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Polymer Clay Polyzine

Copyright 2000-2004
Raleigh, NC
ISSN 1534-1038
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Covering Penknives With Polymer Clay

By Alan Vernall
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Publisher's Note: Not only is Alan sharing this tutorial with pcPolyzine readers, he first made it available to his friends on the ClayPlayPals group site. Thank you, Alan, for your generous spirit.

People always want to find new things to make or decorate with polyclay. For some time, I’ve been on the lookout for an all-metal penknife, which could be covered. I say all-metal because, as we all know, penknives frequently have side-plates on their handles which can be made from all kinds of materials, most of which wouldn’t stand up to claybake heat. Something, which may not be widely known, is the fact that some knives have inserts of nylon or other plastics inside them to space the blades or reduce friction. So, if in doubt, the whole penknife shouldn’t be exposed to claybake temperatures.

                          ivory knife handleRecently, I’ve found some knives that have stainless steel blades, several different functional attachments and metal side-plates on their handles, which can be removed easily for clay covering purposes.

 Instead of removing the side-plates, one could make templates, which are exactly the same size as the side-plates. Then the baked clay panels can be subsequently attached to the original handle plates without the latter having to be removed.

                          ivory knife handle Image #2I suggest that these templates be made from thick card or the kind of aluminum sheet used to make drinks cans. Metal templates have several advantages. The clay will easily detach from the metal, they are quite robust, both sides of the template can be clay covered and the template can be reused after removal of the baked clay.

There is a definite advantage in disassembling and sacrificing one knife in order to use the actual handle side-plates. The plates are slightly curved at their edges and if the clay is baked on these plates, it will conform exactly to the original shape. As the knives are mass produced, of course, all the plates are identical and so the clay formed and baked on one will naturally be a perfect fit for any other.

I suggest that the template or side-plate is first covered with a layer of scrap clay and smoothed carefully. This will provide a good surface on which to apply cane slices, sheets of solid colour or whatever design with which you have decided to decorate the knife. Of course, any design can be used in the clay. If one is making a handle with a specific recipient in mind, one can incorporate their initials into the design. It’s also possible to stamp designs into the clay, which could reflect the recipients’ interests or hobbies or celebrate a special occasion.

                          covered penkniveSome examples of designs I’ve made include quilt canes, fake ivory with a stamped decoration like scrimshaw and even my clay version of the semi-precious stone, malachite.

 When you’re happy with your designs, bake them at the usual temperature and time for your selected clay. When they’ve cooled thoroughly, remove them from the template and tidy up their edges with scissors or a blade – there may be small spurs of clay, which should be removed.

Multicolored cane covered penknivesNext, the metal surfaces of the side-plates of the knife to be decorated need to be abraded to allow good adhesion of the clay. I used emery paper or a small file to scratch the surfaces. Then apply a layer of Superglue to either the metal or clay and firmly press them together until the glue is fully cured.

 Finally, apply a good varnish. It may be a good idea to apply several coats, gently sanding between coats, particularly if the knife is likely to be subjected to rough treatment.

PenknifeThe knives that I’ve used and recommend are shown in the accompanying photograph.

 I hope I’ve given you some ideas for yet another item that can be clay-covered and sold or given away to an unsuspecting public.

  (Editor's Note: The 7 Function Knife is a product of Rolson Quality Tools)

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