When you first get started with any new hobby or craft, there is always the initial start-up phase where you’re excited to begin making things but don’t yet know exactly what’s involved. What tools and supplies do you need to get started with polymer clay? Is there such a thing as a polymer clay starter kit? I looked around a bit, and yes, there are a few kits for sale out there. And there are a few lists created by online shops. That’s fine, but then the list is full of things you need to buy. And I don’t think it should cost a lot to get started working with polymer clay.
So, what tools and supplies should you buy? Which are the most important and which ones will wait? Here are my recommendations for what should be in your polymer clay starter kit. I’ll start with the “must have” items that everyone will want to gather, and then add another list for when you get further advanced and even another list for “someday dream items”.
What Polymer Clay Tools Should Beginners Buy?
- When getting started with polymer clay, don’t buy too much. It’s easy to buy things you won’t need.
- Most of what you need can be found around the house or very cheaply in craft or hardware stores.
- Below are lists for a Basic Beginner Kit, and Advanced Kit, and a Dream Kit.
- Start with the Beginner Kit, then add more supplies when you know what you like to make.
Basic Beginner Polymer Clay Starter Kit
You will likely find these items in your local craft store for just a few dollars. If you do other crafts, you’ll likely even have them on hand already.
- X-acto or other craft knife – Just the usual #11 blade works great. I keep both a dull one and a super sharp one for different purposes. Watch out, though. When new, these are like scalpels.
- Needle Tools – You can buy one, or even better, I have a tutorial showing how to Make Your Own Needle Tools.
- Ball Stylus – Use this for making decorative holes and adding tiny dots of paint.
- Long Scraper Blade – You don’t need a super sharp blade for general cutting work. I have a fairly dull and stiff blade that I used for chopping, lifting, shaving, cutting shapes, and cutting clay off a new block. For more advanced techniques, you’ll need a super sharp tissue blade, but that comes later.
- Roller or Rod – I prefer an acrylic rod, but plastic works nicely as well. Don’t use a wooden rolling pin as the clay’s plasticizers will soak into the wood.
All polymer clays are not created equal. Each brand has very different characteristics which can lead to frustration if you choose an unsuitable clay. If you know already what you want to make, have a look at my article What’s the Best Polymer Clay Brand for more insight on how to make a great clay choice. Not sure what you want to make? For a great all-purpose clay that will work for most anything you’ll want to create, start with Premo or Fimo (either Fimo Soft or Fimo Professional). Sculpey Original, Bake Shop, and Sculpey III have their uses, but are often frustrating for beginners due to their soft texture and brittle results.
Household or Hardware Store Items
Most of the items I use to work with polymer clay have been gathered from around the house. And if you don’t already have these things in your home, you can pick up the rest on a quick trip to the hardware store.
- Ceramic Tiles – These are great bakable work surfaces that go from table to oven. They’re also good for holding the heat ensuring even baking. I like them so much I’ve written a whole article about using Ceramic Tiles with Polymer Clay.
- Foil Pans and a Binder Clip – Polymer clay can brown easily when your oven misbehaves. To protect your project, it’s handy to bake inside of a foil pan, the second inverted as a lid. Clip them closed with a binder clip. Read more in my Baking Tips & Tricks article.
- Home Oven – You do NOT need a dedicated polymer clay oven. You can safely and easily use your home oven to bake your polymer clay creations. Many people choose to use a smaller oven for convenience, but beginners are just fine using the one in the kitchen. Read about Choosing a Polymer Clay Oven.
- Travel Spray Bottles (2) – The small size and fine spray of these small bottles works well with polymer clay. I fill one with water (for a mold release and for thinning paint) and the other with rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol dissolves polymer clay so it’s great for cleaning your hands, work surface, and tools.
- Old Toothbrush – These are surprisingly useful for everything from creating texture (bristles and handle) to cleaning and scrubbing residue from baked clay before painting.
- Coarse Grit Sandpaper – I use this to create texture on the backs of my pendants. It disguises fingerprints and small blemishes, allowing your finished product to look more professional. You can also use a new green scrubber pad or other kitchen scrubber.
- Basic Cookie Cutter Shapes – Especially when in graduated sizes, these come in handy in all sorts of ways. Make sure to get a round set, but other shapes are nice, too. Makins brand cutters are inexpensive and come in simple sets.
Here’s a list of supplies that you will use up and will want to keep on hand as you work with polymer clay. Again, these are not expensive and most of them are already in your home.
- Kleenex and/or Paper Towels – Paper towels are an obvious choice, but I actually like Kleenex in a pop-up box because they’re easy to grab. I even wrote an article about how often I use Kleenex in my studio.
- Baby Wipes – Polymer residue can build up on your hands and baby wipes have the perfect combination of solvent and scrub-power. They just work. Read more tips in my article on Baby Wipes here.
- Scrap Copy Paper – Sometimes you don’t want your polymer clay to stick to your work surface, and plain paper works great for this. It’s also good for putting under your clay during baking to prevent shiny spots. I wrote an article about Using Copy Paper with Polymer Clay with lots more examples for using it.
- Ziploc Sandwich Bags – After you open your package of polymer clay, you will want to keep it sealed from dust. Ziploc bags are the perfect solution. Also good for saving your mixed color blends, too.
- Toothpicks – Although they’re a bit big for poking bead holes, toothpicks make surprisingly good sculpting tools. I also use them to mix paint.
- Cornstarch – Often used as an insulator and/or cushion for baking polymer clay, cornstarch is also a valuable product for smoothing out fingerprints on your unbaked clay. Read more about Using Cornstarch with Polymer Clay here.
Advanced Additions to a Polymer Clay Tool Kit
Once you have gathered your supplies for a polymer clay starter kit and you’ve worked with clay a bit, you’ll have a lot better idea of what types of things you want to be making. Now is the time to start investing in some more specialized tools and move to upgraded solutions.
- Oven Thermometer – Most ovens lie. Some a little and some a lot. An oven thermometer lets you know how much it’s lying and allows you to compensate by adjusting the temperature dial. It’s really important to know what temperature your oven actually is. Too hot and you’ll have discoloration. Too cool and your clay will be brittle and weak.
- Liquid Polymer Clay – I recommend Kato Liquid or Fimo Liquid. These can be used as a glue, a thinner for hard clay, as a glaze, a filler, and for many types of special effects.
- Sandpaper – To get a very high glass-like shine on polymer clay, you will need to sand it very smooth using wet/dry sandpaper, starting at around 320 grit and going through each one until 1500 grit or so. This must be done on wet clay with plenty of water. (And if you struggle with getting a glass-like finish, check out my Sanding and Buffing eBook.)
- Varathane and/or PYM II – Some surface treatments, such as mica powders and metal leaf, need to be sealed for protection. Varathane is a water-based brush-on varnish. PYM II is one of the few spray varnishes that is recommended for use with polymer clay. The others tend to stay sticky. (Read more about sealers and clearcoats here.)
- Pasta Machine – This is a high priority tool to get. Both the Makins and the Atlas are good mid-level brands. It makes conditioning clay, mixing colors and skinner blends, and rolling sheets much easier. Choose the Makins or Atlas brands if you think you will add a motor later.
- Wipe Out Tool – This is a highly recommended little rubber-tipped tool that just works so well with polymer clay that I tell everyone to get it. You can read my review of the Wipe-Out Tool here.
- Extruder – This tool pushes clay through a patterned disk to make a “snake” of clay in a certain shape like a triangle or a heart. There are whole categories of techniques that use extruders. It’s a good tool to have on hand and the inexpensive green Makins brand is a good one to start with. This brand will break with heavy use, but for beginners it’s great.
- Tissue Blade – If you need to slice paper-thin slices of canes or stacks of clay for making mokume gane, you’ll need a super sharp blade. Tissue blades used in medical labs are perfect. But they’re ultra sharp. Don’t use these for your everyday slicing needs or you’ll get cut.
- MicroPerm Pen – Sharpies fade and turn purple over time. So if you need to write on polymer clay, the MicroPerm pen by Sakura has tested well. Read about my tests with markers on polymer clay.
- Texture Sheets and Stamps – Silicone stamps, rubber stamps, embossing folders, and texture sheets have many uses in polymer clay.
- Kemper Kutters – These are sets of small brass cutters in various shapes with little plungers to push out the clay shape. They’re well made and a good investment. I would certainly get the round set for sure, and collect others as your needs expand.
- Gel Super Glue – There is no one perfect glue for all uses with polymer clay. But a high quality gel super glue will work for a lot of things. Loctite Gel is one and Lisa Pavelka’s PolyBonder is brilliant. Read more about Using Glues with Polymer Clay.
For Bead and Jewelry Makers
- Bead Pins – It’s easiest to make holes in beads before baking. But using a toothpick or a skewer can distort the bead. So I like using Bead Pins. They make a fairly small hole, but it can easily be enlarged after baking with a micro drill. Read more in my article about Bead Pins.
- Micro Drill – Using a Dremel to drill holes through polymer clay can be difficult because it’s easy to get off track. Using a hand drill is great, but the bits are a bit large. A micro drill from a hobby shop has a whole range of bit sizes from thick pencil lead size all the way down to thinner than a sewing pin. It’s perfect for enlarging the holes from your bead pins or for making holes after baking when you’re not sure where to put the hole until you’re making the jewelry. Read more about a Micro Drill in my article.
- Jewelry Findings – Jump rings, glue-on bails, chain, clasps, head pins, wire, ear wires, and accent beads are all going to come in handy if you decide to make polymer clay beads and jewelry.
- Jewelry Tools – You could go crazy here, but the basics that work well for me are wire cutters, chain-nose pliers (two pairs) and round-nosed pliers. You can do a lot with those.
Dream and Upgraded Tools
Once you have been working with polymer clay for a while and you’re past needing a polymer clay starter kit, it’s time to start thinking about upgrading your tools and getting the more advanced versions of tools. These are not beginner tools, but should be thought of more as an investment for the long term.
- Czextruder – The green Makins extruder works nicely, but if you find that you’re doing a lot of extruding work, I can’t recommend the Czextruder highly enough. Like all the items I’ve included in this section it’s pricey. But it should last a lifetime and also works well with the disks you already would have from your Makins. Read my review of the Czextruder here.
- Pasta Machine Motor – You do not need to have a motor on your pasta machine, but it sure makes it nice. Both the Makins and the Atlas brands have motors available. Motors are noisy, but they allow you to guide the clay into the machine with both hands and make the process go faster. They also help you avoid shoulder strain if cranking makes your arm hurt.
- Dedicated Clay Oven – A separate clay oven is not necessary, but if your claying area is far from your kitchen or if you bake clay so often that your oven is seldom free, you might want to invest in a claying oven. I can’t recommend a brand, but I do know that convection ovens work better because they distribute the heat more evenly, preventing hot spots and scorching.
- Slicer – There are many options here, such as the Simple Slicer. But the cream of the crop is the LC Tools Slicer. I have one and I can recommend it highly.
Fun Craft Materials
Of course this list of polymer clay starter kit ideas would not be complete without mentioning the incredible range of fun craft materials that can be used with polymer clay. I’m not going to go into detail on these, but know that these products are often used by polymer clayers and are things that would be a lot of fun to add to your kit.
- Alcohol Inks
- Metal Leaf
- Mica Powders
- Crystals for Bling
- Epoxy Resin
- Silicone Mold Putty
- Acrylic Paint
- Pan Pastels
In addition to having all the right tools and supplies to get started with polymer clay, there’s still lots to learn. It can be overwhelming at first! But I’ve gathered together a lot of information that will help you. Here goes.