I wrote in my August newsletter about healthy “helpers” that allow us more time working with our hobbies. (You do get my newsletters, right? Sign up…pronto!) One important helper is a pasta machine motor. While a crank will work just fine and even can give you a good workout, if you’re working with polymer clay for very long at a time, you’ll start to get repetitive stress injuries with all that cranking. Even worse, if your pasta machine is clamped sideways to your table, you will be cranking with your body twisted. It’s better to set your pasta machine where you can face it straight-on. But for that, you may need a motor.
Want to learn more about pasta machines for polymer clay? Read the entire series, starting here.
I’ve had a pasta machine motor for 15 years and while I prefer to use my crank (I dislike noise), my back doesn’t agree with me. (I tend to get nasty muscle spasms in my shoulder and back when I don’t use my pasta machine motor.) So when my motor started to die recently, I knew I had to make a purchase. But which one? It wasn’t an easy choice, so I thought I’d walk you through it.
Pasta Drive vs Norpro?
At first, I just wanted to replace the motor that I had (a Pasta Drive), but Facebook friends suggested that I give the Norpro motor a try. I’ve heard that it’s quieter (spoiler…it’s not). And Ron Lehocky (the guy who makes the wonderful hearts) said it has the added benefit of two speeds and it’s been much longer-lasting for him (plus it’s half the price). Several others chimed in to say that they love their Norpro motor. But Jan Montarsi said it doesn’t fit on his Atlas machine. Hmm. Dilemmas! So I ordered both. Here’s what I found out.
Because I use Amazon for my own shopping, these links are Amazon affiliate links, but as always, please make purchases from your favorite local source or online polymer clay supply shop.
The Choices for a Pasta Machine Motor
Many people don’t even realize that you can get a motor for your polymer clay pasta machine. Will it work for all machines? Well, sort of. Super high-end clay machines aren’t what I’m talking about here. (The Dream Machine‘s optional motor is $475 and the Lucy Clay Machine can be used with a cordless drill.) In this article, I’m talking about motor options for the Atlas, Imperia, Makin’s, and other brands of clay conditioning machines. There are many motors on the market and not all motors fit all pasta machines.
From what I can tell, there seem to be three main types of pasta machine motors available.
Atlas Pasta Drive
The Pasta Drive is a pasta machine motor created by Marcato, the maker of the Atlas pasta machine. (It’s sometimes misspelled as “mercato.”) It is a powerful motor that attaches to the pasta machine using the holes in the side where the crank goes in. It does not need to be clamped in place. When used on the Atlas pasta machine, it balances well enough that you don’t need to clamp the machine to the side of the table. The pasta machine doesn’t fall over. The housing is made from chrome-plated plastic (not metal) and it only has one speed. I don’t see any “off-brand” knock-offs of this style. It seems to be the only brand like it.
The Pasta Drive will only work on machines that have two holes in the side plate around the crank hole (see photo below). Years ago, it was more common to find ancient Atlas machines without this correct side plate and so you’ll still read blog posts telling you that you can buy the optional side plate from Marcato to allow the Pasta Drive to fit. This may still be true, but I was unable to find any source of them online. If your Atlas is more than 20 years old (at least) and doesn’t have three holes on the side, you won’t be able to use the Pasta Drive.
The Pasta Drive will not fit onto a Makin’s clay machine. The drive shaft is too big to fit into the hole.
Norpro (Makin’s, Cucina Pro)
If you’ll look at pasta machine motors it starts to get pretty confusing. There are quite a few brands with widely varying price points. But now that I have had a close look at the Norpro, I can see that all those various brands are made with the same housing. I strongly suspect (but can’t verify) that they’re made by the same company and relabelled. Have a look at the Norpro, Makin’s, Cucina Pro, Excelsteel, Ovente, Shule, and Weston pasta machine motors and note how they all have the same shape (including fins in the same place, bumps, buttons, etc). These motors all feature a two-speed switch and a pause button and only seem to differ in color and packaging. The housing is plastic. Some of these brands also include an optional plastic clamp that attaches to the pasta machine and helps to support the machine. The Norpro doesn’t include one of these, so I can’t say if it solves the wobbling problem. And for my machines, the Norpro motor unbalanced them and I needed to use a table clamp to keep them from tipping over.
Yes, the Norpo had issues. I ended up buying two Norpro motors because the first one seemed defective. It wouldn’t fit onto my Atlas Wellness (newer model) and it wobbled terribly on every machine (see the video for an example). The second Norpro motor that came two days later was better. I was able to fit it onto all my machines and its wobble was MUCH less but still more than I am comfortable with. The Norpro motor you see wobbling in the video, by the way, is the second one. Both motors went back to Amazon. (Note: it’s easy to assume the wobbling is due to a loose fit. It’s not. The motor fit tightly to the pasta machines.)
Norpro motors also require machines with holes on the side plate to accommodate the mounting pins. Both Norpro motors I tried fit just fine on the Makin’s clay machine. However, they wobbled so much that I fear the machine won’t last long and will be torn apart by the motor. You can see the machine itself flexing as it runs. (At least with the two motors that I tried.)
Imperia is a good pasta machine brand name, like Marcato, and they have their own brand of pasta machine motor. I did not buy an Imperia motor, so this section isn’t based on personal experience. Imperia motors are priced similarly to the Atlas Pasta Drive. The Imperia pasta machine doesn’t have mounting pin slots on the side, so the Imperia motor doesn’t use this mounting pin setup. Instead, they use a plastic clip (that usually seems to be blue). This clip keeps the motor from spinning around and around as it runs. If the clip breaks, the machine won’t work and you have to buy another clip (which I can’t currently find a listing for). Reviews often mention this clip breaking, rendering the motor useless.
Imperia pasta machine motors DO fit onto all brands of pasta machine, from what I can figure out. So that might be your best option if you’re not sure of the fit.
Pasta Machine Motor Noise
One huge drawback of pasta machine motors is noise. They sound a bit like a jet engine taking off. Okay, not really that bad, but they make it hard to enjoy listening to podcasts or audiobooks while you work. And you don’t want to use them while someone’s sleeping in the room next door. I put a sound meter app on my phone and measured each of the pasta machine motors to see how they compared. All motors were tested using an old 2003 Atlas 150 model, without fenders.
Note, you’ll see two numbers for each. The first number is a running machine with no load, the second is peak volume when clay is being fed through it. Measurements are in decibels, with the phone pointed toward the machine and 18″ away. Note that the volume is generally around 80db. That’s equivalent to heavy traffic, a blender, or a snowblower. As a reference, hearing loss is possible with greater than 8 hours of continuous exposure at 85db.
2004 model: 80/82
2019 model: 77/79
Machine A: 78/84 on high, 75/82 on low
Machine B: 77/86 on high, 74/85 on low
What Pasta Machine Motor Should You Buy?
Okay, Ginger, this is great and everything, but what motor should I buy? Well, it depends on what pasta machine you have. Here are some thoughts and observations. As always, your mileage may vary. Also be aware that these are not precision instruments, and there will be quite a bit of variation from one machine or motor to the next. So take all this with a grain of salt.
Several people on Facebook recommended the Norpro and they all said that it fit fine on their older Atlas. Both Norpro machines that I tried fit fine on my older Atlas. But if you have an Atlas Wellness (more info here), then the Norpro might not fit or might not fit well. The Atlas Pasta Drive motor is twice the price of the Norpro motor, so budget might make a difference. If you have the funds or if you’re buying in a situation when you can’t make returns, I would buy the Pasta Drive. If you’re willing to take a risk, then the Norpro might work for you. You might have better luck than I did. Also, the Imperia motor should work (but be aware of the clip issue).
The Atlas Pasta Drive motor won’t fit on the Makin’s machine. If my suspicions are correct and all these off-brand motors (Norpro, Excelsteel, Shule, etc) are the same as the Makin’s motor, then I don’t hold much optimism for you. (Sorry!) But maybe I got two bad motors. Or maybe the Makin’s motor is made better. In any event, it’s not a huge amount of money (less than $40), so it might work to get you through until you can afford an Atlas machine and motor. It might also be a good backup.
You guys have it easy. Buy an Imperia motor. 🙂 But be aware that the only thing holding it on is a plastic clip that can easily break.
Sculpey, Amaco, and All Other Brands
These pasta machines and clay conditioning machines look like an Atlas but aren’t. They don’t have the mounting slots on the side and you can’t put any type of motor on them aside from an Imperia motor. However, these pasta machines are not heavy-duty and I would honestly hesitate putting the stress of a motor on them. Or you might want to get an Imperia motor and then upgrade to a better machine once your cheapie falls apart.
Conclusion – My Solution
My conclusion is that I sent both Norpro motors back and kept the Atlas Pasta Drive. It’s much better made, more solid, doesn’t wobble, was quieter (according to a sound meter), and it fits on all my Atlas machines. I would have liked having low speed, but that wasn’t a deal-breaker. I’m not a heavy-duty clayer and I use my Lucy Mammoth for big jobs. If you go through motors like they’re disposable, I can see where a cheaper solution would work better for you. But for me, I love my shiny new Atlas Pasta Drive pasta machine motor.
But Wait! There’s More! (Foot Pedals)
If you have a motor for your pasta machine, you might also want to get a foot pedal. This is sort of like a sewing machine foot pedal, except that you plug the motor into the foot pedal, and then plug the foot pedal into the wall. A foot pedal controls the power to the motor so that you step on the pedal to make the motor run instead of turning on the switch. This means you don’t have to fumble for the switch and can hold a sheet with both hands as you guide it into the machine.
There are three types of foot pedals. One is a simple on/off switch. You can buy a foot switch for Christmas tree lights like this one. There are also ones that look more like a typical foot pedal, made for use with industrial tools.
Second is an on/off switch type pedal, but you have to hold the pedal down with your foot for the motor to work. Let up, and the motor stops. This type of action is called a “dead man’s switch”. (The history of the name refers to a switch that would stop a train if the driver was killed.)
Third is a variable speed pedal (I have this one from Foredom). This is similar to a sewing machine pedal or the gas on your car where the further you push the pedal down, the faster the motor goes. I like this one the best because it allows me to slow the pasta machine if I’m doing something that needs more control.
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