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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