(UPDATED! )The Lucy Clay Tool company is the innovative Czech company that brought us the LC Slicer and the Czextruder. Jiri Strunc, his daughter Lucy Struncova, and Martin Mach design and produce this line of polymer clay tools. Aware of the common problems with cheap craft store rollers and the limitations of even high-end pasta machines, Lucy Tools wanted to make a polymer clay roller that truly met the needs of clayers. The company asked Facebook readers in several polls what features they wanted in an ultimate clay machine. Fast forward a year, the much awaited LC Machine shipped out to the first buyers this fall.
The LC Machine comes in two sizes and several variations as follows.
LC Mammoth (M12) – NOTE: The Mammoth is no longer being made, but there are two smaller machines, listed below. The largest of the LC Machines, has 10″ rollers and can roll up to ½” (12mm) thick. This is the machine I’m reviewing today.
LC Elephant – Nearly identical to the LC Mammoth except for size. Its rollers are 7.8″ (20cm) and can roll sheets at thick as ½” (12mm). (An earlier model, the LC Elephant E6 had thickness up to ¼” (6mm).)
LC Squirrel – This machine is nearly identical to the LC Elephant E12, but has a larger frame and base. I also lacks a leg support on the left side, leaving room to work or to attach an optional LC Vise to hold your Czextruder.
This article is the sixth in my series on polymer clay rolling and sheeting machines. You can read the rest of the articles in the series here:
- Pasta Machine Problems
- Cheap Pasta Machines (Makins, Amaco, and Sculpey)
- Atlas and the Modified Atlas
- The Dream Machine
- LC Machine (this article)
- Summary – What’s the Best Pasta Machine for Polymer Clay?
LC Machine Features
Everything about the LC Machine is different from the pasta machines that you have used before. If you sit down with the LC Machine, expecting it to function like a pasta machine, you will be frustrated and disappointed. But if you take some time to get to know the LC Machine, I think you’ll find that it is well-made, functional, and can do things that polymer clayers have always wanted their machines to do.
Not Your Typical Pasta Machine
So what makes the LC Machine so different? Quite a lot! If you had an annoyance or pet peeve with other clay rolling machines, you’ll find them solved (or much improved) in the LC Machine. Here are some examples:
- Improved clearance under rollers
- Infinite thickness settings from 0 to ½” (12mm)
- 2:1 gear ratio means cranking requires half the effort
- No table clamp required as there is a magnetic base
- Easy clean blades that are easily replaceable
- Crank handle is bolted on, it cannot fall off
- A cordless drill can be used as a motor to drive the LC Machine
- Wide rollers of 7 ½” (191mm) for both the Elephant and the Squirrel
LC Machine Construction and Materials
The LC Machine is sturdily built and uses more expensive materials than pasta machines, and many of the parts of the LC Machine are hand-machined. The machines are hand assembled by Jiri and his team in the Czech Republic. The materials used in the construction include stainless steel fittings, aluminum roller supports, powder coated steel frame, and an MDF base. The housing is the same aluminum sandwich dibond material that the LC Slicer is made from, making it sturdy and easy to clean. The handle and the hex nut (for attaching to a cordless drill) are the same construction and zinc coated steel as you’ll find in the Czextruder. In fact, you can use these parts interchangeably.
I found the LC Machine to be sturdy and solid-feeling. It is well-made with no sharp edges. It is easy to clean with a baby wipe. The large white areas of the frame and housing are asking to be customized with stickers (some fun stickers are included), but you can have great fun using colored washi tape to decorate and customize your machine if you’d like. Magnets won’t stick to the frame, however.
The Squirrel is a large machine. I find it’s an awkward size to use while on your work table. It’s a bit too large for me to use while seated (and I’m fairly tall). You need to put it on a lower table, such as an old-fashioned typing return. Alternatively, you can stand to use it. I find this works well because it makes adjusting the rollers easier and allows you to look straight down to judge the rollers’ gap (more on this later).
A neat feature of the LC Machine is the little “table” that is formed by the top of the frame on the right hand side. The flat area is a perfect place and size for folding over skinner blend sheets between each run through the machine.
Adjusting Sheet Thickness
Here is where the LC Machine’s roller system is vastly and completely different than that of pasta machines and even the Dream Machine. Those machines all use simple interlocking gears to drive and synchronize the rollers. The possible sheet thickness is limited because moving the rollers farther apart (for thicker sheets) means the gears no longer connect. To enable the thick sheets that polymer clayers asked for, Jiri developed a really neat system of driving the rollers using something called an Oldham coupling. (Fellow geeks…you can see it in the machine if you turn it over and look inside.) This allows the rollers to turn together even though they move up to 1/2″ (12mm) apart.
Because the rollers have to move over such a large distance when adjusting thickness, the distance between the rollers is not adjusted in the same way as you would a pasta machine. There are no thickness settings such as #1, #2, etc. The roller gap is changed by turning a wheel at the rear center of the machine. This moves the back roller forward and backward, giving a roller gap from zero to ½” (12mm).
Changing the LC Machine Roller Gap
To change the gap between the rollers, you’ll need to adjust three wheels. This can feel quite cumbersome at first, and it does mean that you can’t switch to exact thickness settings rapidly. The back roller moves forward and backward by turning the large aluminum wheel at the rear center of the machine. Because there is some slack in this mechanism, however, there are two small black knobs that act as a “backstop”. Every time you make a new thickness adjustment on the LC Machine, you need to tighten the backstops to where they just barely touch the roller mechanism.
Adjusting sheet thickness in this way is not intuitive and you’ll likely be frustrated until you get the hang of it. The “backstop” knobs have to be unscrewed to allow the roller to be moved backward. If you forget to do this, you’ll try to move the roller backward and it won’t go any further. After a while you will get into the habit of loosening and tightening the backstop knobs with every adjustment of the roller. One thing that still drives me nuts is that the small backstop knobs loosen in the opposite direction as the large width adjustment wheel. Your brain just expects them to be threaded the same, but they’re not.
One of the frustrating problems with the other machines I’ve used is that the rollers are never completely parallel. With the LC Machine, you can make the rollers parallel by setting the backstop knobs. If you tighten one knob more than the other, you can make the gap wider on one side than the other. Obviously, you don’t want to do this without intending to. But it is a feature that can come in handy when you want to fix a wonky skinner blend. (Note: this is my new favorite feature. If you do a lot of skinner blends, you will love the ability to play with the thickness on one side to compensate for uneven blends.)
Reproducing Thickness Settings
Because there are no thickness presets on the LC Machine, how can you set the machine to a #1? Or how can you reproduce a specific thickness setting again and again? The Lucy Tools Company doesn’t give information on how to do this, but here’s how I solved this. I made a set of gauges. Use your existing pasta machine (and a non-sticky durable clay such as Kato or Fimo Professional) to make tiles of all the thickness settings. You can even make tiles that are thicker than your pasta machine will do. Label them, thread them onto a chain, and now you have thickness gauges! You can choose any one (or two or more) to set the roller gap on your LC Machine to a specific setting. You can also use this to make sure the rollers are parallel.
For a quick solution, though, you can also make a similar set of gauges by using playing cards. Just tape several together for each setting (1 card, 2 cards, 3 cards, etc).
Using the Thickest Settings
While the rollers can have a gap up to ½” (12mm), you probably won’t make a sheet that thick. For one thing, it will curl. But I found this to be a useful feature when I used this machine during a caning workshop with Carol Simmons. It is helpful to evenly reduce wide, flat canes such as ribbon or border canes. If you do much caning, the wide setting absolutely comes in handy for this purpose. Like I said before, with this machine you begin to think differently about how it can be used. (Yes, it changes how you think about your process. But in a very good way!)
Making Sheets of Clay with the LC Machine
The rollers of the LC Machine are a very slightly textured plastic that minimizes clay sticking to them. Soft and/or sticky clay will still stick, just as with any sheeting machine. The roller surface doesn’t extend the full width of the opening, and sheets of clay can go into the “dead space” at either end. The LC Machine doesn’t come with width limiters, but what they call “guides” are available as an optional accessory (see below). Because the rollers aren’t very “grabby”, you sometimes have to push large chunks of clay into the machine. I’m sure you could break the machine if you tried to push too much clay too hard. But this machine is not fragile like a pasta machine and you don’t need to worry about it binding up when using large amounts of clay. It easily powers through heavy loads of thick, stiff clay.
When you turn the crank of a normal pasta machine or the Dream machine, the rollers turn once for every turn of the crank. This is a 1:1 gear ratio. The LC Machine has a 2:1 gear ratio, which means that the crank turns twice for each turn of the rollers. That means that the force required to move the clay through the rollers is reduced by half. You can push thick sheets of stiff clay through the rollers and it’s not difficult to turn the crank. Because of this, a motor is not as necessary with the LC Machine as with your Atlas or Dream Machine. The flipside to this is that you have to crank twice as many times for every sheet as you do with the same size sheet in a pasta machine.
The LC Machine’s gears don’t clunk together, so there is no ticking sound when you crank the handle. The action is smooth and there are no horizontal ridges that show in the clay.
The crank handle threads onto the machine and is secured by tightening two nuts with the supplied small wrench (it’s the same as the one used with the Czextruder.) The Elephant is shorter and it uses the same size crank as the Mammoth, so the handle barely clears the table when cranking. This leaves no room for your hand. Therefore, the Elephant is limited to being placed on the edge of the table, so the handle has room to turn, or you can raise it up.
Making Thin Sheets
The LC Machine’s rollers can be set with as little gap as you need, so conceivably, you could make microscopically thin sheets. But the limitations of polymer clay do start coming into play. Sticky or soft clay will ripple and chatter with this machine on thin settings. (And super soft clay will get caught on the rollers even at thicker settings, for that matter, but it is easy to clean off.) If you want to make super thin sheets of clay with the LC Machine, Lucy Clay Tools suggests using plastic sheets. You can see this process illustrated in a video here.
Lucy Clay Tools does sell the plastic sheets, but you don’t have to use theirs. You can use laminating sheets, transparency sheets, or plastic page divider sheets for a 3-ring binder. I found that using plastic page protectors didn’t work so well because the plastic is too thin. You want it thick enough so that you can slide a blade down it to peel off the clay sheet from the plastic. Thin plastic bunches up. This is also why plastic wrap or deli plastic doesn’t work so well for this. Also, thin plastic wraps wrinkle and form marks on the clay.
Note that you do need to increase the thickness between the rollers to allow for the thickness of the plastic sheets. Otherwise, the sheet/clay/sheet sandwich won’t fit into the machine nicely and rolling it makes the clay lump up.
Attaching the LC Machine to a Table
You can attach the LC Machine to your work table with simple C-clamps if you’d like. It works well. But the machine is designed to have a better solution. On the bottom of both the Mammoth and the Elephant machines are four very (very!) strong magnets. Supplied with the machine are four small metal plates and some double-sided foam tape. Attach the metal plates anywhere on your work surface and the LC Machine will be held tight by magnetic action. (Remember, the Elephant does need to be installed at the edge of a table to allow room for the handle to crank.)
To make placement of the metal plates easier, turn your machine over and place the metal plates onto the magnets. You’ll instantly see how strong they are! Now apply the tape to the metal plates. Peel off the strips, then invert the machine and place it where you’d like onto your table. It’s stuck tight! To remove, just tip the machine backward. You’d think it would rip off the adhesive strips, but I was amazed at how easily I could remove the machine and yet how strong the hold was! The adhesive might mar your work surface, but hopefully a work surface is for working and this isn’t an issue.
Unique Blade Assembly
Without a blade to lift the sheet from the roller as it goes around, your clay would just spool onto the roller like a roll-up window shade. So blades are important! But polymer clay tends to build up on the blades, making it necessary to clean them from time to time. Otherwise, the built-up clay will come back out and leave “pasta machine poop” on the next sheet. You can easily remove the blades of the LC Machine, and the blade itself is replaceable. Just unscrew two thumb screws for each blade, and the entire assembly removes. It cleans easily with a baby wipe.
The blade assembly itself is also unique. It’s basically a U-shaped channel that sits over and straddles the roller. Both the front and back rollers each have their own scraper blade assembly. The channel is made from a very hard and durable white plastic that is not harmed by contact with the clay. (Note: this is a new and improved blade design. The first blades distributed with the LC Machine allowed too much clay build-up, so the Lucy Tools team worked to create a much better design. New blades were sent to all customers free of charge and all new machines are being shipped with the improved blade design.)
Cleaning the Blades
To clean the blades, just remove the thumbscrews that hold the blades on, remove the blade assembly, wipe it clean with a baby wipe, and re-install. I timed myself, and I cleaned both front and back blades in 3:26, without having to turn the machine over.
Installing the Blade Assemblies Correctly
The front and back blade assemblies are similar, but not identical. Take care that you don’t switch them. You might want to label them. It is also possible to install the blade assembly incorrectly. The U-channel should straddle the roller, not sit on top of it. So do make sure that the roller fits down the center of the U-channel when you install. If you’re not sure, turn the machine over and both blade assemblies should look the same. (A quick tip…use your phone’s camera to see under the rollers without having to turn the machine over.)
Driving the LC Machine
Like I said above, the hand crank works with a 2:1 gear ratio and is therefore easy to turn, even with thick clay. You will likely not need a motor. Lucy Clay Tools has looked into producing a motor for the LC Machine (and I’ve discussed it with them) and there are technical reasons why a suitable motor would be extremely cost prohibitive to produce. Because of the torque required, a cordless drill is actually one of the best types of motors for the LC Machine. Since they are inexpensive and readily available around the world, it’s just logical to pursue making your drill work to power the LC Machine. The included hex nut threads onto the machine and this fits into your cordless drill in the same way as a drill bit.
To make this arrangement hands-free, you could use a clamp on the trigger of your drill. The company doesn’t recommend this for safety reasons, however, and they are working on a method to modify your drill to include a hand switch.
By the way, in all the documentation and Facebook posts about this machine, Lucy Tools has repeatedly spoken of an “Accu” driver. I’m pretty tech savvy, yet I had no idea what that was. I just assumed that was a name they had developed for a new motor assembly. No, this is an example of the language barrier that we face in our new international world! Actually, “accu” is short for accumulator, and it’s another word for a battery. (My British husband had to help me with that one.) So an “accu-driver” is a merely cordless drill, as pictured above. Isn’t language funny!
LC Machine Accessories
You can order replacement parts and accessories for your LC Machine from the Lucy Clay Tool Company. Currently you can buy plastic sheets for making thin clay sheets, replacement hex nut, additional metal foot plates, and width limiting guides.
Width Limiting Guides
This two-piece stainless guide accessory is intended for limiting sheet width. The right side bolts into the slot on the front of the machine. The left side attaches to the machine with foam tape. I have to say, these guides aren’t very well designed. Frankly, they don’t work. The one on the right does work, but has a sharp edge that catches the edge of your clay sheet and it allows thin sheets to slide underneath it. The guide on the left, however, does nothing to keep the clay sheet on the rollers. I shared my thoughts with Lucy Tools about this and suggested an alternative design, but this has not happened. Personally, I think the company should make this item a priority because it is SO important in canemaking to have width-controlled skinner blends. The right guide is functional (but I still dislike it), and I end up using my finger to control the width on the left side of the sheet as I roll it through. It works, but I expect better from a machine of this caliber.
Pros and Cons of the LC Machine
Anytime there is a new product on the market, it’s normal to wonder what are the pros and cons. So I know you’ve been eager to read this review and I appreciate your patience while I put this article together. There is a lot to say here! What is my verdict? I like the machine. There is good, and of course, there is bad.
My inner geek loves this machine. I love the fact that a company in Europe can ask a bunch of clayers what features they need and then produce the machine! Kudos to Lucy Clay Tools for all the effort and expertise. This is a well-engineered and beautifully crafted machine. I love that it is strong, durable, and can handle all the clay that you push through it. I love that you can clean the blades easily, without having to turn the machine over. Most clays don’t stick to the rollers. I love that you can adjust the rollers to any thickness you want. I love that you can attach this to a table with the magnetic feet and then lift it off and put it away when you are ready to do another craft.
Not all of the things I dislike about this machine will be relevant to all clayers. But I want to describe them fully so that you are aware of them and can make your buying decision accordingly.
As I mentioned previously, the housing doesn’t sit up against the rollers, so the edges of any sheet will be jagged and messy unless you use guides. And the currently available guides are unsuitable. There were improved guides on the timeline, but the company has not shared more information about them in over a year.
Thickness Adjustment System
There are no settings to ensure you have consistent clay thicknesses. The numbers on the large wheel on the back are arbitrary and rather pointless because of slack in the wheel mechanism. Also, clay from your hands will build up on the wheel, degrading the printing on the sticker. It’s hard to remember which way to turn the wheel, though, the sticker on the body does tell you.
While I have become used to it, the multi-step wheel and knobs setup is a complicated way to set thicknesses. If you are a fast and furious clayer, this is going to drive you nuts. If you turn the large wheel rapidly, your fingernails catch on the edge of the body of the machine, and it’s uncomfortable. I’d like to see a different sort of handle on this wheel to make turning it easier.
The thickness setting gauge stickers on the machine are not accurate. Even when set at zero inches/mm gap, there is a visible gap between the rollers.
Cleaning the Base
Okay, this is nitpicking. But it annoys me that a machine that’s so clean and smooth and easy to wipe clean has these depressions where the legs fit onto the base. Clay crumbles collect here. It would be so nice if there was a cover here to keep clay out. You could easily make something to fit across the entire base to cover these areas and make cleaning easier.
Crank Handle Grip
For such a large machine, it annoys me that the crank handle has such a thin and narrow grip on it. It is smaller than my hand, so it feels uncomfortable (but not painful). Sure, you could fit some sort of a grip on there, and perhaps that’s a customization option for you.
Rippling Thin Sheets
I can’t really call this a fault of the machine, because all machines do it, but I do wish that ultra thin sheets of soft polymer clay wouldn’t ripple. Since a badly tuned machine can cause this, it’s easy for us to assume this is the fault of the LC Machine. But I do fear that this is just “the nature of the beast”. This machine isn’t really any better at it than my Atlas in this regard. Kudos to the Lucy Clay Tools team, though, for coming up with the idea of using plastic sheets to help create thin sheets of clay.
The documentation for this machine (as with all the Lucy Tools) is excellent. The included instruction manual is incredibly detailed and there are many videos online that help you know how to use and service this machine. You can find the series of LC Machine Instruction videos here. There are so many videos and promo pieces about these tools, though, that it’s sometimes confusing and hard to know which are relevant now and which are info about prototypes.
Since purchase of this machine involves communicating with the Lucy Clay Tools company, it’s important to evaluate customer service. It’s no secret that this company has come under fire and endured some pretty harsh (and likely deserved) criticism of their customer care practices. Since I didn’t buy this machine and it was sent to me specifically, I can’t evaluate the purchasing process. I can say, however, that Jiri’s personality is direct and to the point. That direct nature, plus a formidable language and culture barrier, can lead to misunderstandings. Emails do get lost. Follow-up can be sporadic. I do think that the company is dedicated to making a good product and they do value loyal customers. But customers do get frustrated with the company’s poor response at times. (Note: this has improved dramatically as the company has matured and likely been able to hire additional staff.)
If you do need to seek customer service from the company, I recommend using few words and getting straight to the point. Limited English proficiency means that idioms and long phrases can be poorly understood. Keep good notes and communicate with direct emails or messages rather than by using Facebook groups. Just because Jiri is active on Facebook groups does not mean that’s the best way to connect with him about a problem with a purchase.
Where to Buy the LC Machine
You can go to the Lucy Clay Tools website to buy any of the Lucy Tools. You’ll choose USA or EU (Canadian customers can choose the USA option). The LC Machine ships directly to you from the Czech Republic and you will usually receive your order in 2-4 days. Trackable shipping methods are used, and it’s great fun checking online to see the progress of your package through the international shipping system!
Don’t miss the summary that ties up this series of articles and gives my recommendations for what is the best pasta machine to buy for various scenarios.
Disclaimer: Many thanks to Jiri Strunc and the team at Lucy Clay Tools for providing me with the Mammoth LC Machine and the LC Squirrel and for answering my many questions. As with all of my reviews, my opinions are always my own, regardless of where the products come from. It’s my goal to be as honest, informative, and helpful as possible!