Thursday, June 11, 2009

Welcome to the intriguing world of polymer clay.

There are a few things that you need to know to get the most out of your raw clay canes from Blue Morning Expressions.

Canes are fragile, keep them wrapped with clean deli wrap or saran wrap and stored in a dry cool place. I tend to keep mine in the crisper drawer of the fridge in a covered plastic container. Do not store them without the protective wrap, the plastic of a container will interact with the cane and there is the potential for destruction of the cane.

Canes are created from individual colors of polymer clay, both premixed colours and custom colours and then shaped and blended to create each of the details that you see in the overall cane. The whole cane can be the size of a dinner plate before reducing down to the small cane you hold in your hand.

Canes can be used to decorate beads, can be sliced as beads, can be used to cover glass and plastic or anything else you can think of. A newly discovered use for canes is to slice them and place them on the fingernails and cover them with a clear polish.

The trick to using canes is to slice them tissue thin with a tissue blade or a blade dedicated to cane slicing. Sculpy and Kato make some nice blades as well as AMACO. Keep your blade straight up and down on your cane and watch your fingers. From experience this little sharp blade will separate you from a nice swatch of skin before you know it and you won’t feel a thing at the time. It isn’t called a tissue blade for nothing.

Clean your blade with rubbing alcohol should it start to drag on your clay when you cut. If the blade drags, it will actually drag your design down the face of what was going to be a bead. Work slowly and steadily and you will do just fine.

Never, ever, ever use a tool for clay and then turn around and use it to consume food from or use with a pet. Even though clay is considered non-toxic, it is standard procedure in the industry to always sacrifice a tool to the clay and retire it from human food use. Just to be on the safe side.

Periodic baking in the family oven will do no harm but if you are going to become clay crazy, then it is considered a good move to get a dedicated oven for your clay habit. I am quite happy with my little toaster oven that resides in my garage and have been happily production baking for over 3 years in it almost daily without any problems at all. I do have a nice little oven thermometer in it and am know my ovens peaks and spikes from continual use. I do believe in baking lower temperature and baking longer for a more controlled baking.


1-Start by preheating your oven to 265 degrees.

2-Chill your canes in the fridge for about 20 minutes.

3- Set up a work station that has a firm flat surface that can withstand a blade on it. (glass from picture frames or ceramic tiles work great because you can cut your cane and bake it flat on the same surface)

4-If you are not using a piece of glass or tile for your baking, you will need to decide which of your baking utensils you want to permanently dedicate to clay baking.

5-After all is ready to go, begin by taking your clay cane and setting it on its side on your cutting surface. Decide how thick/thin you want to slice your beads and make some preliminary measurements. I tend to lay a ruler next to the clay and make my marks lightly with my blade in the top of the cane. Once you are satisfied with the thickness, take your blade and hold it on each end and slice down. It helps to be taller than the cane and look directly down at it so you get a nice even slice. No need to slice quickly, the blade is sharp, take your time and slice gently. This is why I chill my canes first, they slice more evenly and smoothly and it is easier to control.

6- Leave yourself room for error. If you need 10 beads, then measure out 13-15 so that you have wiggle room. Canes can never be exactly reproduced so it is imperative that you allow yourself room. We can recreate canes with the same colours but the end product is never the same.

7-Once you have all your beads sliced and assuming you are using a tile or glass to bake on, lay them flat and using a knitting needle or bamboo skewer center pierce them for charm beads or use a bead needle for a through and through pierce. If you are not using a glass or tile to bake on, use a small metal pan like a cake pan and line the center of it with parchment paper if you choose. Otherwise use the bottom of the pan. Do not use foil, your bead will be shiny on one side if you do.

8- For a small thin bead, bake them at 265 for about 15-20 minutes. Anything less than this and the bead may not cure in the center and anything much more than this you run the risk of burning it. Take a look at it after 15 minutes and make sure that it is not burning. The rule of thumb is 15 minutes for ¼ inch.

9-Remove from the oven and let them cool down. If you are using translucent cane slices, dropping them directly into ice water will help to enhance the translucence and create a clear clay. Otherwise, a simple cool down is sufficient.

10-Beads can be left unfinished with varnishes or they can be given a shiny glaze, it is up to you. I like to give mine a thin coat of Minwax polyurethane waterbased varnish in the wood stain section of the hardware store. It holds up and gives it a nice protective coating and a pleasant shine. I also will do 3 or 4 grit wet sand on my beads and a buff before I do my varnish.

11- String or wire wrap as you would any other bead/gem/stone and enjoy the one of a kind creation that you have just made.

Let me know if you have any questions.


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