Baking Polymer Clay Beads and Pendants – Tips for Awkward Shapes

Polymer Clay Penant

“Help Cindy! Can you tell me if there is a special way I should bake this item?” ~Aims

I received a somewhat desperate sounding email the other day from Aimee Abson (aka Aims). Wanted to answer it publicly so that everyone can learn from the information, as well as join into the conversation too. Here what she said…

Help Cindy!

Can you tell me if there is a special way I should bake this item? It is going to be a large pendant.

I’m afraid of it not staying flat. As you can see there are 2 levels to it. Should I put something on top and what? I am thinking that with the different thickness’ that the clay would heat and expand? differently and I’m afraid they might warp.

The piece is 9cm x 5 1/2cm  and on the thinner side it is 8mm thick while on the thicker side (the one with the stripes) it is 13mm thick.

I’m still struggling with trying to get them print free even with the cornstarch. I have a tendency to touch things I didn’t want to touch – shaky hands I guess – and then I end up having to fix again. I’m wondering if sanding after might be better because then the piece will be hard.

I made matching earrings (not shown) that are quite a bit thinner. They are 3 1/2cm x 5 1/2 cm and on the thinner side are 3mm thick while on the thicker side they are 7mm thick.

Thanks so much Cindy.

~Aimee

Now, I had to think about this for a bit. The piece is very cool looking and different than anything I have baked before. So I wanted to make sure my advice was good. I’d hate to see something go wrong.

Here’s what I came up with for you Aims…

I would put it on a piece of card stock and then on a smooth ceramic tile. Tent with another piece of card stock and bake for about ten minutes. This should set the clay well enough so that it doesn’t get fingerprints or marks on it when you do the next step.

Now carefully turn it upside down and place into a bed of cornstarch. Nestle it down into the cornstarch so it is properly supported and flat. Tent it again and bake for 1 hour.

The reason I suggest baking upside down in cornstarch like this, is because any trapped air in the clay tends to bubble up to the surface during the baking process. Better that this happens on the back side where you can finish sand more aggressively as compared to the front.

This being a relatively thick piece, I doubt it will warp at all. But the first 10 minutes of baking as described above, should help to set the piece and reduce the potential for warpage.

As far as any fingerprints or marks you may have gotten on the piece before baking, you will need to spend some time sanding them out afterwards… which I would highly recommend you do for this project.

Hopefully everything works well for you Aims. Just to be sure, I would only do one of your pieces at a time, just in case you run into any problems. And if something does go wrong, be sure to come back and write about it here, in the comments below, where we can do some trouble shooting.

Also, it would be great if you would send in a photo once everything is finished and shiny. I’m sure everyone would love to see how things turned out. Your pendant and earring design is beautiful and wonderfully unique Aims!

Cindy Lietz SignaturePolymer Clay Tutor


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Comments

  1. Thank you Cindy!

    I think I will start with one earring and see how that works out. I’m already nervous about making sure the piece is absolutely flat on a bed of cornstarch – I’m assuming I could still warp it right there if not.

    I’ll definitely let everyone know how this turns out.

    Thanks so much Cindy. I truly appreciate your help.

    Oh – btw – my brother – a potter – suggested I bake it on the tile with a beanie(wheatie)bag on top of it. Has anyone ever tried this approach? I thought maybe the bag would have to be wrapped in foil – and that in itself might have to be perfectly smooth so as to not leave any marks.

  2. Oh I don’t think foil would be a good idea….
    it leaves marks and I think it heats up too much… I find it leaves burnt marks… I don’t like it

  3. This piece is so unique, I love it. Is there a story behind the design, Aims? I wish you great success in getting this finished to your satisfaction. Can hardly wait to see a pic of the finished product. I can just imagine the anxiety you are going through. My fingers are crossed!

    My first project was a bear that had three levels and was a great learning experience from many aspects. But after many beads, pendants and helping the girls make a Stonehendge for their dad this summer I attempted to make a medalion with a wolf head stamped on the second level. I knew the sandwich method wouldn’t work so I took some pieces of wood (scrabble size) and placed them on the corners of the tile just high enough so as to not touch the piece. The piece sat on a plane piece of copy paper and was covered with parchment paper before the top tile was put in place. It cooked in the center of my toaster oven for one hour @ 265/275′ and I am happy with it. I don’t think this piece is as thick as yours though. I’m really new at this so I may have been lucky. Someday I will try something like it again and see what happens. Wishing you the best…
    .

  4. Cindy,
    All the time my medalion was baking I was hoping I had gotten all the air bubbles out. I had wanted to turn it upside down but new that wasn’t the answer. I never thought of the cornstarch. I will have to keep that in mind. I certainly would have rested easier while it was cooking with your method. So much to learn and great fun trying.

  5. Aims, I agree with Melinda… don’t use foil, it will definitely heat up and cause problems. Your piece is quite thick and should not warp.

    If you are still worried, you could lay a tile on the back after you’ve pushed it into the cornstarch. This will help weight it down and keep it flat. Push the piece right down so that the colored ‘piano keys’ (for lack of a better description) are touching the bottom of the ceramic dish or tile you have your cornstarch on. Then put the tile on top. The cornstarch will just support the spaces where there is no clay.

    Don’t worry too much. It should work out fine. Do let us know how it goes!

  6. After reading all this about baking beads… I have a question… I bought a toaster oven a little while ago so I wouldn’t be using the family oven anymore but it didn’t work out that way. It burned my beads every time I used it!!! I even took it down to 200 degrees… but no… it melted the batting that I use for support for many of my beads and scorched the parchment paper I used once but most of all my beads were ruined… scorched… sometimes only a little and sometimes to a degree that was just unbearable. I wanted to cry so I started using the regular oven again because my trusty oven has never done such an evil thing to me… Is this a common problem or is my toaster oven defective?

  7. I purchased a regular household toaster oven when I first started using pc and had so many burn events that I almost decided pc wasn’t for me. About that time the Amaco oven went on sale at Hobby Lobby so I bought one, hopeful that because it said it was a “clay oven” I would have better luck. I must say since this purchase I have been doing fine. I don’t know if the regular household ones don’t maintain a constant temperature or whether the one I had originally purchased was also defective.

  8. Melinda, Do you have an oven thermometer? I think it is a must in order to make sure your oven doesn’t over heat. I would try to take the toaster oven back where you got it. I bet it is defected.

    Aims! What a cool piece! Good luck in the baking department. I have my fingers crossed for you!

  9. Thanks Catalina and Elizabeth for helping Melinda. I appreciate that!

    Melinda, the heat is spiking in your toaster oven. Read the article and comments in the post I have linked by my name. It should help.

    **You all may not realize that most of the questions that come up have already been answered on the blog. Since it is harder and harder for me to answer your questions quickly, you may find the answers faster by doing a search on the topic.

    You can type in any keyword, like baking, burnt clay, scorching, into the search box at the top of the page and press the search button and a list of articles on the topic will pop up. Hope that is helpful for you! :-)

  10. Melinda
    Instead of a toaster oven, I use a roaster oven! You know, the kind you see at church pot lucks full of chili. I got one around Christmas (sales), lined it with tiles and use it for all my polymer clay baking. I do keep an oven thermometer in it and I have managed to get some pieces too “done” but with no exposed heating element, it is a less frequent occurrence. I’m happy with my roaster!

  11. Sarahwww, you are so creative – a ROASTER oven? I never would have thought about using one. I have one and I may try it for large pieces. Maybe it will “cook” the clay faster. I can cook a 25lb turkey in less than 3 hours in my roaster oven! Oh, no, now I’m hungry – gotta go :)

  12. @ sarahwww

    Please forgive a probably very stupid question but the only images I have in my mind for this roaster oven is what I call a crock pot or is it more like a rotissary(sp) cooker, is one of these what you’re talking about or am I way off mark here?

  13. Alright – baking is done.

    The large piece remained flat and no air bubbles.

    However – the smaller earrings were baked together but separate from the large piece. As these pieces are much thinner than the large piece I wondered if there would be a problem.

    One baked up just fine but the other had air bubbles on the front and back although it was turned upside down and prebaked at the same time as the other. Another thing that occurred was that one of the silver stripes received a burn on half of it. I noticed a scorch on the corn starch when I removed it and when I washed it off – there it was. I also note that the colours are quite a bit darker in the smaller pieces than in the big one.

    So – now I might have to revise my plans or make another and bake it. The one will have to be saved for a base bead or something.

    Another question has arisen. Are flat pieces often flexible after they are baked?

  14. Oh those &$@@%! air bubbles! How disappointing!
    Did you have a lot of translucent mixed in with the color? In my experience, translucent is generally much softer that other clays (pearl and some metallics have lots of trans in them too) and really are prone to bubbles and scorching. It is tricky stuff.
    Flat pieces do tend to be a little flexible even when totally fired. The thinner the piece, the more flexible it can be.

  15. Aims, just love you pendant and earring design!!! So sorry to hear about the air bubbles but surely, that design is so incredible you will master it the next time you duplicate and bake. How did you get the idea to make the design? I look at it and see piano keys.

  16. Sounds like ya’ll have the baking issues covered nicely. As for baking in a toaster oven or the kitchen oven, I use a GE Convection/Microwave oven that I bought at WalMart after getting tired of running back and forth upstairs to the kitchen. There are a couple of things I really like about it – it’s taller than the regular toaster ovens which is nice for dimensional objects, and it has a timer on it! Love that timer. I firmly believe that the temperature is more consistent in the convection oven too. To avoid burning your more delicate pieces — or actually any of your pieces — you might want to tent them with aluminum foil — not to where it touches, but just to where it comes between the heating elements and the clay piece. I generally bake in a cheap throw-away type aluminum baking pan with a piece of fiberfill, then just lay a piece of foil over the top of that. Haven’t had anything scorch since I started doing that. Love the design, by the way. It makes me think of piano keys also.
    .

  17. I’m sorry I had to laugh after reading some of the responses, I too thought of piano keys after I saw the images, I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to offend Aims, not knowing the inspiration for her work.

  18. Sorry folks – I don’t have an answer as to where I got the idea. I liked all the colours together and I’m a big fan of black.

    The burn marks came after I turned the piece over onto the cornstarch. Somehow it burned through the cornstarch which was a brown colour right in that spot when I took the smaller piece out and when I washed the piece I discovered why. I was using a ceramic dish in a toaster oven and I tented over the dish with cardstock as Cindy suggested. I pressed that piece down against the dish also and got the burn mark right through that.

    I guess that tells me that there is a definite hotspot in my oven.

    I might remake the one piece or just make something different to go with the pendant. Perhaps coloured coiled balls. That might be funky enough for me.

  19. Sorry to hear the earring got a scorch mark aims. That sucks. Maybe if you pop it into some bleach over night, it will brighten up. Sometimes that works.

    I am baffled by the burn happening underneath like that. Was that piece the only one that touched the ceramic dish? Is there any chance the dish has a metallic glaze or trim or anything? Or possibly is it Mexican Pottery or something that could contain a little lead or metal in the clay or glaze?

    I’m just trying to figure out what happened, so you can avoid this kind of thing in the future. Maybe just putting a liner of card stock in the dish would fix the problem.

    You could be right about a hot spot. Not sure though. If there was a hot spot, it may be the reason for the bubbles. Did you use a thermometer?

    As far as the flexibility of the thinner pieces… yes, thin pieces will remain flexible. Each brand will be a little different, but each will have some flexibility if they are thin.

  20. The dish I used was corningware Cindy. And I used a thermometer and checked it every couple of minutes. It remained just below 270 the entire time.

    Is that soaking in straight bleach or bleach and water?

  21. Maybe you can try to bake your piece in stages. Like for only ten minutes at a time. that way you will have less a change of scorching. Just a thought.

  22. @aims: Hmmm so it’s not what I thought. Could be a hotspot alright. Try putting a tile under the Corningware dish next time. Should help radiate the heat a bit. For the bleach, just try straight bleach. It may not get rid of all the scorching but it may help brighten the color.

    @Catalina: I don’t think doing it in stages is going to help. The piece really needs that extended time to cure properly. Thanks for offering your suggestion though.

  23. Hi Aims. First let me say I love your piece. The colors are wonderful! Now for my suggestion for what its worth. Maybe you could bake it in stages. But not in the way already suggested. I would try baking your base piece first, that way you could avoid the warping you were worried about by baking between two tiles. Once that is done you could apply your colored pieces and bake again. The re-baking shouldnt affect your base piece and it should stay nice and straight. Just use a little liquid clay between the layers to be sure they bond. BTW, I use a countertop convection oven by Deni. It is clear glass so I can see my pieces baking from all sides. And it has a timer so I dont forget. I find that the hot air moving around the piece helps avoid scorching. And there are no ho spots like in a conventional oven/toaster oven. Hope this helps. XOXO Jamie

  24. Jamie,

    Could you send me a link to a picture or something so I can see what you’re talking about. Right now I use the oven in the kitchen and want to get something to dedicate to my beads.

  25. @Jamie: It is so nice to see you back around! :-) Been hoping you or your husband weren’t ill or something.

    Great advice! Since aims will have to make it again, baking it in stages it a very good idea. It is kind of a tricky shape to bake (the really neat stuff often is). I really like the strips of color as well.

    Sounds like you have a lovely oven. Convection ovens are really the best way to go if you can.

    @Ken: Maybe you could just Google ‘Deni convection ovens’ to find what you’re looking for?

  26. I just googled that oven Jamie – wow! That’s quite an appliance!

    What I’ve done is cut the burnt piece of silver out and also sliced off the air bubbles. I will put another piece of silver in and bake it again and see what it looks like after sanding. I figured I had nothing to lose.

  27. Aims, I’m thinking you definitely have hot spots. Your oven probably spikes and then cools too fast for you to notice on your thermometer. Try turning the temp down a bit and see if that helps.

    You’re right about nothing to lose. I think your idea for popping in a new silver piece is great! Think it should work well. Of course do let us know.

    I linked to a comment where Doug Kelly is having a similar problem. Hopefully we can solve these problems. I’ve tweaked my system for baking and never have problems anymore. It is so much nicer when you don’t have to worry about baking your works of art. It will be good to get things straightened out, won’t it?! :-)

  28. Oh one more thing Aims, when you bake between tiles, make sure there is a sheet of plain paper or card stock between your clay and the tile. This will help keep the surface smooth and the temp more even.

  29. Thanks Cindy. I had put the pieces between sheets of parchment paper and then sandwiched between the tiles. I’m wondering if the plain paper or cardstock would just be better for that kind of work rather than parchment paper.

  30. hey cindy!

    i would like for my pendant pieces to come out slightly curved instead of flat. what would you suggest? i thought of making a clay base that is rounded, and varnishing it, baking it, then when i go to put a new piece in the oven, put it on the curved base i created. would the pendant stick to the base if it was varnished? i also thought of putting it on a curved glass jar……..but wouldn’t the glass break in the oven?

    this is probably the simplest question in the universe, but i am sitting here as dumb as a post on it.

    thank you!

    • @peggie:

      To answer your last question first, no at the temperatures we bake at, glass would not break. To address your first question – are you talking about curved on the sides or curved all the way around? I am making domed ornaments this year and I bake a scrap clay base on burned out lightbulb, then cover it with what my design. I still have that tacky “hollywood” light fixture in my bathroom that uses the round clear bulbs and that is what I use. I just made a scrap clay base so it would stand on its own and went to work! If you need a visual of the domed ornaments, you can go either to my flickr site (flickr.com/photos/harrisonhollowdesigns/) or my Etsy store. I can’t remember right now whether I’ve done a blog post about these or not. Too early in the morning (grin)!

      On the aluminum foil – after learning the hard way – NOTHING goes in my convection oven without a piece of foil over it. Especially when you are baking something tall – like the light bulbs. Since I started doing that I have not had anything scorch. It’s all a learning experience! And this is a great place to share what we’ve learned. Thanks Cindy!

  31. i also wanted to pass on a tip i read somewhere. in using the toaster oven, to help with the spiking of the temperature and to prevent burning……i put a sheet of aluminum foil over the pieces like a little dome tent. so far it has worked for me!

    peggie

  32. @Peggie: I would not bake on a varnished clay form because it will stick, however unvarnished with some cornstarch in between will work. As far as making cupped shaped beds a light bulb works well. I did a video on how to do this technique and examples for using them, which is available in Vol-008 the back issues. Click the link by my name for more info.

    In regards to tinfoil, I prefer to use a folded tent of card stock instead. Tinfoil radiates heat and should it accidentally touch your beads, it will scorch them. Paper card stock (which works the same way) does fine in the oven at this low temp and has no danger of spiking the temp or scorching your beads.

    @Arlene: Thanks for helping out Peggie. It is supportive and helpful comments like yours, that makes this such a valuable resource for polymer clay beginners!

  33. i use a conventional oven to cook my clay, but my electricity bill is close to 600 this month!! UGH! if i bought a small toaster oven to cook my clay, will it save some electricity cost for me? i dun cook, so i really dunno the comparison between using a conventional oven and a toaster oven. but … i thought the toaster oven should be in a smaller voltage … is that true?
    thanks so much for your time :))
    HUGS!!
    luthien :)

  34. I would guess that lower voltage and less time on would save money on your electric bill. I know everyone says they bake their clay for an hour but in a toater oven it is only 15 -20 minutes. If I leave in in any longer it will burn. (Yes, I use a thermometer) It cooks faster and if you think it wasn’t enough you can always re-bake it for ten minutes at a time. I test the clay and even bounce it on the floor and it is hard. Plus it doesn’t take that long to pre-heat, only ten minutes or so.

  35. @luthien, I like the craft oven because it is small and I only do a few pieces at a time. Plus, it gives me a chance to get a few other pieces together while that bakes. And I get impatient sometimes. To have an whole oven full of pieces to bake would seem overwhelming to me. Then to sand and finish them would be too much. Happy claying!

  36. Actually Luthien and Catalina, although a smaller oven like a toaster oven will use less energy to heat because it is small, it doesn’t mean that it will cure the pieces faster.

    Under perfect conditions, polymer clay should cure in about 30 minutes if it is at the proper temp for the full amount of time. Unfortunately, ovens (especially toaster ovens) cool down and heat up so many times that it is rarely at the right temp for very long. So the longer time I recommend, compensates for that.

    Polymer clay will NOT burn if it is at the right temp, no matter how long you bake it for. I have baked beads for up to 2 hours with no scorching. If your beads are burning, it means the oven is spiking above the set temp. If you are using an oven thermometer and this is still happening, it means that either it doesn’t read correctly (very common actually) or that it is slow to register the spikes and you are missing them.

    Baking clay at 15 – 20 minutes may seem to work. The outside very well may be cured. But on the inside it will not have had the time to really set up properly and the remaining uncured plasticizers inside bead can end up softening the surrounding clay and cause it to become brittle over time.

    Myself, as well as several other professional polymer clay bead makers have done extensive testing on this. There is a huge difference between the hardness, strength and sand-ability of a bead that has been baked for 1 hour at the right temp for the brand, as compared to one that has been baked for 15 – 30 minutes. No matter the size.

    If you find your beads are burning if they are in for that long, turn the temp down a bit. With some testing, you will find the ‘sweet spot’ for your particular oven and usually won’t have to adjust it too much after that.

    I hope you found this helpful and aren’t offended by me correcting your information. I mean well and just want you all to have the best success with your beads as possible! :-)

    • @Cindy Lietz: Thanks Cindy! That does make it a lot clearer. I have tried to bake at 370 degrees or less for longer times and that does work. And I will leave the piece in the oven until it cools. That might help, too. But, good point on the inside not becoming cured enough. I got to do some more testing. Glad you are checking up on us! You are the “expert” and your comments and advise are always welcomed!

  37. I agree completely with Cindy on what she has said above. I would like to add just a couple of comments on things I’ve discovered along the way. Generally speaking, I bake my beads at least twice — about 20 minutes to start with. Once they are out and cooled, I check for imperfections and do any spot-check type sanding or filling in, check for bubbles, that sort of thing. I find it’s just easier to fix those types of problems before the bead is rock hard! Then I put them in a pan with fiberfill and sit them to the side. Before I shut down the studio for the night, I put all the beads, pendants, whatever, that I’ve worked on that day back in the oven for one full hour. I do cover just about everything with a foil tent but I don’t know that it’s really that necessary.

    Where the foil tent is necessary, however, is is you are working with something that has a lot of white, pearl or translucent in it. Even at the “sweet” setting on my convection oven, I’ve had pieces darken and even burn so I just don’t take a chance on it, I use the foil tent every time I bake. Better safe than sorry, you know.

  38. You are welcome Catalina. And thank you Arlene for the excellent, additional info.

    Wanted to also thank Phaedrakat for watching over this thread. Although she has not commented above, she did send me an email suggesting that I pop in here to say a few words. If not for her, I may have missed the opportunity. I just want everyone to know how much Pahedrakat is doing behind the scenes and how much we all really need to appreciate her efforts of making sure everyone’s needs are attended to.

    By the way Catalina, I hope your 370 degrees reference was a typo, and that you actually meant 270 or even 265. At 370 you are going to really smoke up the room… not to mention your beads :-)

    • @Cindy Lietz: Oh, my gosh! I did write that! Yes, I meant 270 degrees!! Good eyes!! I thought that looked kind of funny but I was in a hurry. Yeah, I would really be smokin’ at that temp! Thanks for bailing me out – again!!

  39. thank you so much for all your help ladies :) and tips!! i really appreciate this! my hubby bought me a toaster oven for my birthday :) i am sooo delighted and can’t wait to try it out. i have armed myself for a burnt first batch!! cos i know i need to actually get use to the oven. the guy from the craft shop also told me that the heating elements in the toaster oven needs time to settle … and then they will heat properly. the good thing is , this toaster oven uses 1380w, even lesser energy than my hairdryer (of course i dun put my hairdryer on for 30 minutes or so!) anyhow , it uses like 1/3 of the energy that my conventional oven uses (which is 3.5kw … UGH!) … so i’m banging on that and a lower electricity bill :)
    i shall come back and tell you my horror story (if there is gonna be one :) after i try my first batch in the new toaster oven :) thank you so much!
    HUGS!
    luthien :)

  40. I am baking sculpy into spirals , about 1/16 inch thick , Kind of like spiral pasta but thinner , I have Tried wrapping around metal and wood then baking, My question is how do I remove it from the metal rod after baking and retain the shape.. Please help

    • @Carol T: If you are using a strong clay like Premo and the spirals are baked long enough (see article linked by my name), they should hold their shape after baking. Just pop the beads on the rods into ice water, hot out of the oven and they should come off the rod with no problems. If you are using wooden rods, make sure to coat rod with cornstarch first before wrapping the spirals on the rod. This way the clay won’t stick to the wood.

  41. hello Cindy first of all thank you for all your info on the internet ! I have learned a lot from all your info ! I am fairly new to polymer clay , and I love it ! my question , I have made some polymer beads, can I leave them unvarnished or will this effect the beads or the skin ? Thank you ! Margriet.

  42. Hi Margriet, thanks for the kinds words! Polymer clay does not need to be sealed or varnished and won’t be affected by the skin or the other way around. Polymer clay is basically a plastic, that once it is properly baked acts like most plastics. Hope that helps to answers your question. Thanks for commenting!

  43. Hi Cindy!

    First of all Thank You for all of your wonderful information and tutorials!

    I am relatively new at polymer clay also and just love it.

    On several blogs and tutorials you say to bake the Sculpey between 265 and 275. My question to you is…Can I bake Sculpey Premo and Souffle at 265 ALL the time? (instead of going to 275 at all) or do I need to stay at 275? Will it cure properly if I cure it at a flat steady 265 instead??

    Thanks so much for your help! :-)

    • Hi Laurie, thanks so much for your kind comments! I mention the temp range because ovens will go up and down a bit while it bakes and you want it to hold within that range (not dropping below 265F or going too much over 275F). However the most ideal temp to bake Premo and Souffle at is 275F. But if your oven won’t hold it there without spiking and it does at 265F then keep it there and do some testing to be sure it is baking properly. Once you ‘find the sweet spot’ on your, it should be fine to just keep it set there and keep monitoring it with an oven thermometer. Let us know how it goes.

      • Thank you so much for your advice, Cindy! I’m still trying for that sweet spot. lol
        Christmas is coming so I might say goodbye to this toaster oven and get a better one. ;)

        Have a Happy Holiday!

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