Polymer Clay Polyzine Tutorial:
Covering an Altoid® Hinged Box
by Desiree McCrorey
I've had such fun covering
Altoid mint boxes. My love and fascination for covering them is so
great, it may equal my love for covering light switch plates!
One common question
I've been asked is how to make the clay stick to the metal
surface of the box. Perhaps you need to develop a strong dislike
to strong mints. ;-)
Actually, I think it
helps. When I started covering these boxes, I didn't handle the
boxes that much because I didn't eat the mints. After tearing
off the shrink-wrap, I immediately dumped out all the mints and
washed the empty boxes in hot soapy water to remove the powdery
residue. Then I carefully dried the boxes and immediately
covered them with clay.
If you have Altoid
boxes that have been frequently handled (picked up, opened,
closed, etc.), they're likely covered in just enough hand oils,
powdery residue, dust and dirt to make it difficult for the clay
to stick well. I'll bet if you clean the boxes and your hands
before covering the boxes, you'll have no trouble making the
The other critical
aspects to assuring the clay sticks to the box surface is to
make the cover fit like a glove and remove any trapped air. I
think it also helps to use clay that is as soft as Premo. Softer
clay tends to stick better to itself and anything else it
Here are the steps to
cover a standard sized Altoid mints hinged lid box.
Premo pearl clays
pasta machine (I
used a Mercato Atlas)
Altoid tin (empty
and thoroughly washed and dried)
acrylic floor polish or Flecto Varathane
1) Cut a couple of
sheets of waxed paper that are approximately 6" X 6" each.
Precision isn't important, though. Set aside.
2) Covering the Altoid
Roll a polymer clay
sheet to #4 pasta machine setting thickness. Flip the Altoid tin
so it is bottom side up. Place the clay sheet on one edge of the
As you place the
clay sheet on the tin, gently stroke the sheet onto the clean
metal surface, advancing from one edge to the other. By
gradually covering the surface like this, you reduce the
chance of trapping air under the clay.
Roll across the
sheet using your Lucite roller. This seems to really help the
clay stick to the metal surface and also reveal any trapped
If the clay sheet
tends to stick to the roller, place a sheet of waxed paper on
the clay sheet and roll over the waxed paper.
Remove the waxed paper.
Check for air pockets
(gently raised domes in the clay). If there are any air
pockets, it's too late to pry the sheet off because it seems
to stick to the clean metal surface pretty well. Use the
thinnest needle you can find to poke a hole in the pocket and
push to force out the air.
Re-roll to smooth
the surface. Gently press the hole with one of your fingers to
close it up.
Re-cover the clay sheet with the
waxed paper. Flip the box so it is right side up. Place the
box on your work surface.
Trim away the excess
clay using your NuBlade. By setting the clay covered surface
on the wax paper, you prevent your piece from sticking to the
3) Covering the Altoid box top:
Roll a polymer clay
sheet to #4 pasta machine setting thickness. Place the clay
sheet on one edge of the box top.
As you place the
clay sheet on the box, gently stroke the sheet onto the clean
metal surface, advancing from one edge to the other.
Finish using the
same covering technique you used to cover the bottom of the
Cut away the excess
clay by flipping the box upside down and trimming. If you've
left the box bottom covered by wax paper, temporarily remove
it so you can easily trim the top sheet.
4) Covering the lower
sides of the Altoid box:
Using the #4 thickness
on the pasta machine, make a strip that is at least 10/16ths
inch wide and at least 11 1/2 inches long. Don't fret if the
strip is wider or longer - you can trim away the excess after
applying the strip to the box sides.
Start at the back of the box. Place the strip right up against
the rim of the lid. With a gentle yet steady tension, begin
wrapping the strip around the lower sides of the box, pressing
the clay against the side as you go.
When you have completely encircled the box, trim the excess
length and press the cut edges together. Smoothly blend the
Place the box upside down. Press the strip against the bottom
sheet until it sticks. With your blade laying on the bottom
sheet trim away any excess clay so that the strip is flush with
the box bottom.
5) Covering the Altoid sides of the upper half:
Using the #4 thickness
on the pasta machine, make a strip that is at least 5/16ths inch
wide and at least 11 1/2 inches long. Don't fret if the strip is
wider or longer - you can trim away the excess after applying
the strip to the box sides.
Place and trim the clay for the top sides the same way you did
for the bottom sides.
6) Adding rope trim:
Roll out two clay ropes
that are each about 2/16ths inch to 3/16ths inch thick and at
least 11 1/2 - 12 inches long. When rolling, use your palms --
never fingers -- to create nice evenly thick ropes.
Place waxed paper on the
box top, then flip so the box is upside down.
Cut one end of a rope on the diagonal. Align the rope so that it
rests on the cut edge of the side strip, covering the cut edge.
When you have completely encircled the edge, cut the end of the
rope on the diagonal and slightly twist so it matches the slant
of the other end. Press the ends together and smoothly blend to
remove the seams. Gently and firmly press the rope into the edge
without distorting the rope's shape.
Flip the box right side up, placing it on another sheet of waxed
paper. Remove the waxed paper that was on the top of the box.
Add rope trim to the top of the box just as you added trim to
7) Adding ball feet:
Use the 7/8ths inch
hole punch on a #1 thick clay sheet to cut out five (5) circles.
Roll each cutout into a ball.
Place four (4) of the balls on the corners of the bottom of your
box, just inside the trim. Place the box on its feet and gently,
gently press evenly to assure the feet stick to the bottom and
trim corners. Be careful not to distort the trim too much. It's
OK for the balls to be just a little flat.
Take the 5th ball and
place it directly in the center of the front edge of the box,
just inside the trim. Press gently to assure the ball sticks.
Use the 3/16ths inch hole
punch to punch out eight (8) circles out of a clay sheet that
is #4 thick. Combine four (4) of the circles into one ball.
Combine the other 4 circles into another ball.
Repeat this process
three times, punching out six (6) circles to make two balls,
then four (4) circles to make two balls, and finally two (2)
circles to make two balls. You should have a total of eight
(8) balls of gradually decreasing sizes.
Arrange the balls on
both sides of the center ball. Make sure they rest along the
trim sides as well as the bottom.
Obviously, you can decorate as you like, and you can get far
more detailed, adding different shapes, different trim, etc.
Be creative and experiment.
9) Hinge work:
Use the Xacto knife
with the #19 blade to horizontally score the clay area just
above the hinges. The #19 blade is only slightly wider than the
exact width of the hinge, so it's perfect for cutting out the
hinge opening. Simply press the blade into the clay.
Use the Xacto knife
with a #11 blade to score along either side. Use the #19 blade
again to cut upwards along the hinge itself.
If the clay is firm
enough, you can easily remove two little slots which will
allow the hinges to work as soon as the box cools from its
baking. If the clay is very soft and distorts easily, scoring
the slots will suffice. Wait until after baking and cooling to
finish removing the clay from the slots so the hinges can
"What are the
tweezers for?" you may wonder. If your workspace and home are
like mine, you've got no better way to deftly remove those
sneaky little cats hairs that seem intent on attaching to the
raw clay. ;-)
Carefully handle your
box while you smooth away any fingerprints you can find. Bake
your Altoid box at 275 degrees F for 45 minutes. Cool.
If you didn't do it prior to baking, use the Xacto blades to
remove any clay that would interfere with the hinges. Test to
make sure you can open and close the box.
11) Sanding and Varnishing:
You can remove finger
prints and most minor irregularities post-bake by sanding with
wet/dry 400, 600 and 1000 grits and a little water.
If you decide you want to then varnish with Future or Flecto
Varathane, make sure the box is completely dry and free of any
irregularities. The shininess seems to accentuate any surface