Essential polymer tools


Polymer Clay 
Ok, so this is definitely essential!
 However, there are lots of different types of clay and it helps to know a bit about them.
Fimo is one of the best known, partly because it's been around for 30-40 years, and partly because they seem to have little stands of Fimo blocks in every Hobbycraft and craft shop you go into. It’s the one most kids in the UK have had a play with.

Actually despite its ubiquity, Fimo these days is good. Really good. The latest incarnation is Fimo Professional which seems to be an improvement on both of the old formulations - Fimo Classic (very stiff, often depressingly crumbly, but - once conditioned - great for precise detailed work like caning).

Fimo Soft was marketed for kids and anyone who didn’t like stiff clay (so it’s squidgy, also sometimes depressingly crumbly, and a bit smeary and not much good for anything with any fine detail). Strangely the two formulations came in totally different sets of colours.

Because polymer has taken off in a big way in the USA and parts of Eastern Europe there are now many brands of clay available, each with their own distinct characteristics.

I have largely stuck with Fimo Professional because A) I like making canes and it’s very good for that, and b) because it’s what I started with.

However, I have also tried Kato Clay and their mica clays (gold and silver) are great. It’s a strange mixture of stiff and floppy – if you warm it up and work it, the clay will feel incredibly floppy and stretchy, but for the purposes of caning its quite a stiff clay. It also demands a slightly higher curing temperature than Fimo which is worth bearing in mind if you’re mixing the two – Kato won’t cure at Fimo temperatures. Fimo can cope with Kato temperatures, but your whites will yellow if you don’t cover your piece with foil.

The other thing many people don’t like about Kato is the smell. It has quite a strong plastic smell – a bit like sniffing the inside of a PVC beachball. Some people hate it, others actually like the smell, and I’m sort of in between. But the fact that the finished product sometimes retains some of that smell is enough to put some people off. Which is a shame as the clay is great!

 The other one worth contemplating for specific purposes is Pardo. I’ve only tried their translucent which is reputed to be the best (ie most translucent!) – and this is a big achievement as both Kato and Fimo make translucent which isn’t much cop. The downside of Pardo is that it has a rather unfriendly texture – a bit waxy and incredibly stiff and slow to warm up – which makes it a bit offputting to use. However, if you’re looking to model a wine glass from polymer clay, that’s the one to use.

Clay suppliers.

You can buy clay from big craft stores but you’re likely to A) pay way too much for it, B) only have access to the fiddly little packages rather than the 350g versions and C) you really don’t know how long it’s been sitting on their shelves.

 And here I must say I’m sorry to report that clay does ‘go off’. Even in unopened packages in a dark cool place. It doesn’t go off completely unless it’s exposed to high temperatures which start the curing process. Which, lets face it, is quite unlikely in Britain. But it does sort of ‘seize up’ and go rock hard. If you pick up a pack of clay and it is totally unresponsive to a firm squeeze, you should give it a wide berth. New clay will deform smoothly and willingly if you press it between finger and thumb, and that’s what you want when you take it out of the packet to start the conditioning process.

 If you buy that rock hard clay, when you get it out of the packet and start on it with a rolling pin, what will happen is that big sections of the clay will shatter and shear off, rather than changing shape. You will eventually end up with what looks like a pile of crumbled rock on your worksurface, and by then you will know that your clay is old and crap.

 The good news is that in almost all cases, it can be rescued. The bad news is that it is very , very hard work, takes a long time and a lot of elbow grease and the finished sheet of clay will always be a bit temperamental and crumbly, given the opportunity.

 You are going to need a worksurface which is impervious to clay, and can cope with having a sharp blade pressed down on it, and scraped across the surface repeatedly. It needs to be completely smooth, rigid and texture-free.

My preference to start with would be a large flat white tile with no surface texture whatsoever – don’t do as I did and get one with a slightly wavy surface!

 And unless you are going to be working in a really tiny area, don’t buy a poky little 4 inch square… you need to be able to spread out a bit. Aim for something a little bit wider than a normal ruler (so at least 30cm or 12” wide). It probably won’t cost you more than £2-3.

 In my studio I have a 120x60cm sheet of toughened glass which acts as my worksurface but in practice I only use the front 15cm of it (as I’m chronically untidy and the rest of it is covered in unfinished canes and tools and bits of clay).

 Toughened glass also isn’t as tough as it sounds – it is easily damaged with the edge of blades and mine is covered in gouges.


 It comes with two wavy ‘rick rack’ blades but I haven’t found a good use for them yet!

You can also get short stiff blades (like these) and highly flexible tissue blades which are useful for some techniques but no good for general use.



A clay roller.

A roller of some sort is essential. It needs to be made of something the clay doesn't stick to, and acrylic seems to be universally popular.

Sculpey does one but sells a cheaper plain acrylic roller which is fine, but the ends are sometimes a little sharp. A quick rub with some sandpaper will make them easier on your hands.

 Another alternative is a short piece of 22mm polypipe from the local plumbing shop, with the edges sanded smooth.


Pasta machine

You really do want a pasta machine. You can make lots of lovely things without one, but it is still a basic piece of kit for conditioning clay and making sheets for all sorts of projects.

Where do I get one?

 First, if you find a pasta machine of any variety at the back of the cupboard, use that. Be aware that you are unlikely to want to use it for pasta ever again (if only because you will be too busy playing with clay to want to fiddle about making pasta…but also because we are told not to use anything that’s been used for polymer clay for food afterwards)

 If you need to buy one, don’t go straight to the local department store and have heart palpitations at the £90 machines. Many, many pasta machines have been sold… but very few of us make much pasta at home, so there are hundreds of thousands gathering dust at the back of cupboards.

 Check out Ebay and pay £15-25 at most. (If you can avoid paying postage for the ravioli and spaghetti / fettucini attachments most of them come with, do – they don’t work with polymer).

 Which one should I get? If you’re just having a go, use whatever comes to hand. If you plan to do a lot of claying, most polymer people seem to recommend the Marcato Atlas 150. I've got a 150, a 180 (a slightly wider version of the 150 which some people think is a cheap and nasty version of the original, though I like mine), and my original Imperia.

 The only difference is that the Atlas is (slightly) simpler to take apart for cleaning and fixing, as there are fewer screws and connections inside to realign. Otherwise they are much the same in use.




Poking sticks

A few metal skewers are useful for piercing beads and making holes.

 However, do NOT poke anything metal anywhere near your pasta machine as you’ll scratch the rollers which will then rust!



These are really useful for storing clay as sheets, rather than lumps or blocks - the upshot is that they keep your clay colours separate, protect them from cat and dog hair and assorted detritus, and make it easy to re-condition your clay when you come to re-use it. 



Baby wipes are incredibly useful for wiping down your tools, worksurface and hands.

I should add, don’t buy the fragranced ones. Not for any clay reason - just because the smell will never leave your nostrils



A simple metal baking tray is all you need to cure your items in the oven.

It would also be an idea to lay a sheet of greaseproof paper or silicone paper on the tray to cure your creations. (In my experience, using silver foil to line trays results in very shiny spots on your pieces which the other options don’t).


You will definitely need an oven. Fortunately, most people have one of these at home already!

But to make it the perfect polymer clay tool, you might want to add an oven thermometer to check that what it says on the dial is what happens inside the oven.

 You’d be surprised how often ovens can be 20-30 degrees out. This won’t make much difference to a roast chicken, but it could make a big difference to your clay, particularly lighter colours which will go yellow and burn at too-high temperatures.

 If your oven is 20-30 degrees lower than you thought, your clay will look fine but the minute you put any stress on it, it will crumble or snap. Underbaked clay which has been broken is difficult to fix.




Polyester Fibrefill

Another useful piece of kit if you’re likely to be making a lot of beads, bracelets or other oddly shaped things is a sheet of the polyester fibrefill stuff that you find inside quilts.

Rather surprisingly, this stuff doesn’t melt into a puddle of goo in the oven - a layer of it survives the polymer clay temperatures perfectly well, and it acts as a nice little bed for your items to rest on during curing.


If you've created something really beautiful, you're probably going to want to sand it.

A basic guide to sanding is given HERE but as far as a kit list goes, you'll need:

  • 240 grit
  • 400 grit
  • 600 grit
  • 1000 grit
  • 1200 grit.

 The higher grit pieces will last longer (less wear and tear) so get more of the 240/400 sheets.


A few cookie cutters (preferably metal tho the plastic ones seem to be immune to clay) are a really handy addition.

 You'll use them as forms for bracelets as well as for cutting shapes. Also great for kids to use with polymer - the basis of many lovely craft projects!



Water Spray

 A small spray bottle full of water is very useful - a quick mist of your clay will stop it sticking to things such as texture sheets. Don't overdo it though, or you'll end up with a sticky mess.

The jury's out on whether it's better to spray the clay, or the item which threatens to stick.

 A light dusting of cornflour works too - especially if you can apply it evenly using a 'pounce'.

The water will dry - eventually - but sufficient quantities of cornflour will change the workability of your clay, so go easy!

A small spray bottle full of water is very useful - a quick mist of your clay will stop it sticking to things such as texture sheets. Don't overdo it though, or you'll end up with a sticky mess.

The jury's out on whether it's better to spray the clay, or the item which threatens to stick.

A light dusting of cornflour works too - especially if you can apply it evenly using a 'pounce'.

The water will dry - eventually - but sufficient quantities of cornflour will change the workability of your clay, so go easy!