Extruders are tools that you use to squeeze out a snake of clay into a specific shape. You might have used the Play-Doh Fun Factory when you were a child, which is similar. Nearly all extruders have an o-ring on the plunger. You can read more about extruders in my review of the Czextruder here.
Extruders Have O-Rings
Why do polymer clay extruders have o-rings? It allows the plunger to stay tight to the walls (barrel) of the extruder, allowing the clay to be pushed out when you turn the handle. Without the o-rings, the plunger will have a gap around the outside and clay will squish around the plunger. Also, in the case of the Makins and Walnut Hollow extruders, the plungers are metal and need that cushion of the o-ring. Otherwise you’re pushing metal against metal, which will damage the extruder. Lubricating the o-ring makes the extruder easier to turn and greatly extends the life of the extruder.
Inexpensive extruders have a reputation for breaking easily. But that’s not surprising if you’re not lubing the o-ring or not using the correct lubricant.
Don’t Use Diluent
Sculpey Liquid Clay Softener (aka Diluent) and also Cernit Magic Mix are pure plasticizer. They’re normally used to soften hard polymer clay, but lately I’ve heard of people using these liquid for other things, including lubricating o-rings. Because these liquids are oily, they will have some lubricant qualities. But they’re not necessarily the best type of lubricant for the o-rings in your extruder. They’re expensive and there are better choices.
Don’t Use Vaseline or Oil
But DO NOT use Vaseline, mineral oil, baby oil, or vegetable oil to lubricate o-rings. Oils degrade rubber and will actually cause the rubber to swell. A swollen o-ring doesn’t work the way it should. It gets loose and floppy and gets caught and jams inside your extruder.
Use Silicone Grease
Do you have a Czextruder? The little pot of vaseline-like stuff is a special grease that IS intended to be used to coat the o-rings on the plunger. That’s why it’s included in the box. You can also, of course, use it to lubricate the threads on the extruder’s screw mechanism, reducing the chances of getting it stuck.
If you don’t have the special Czextruder grease, you can buy silicone grease at your local hardware store. It’s the same grease that’s used to lubricate the internal workings of faucets. You can also get it at a dive shop because diving equipment also has rubber gaskets and fittings that will be ruined by using oil-based lubricants. Food Service Equipment also uses silicone grease, so you can also try a restaurant supply store.
Lubrication Makes Easy Extruding
If you’re struggling with an extruder that is too hard to turn, try lubricating the plunger and o-ring, of course. But you can also try lubricating the inside of the barrel. That extra bit of “slip” makes for a smoother experience. Also, make sure that you clean the clay out of your extruder regularly as well as clean the clay from around the o-ring. Coat the o-ring liberally with silicone grease before storage. This way, you can ensure a long life for your extruder!
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