I’m frequently asked by beginners to supply a basic polymer clay toolbox! What do I need, just the basics, to begin working with polymer clay? It can be confusing – after all, it seems like we can use pretty much everything in our toolbox but before investing in every tool, let's go over the most basic toolbox.
- A work surface – This protects your work surface and provides a good flat working surface. Ceramic tile, marble, tempered glass, formica – all of these are good surfaces. I prefer formica. It is very lightly textured so the clay will be easily lifted off of it without sticking and stretching. Some very soft clays will benefit from the coolness of marble. If you live in Arizona and it’s 90 degrees, marble is a very good choice!
- Blades - A long, flat blade is a definite necessity. Not a craft knife or a wallpaper scraper blade, but a razor sharp blade for cutting is what you’ll need. Many manufacturers sell these blades now (we were the first to market them!) in the polymer clay section of most any craft and hobby store. My preferred blade is the Nublade – it’s rigid and sharp.
- Acrylic rod – I pre flatten my clay with my acrylic rod. The clay I use is stiff and if I pre flatten clay from the package – before I run the clay through the pasta machine - conditioning is not only much faster but it also saves wear and tear on that pasta machine.
- Pasta Machine – I consider the pasta machine to be a necessary tool in this basic toolbox. I cannot imagine working without one! Conditioning the clay, rolling flat sheets, it’s such a time saver, and makes so many tasks so much easier and faster. It lowers that frustration level! The best machines can be quite expensive so you may decide to make a small investment in a less expensive machine (use a coupon at Michaels or Hobby Lobby). This investment can be as low as 20$. If you catch the polymer clay bug, you’ll invest in a better machine.
- Needle Tools – For drilling holes in beads or even cutting shapes, you will need a sharp needle tool. My preference is the Kemper Pro Tool. The needle comes straight out of the handle so you will drill straight through any mass of clay.
- Scalpel or Craft knife – This is what you’ll use to cut out shapes from a flat sheet of clay and for fine trimming.
- Curing – I have a dedicated oven but that’s not what you’ll want right off the bat. Buy an aluminum pan, fill it with baking soda or polyester batting and slide it into an oven roasting bag. This is a curing chamber that you will slide right into your home oven and will keep outgassing from collecting on the sides of your oven (it will collect in the bag!)
- Polymer Clay – There are many brands of clay out there to choose from. I won’t say “don’t use this” absolutely because your choice depends on what you intend to do with the clay. Ideally, you will try them all! I would recommend a consistently durable clay – Kato Polyclay, Fimo, Fimo Soft. Certain Premo colors are very durable but others seem to be weak (white, translucent) so bear that in mind. Sculpey III is the most fragile of all polymer clays so, generally speaking, it's not one I recommend. Cernit is very strong but the colors are translucent, not opaque, and without adjustment may not yield the best canes. Whatever you choose, buy colors in the same brand to begin with. If you cane, you’ll want clays of the same texture and feel (as much as possible) and clays that cure at the same temperature. You don’t need to buy all the colors, remember that you can mix colors – Magenta and Blue make Violet (not red and blue!) Yellow and Blue make Green. Red and Yellow make orange. So, you could begin with as few as 3 colors, and black and white.
For just about any beginner project, this is all you should need - it’s a basic toolbox. So, if you’ve always wanted to know what you need to start that journey in polyclay, here’s a good start. All you need now is to put those tools to good use. Hope to see you in an online class soon.
Donna Kato is a polymer clay artist, instructor and author who has written 3 books – The Art of Polymer Clay, The Art of Polymer Clay, Surface Effects and The Art of Polymer Clay, Millefiori Techniques. With Van Aken, International, she has released a polymer clay that bears her name, Kato Polyclay. She is a founder of CraftEdu.
Donna lives in Florissant, Colorado with husband Vernon, a Border Collie (Zoe), an Aussie (Doc), Ditto the Cat, and 6 horses.
Pictured: Hollow Pendant