Like you, I’ve heard the buzz about the Czextruder and couldn’t help but wonder. It’s pretty expensive. Is it worth the cost? Is it really better than an inexpensive extruder? About a year ago I visited Clayaround in the UK and had the pleasure of playing with one. I was able to see that it is very sturdy, works beautifully, and had the stamp of approval from my husband for having “excellent engineering and superior build quality”. That’s man talk for “it’s pretty” (she said as she petted it and knew it wasn’t in the budget). We do love our toys, don’t we?
Well I had to leave that one there. But Diane Bruce of VanIsland Jewels, the Lucy Tools Supplier in Canada, recently made my day when she sent me one of my very own to play with and review, promising to share my findings with you. So here’s what I’ve found out. I still think “it’s pretty” and I even agree with my husband about the build quality and the engineering. It’s a really neat extruder. I received the Czextruder XXL, an LC Vise, an LC Tile, and several disks. Here’s a bit more about what that means, exactly.
The Czextruder XXL
As you can see in the above picture, the Czextruder comes with a tube, endcap, a “plug” with O-rings, the plunger and screw rod assembly (with top cap), a crank handle, a drill adapter, a cleaning brush, and a small tin of lubricant. It also includes a little wrench that fits all the hex nuts.
The metal parts of the extruder itself are all zinc coated steel with smooth threads, no rough edges, and a substantial feel. They’re not fragile and I can’t imagine how you could break them with normal use. They will rust, though, so treat them with the same care you give all your tools. The instructions do recommend to use the lubricant sparingly on all threaded parts to keep them smooth-running.
To use the extruder, you insert the “plug” into the tube. The plug, for lack of a better name, is a little white hard piece of plastic that has two O-rings on it. This is what actually has contact with the clay inside the extruder. The “plunger” on the end of the screw rod doesn’t contact the clay, rather it pushes against the plug. In fact, it rotates on the plug, allowing the screw rod to turn with little resistance and the clay itself doesn’t end up turning inside the cylinder. After you push in the plug, you then add your clay to the cylinder. Then choose your disk and put it in the end cap. Now insert the plunger into the other end and screw down the cap. When you crank the handle, the excess air will be pushed out and the clay will start extruding.
The Czextruder comes with a special adapter that allows it to be used with a drill. You just remove the crank handle (it screws onto the end of the screw rod) and screw on the adapter instead. The adapter fits perfectly into the chuck of a drill (it doesn’t have to be cordless, but it’s sooo much nicer if it is). This means you can extrude with the power of the drill and save the wear and tear on your hands. I find that cranking the Czextruder isn’t so hard, but holding onto the smooth tube is. The tube rotates with the drill, but you have to hold it still to extrude. So that takes some strength. I found that wearing a glove with rubber grippers on it helped immensely. But a far better solution is to put the tube into a vise. You can use any vise (being careful to cushion and not crush the Czextruder), but the Lucy Tools people do sell a solution.
The LC Vise and LC Tile
I had trouble figuring this out at first because it seemed kind of silly. But soon I realized that the LC Vise allows you to attach the Czextruder for hands-free operation. You just attach the Czextruder to the LC Vice and clamp the LC Tile to the table. Then you can crank easily without having to hold the tube of the extruder. This is a really good when you are using a drill because the whole thing is stable and you can have one hand on the drill and the other to attend to the clay coming out of the extruder.
I find that this small LC Vise isn’t very stable for hand cranking. But I do see now that the most recent LC Vises are larger and have two attachment points to hold the Czextruder, which is really pretty necessary for the XXL version that I have.
Czextruder XL vs. Czextruder XXL?
The Czextruder XL is listed as being 12cm long (4.75″) and the Czextruder XXL is 20cm (just under 8″) long. The only difference between the Czextruder XL and the Czextruder XXL is the length of the tube. Otherwise they are identical.
The XXL’s actual tube is 7″ (18cm) long, though it measures 8″ (20cm) with the caps on. I don’t have a XL here to measure, but I’m expecting that it’s about 4″ (10cm) long, when you measure the actual length of the tube.
Because the plug and the plunger take up volume inside of the tube, you can’t fill the entire tube with clay. When fully extended for maximal volume, the Czextruder XXL gives 6″ (15cm) of usable capacity. I am going to therefore assume the Czextruder XL has 3″ (7.6cm) of usable capacity.
I don’t use the full capacity of the XXL extruder every time. But I do think that the XL isn’t quite long enough. I would most definitely go for the XXL. If you’re extruding things that you want to be one long piece, it’s really important that you have a large capacity extruder.
What is Czextruder HD?
*UPDATE* I have now received the Czextruder HD and the large LC Vise. You can see pictures and read my thoughts in that article here.
You might notice that the newest Czextruders are listed as being HD. No, they’re not high definition, rather this refers to being heavy duty. The newest models are being shipped with a redesigned thicker screw rod. Mine is not HD.
One of the reasons they made a design change is because of a small design flaw in the original Czextruder. Because the screw rod was all the same diameter, it was possible to extrude too far and jam the lock nut into the top of the cap. Because the cap is recessed, there was no way to get tools in there to loosen it back off. The new HD rod and cap eliminate this issue. If you have one of the old models, just make sure that you don’t crank it down too far and you’ll be fine.
Cleaning the Czextruder
After you extrude all the clay from the Czextruder, you just unscrew both end caps, flip the tube around (end to end) and put clay in the other end, reassemble, and keep going. Yes, you heard that right. You don’t necessarily need to clean the tube between each batch of clay. Especially if you’re working with a scrap clay technique, a little cross-contamination won’t hurt a thing.
But when you’re all done, or if you need your colors to be pristine, the Czextruder is very easy to clean. Just unscrew the caps on both end. The plunger end, since it never touched the clay, won’t need cleaning. The little plug with the O-rings will have some clay in it, but you can just wipe that off with a baby wipe (which works really well). The design disk cleans with a quick wipe as well. The only thing left to clean is the tube, which will have a very fine layer of clay on the walls of the tube. This, remarkably, is removed brilliantly with just a few strokes of the brush. But do hold it over a trash can while you do it, as little specks of clay will fly everywhere.
The LC Disks
The Czextruder doesn’t come with any disks (dies). But there are 8 design sets available. The LC Disks are stamped metal disks with small round cutouts in them. There are 8 dies per disk. Each disk comes in a little plastic case, just like a small CD. Each of the 8 dies must be removed from the disk before you can use it. Just rotate it around and around til it breaks free. There will be two little “nubs” on each side that need to be removed. Just use an old pair of nail clippers to nip them off.
One of the coolest things about these design disks is that some of them are designed to work with each other to form multiple parts. So in the red disk, you have a die shaped like a heart and you have a die shaped like what’s around a heart. Just extrude a heart and two “surrounds” to get a square heart cane.
Some people like to store their extruder disks (dies) on magnetic sheets. The LC Disks, while they are slightly magnetic, won’t hold very well to a magnetic sheet. I’m assuming it’s because of the paint on them. So you’ll have to find a new way to store them. For now, mine are in a ziploc bag. But I’m totally open to hearing your solutions, post them in comments so we can all learn!
Other Extruder Disks and Dies
The LC Disk dies are a standard 5/8″ diameter and therefore work beautifully in many other brands of extruder such as Makins and Walnut Hollow. And that also means that you can use other commercially available extruder dies with the Czextruder. If you’re upgrading from one of the other extruders to a Czextruder, rest assured that your disks aren’t going to sit idle. You’ll still be able to use them.
I was thrilled to find that yes, my Makins extruder dies work just fine in the Czextruder. And that means, of course, that the LC Disk dies will work in your Makins extruder too! Yes, if you’re dying to have the design disks but don’t want to splurge for the Czextruder, you can purchase the disks only.
There are more extruder dies on the market, too. Cynthia Tinapple has two sets of quite complex designs, one of which is brand new on the market. The designs are particularly unique and work well to create the complex ethnic style designs that Cynthia has been favoring lately.
Quilted in Clay
Jennifer Patterson has a line of jewelry based on quilt designs called Quilted in Clay. And she sells the extruder disks that create the specific angles and shapes that she uses in creating these quilt canes. You can find them in her Etsy shop as well as a tutorial explaining the process.
Hollow Core Extruder Dies
These deserve a separate post, but for now just know that you can extrude ANY shape with a hole in the middle of it. Yes, you can extrude polymer clay tubes. To do this, you need these core adapters by Makins. I took one look at these and wondered where they’ve been all my life. Seriously.
Who Makes the Czextruder?
The Czextruder is made in the Czech Republic by the Lucy Tools Company. A man named Jiri Strunc designed a line of very nice polymer clay tools to help his daughter Lucy Struncova with her polymer clay designs. The company is now distributing worldwide.
Where to Buy the Czextruder?
There seems to be a lot of confusion about where to buy the Lucy Tools. Luckily, the company is addressing this issue and you can now buy any of the Lucy Tools from their website at Lucy Clay Store.
But if you prefer to deal with a supplier directly, there are partners all over the world. Diane Bruce has been very approachable and available for those of us in North America. You can buy from her shop on Etsy, which is called Van Island Jewels. If you’re having difficulties finding a supplier in your area, feel free to contact one in another area and they’ll be happy to help. In the EU, check out Maria at Happy Things in the Netherlands.
Things I Learned using the Czextruder
- Get a 1/2″ wooden dowel that’s longer than your extruder tube. You’ll need this to push the “plug” to the right location inside the tube. If you leave too much air between the plug and the clay, this will be expelled during extruding and cause an interruption in the design. Your favorite 6 year old will giggle about intestinal gas analogies.
- Decide if you’re going to use the drill or crank before you load the extruder. Trying to switch the handle with the plunger inside the extruder isn’t going to work. Trust me. (Many swear words.)
- A Czextruder XXL will hold about 3/4 of a block of clay.
- You can use two extruder dies to get an even more specialized effect. Use one shape to partially block another one, allowing you to extrude part of a design.
- Use nail clippers to remove the little spurs on the sides of the dies.
- Having a vise of some sort to hold the extruder is really helpful because holding the tube to keep it from spinning during extruding is hard.
- You need a variable speed drill with a reverse feature to use the drill attachment. Don’t drill too fast and slow way down at the end so you don’t jam the lock nut into the cap.
- Baby wipes are great for cleaning clay from the extruder parts.
- The extruder is pretty useless without the little plug with O-rings, so make sure you keep it in a safe place. Replacements can be purchased, but who needs the hassle?
- Clean your O-rings and lube them before storing your extruder. Take care of them, they’ll last much longer. Also, remember to lube your screw rod.
- Documentation is a bit poor for the Lucy Tools products. I think the company is suffering from some growing pains and they are working on producing the manuals, videos, and documentation after they release the products. There are also outdated videos and a lot of dead links. They’re struggling with having to do everything in both Czech and English, so there are two sites for everything (which are not updated equally) and that gets really confusing. So if you have any unanswered questions, feel free to ask one of the suppliers who carry the products.
So…is it worth the extra cost to buy a Czextruder? Maybe. It depends on your needs. I’m a frugal kind of person normally, so I never want to spend unnecessary money. If you’ve never extruded before, or aren’t sure you’d use it for more than doing pixel canes, then perhaps spending a small amount on a Makins or Walnut Hollow extruder might be a wiser choice for you. The Czextruder is an expensive piece of equipment. But if you’re an extruder fan, and you’ve blown through the cheap ones like they’re toys, then you really shouldn’t hesitate. The Czextruder most certainly is worth the cost. But do spend the extra money and get the Czextruder XXL, though. The XL version holds even less clay than the Makins. So go for the big boy.
The construction is sound, the quality is excellent, the user experience is wonderful. I am thrilled with my new Czextruder, I really truly am. If you’re serious about clay, the design and artistic options that you gain by having a high quality extruder are totally worth it. Treat yourself and get a Czextruder XXL. You really will love it.
What Can you Make with an Extruder?
I only had time for a few things, and I’ll write another article about these techniques and creations more specifically. But for now here is some eye candy.
Disclaimer: Diane Bruce of Van Island Jewels graciously provided me with a Czextruder for review and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I hope you have have enjoyed reading my thoughts and impressions of this really great tool. Please know, however, that all my opinions (of which I have many) are my own. And I really like this thing. 🙂