When people are new to working with polymer clay, they always want to know what tools they need to buy. Every list always starts with a pasta machine, and yes, they are nice. But I think people are always surprised to know that some of the best ideas are free polymer clay tools that you can find around the house.
You’ve probably seen lists with things like cheese graters for texture, screwdrivers, cookie cutters, a credit card, or even toothpicks and skewers. I had a look around my studio to see what I’m using, and my list is a little bit different. Here are some things you might not have thought to use.
This isn’t a complete list, of course. You’re going to need a blade and a work surface (try a ceramic tile), and some pans to bake your clay in. And an oven. But here is a list of 10 free or very cheap polymer clay tools you already have around your house. Have a look at these and then tell me about your favorites in comments.
You can recycle empty spray bottles for use in the studio. I like to use purse or travel sized hair spray bottles because they are easy to refill, they don’t leak, they don’t take up much space on the workbench, and they have a very fine, regular spray.
You could also use old trigger spray bottles, such as window cleaner. Of course, make sure that you rinse the bottle completely, including inside the tube, before you fill with something else. On my workbench, I have three spray bottles: one with water, one with rubbing alcohol, and one with Armor-All to use as a mold release.
No, we’re not playing a game of Pick-Up Sticks! I use double-pointed metal knitting needles as an all-purpose, and yet cheap polymer clay tool. I use the bigger ones to smooth seams. You just roll back and forth over the seam, letting the weight of the needle push the clay to close the seam. It gives just the right touch without distorting the clay too much.
The smaller needles are perfect for making holes in beads. Or you can use them as part of a bead rack set-up. Just thread your beads on the needles and then set the needle across a baking pan. The point of the needles can also be used as a tool for making designs in your polymer clay creations, too. (See how to create your own needle tool with a handle here)
Don’t tell me that you bought a pair of tweezers from the craft store. I almost did! I had the package in my basket, was ready to spend the $3 for it and then realized. Duh. I have tons of tweezers in various drawers around my house. (And why is a good pair of tweezers so hard to find? Surely you have some “not so good” pairs you could donate to your studio!)
You can grab things, hold things, poke things, and retrieve things with tweezers. But you know what I use these for the very most? I’m ashamed to say that it’s removing cat hair from my polymer clay!
One of my most used polymer clay tools are my set of circle cutters. But the smallest size is still pretty large. To make even smaller circular holes, you can use drinking straws. Look for ones that are thicker. You’ll be amazed how different they are from place to place. Our local convenience store has straws that are tough as nails, but Subway’s straws are pretty weak. Some coffee stirrers will work as well.
Another idea (mentioned in a comment on an earlier post by Finola) is to use the insides of ball point pens or the tubes from lotion or hand cream pumps.
Another use for straws is to blow on resin to remove air bubbles.
Kitchen Scrubbers for Texture
One of the more frustrating problems when working with polymer clay is that we tend to get fingerprints on the clay as we work with it. And no matter how carefully we smooth out the clay, seams and lumps and little specks and marks and bubbles often show up. (Everyone has this problem, amateurs and pros alike!)
But have you tried using something to texture the smooth areas of the piece? This camouflages the fingerprints and gives a nice uniformly textured surface. I always texture the back of polymer clay pendants for this reason. You can use sandpaper, but you can also use various types of kitchen scrubbers for even more types of texture options.
I’ve used that little blue and white scrubber for many, many pendants and those of you who have my tutorials will even recognize it from the pictures. Different scrubbers will give different textures, so you’ll have to experiment to see what works best to give the look you want.
You’ll still need a sharp tissue blade when you cut thin cane slices. But you absolutely need to have some razor blades on hand. You can use them to chop up bits of clay when trying to soften hard polymer clay. Or use them to slice snakes of clay into even lengths. But I most often use razor blades to scrape paint, sealer, or resin from the ceramic tiles that I use as a palette and work surface. I save the new, sharp blades for cutting various things around the studio and then as the blades get dull I use them for scraping duties. But be careful, razor blades are super sharp!!
Recycled Light Bulbs
We all grew up with the trusty incandescent bulb, but they are no longer being manufactured in many countries so make sure you save them as they burn out and you replace them with newer, more energy-efficient bulbs!
These bulbs are completely heat safe, surprisingly durable, and you can use them as forms for baking curved pieces of polymer clay. Raw clay will adhere to the bulb and you can bake it right on the bulb. After the bulb cools, just peel the clay off the bulb and voila.
Oh yes. Combs. Drag them across polymer clay to create a texture. Press the side of the teeth into clay to form regular vertical lines. And did you know that you can use a comb to measure polymer clay? Sure! Just roll out a snake of clay, taking care to make it an even diameter. Now gently press the teeth of the clay onto the top of the clay snake. Now use your razor blade to cut the snake so many teeth apart. Because the clay is marked evenly, you’ve just created your own unit of measure. Nifty!
You won’t find more ubiquitous cheap polymer clay tools than old toothbrushes! Use them to scrub, to texture, to add paint, to remove paint. Use the handle to poke holes. Use the little scrubby part behind the head and those grippers on the handles to make textures as well.
By the way, you can’t beat a mom like mine. I told her that I needed some old toothbrushes. You’d have to know my mom, but I was not one bit surprised when this lot was delivered the next time I saw her. She must have saved them for years!
Make Your Own Needle Tools
I’ve already shown you this one before, but I had to include it on this list. You can use craft needles from your sewing or knitting box to make DIY needle tools for sculpting and poking holes into polymer clay. You can make these yourself in no time at all. Read the tutorial here.
Okay, how was that for an unusual list of free polymer clay tools? They really are the tools that I use in my studio and I hope this list has triggered some new ideas for you. If you’re looking for some more ideas, please have a look around the site. If you go back to the home page you’ll see thumbnails of all the posts listed, just scroll down till you see something you’d like to read more about. Some of the most popular posts are listed over in the sidebar on the right.
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43 thoughts on “Free Polymer Clay Tools from Around the House”
Thanks for the idea! I never thought that I could use these items as polymer clay tools. I should start looking around the house now to complete the list.
Anything with a texture can be used to imprint clay. I have scored dozens of gorgeous buttons at our local reuse store and have made great designs. Some can even make molds so that the design will right side out! This is a great site! Thanks!
Tirzah ( and cats, with accompanying fur)
Thank you for all the wonderful Ideas Ginger! A few additional items I’ve found useful for texturing are old buttons, old drawer knobs, old fancy belt buckles, toothpicks, the “net” bags that onions and other produce come in, and the sides of many plastic water jugs, shampoo bottles, etc, have designs in them that are neat in clay. I’ve cut those plastic bottles up and saved the pieces as texture sheets. Also, glass vitamin bottles and other narrow glass bottles make a great form for bracelets…you can put the clay on them and stick them right in the oven.
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One of my favorite earring molds are the little plastic holder that contact lenses come in. Also works for shank buttons, make the shank out of craft wire.
Another place to get tools is at the office, for those of us who have a day job. I’m not talking about stealing but the trash can. Discarded manila folders to cut up for templates, the attached ACCO clips to make mini cutters or armatures, interesting mystery pieces of plastic for texturing, etc. My favorite: the waxed backing of used label sheets for laser transfers. Instead of printing on plain paper, I print on the waxed side where labels used to be. It’s easy to buff the toner onto raw clay. The sheet is sturdy and will go through your printer as many times as you wish, though the image won’t transfer as well if you use the same area more than once. (It’s easy to set up to avoid this: just use the same label template and X out used spaces with a Sharpie.) And there’s never any cat hair on any of this stuff! (I have plenty at home.…)
All post are interesting. I like to recycle rather than having to buy the expensive tools at the craft stores.
Ha! Your mom sounds like mine, she always brings me tons of stuff when I ask her to save something for me… I think she enlists all her senior friends too! 😉 Great post, as always! Thanks!
Thank you Beth. Mothers are special, that’s for sure. I joke that her motto needs to be, “I’ve got a bag for you!”
These are all great ideas. The whole reason why i fell in love with polymer clay is it so inexspensive.
Don’t forget my favorite free tool the plastic removable gaurd on the solid deoderant !!!
Ooh, yes! I have been saving them and you’ll probably see them show up in a future blog post. Yes, polymer certainly does have a lot of creative bang for the buck.
For those of you who resin, this is the solution to putting resin on round beads, and, with experimentation, large rounded pendants or cabs. If you go here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bonipie/sets/72157633142682785/
there is a tutorial on how to make the Great Resinator. It is a rotisserie kit, mounted to a storage box. I put resin on my beads one by one, put them on a toothpick or needle (whatever is the right size for the hole in your bead), stick them in a styrofoam block on the rotating rotisserie, come back a few hours later (usually I just let it run overnite), and voila-perfectly resined round beads. Several of us have been using this for over a year and have not had one drip. While rotating, this keeps the resin moving on the bead, side to side, end to end, until it stops flowing. Very easy to build using 2 small blocks of wood, hardware that came with my rotisserie, and a storage box from the $1 store.
What an elegant solution, Boni. Thank you SO much for mentioning it here. I’ve read about it before and it always sounded intriguing. It sounds like I need to put a rotisserie on my garage-sale scout list.
Breaks my heart that there are all those rotisseries that came with barbecues, and are sitting cold in a garage, all shiny and unused. We need to find out how to get them out of the garage and into artistic endeavors. Hugs, Boni
I’ve always thought that about so many things that people hoard in their garages. There are so many things that others could be using!
Push pins work as a quick and easy needle tool as well. I use them to create fur-like texture in my polymer clay animals. Also those cone shaped erasers that you place onto the back of a pencil can work great as a replacement for those silicone color shaper tools which can be quite expensive. Just be sure that you don’t rub the eraser but press with it. Rubbing might cause eraser crumbs to sitck to your clay.
Wonderful suggestions, both of them! Now if only erasers came in lots of sizes. I love thinking out of the box like this.
When searching your house for texture tools don’t forget those “catch-all” drawers in your kitchen and your children’s toys.
Ah yes! In my house growing up it was called the “What’s-It Drawer”. And isn’t it funny how every kitchen has one, too? It’s full of stuff that would be fascinating to try. I’ll have to check my mother’s it’s legendary.
Playing with polymer clay has turned me into a hoarder, um, collector, of broken bits of things. I have a little (big) box of stuff that can be used to texture, cut, and poke holes in clay. Reuse, repurpose, recommission. The 3Rs of polymer clay.
We’re not hoarders. We’re facilitators. We facilitate the new life of old things. Right???
I’m another “cat hair” person so thanks for the tip! Love your blogs – always full of helpful hints and ideas. Thanks!
Maybe we should have a club, the “Happy and Fur Covered” contingent, you think? LOL!!
Thanks for the laugh this morning about the cat hair. I thought I was the only one.
Love your blogs and all the information you share.
Aw thanks Bonnie. Glad to have you here. And no, you’re not the only one. I suspect cat hair is the #1 inclusion in polymer clay. Darn stuff gets everywhere.
hey hey hey.. that pet hair is an embellishment
Well in that case my entire home and wardrobe is highly embellished!
No outfit is complete without a little cat hair. I like to layer mine, like a scent. A handful on my socks, a smattering here and there on my pants, maybe one or 10 on my blouse.
Hi Ginger 🙂
Lol yep I too use the twizers to remove the cat fur 🙂 I have three little darlings all boys and their fur is just part of the house hold but when it comes to my clay it’s a number one no 🙂
But having said that I watched a YouTube on making a miniture bunny rabbit 🙂 and thought ummm miniature cats and then I can give all my boys a good grooming and there I will have fur to coat them in 🙂 give them a real look of my cats that way 🙂
I’ll second that motion for tweezers and cat hair. And why is it you can’t see the cat hair until you take a photo of the item?! Also agreed…good tweezers are hard to find.
Oh totally. I have used the heal brush to clone out SO many little cat hairs that I never saw until I was processing the pictures. And I’m still looking for good tweezers. Alas, it’s becoming more of an issue with age, too.
I found some wonderful tweezers at ELF.com. been using them for years. Once I found them, my search was over. Great blog.
Thank you! I love ELF stuff. Perfect for keeping my girls in makeup.
I have those embellishments of cat hair also as hard as I try to keep her out of my studio she wants to be by me so I give in….
There is something I use, it is a hand held garlic press if I only need a small amount of mini ropes instead of my extruder…..
You’ve got to love your kitties. I have a collection of them myself. And that fur gets everywhere. I find cat fur in the car, on the lamps, on the tops of the curtains…everywhere! That garlic press is a fantastic idea. Thanks for sharing!
I have used most of these same tools at one time or another. I love finding ways to reuse or repurpose things. A while back I had to replace a slat on a vertical blind. There was a texture on the broken one, so I cut it up and stuck some in my texture drawer. It is now one of my favorite textures to use. Another time I found part of a broken taillight in a parking lot. It had lovely ridges. I certainly look at everything in a different way now!
Tail lights…I love that. I’d never even thought of it!
GREAT ideas! Thanks! I’m always looking for new innovative things to do with my clay. I can’t wait to try some of these out, especially the comb for measuring and the toothbrush, genius!
I use those toothbrushes all the time. They’re awesome.
A couple of days ago I looked in my knitting needle box to sort out suitable sizes (I haven’t actually knitted anything for years). I found one of those size gauges so spent a few minutes using it to measure various stringing materials ( hollow cording, thonging & the ends of memory wire chokers etc.) In future – hopefully – I won’t be stuck with beads or pendants which I can’t use on the planned string!
I hadn’t thought of doing that. So you mean like leather cord needs a #1 needle a buna needs a #3 and so on? That’s a brilliant idea!!!
Thank you for that tip Sheila 🙂 I never even gave my old needle gage a thought for sizing up for bead holes and string 🙂 I have been struggling with that one for a while 🙂 And as the heat is not too high I can even use my bamboo needles to make my beads on them too 🙂
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