienced. I will do my best to share anecdotal evidence that I’ve gleaned from readers, in addition to what I have seen myself. But in the end, I can only report what I see and experience. I do know that for every person who loves a given product, another will hate it. This is true for everything! So keep this in mind as you read my pasta machine reviews over the coming weeks.
Cheap Pasta Machines
I’ll refer to these as cheap pasta machines because most of us do refer to them as pasta machines. However, these specific machines are not marketed as such. Today I am discussing the Sculpey Clay Conditioning Machine, the Amaco Craft Clay Machine, and the Makin’s Professional Ultimate Clay Machine. These machines are all typically available at craft stores and wherever polymer clay supplies are sold.
Other Cheap Pasta Machines
As with most useful products, there are a ton of cheap imitation pasta machines available on discount websites. Imported from China and made very cheaply, these pasta machines can be bought for very low prices with questionable quality. The number of these inexpensive generic machines is staggering, and reviewing them would be impractical if not impossible.
What They All Have in Common
All of these cheap pasta machines, both the no-name ones from China and these branded craft clay machines, have certain characteristics in common. All have parallel rollers that are adjusted with a knob on the left side of the machine. As you turn the dial, the rollers get closer together, allowing you to roll thinner sheets of pasta or polymer clay. They all turn with a crank handle that fits into a hole on the right side of the machine. And they all have a clamp that fits into another hole on the right side, near the bottom. This clamp is designed to allow you to clamp the pasta machine onto the edge of your work table. These types of machines do need to be clamped to a sturdy table for use. None of the machines in this class have removable blades, so they all suffer from “pasta machine poop”.
All of these machines have a slot behind the rollers, one on each side, that allows you to attach dough cutters (purchased separately). These are used to cut fettuccine from sheets of pasta. We don’t typically use these cutters with polymer clay, however. These slots can also be used to hold a flat metal sheet, called a sheet feeder, that allows you to easily feed sheets of clay into the machine. All these machines do have variation in the gap (sheet thickness) from the left to the right side of the rollers, at all settings, but none were more than a few thousandths of an inch.
Sculpey Clay Conditioning Machine
The Sculpey Clay Conditioning Machine is a pasta machine clone made in China and distributed by Polyform, the maker of the line of Sculpey clays. Its stainless steel rollers are about 5 1/2″ (140mm) wide. The supplied clamp can attach to tables up to 1 7/8″ (47mm) thick. The clearance under the Sculpey Clay Machine’s rollers is 2 1/4″ (57mm), which means your hands do hit the bottom of the machine as you grab the emerging sheet. The Sculpey machine’s blades are made from metal with a plastic edge and are not removable for cleaning.
The adjustment knob’s settings go from #1 to #9, with #1 being the thickest at 0.077″ (1.96mm) and #9 being the thinnest at 0.013″ (0.330mm). The knob’s numbers are pressed into the metal, quite faintly, and are hard to read. There is a faint indicator mark on the machine’s body that helps you know which setting you have selected. However, on my machine it is off by one, and the #1 setting is actually in the clear space before the numbers begin. The crank handle does fall out of the side of the machine with use, but I will say that it’s better than other brands. The socket, or hole, is deeper than other brands. The side of the machine only has a hole for a handle; there are no holes into which you can install a motor.
I found the overall build quality of this machine to be fairly poor (but not the poorest). The edges are sharp, and I was continually catching clay on the top edge of the fender as I fed clay into the machine. There is a distinct grating sound as you turn the handle.
In the beginning, this machine performed well. I was actually quite impressed! Clay rolled through smoothly and I didn’t have any trouble making thin sheets, even with #9, which is the thinnest setting. But somehow things have changed. Now when I run a sheet of clay through the machine at any setting thinner than #4, the sheet chatters badly. These fine accordion folds make it impossible to use this machine effectively. I have examined the blades and mechanism, and I can’t see what’s wrong with it.
I had high hopes for this machine to be a good inexpensive option for the occasional clayer or newbie. It’s cheap enough that you can replace it easily if it breaks. But the fact that I can’t get a flat sheet anymore after a mere month of use is a deal breaker for me. Maybe I got a bad machine and this is not typical, I don’t know. It would get you by in a pinch, but I’m wary this could be an indication of a more widespread problem.
Amaco Craft Clay Machine
This cheap pasta machine clone was made in China and is distributed by Amaco. The Amaco Craft Clay Machine has steel rollers that are 5 1/2″ (140mm) across. The clamp, which has sharp plastic edges, can only fit on tables 1 5/8″ (41mm) or less. I couldn’t fit it on my countertop work surface and had to use a clamp instead. The clearance under the rollers was only 2 1/8″ (54mm), which did feel quite close. The Amaco machine’s blades are made from a galvanized steel, quite cheap in appearance, and are clipped into place with spring-action wires. The blades sit tightly against the rollers and create a terrible grating sound when you turn the handle. The underside of the machine had metal dust particles where either the blade or roller is wearing down.
The adjustment knob is reverse from most brands of pasta machine. The settings go from #1 to #9, with #1 being the thinnest at 0.038″ (0.965mm) and #9 being the thickest at 0.101″ (2.57mm). The numbers on the knob are pressed into the metal and have no coloring or paint to make them more visible. There is no indicator on the machine, so it’s really pretty impossible to be sure what setting you have it on. You could make your own mark with a Sharpie, however. The handle fit very loosely into the socket and fell out constantly. You cannot use a motor.
The build quality of this clay machine is very poor. All the metal is sharp and it just plain feels cheap. The rough blades scrape the face of the sheet of clay at all settings, leaving drag marks. But I do have to say that it did make good sheets for me. I get no chattering with this machine and even the thinnest setting gives a flat sheet. However, note that the thinnest setting on this machine isn’t really all that thin. The thinnest sheet on the Amaco is three times the thickness of the thinnest sheet on the Sculpey machine.
Readers report that this machine is sometimes broken when they buy it. I have a feeling that craft stores will just re-shelve broken machines when they are returned, and that means the stock in a store might be full of used, broken machines. Based on the poor quality, I expect this machine would not be terribly durable. But the one that I have, which not terribly pleasant to use, does work fairly well for most things.
Although the Sculpey machine is a nicer machine, the Amaco performed better for me. If you use a coupon to get this at 40-50% off, or if you’re in a claying emergency and you need to buy a pasta machine immediately, I can see where this machine might have a good place. Do inspect inside the box first, and make sure it’s not a used machine. This might also be good if you need to have several machines for students to use. But I can’t see where this would be a wise investment for creating a quality claying tool kit. The Makin’s (below) is exponentially better for not a whole lot more money.
Makin’s Professional Ultimate Clay Machine
Just as with the other two craft store pasta machine options, the Makin’s Professional Ultimate Clay Machine is also made in China. But this one isn’t identical to the no-name imports. The Makin’s Clay Machine has teflon-coated non-stick rollers that are 6 7/8″ (175mm) wide. The clamp and handle have lovely green plastic on them (not that icky yellow). The clamp fits a 1 3/4″ (44.5mm) table. The handle does occasionally fall out with use. The clearance under the rollers is 2 3/8″ (60mm). I was surprised to find that the blades are metal reinforced black plastic, which makes sense as metal would scratch the roller coating. The blades cannot be removed for cleaning.
The adjustment knob’s numbers are a bit hard to read, but legible, and are pressed into the metal. Unlike the others I’m reviewing today, the Makin’s machine does have an indicator so you can easily see what your thickness setting is. The settings go from #1 to #9. The thickest setting, #1, is at 0.1″ (2.5mm) and the thinnest, #9, is at 0.021 (0.53mm).
The Makin’s machine does have extra holes to attach a motor. The motor, available separately, has a green housing and is substantially less noisy than the Marcato Pasta Drive (the motor for the Atlas machine). The Pasta Drive motor does not fit onto the Makin’s machine, however.
The build quality of the Makin’s Clay Machine is not like that of the cheap pasta machines. It isn’t quite as nice as an Atlas, but it doesn’t have sharp edges and a cheap feel. It easily handled clay of all types on all thicknesses. I saw no substantial rippling, no chattering, streaking, scratching, or black streaks. There was clay debris (the infamous “pasta machine poop”), but that is true for any machine where you cannot remove the blades for cleaning. This machine, however, had a terrible squeak – no, more like a screech – that would wake the dead and even my teenager on chore day. I did not take the machine apart to see if it could be oiled. It functions beautifully, but that screech is awful.
This is a solid, all around, good option that is a step above the cheap pasta machines and polymer clay machines on the market. I love that the non-stick rollers don’t attract clay and the sheets are ripple-free. This can often be purchased with a coupon (that’s how I got mine), so your investment isn’t huge. I don’t know if the screech is a deal-breaker because it might be just this machine. Does anyone else have an issue with it? In short, I like this machine, and I think it would be your best bet of these three.
Next I’ll review the Atlas pasta machines, talk about the difference between the 150 and the 180, and how the Wellness differs from earlier models. I’ll talk about the modified Atlas and discuss its merits.
Credits: Thanks to Polyform for supplying the Sculpey Clay Conditioning Machine for this review.