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Faux Wood Veneer
by Suzanne Ivester
November 2003
Here's an easy way to make sheets of clay in colorful, realistic wood-grain patterns. You can use this technique to create inlaid designs and to cover beads, boxes, and frames. Your imagination and the size of your oven are the only limits!

By using the colors suggested here, you'll get a rich, warm mahogany. But be creative and express yourself! Different color combinations will make different wood tones. You may want to make more than one color of wood (a light and a dark) and combine them in inlay patterns. I'll make some suggestions for color variations and projects at the end of the tutorial.

Materials and Tools

  • Conditioned clay: alizarin crimson, yellow ochre, silver, copper, black, and translucent
  • Pasta machine
  • Clay gun with small multi-hole die
  • Needle tool
  • Sharp, sturdy blade

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: To get started, blend colors as shown from left to right in Figure 1: (a) two parts yellow ochre to one part black, (b) equal parts silver and alizarin crimson, (c) two parts copper to one part black, (d) equal parts alizarin crimson and black, and (e) equal parts yellow ochre and silver. Just set the translucent clay aside for a later step.

Here's an easy way to make sheets of clay in colorful, realistic wood-grain patterns. You can use this technique to create inlaid designs and to cover beads, boxes, and frames. Your imagination and the size of your oven are the only limits!

By using the colors suggested here, you'll get a rich, warm mahogany. But be creative and express yourself! Different color combinations will make different wood tones. You may want to make more than one color of wood (a light and a dark) and combine them in inlay patterns. I'll make some suggestions for color variations and projects at the end of the tutorial.

Materials and Tools

  • Conditioned clay: alizarin crimson, yellow ochre, silver, copper, black, and translucent
  • Pasta machine
  • Clay gun with small multi-hole die
  • Needle tool
  • Sharp, sturdy blade

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: To get started, blend colors as shown from left to right in Figure 1:

  • (a) two parts yellow ochre to one part black
  • (b) equal parts silver and alizarin crimson
  • (c) two parts copper to one part black
  • (d) equal parts alizarin crimson and black
  • (e) equal parts yellow ochre and silver

Just set the translucent clay aside for a later step.

Step 2: Roll each color to the thickest setting on your pasta machine. (I'll refer to my own machine: #1 is the thickest; as the numbers get higher, the clay gets thinner.) Cut the colors into long triangles of uneven widths and press them together side by side (see Figure 2).

Step 3: Fold the slab of triangles across the stripes and run it through your pasta machine, set on #1. Do this several times, always folding and feeding the clay in the same direction until the stripes are blended, similar to Figure 3.

Step 4: Rotate the striped sheet 90 degrees and run it through your pasta machine without folding. Start on the #2 setting; then do the same on #3, #4, and #5. This will blend the stripes a bit more and will give you a longer, thinner sheet (see Figure 4).

Step 5: Combine one part black, one part copper, and six parts translucent (see Figure 5). Load your clay gun with this mixture, using the smallest multi-hole die. (Think angel-hair spaghetti here.)

Step 6: Extrude long strands of the translucent mixture onto your striped sheet. Using your fingers and a needle tool, distribute the strands fairly evenly all over the sheet, but don't worry about getting the strands straight or totally even.

Pat the strands down firmly with your hands, but don't smoosh them flat (see Figure 6).

Step 7: Now here's where you'll really start to have fun! Cutting in the same direction as the stripes, cut the spaghetti-covered sheet into narrow strips, about 1/8 inch wide. Let several strips stack up on your blade as you cut, as shown in Figure 7.

Lay these stacks down with the slices standing on edge as close together as possible, forming a slab of slices with cut strings between them. Compress the stacks of slices as much as possible with your hands or with the side of your blade.

Step 8: When you've cut the whole sheet into stacks of strips, and the stacks are all in a slab, you'll notice that the stacks have formed ragged edges with points on both sides of the slab (where your fingers on the blade pinched the slices).

Cut one edge of the slab into an even line and press the points you cut off between the points on the remaining ragged edge (see Figure 8). This will enhance the wood-grain effect and give you a larger usable sheet when you're finished.

Step 9: Again, compress the slab as much as you can and insert the cut edge (the bottom edge in Figure 8) into the pasta machine on setting #1.

Don't fold the clay. Change the setting to #2 and run it through in the same direction--no folding!

Do this again at #3, #4, and #5. Voila! Now you have a nice smooth sheet of wood veneer, as seen in Figure 9.

Suggestions for Imitating Other Types of Wood

For light oak, combine gold, pearl, white, and ecru. Use translucent and yellow ochre for the strings.

For driftwood, combine silver, pearl, gray, ecru, and cobalt blue. Use translucent and black for the strings.

Project Suggestions

Inlaid "Wood" Container: Paint a tin or box with white glue and let it dry. Next, cover the top, bottom, and sides with faux wood veneer.

Create a design on the top of the box by cutting into the clay with small, shaped cutters. Remove the cutout shapes with a needle tool.

Cut the same shapes from veneer of a contrasting color and fit these shapes into the holes you've made on the top of the box. You can further embellish the design with pieces of faux stone, cabochons, or whatever you like. (See Figure 10.)

Eye-Catching "Wood" Pendant: Cut a design out of wood veneer, using a brass embossing stencil and a needle. Use a cookie cutter or template the desired size and shape of your pendant to cut around the design; also cut another piece with the same cutter or template for the back of the pendant.

Bake the wood pieces between two tiles and sand them smooth. Cut a thin sheet of black clay the same size and shape as your pendant pieces and cover it on one side with gold or silver leaf.

Use TLS to sandwich the three layers together. The metallic leaf in the middle will show through the cut-out design. Bake again and drill a hole to attach a jump ring or bale. (See Figure 11.)

About the artist:
Suzanne Ivester studied art at Kansas University and has been working in polymer clay for three years. She's a member of the Blue Ridge Polymer Clay Guild and the Smoky Mountain Polymer Clay Guild as well as the national guild. Suzanne especially enjoys using polymer clay to refurbish and enhance thrift-store finds.