Pasta Machine Problems and Their Solutions

If you work with polymer clay, most likely you have (or want) a pasta machine to make conditioning and rolling your clay easier. These labor-saving devices make these tasks much simpler and far more comfortable, especially if you suffer with hand pain. But in spite of being a near-necessity in eyes of most polymer clayers, it’s not always smooth-sailing. Pasta machine problems are very common. I’ll talk about these problems here, give the reasons why they happen, and hopefully can offer some solutions to these most common pasta machine problems.

This is the first article in my series on pasta machines and polymer clay rollers. First I discuss the problems, then I review all the major clay machines on the market. You can find them all here:

  1. Pasta Machine Problems
  2. Cheap Pasta Machines (Makins, Amaco, and Sculpey)
  3. Atlas and the Modified Atlas
  4. Imperia
  5. The Dream Machine
  6. LC Machine
  7. Summary – What’s the Best Pasta Machine for Polymer Clay?

Why Do We Use Pasta Machines?

In the early days of the emerging craft of polymer clay, there were no commercially available tools to aid with conditioning. All you had was your own two hands and a rolling pin or acrylic rod. Wise clayers soon realized that in addition to using knives, cutters, and other tools from the kitchen, they could also use pasta machines. Yes, our beloved pasta machine is the very same machine that is used to make fettuccine and linguine. In fact, the most popular pasta machines are still imported from Italy.

Learn about common pasta machine problems and how to solve them. From The Blue Bottle Tree.Pasta machines were a great improvement over using your bare hands. But because these machines were created and designed to use with pasta dough, they’re not actually all that well suited for working with polymer clay. Because of that, we do run into all kinds of pasta machine problems when we use them with polymer clay.

Commercial clay companies realized that pasta machines were popular with polymer clayers, so they started manufacturing their own versions of these ubiquitous workhorse machines. But they didn’t change the design much. In fact, at first glance, the Atlas Pasta Machine is identical to the Sculpey Clay Conditioning Machine, the Amaco Clay Machine, and the Makins Clay Machine. Unsurprisingly, the same problems that plague pasta machines also cause problems for users of these machines, too. The DREAM Machine was the first rolling machine designed specifically for polymer clay, and the soon-to-be-released LC Machine is the next. (I’ll be reviewing all these machines over the next several weeks. Hold tight!)

How a Pasta Machine Works

Pasta machines have two rollers that turn by cranking a handle. The space between the rollers is adjusted, by moving a dial on the side of the machine, creating thicker or thinner sheets. Pasta dough or polymer clay is fed into the top of the machine and squeezed flat between the rollers as you turn the handle. The flattened clay sheet comes out underneath the rollers. Seems simple enough, right? Well, it is! But it’s also where all the problems start.

As the clay sheet goes between the rollers, it will adhere to one of the rollers. All pasta machines have a blade installed along the length of the roller whose job it is to lift that sheet and peel it off the roller as the sheet emerges. The blade does not need to be sharp, but it does need to lie flat against the roller and be at the proper angle so that the clay sheet goes up and over the edge of the blade.

A clay rolling machine doesn’t actually need to have a blade. But without one, the sheet must be manually lifted off the roller as it comes through the machine. Otherwise the clay sheet will roll around and around the roller, making a big mess.

Common Pasta Machine Problems

These pasta machine problems are so commonplace that I was able to create them within just a few minutes while taking photos for this article. Most of us have seen these issues happen and may even struggle with them greatly. Here are the pasta machine problems I see myself and read about most frequently in the claying community.

Horizontal Ridges

Horizontal ridges are a common pasta machine problem. Learn more at The Blue Bottle Tree.These evenly spaced horizontal ridges occur when making a sheet of clay at the thickest setting of your pasta machine. They’re not very deep, and you may not have even noticed that your machine does this. This pasta machine problem isn’t really that much of a big deal unless you need your sheet to be completely smooth. Horizontal ridges are caused by the clunking that happens when the teeth of the gears mesh together at the largest setting. The action of the gear teeth tapping together causes an audible tick-tick-tick and the slight hesitation that happens in the rollers actually creates the lines in the clay.

These ridges are “normal”. By this I mean that pretty much all pasta machines do it and there’s not much you can do about it. As you wear out a machine, this effect may intensify and you may begin to see these parallel lines on thinner settings as well.

To reduce the appearance of these ridges, turn your sheet 90 degrees and put it through the machine a few more times. This will greatly reduce their appearance. If you do need a perfectly smooth sheet of clay, lay a sheet of copy paper over the sheet and smooth it by rubbing your acrylic roller back and forth. Peel off the paper, and voilà!

Clay Debris from Other Colors

Streaking is a common pasta machine problem. More at The Blue Bottle Tree.Sometimes when the blade lifts the emerging sheet of clay off the roller, it gouges a bit of the clay and the clay collects behind the blade. You won’t even notice it happening. But later, you’ll notice that your pasta machine leaves blobs and streaks of old colors on your new sheet. This is especially annoying with white clay!

Clay gets forced behind the blade when you try to push a thick wad of clay through your pasta machine, also. And thicker sheets are more likely to get bits of “pasta machine poop” as well. You can’t completely prevent this from happening, though, so it’s really helpful to be able to clean this clay from the blades. Some clay machine brands are designed to make this cleaning easier. But mostly you just have to put up with this, sadly. I’d venture to say that this is everyone’s most hated and despised of pasta machine problems.

Chattering

Rippling and chattering are common pasta machine problems. Learn more about this at The Blue Bottle Tree.When using very thin settings, you can sometimes get a result called chattering. This is when the clay sticks to the blade, then as pressure builds up, it releases, only to stick again immediately. This back and forth stick/release action causes the emerging clay sheet to have fine accordion folds called chattering.

This happens because your clay is too sticky for use with this setting. Use firmer and less sticky clay if you need thin sheets and your machine tends to chatter.

Rippling

Rippling is a common pasta machine problem. Learn more at The Blue Bottle Tree.Remember how I said that clay sticks to one of the rollers as it comes through the pasta machine? Sometimes the clay will stick to both rollers. Since the rollers are rolling away from each other as the clay comes out, this means that sections of the sheet of clay pull apart and stretch, causing a wide ripple. This happens at thinner settings and is worse with sticky and soft clay. Use firmer clay or use a backing sheet.

Vertical Lines

Lengthwise scratches are common pasta machine problems. More at The Blue Bottle Tree.Sometimes you’ll notice a perfectly straight vertical line that always happens at the same place. This happens because the clay sheet is being scratched. It could be due to a nick on the blade. Or it could be because a piece of something hard is stuck on the blade. Glitter or bits of debris can do this, too. Try using a baby wipe threaded through your pasta machine to “floss” it out. If the problem is a nicked blade, you can sometimes remove it with sandpaper, but that will involved disassembling your pasta machine. A daunting task! (By the way, this photo also includes horizontal ridges…I can’t make a sheet without them!)

These lines can sometimes be caused by scratches in the roller itself. That’s actually what is causing this line you see in this picture. The day I got this new Atlas pasta machine, I turned the handle and a bit of metal shaving inside lodged against the roller, scratching it. Yeah. I was not pleased about that.

Clay Going Round and Round

Oh no...this is a big pasta machine problem! Learn more of them at The Blue Bottle Tree.Uh-oh, this pasta machine problem is a bad one. This means that clay is forced behind the blade, bowing it outward. This causes more clay to catch, pushing it out even more and eventually bending the blade beyond repair. This particular machine of mine only does it with super soft, sticky clay on thinner settings. Again, use firmer clay or use a backing sheet to support the clay.

If this is happens at thicker settings, too, disassemble your machine and clean out the collected clay. You can usually bend the blade back, if necessary.

Black Streaks

Photo courtesy of Betty Bolerjack.
Photo courtesy of Betty Bolerjack.

Thanks to Betty Bolerjack for sharing her photo of this annoying pasta machine problem. Visible on light colored sheets, you will see vertical streaks of oily-looking residue on the surface of the clay. The streaks tend to happen near the outside edges or the rollers. This is not oil leaking from the gears. These streaks are due to a chemical reaction between the metal in the steel rollers and the ingredients in the clay. Assuming you’ve wiped your rollers with a baby wipe and you’re not actually seeing “pasta machine poop”, these streaks can be ignored. They are not visible once mixed into the clay. Pasta machines with aluminum or teflon rollers do not have this issue.

The Handle Falls Out!

Pasta machine handles always fall out. Learn how to fix this .Yes, we all know the sudden crash of the handle falling to the floor. It can make cats jump sky-high and cause swear words to be uttered. Not again! This does seem to be a universal pasta machine problem. You can fix this by wrapping a bit of duct tape around the handle before jamming it back in. Or use the finger from a rubber glove. I have even heard of putting a tiny rare-earth magnet in the hole so they handle will stay stuck tight. Your snoozing pets will thank you!

Preventing Pasta Machine Problems

Most pasta machine problems can be prevented by using clay that isn’t too soft and sticky. Firmer clay will sheet better and not get gummed up inside the machine. Also, make sure that you never force thick slabs or wads of clay into the machine. Always use your blade to make slices that you feed through the machine and combine as they soften up and become conditioned. Forcing clay though the machine can damage your machine and make it wear out faster.

Keep your pasta machine clean. Always use a baby wipe or paper towel to clean the rollers between colors, removing all the bits of clay that you can reach. If you do take your pasta machine apart, see if you can’t leave the “fenders” off it. This allows access to the area behind the blades and makes cleaning easier.You can remove the "fenders" from a pasta machine, enabling you to access the area behind the blades for cleaning.

If you absolutely can’t prevent bits of other colors being deposited on your clay sheets, a useful strategy is to have two pasta machines. Use one with black and darks and the other with white and light colors.

Stay Tuned!

After reading about how poorly suited a pasta machine is for handling polymer clay, it’s easy to ask…what is the best machine to use with your clay? Like anything else, that will depend on your needs. I have reviewed many different pasta and clay machines, and you can read those articles in my pasta machine series. After reading these reviews, you will have a much better idea of the best pasta machine for you and your budget.

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49 thoughts on “Pasta Machine Problems and Their Solutions”

  1. Hello!!, my pasta machine has the following problem: when I round the handle the rollers do not keep an uniform thickness. How can I fix it? My pasta machine is an Atlas 180 mm, model deluxe. Thanks!

    1. I’m not sure what you mean. Most pasta machines have a larger gap between the rollers on the knob side than they do on the crank side. Perhaps that’s what you mean? It’s not something that the user can adjust, however. But if you’re referring to something else, it sounds like there might be a problem with your machine.

      1. Ginger have you ever found a pasta machine that has ‘V’ prongs once you’ve taken it apart? I have one that I’ve disassembled to clean and trying to reassemble. No branding on it anywhere!

  2. There is a polymer clay artist on youtube who says that, unless you change directions when rolling clay thru a pasta machine, all the particles line up and one side does not shimmer if using pearlized clay or special effects clay. Is this true? Do you just keep folding it over and over and keep feeding it thru in the same direction or can the direction be changed?

    1. Well…sort of. When using regular clay, the only reason you’d change direction is to compensate for the machine making one side thinner and the sheet bulge at the top on one side. It doesn’t do anything to the polymer clay body itself. Now if you’re using mica clay (pearlescent or metallic), you DO need to run the clay through the pasta machine several times to make all the mica particles flatten and run parallel to the sheet. (Mica particles are little flat sheets.) But it doesn’t matter if you fold the clay over, or cut and stack, or turn the sheet sideways. What you don’t want to do is wad up the sheet and stuff it back into the top. By the way, I do offer a free Mica Shift Tutorial where this is explained. You can get that tutorial here: https://thebluebottletree.com/subscribe-mica-shift/

  3. Hello Ginger,

    my pasta machine recently broke, I think the problem is with the dial. I pulled it apart and there is something I just cannot understand about the mechanism – perhaps you can help.
    My issue is that one of the rollers, as it rolls, goes through all the different thickness positions (coherent with the fact that the dial is probably broken). I then thought “maybe this one roller should stay still, held in place by the dial. However, when pulling the machine apart, I saw that both rollers are connected by gear. So: do both rollers roll at the same speed, or is one meant to stay still?
    Any hint or reference will be highly appreciated

  4. Thanks, Ginger. I have a question about the material used for cleaning the pasta machine (mine actually is a pasta machine). I got baby wipes, but sheesh, they stink from a ghastly meant-to-mask-poop deodorant smell. I can’t stand it. So I use rubbing alcohol. I spray it on a paper towel and run it several times through the rollers. Am I doing something awful to my pasta machine?

    1. There is this admonition going around out there, telling people that alcohol will ruin their pasta machines. Well, alcohol will dissolve oil, so you don’t want to dunk the thing in alcohol or the gears might lose their grease. But spraying some on a paper towel? Go for it. As for the wipes, try using Huggies Nature Care, unscented. No awful fake baby powder smell.

  5. I don’t have an Atlas, can’t afford one. Wish I could. So any new dedicated clay machine is totally out of range for me, Dream or LC or whatever. But I am always fascinated by your excellent experiments and reviews… and you never know, I might one day win the lottery and if that happens BEFORE I’m totally crippled by the arthritis a new machine may even be relevant. Lol! Dare I say that I’ll ‘Dream On’? ROFL! Keep writing, Ginger.

  6. I put together a tutorial on how to easily and quickly clean a pasta machine at **Editor’s note: Updated link is here https://www.etsy.com/listing/522654980/a-quick-and-easy-way-to-disassemble-and **

    If it doesn’t make sense, please let me know.

    The very first clay project I ever tried was peppermint candies. Red clay was getting into the white on my pasta machine and driving me crazy. I decided there must be a better way, so I researched and tried various remedies. Then I started pulling apart my pasta machine and ended up with the method I still use described in the tutorial above.

    I’ve preordered a Lucy clay machine and can’t wait for it to arrive. They have four thumb screws so you can easily remove the scrapers and clean them. Yay!

      1. My free tutorial, “A Quick & Easy Way to Disassemble & Clean Your Pasta Machine,” is now available at CraftArtEdu. **Editor’s note: It’s now available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/522654980/a-quick-and-easy-way-to-disassemble-and **

        Its description: Prevent contamination of clay you run through your pasta machine by bits of old clay lurking in the scrapers. Learn how to partially disassemble your Makins or Atlas pasta machine, clean those scrapers and reassemble your machine in less than 3 minutes.

  7. Thank you, Ginger. You truly are the “Clay Angel”! This article couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I spent all day yesterday trying to repair my 2 pasta machines! No luck and I will have to buy a new Atlas as soon as I can. I bought a new one last week and didn’t read the listing correctly. Turned out to be an Imperia machine which is nowhere near as good as the Atlas. For one thing the parts are brittle plastic / nylon and I snapped one while putting a texture sheet through it with clay. Pretty much useless now!
    I can blame most of my problems on my ignorance , inexperience and impatience but it sure has been a learning experience. I’m now a pro at dismantling and reassembling ! Before I decided to take my Atlas apart I used all sorts of instruments to remove clay from the blades and now have a lovely gouged blade which leaves interesting patterns on th clay!!!. I’m looking forward to learning more about the LC machine but suspect it will be too rich for my blood. However a new Atlas would be ideal and is a top priority now! Thanks again for all the information you so generously share. The clay community would be poorer without you!

  8. Excellent article (as usual)! I would be very interested in seeing if you’ll be testing the width comparisons of the rollers. I purchased the Dream Machine a couple years back and have kept my Atlas for travelling. I do love the size of the Dream, but am disturbed by the ’10’ settings. I ended up measuring (with a micrometer) clay coming through each of the Dream and the Atlas settings. I won’t bore you with my full results, but Atlas #6 (1mm) is the same as Dream #10 (1.08mm) … so I tend to use the Atlas for translucent since there are still another 3 settings (Atlas #9 = .6mm). My Dream settings from 1 down to 10: 3.45, 3.1, 2.9, 2.69, 2.4, 2.1, 1.69, 1.35, 1.25, 1.08mm. Yes, my #1 is a bit thicker. I can’t send it back to be tweaked as I’m in Canada and won’t pay the shipping. So, if this helps you, feel free to use my numbers! Would I replace my Dream – No. Would I like more variety in the roller settings, Yes.
    Definitely looking forward to Part 2 of your Analysis!

    1. Thank you! I have had three Dream machines (the whole story will come out when I review it), so I have measured them all. It will be interesting to compare your numbers with mine. I don’t think all the production runs were the same.

  9. I am waiting – and waiting, for my Dream Machine. 50 more orders to go before they can place the order for a new batch of machines they tell me. Sigh! So, please order your Dream Machine soon. 🙂 I’ve used one belonging to a friend and they really are a dream. Can hardly wait.

  10. Thorough research and great article; as has become your trademark. All your hard work on behalf of the PC community is truly appreciated.
    I too have had many of these issues. For the ‘black streaks’ on light clay I read somewhere to use a tiny bit of household ammonia on a paper towel to clean the rollers of my machine prior to use and for me, that seems to work pretty well. Maybe you can add that to your list of experiments! 😀

  11. Great article, Ginger. I didn’t see this tip in it, although it is possible that I missed it.

    RUN THE ROLLERS BACKWARD WHEN USING A BABY WIPE TO CLEAN YOUR ROLLERS. THAT WAY THE WIPE WON’T BE PULLED INTO THE MACHINE.

    I don’t use baby wipes. I use round cotton face cleaning pads and have a press-down one-handed pump full of Windex on my bench. My pumper is the same sort of device that your vet uses to pump alcohol onto a piece of gauze. In any case, Windex will remove clay from your rollers and from light bulbs that you have baked polymer items on.

  12. Not only did I laugh out loud (poop! tee hee), I learned some new terms too. I’m looking forward to your review of the machines. And, as always, I appreciate that you share the results of your very thorough tests and trials with the rest of us. Thanks for all you do for the polymer clay community.

  13. I have had all of the problems you mention, Ginger. Mostly, I can work around them, but they are aggravating. My worst problem was, after trying to push clay to thick and stiff through the machine, the handle wouldn’t even turn. I finally figured out how to take the machine apart. I saw that the gears were no longer aligning, so I cleaned them good and lubricated them. When I put it back together the problem was solved! I can’t wait for your further postings. I’m sure you’ll have some useful information…you always do!

    1. Sometimes they do have to be taken apart and fixed. They’re not that complex and with carefully noting and keeping track of all the screws when you do take it apart, it is completely within the capability of the average clayer to do this.

    2. What lubricant do you use on the pasta machine? I’m afraid to oil it, thinking it’ll leave oily streaks on the clay.

      1. Pasta machines don’t need to be lubricated. I suppose that you could, but you’d have to take the machine apart. They do sometimes have a bit of thick grease inside, but that doesn’t get to the outside and the machines are not designed to be lubricated by the user.

  14. Thank you for this very informative article. I finally plucked up the courage to take the fenders off my machines (I have 4 as I teach) and clean the ‘poo’. So much easier to clean now I tried once before and couldn’t get the machine back together so I was a bit nervous. My tip is not to take the nuts off completely and ease out the fenders – that way it doesn’t all fall apart.

  15. Very useful Ginger. Of course some of these ‘faults’ can create interesting results … I have taken a piece of fine ‘chattering’ bronzed clay backed it with a contrasting layer and created a ‘ruffled’ pendant which has been much admired. Sorry, can’t add a photo here.

    1. You make a brilliant point, and it’s one of my favorite things about polymer clay, that even the epic failures can often be re-imagined into something wonderful. But it would be nice to not have a flawed machine. Sigh.

  16. Charlotte Firbank-King

    Thank you for this informative blog. I have an Atlas machine and seem to spend my life trying to clean it–my only real reward is skinned fingers as I try to get into all the crevices. I was afraid to dismantle the machine, thinking I may wreck it completely. I roll white and light colors between two sheets od cellophane and it works well.

    1. Hi Charlotte

      Pulling the pasta machine apart is not as bad as it looks like you I was scared to pull mine apart the first time but I sat at the dinner table and took it apart and placed everything down in the order I took it apart so that I could put it back together again after cleaning it. After that first time I now do it in my armchair at my work table without a worry 🙂 it was worth pulling it apart to clean and too leave off the 2 top guards as they are not needed and it does help to keep the rollers cleaner once they were removed 🙂
      Give it a go I know you will not regret it and if you are not sure use your mobile phone to take pictures of each step before you pull it apart so you have pictures to work by going backwards 🙂
      Chow Angela

  17. A gentle swipe with a baby wipe will remove black streaks from clay most of the time. I’ve also used an exacto knife to scrape it off. The best way to avoid it is to keep the sheet narrow enough to fit inside the streak-free area and/or make some guides to keep the clay in bounds. My Atlas does leave a light gray streak if I forget the “rules”, but my Sculpey-branded machine was much worse (which is what precipitated the sacrifice of my under-utilized kitchen appliance to the clay cause). To avoid discoloring white and light clay, I often do the conditioning between two pieces of cellophane (like you would use for wrapping gift baskets). I keep a thick rubber band (I think I saved it from a bunch of asparagus) in my tool bag. Wrapped around the interior end of the handle, it keeps it from falling out and scaring the cat. It can be also used as a “third hand” when working with pliers.

  18. Thanks, Ginger. This is a thorough and comprehensive article (as usual!) I am looking forward to reading your review of clay and pasta machines. Will you be including the Lucy Machine? When it is available, that is 🙂
    I have been happy with the Atlas 150 over the past 5 years and have had only the “normal” problems with it.

  19. Dixie Ann Scott

    Fortunately Ginger, I won a Dream Machine several years ago and don’t have any of the above problems.
    I only recently added a motor for it and it really is a dream machine, but I thank you for all of your advice and insite.

  20. Great article, Ginger! Oh, how I love my “Kisselized” Atlas. It was pricey, but the first really nice custom tool I bought for polymer clay, and it was worth every penny. With just the twist of a thumb screw I can remove the blade from the roller and clean everything thoroughly.

  21. Thank you Ginger for a great article on the pasta machines 🙂

    like you mine also has the horizontal lines but they don’t worry me 🙂 I did have the problem of my blades under the machine bending so much so I had to buy a new machine which was not as good as my old one but when I went to place my motor on the new machine I found it had nothing to lock onto 🙁 so I pulled my old machine out took of the side plate and placed it on the machine 🙂 yep problem solved or so I thought :-/
    Suddenly the roller was moving in and out when turning so my clay was coming out fat then skinny and then fat again man it drove me up the wall I pulled the brand new machine apart cleaned it put back together still no luck until I looked at the dial it was bent and that was the problem so pulled out my old machine took the dial from that one …… Oh no it does not fit it is totally different now I have to buy a new machine and this one is only 2 days old ……
    Then I had the light bulb moment why not take the blades of the new machine and put them on my old machine…….. Yeppy it worked now my old pasta machine is back on my bench all screwed into it again and has been working well ever since so nope did not take the new machine back for a replacement 🙂

    I did notice the rollers are made of aluminium so I might change the rollers over the next time I pull it apart for cleaning behind the blades 🙂 as mine are steel and it does get that black mark once in awhile on lighter clay :-/ but it can wait until the next cleaning date for the machine 🙂 for now I have the rollers put away safe for the change over if it works 🙂 even if I change just one roller it might help with the black smear I get sometimes 🙂

    I look forward to,reading about the new machine that LC is bring out if it’s as good as what everyone is hoping its on my wish list for now but the price is putting it on hold for now as I heard it will be around $200AUS which is a lot of money but if it comes with a motor then that’s not too bad really, I did spent $78AUS on my hand turned pasta machin when I use to make home made pasta well I still do but I now have a fancy machine for doing it now and I have since bought the motor for my clay machine which did push the price up to the $200 mark so thinking about it the price is not too high if it comes with a motor built in then 🙂

    Sorry went off at a right angle there 🙂
    Have a great Week 🙂

    1. Karen Lee Price Luda

      Angela, very much enjoyed your comment, and especially your very creative problem-solving. I did notice, though, that your understanding of the pricing for the new LC machine is very different from what I’ve seen so far. So I’ve included a link to what I’ve seen, which also mentions that there is no motor just yet, but that there will be an OPTIONAL motor feature, to be introduced in 2017. It will cost extra, though.

      I didn’t look up the difference between AUS and USD, so I guess I’d better go do that.

      Thanks for sharing your pasta machine adventure with the rest of us.

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