I wrote recently about the joys of attending a polymer clay retreat where I was able to benefit from the sharing of great ideas with other clayers. There were lots of good ideas and fantastic inspiration from lots of people. Today’s post comes right out of that wonderful sharing. I learned about this idea from another clayer at the retreat, and now I’m sharing the idea with you. Here’s a wonderful little set of DIY mini cutters that you can make yourself.
Chris Crossland, aside from being a phenomenal artist and excellent teacher, is also a wonderfully generous human being. As we were all packing up, she gave me a small plastic bag full of small bits of tubing. I quickly realized it was a complete set of tiny cutters in graduated sizes, and in several shapes. Chris showed me how she had made a little customized box for her own set of cutters. Knowing a fantastic idea when I saw it, I quickly took a few pictures and asked her for more information on sourcing the tubes.
The Perfect Box
I initially only intended to share the pictures of Chris’s box with you. I didn’t intend to make a box of my own. But on a trip to Staples (an office supply store), my eyes landed on a pretty blue box that I knew instantly was the same kind and size that Chris has used for her mini cutter box. In that moment, a plan was hatched. I bought it and headed home.
The box is a nicely engineered little 0.3 liter size box with a locking lid from Really Useful Products, Ltd. And it’s blue. 🙂 Okay, okay, they come in other colors, too. And it’s a UK company that seems to have pretty much a world-wide distribution, so you will likely be able to source this box near you.
Chris told me that she used brass and aluminum tubing from a hobby store. I had thought of making a nesting tubing set, myself, so I did have a few tubes on hand. I bought them at Ace Hardware in my town. They’re from K&S Precision Metals. I have seen this brand’s display of hobby tubing in hobby stores many times over the years. Not all stores will have every size and shape, but you’ll likely find a decent assortment.
If you can’t find the tubes locally, you can always order them online. Many hobbies use these tubes, and they’re particularly useful in with model aircraft and small engine builders, so they’re readily available in most places. In fact, the teardrop-shaped cutters were created from a special kind of aluminum tubing that aircraft modelers use, called streamline tubing. You might need to order this online as it does seem to be fairly specialized.
Tubing tends to come in 12″ to 36″ lengths (30 cm to 1 meter), so you’ll likely want to make this a group project with several friends and share. You’ll only need pieces that are about 1 1/2″ (38 mm) long or so. Obviously, even a single length of tube will make many cutters.
Try to choose tubing with the thinnest walls possible. Some tubing comes with thick walls and these will not make as good cutters.
The best way to cut the tubing is to use a Dremel or other small rotary tool with a cutting disk. Don’t try to use metal cutters or a tube cutter because that will crush the tube and alter the shape. This might be a job for the “honey-do” list if you don’t do power tools yourself. But it’s not terribly difficult. I was able to cut some pieces myself…okay…I messed up the first few. But I did get the hang of it quite quickly. Use the Dremel to polish the ends of the tube, too. You don’t want to get sore fingers using them.
Most of these mini cutters were given to me by Chris. I did, however, have a couple of sizes of tubing that weren’t included in the ones she gave me, so I cut those and added them to the set.
Note that for the tiniest of the tubes, Chris included a pin, wire, or skewer to act as a pusher. This is because those tubes are so small you can’t use another tube to push the clay out.
UPDATE: You can find a mixed bag of cut-off pieces of tubes at Hobby Lobby (though I couldn’t find it at my store) or you can find them online. This super sized bag is from Amazon. You can also find small sets of these tubes, pre-cut, at Monkey Ann in the UK, and at Superfluity Shop on Etsy for US buyers. Also, I found these really neat little tiny cutter sets by an Etsy seller in Bulgaria named Little Funky Flames.
Make a Base for the Box
I made a little piece of card to fit exactly in the bottom of the box. I then used it as a guide to make a stack of clay roughly the right size. I made my stack 4 sheets thick, each rolled on the thickest setting of my pasta machine. I then made each hole using the next larger size cutter, leaving it in the hole during baking. I cut the entire stack to match the card before I baked the clay. (Full disclosure…I failed on my first try. It didn’t work using the same size cutter to make the hole. The fit was too tight. Use the bigger cutter to create the hole for the next size down.)
After baking, several of the holes needed a bit of fine-tuning with an X-acto knife and some carving chisels. Be very careful! This is where you get hurt!
I then traced all the cutters onto the card, labelled each one, and taped it to the top of the lid. And there you have it. A perfect little box for holding your very own set of DIY mini cutters. Many, many thanks to Chris for the mini cutter set, the idea, and the inspiration. Now…pay it forward and share your great ideas with the next person!
Don’t want to use a box? Here’s what Krithika Parthan did with hers. She just used a large heart-shaped cutter to create a block of clay that holds her tubes. A very fun variation, and it keeps them right there at the ready, easy to be used.