Submission Guidelines

Join Our
Mailing List

Your Comments

Fun & Games


Previous Issues

Tutorial Archives

Contact Us

Please visit the National Polymer Clay Guild website

Polymer Clay Polyzine

Copyright 2000-2004
Raleigh, NC
ISSN 1534-1038
All Rights Reserved.
       pcPolyzine Logo

Homemade Polymer Clay Gadgets

By Alan Vernall
polybar2 logo
Publisher's Note: It is with great pleasure that I welcome Alan Vernall back to the pages of pcPolyzine. Many of you may remember Alan when he served on the Editorial Advisory Board several years ago. Coincidentally to our online discussion groups theme, I rediscovered Alan  when I joined ClayPlayPals. A lot has transpired between then and now, and through it all, Alan maintains a dignity and sophistication that is rare in this day and age. Please join me in thanking the gentleman from England for sharing so generously his skill, expertise, and kind heart with us this month.

When I approach a hobby, I always try to find easier ways of doing things - this can be quite ‘side-tracking’ from the hobby itself, but maybe some of my ideas and findings will be useful to other Group members.

Alan Vernall Gadget Cane GridOne of the polyclay projects I really enjoy is covering glass vessels and eggs with caned polyclay. I make geometric pattern canes using either extruded square rods or ‘reduced’ blended canes.  The final cane can be a little disappointing compared to what was visualised and intended. So I’ve designed a preview aid that may be of use to others. The gadget is simply a square of thin steel sheet, painted matt white, with a grid drawn on it in fine marker pen - my grid is 8x8, but obviously any reasonable size can be made, dependent on the complexity of your canes.  I then obtained some magnetic printer ‘paper’ and cut it into strips, whose width was slightly less than the squares of the grid.  I painted the strips in various colours and cut them into small squares.  I made about 25 squares of each of eight colours.  Then the squares can be placed on the grid and the proposed cane can be designed.  As an extra aid, I cut some squares of plastic mirror which can be placed upright alongside the grid to show what a ‘times 4’ cane will look like.  (Obviously, if one hasn’t access to magnetic strip etc., the grid and squares may be made from paper - but beware of draughts!)

Alan Vernall Gadgets

I sometimes find it difficult to produce cane slices of equal thickness, and often, accurately cutting vertically can be problematical.  On the Internet, I’ve seen lots of devices that allow the clayer to produce good slices, but these tend to be only available in the US, and would be costly to import.

While browsing through a toy catalogue, I found a miniature ‘slinky’ - (you know, the spring that walks downstairs), and my mental cogs began to click.  I sent for a couple from an online novelty shop. I used masking tape to hold the coils together temporarily.  Then I made a small metal tray, (anything the correct size will do) and lay the closed spring horizontally in the tray.  The whole thing was then warmed in the oven to about 60 Centigrade. I poured ready-mixed 2-part epoxy resin into the tray, making sure the ‘inside’ of the bottom coils was covered.  Then the assembly was left to allow the epoxy to set properly (see manufacturer’s instructions).  Then the stabilising tape may be removed.  I then made a small pad of foam plastic (Plastazote) to cover the lower part of the inside of the coil - this makes slicing the canes easier (and extends blade life). Then the cane to be sliced is placed into the spring, and, using two tissue blades (thin ones are best), the cane is sliced by ‘leapfrogging’ the blades down the spring’s length.


Alan Vernall Gadgets Cookie Cutters

I needed to find a means of making repeatable shapes, - particularly identical wings for polyclay butterfly brooches.  I tried lots of things, ranging from paper ‘masks’ and stencils to mounted pin markers.

The method that worked best was to make a series of ‘cookie cutters’ from brass strip.  The gauge of metal I used was 0.005inch sheet (available in the K&S range - No 250).  The sheets are 4ins X 10ins.  I first marked the sheet into 1cm strips (giving 1cm by 10inch strips).  Then I used an old pair of kitchen scissors to cut the sheet into strips (please take care - it’s very sharp & if you cut yourself you don’t get much sympathy).  The strips can then be bent into any shape and the ends overlapped, clamped and spot-soldered together (Superglue will also work very well).  Any fine details can then be added using fine pliers or the shanks of scissors - whatever you have available.

In my butterfly cutters, I only needed to make one side of the insect, as I pressed two of the shapes, flipped one of them and pressed them together. I then added sculpted bodies with brass armatures and wire antennae to the complete wing-set to make the brooches.

Alan Vernall Gadgets Butterflies

Of course, any shape is possible - Christmas decorations covered in Pearl-ex - the possibilities are endless.

I like to use Fimo ‘spirit’ gloss varnish on most of my ‘sculpted’ pieces but I was having trouble producing a good finish, there always seemed to be air bubbles or brush-marks marring the surface sheen.  Also after a while, the solvents evaporate from the jar and the solution becomes rather thicker.  I thought one solution(!) may be to dilute the varnish and so I tried isopropyl alcohol, white spirit and genuine turpentine but none of these worked well.  I contacted Eberhard-Faber and a very helpful Roland Lenhof suggested I try nitro-verdunnung (subsequently translated as nitrocellulose paint thinners).  I obtained some of the solvent that is commonly used to clean airbrush parts etc. and I’m very pleased with the results - at 1:1 dilution, there is a little loss of the original's glossiness, but that can suit some subjects better than the high gloss.

Another idea I’d like to pass on is that the tools made for Pergamano paper art are superb for modelling in clay - there is a range of ‘ball-ended’ metal points and another set of multi-point styli - all set in good to hold triangular section handles.

I hope some of the above tools, gadgets and tips may be of help in your Polyclay endeavours.

polybar2 logo