Most Asked Beginner Question… How To Bake Polymer Clay Properly

Baking Polymer Clay Beads “I am new to working with polymer clay and the biggest problem I have is with the baking process.” ~Shari-R

Without a doubt, the questions that get asked most often here at the blog, are to do with baking polymer clay and the frustrating issues that can happen when things go wrong. The following is a typical example.

I am new to working with polymer clay and have found your tips and video tutorials very helpful. The biggest problem I have is with the baking process. I’m following the manufacturer’s recommendations but am not pleased with the results at all. I’ve played with all the major brands and have had the same results, regardless of which brand I use (which leads me to believe my problems are caused by the user!). Once cooled, my pieces are rubbery and pliable – not hard like I was expecting. The thicker pieces seem to be harder. Some pieces can be bent and cracked within weeks of completing. Any suggestions? Thanks, ~Shari-R

Well Shari and everyone else reading, you will be happy to know that all of the answers to all of your polymer clay baking questions are just waiting to be discovered in the free articles and comments that have already been published at this web site.

And to help you find the information quickly, I have compiled a list of article links below, that will be enormously helpful for you, if you take the time to read them.

Be sure to read all of the comments that follow each of the articles too. Sometimes the comments provide more information than the articles themselves.

Now for all of you who have already mastered the “art” of baking polymer clay properly… please, please, please could you share your baking disaster stories in the comment section below. But even more importantly, could you talk about how you learned from your mistakes to get to the point where baking is no longer an issue for you.

I know your stories of mastery will be inspiring for brand new clayers to read and learn from. Thanks so much.

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NOTE: For those of you who were not already aware, I do have a Polymer Clay Bead Making Basics Course that has several videos showing you exactly how to bake polymer clay beads properly.

If you are brand new to polymer clay or are experiencing problems with it, please consider buying the course for yourself. You will be happy you did when your beads start turning out all shiny and professional looking!

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Cindy Lietz SignaturePolymer Clay Tutor


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Comments

  1. Today will be a Clay Day for me and most people in Central Iowa. 15 inches of snow in Des Moines with 40 mile per hour winds. Kind of looks like we are living in a snow globe.

    Thankfully I have not had problems with baking because I follow your Cindy’s methods. I think the my good results are due to using an oven thermometer and baking way longer than recommended. i bake everything at least an hour, longer if I am cooking thick beads.

  2. i use a temp gauge in my toaster over and tent mine with pie tins
    also when they are done i drop them in cold water and they harden up better

  3. I, too do pretty well with baking as I follow Cindy’s recommendations almost to the letter. I did recently have one of those “necessity is the mother of invention” moments, though. A few months back I transported my baking oven to Albuquerque to attend a workshop. I guess travel damaged the thermostat because my first baking attempt when I got home resulted in a total bead burn, and nothing I did could prevent the problem. Now to preface the rest of my story I need to tell you that long ago I made a promise to my husband that I would not bake clay in the oven that cooks our food, a promise that I have kept (sort of). Wanting to finish the current project I decided to try baking in my Nesco roaster oven (you know those small table top roasters you can buy for $30 or so that are big enough to roast a turkey). It worked beautifully and has become my oven of choice. Like Anna, I like to bake way longer that the recommendations and maybe because there is no direct element I can do that without any risk of burning. I still follow all of Cindy’s recommendations but lower the temp a bit. Maybe it’s not for everyone but since you asked for stories I thought I would throw mine in.

    • @Elizabeth S.: I’m curious about the roaster you mentioned. Do you still use this baking method?

      Does anyone else here use a roaster to bake their clay? My toaster oven sat in the garage for 5 years while I tried to recuperate, so it got pretty dirty. I cleaned it up as best I could, because it’s a nice, good-sized oven. I still use it (I bake on the back patio, don’t want to bring it inside.) But I have to be even more careful than usual with my light-colored clays. Now that summer’s coming, I’d like to try another baking method. It’ll get too hot outside for me to bake, and I’m a big sissy about the heat! A convection oven is unfortunately not in my price range, although I saw some really nice ones at Costco! So, I’m curious about this roaster idea…

      Roasters, how’s it going? :~O

      • @Phaedrakat
        Hi Phaedrakat,

        I may be the only clayer in the world who uses a roaster oven to bake my clay pieces, but I get beautiful results and so would never use anything else now. Maybe because there is no direct heating element and the heat is a surrounding heat, I never get burns and can leave the pieces baking way longer without worry. Just this morning I mixed some colors and put the sample discs for my recipe cards in to bake. I completely forgot about them (didn’t set my oven timer) until about two hours later and when I finally retrieved them they were still color perfect. I also like the larger capacity. I can put a big ole dish of corn starch covered beads in it or larger pieces if I want to. Anyway, this is surely much more information than you asked for, and I want to add that this is what works for me and may not be the best method for everyone. Mine is a Nesco 18 qt. capacity roaster oven that I purchased at K-Mart for less than thirty dollars on sale.

        Hugs, Elizabeth S.

        • @Elizabeth S.: No way, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear and was hoping for — lots of info! I read your last comment about it and thought it sounded ideal for me. I think I’ll give it a try, since I have another oven, just in case I only like it for certain things. If I find one on sale, I’ll grab it up. Then we’ll band together and spread the word! (just kidding) I do like the idea of there being no direct heating element. This is probably the next best thing to a convection oven (which I can’t afford.) Thanks for getting back to me on this! Huggs back to you! :D

        • Is a roaster oven the same as a slow cooker or a crock pot? This sounds like a great idea since my toaster oven in horrible, but I can’t seem to find anything by the name of oven roaster here in Canada. (Americans are so lucky to have such a large selection of anything and everything…)

          Also, do you have any specific way you use the roaster for clay beads? Like, do you just put them straight in on the bottom, or on parchment paper, or on a tray and then in the roaster…?

          • Hi Stephanie! Would search Google using the term “roaster oven” for sources near you. Found this definition of roaster oven below on recipetips.com, it’s not a crock pot or slow cooker. For tips on how to “bake polymer clay” just put that term in the search box, and you’ll get lots of help.

            “A tabletop electrical cooking device that roasts food by distributing heat throughout the roasting chamber rather than heating with the use of gas or exposed coils similar to a conventional oven. The electric roaster consists of an electric heating element and a large, removable pan covered by a lid. The heating element is the same shape as the pan except that it is slightly larger so that the pan will fit inside the heating element. The temperature of the heating element is controlled by dial control typically allowing ranges of 200 to 450 degrees for baking or roasting. The food is often placed on a rack that fits inside the pan, similar to roasting food in a conventional oven and traditional roasting pan. A common size roaster oven is 18 quart, but other sizes are also available. Roaster ovens can be used to bake, cook, roast, steam, or slow cook a variety of foods such as turkey, meats, roasts, vegetables, soups, and stews.”

  4. Hi to everyone,

    Today has been a total disaster for me. Normally I don’t have a problem with baking as I follow Cindy’s instructions to the letter, but I was following instructions on how to cover a pen with cane using Sculpy111. I was so pleased with my cane and couldn’t wait to see the result. When I took them from the oven they looked great , after leaving to cool I started to sand and the cane vanished, what a disappointment. So I tried again this time I doubled the baking time when I inserted the pen the cover broke. This was from a book Polymerclay secrets. Where have I gone wrong? Has anyone a better way to do these.
    Josie.

  5. I read the directions on the back of the clay drop the temp about 5 – ten degrees 5 for colored clay and 10 for translucent or white. Then I increase the time to at least double and if thicker even more. The oven of my choice is a convention oven. I use to use a toaster oven but too many hot spots. I have yet to have a problem with my convention oven. I use a thermometer and my oven shuts off when time is up. So I leave my items in the oven to cool off again unless translucent then I put in ice water. I also tent my items with foil. I have cooked just 1 item or had both shelfs pretty much filled with beads always about the same thickness. Keep fingers crossed and so far great results. I know the day will come but hopefully when I am just cooking 1 item.

  6. Thanks Peggy for your quick response. I use a convention oven with a thermometer so I’ll give your way a go. Would you know Penny Vingoe’s
    site address?
    Thanks
    Josie

  7. We live two blocks from Lake Superior, and we’ve been listening to the waves crashing on shore all day (from inside our house)! LOTS of snow, and high winds. I’ve been out twice to shovel the driveway, so no clayday for me! Maybe tomorrow!

    I found a convection toaster oven last summer at a yard sale for $5! It works just great. The temp spikes to 300 at first, but then settles down to 265 and pretty much stays there (within 5 or 10 degrees), so it’s great for my bead baking. I lucked out with that one!

  8. Excellent information everyone! Thank you so much for sharing with everyone!

    @Elizabeth S: The roaster sounds like a great solution! Will keep my eye out for one.

    @Josie: It sounds like the slices of cane you used were maybe too thin and you sanded them away when you went to sand that first pen. On the second one, I am not sure what happened there. Maybe the pen you baked your clay over had a problem with the heat? Would have to see the instructions you followed to know what went wrong. Peggy is right about using a thermometer. That is very important! Also as far as finding Penny I’ve put the link to the article she wrote right by my name. In the future, if you need any info, type what you are looking for into the search box at the top of the page. You will find that many questions can be answered quite quickly using that search feature.

  9. I reiterate what so many people have said – use a thermometer when baking. It is astonishing how many ovens ‘spike’ – and I check every 15 minutes because the temperature changes. I read somewhere that to use one of the thermometers that has a liquid gauge rather than a dial (ironic eh – I sell the ones with the dial!) – they are more expensive but far more accurate. Link: amazon.com/Taylor-5921-00-Oven-Guide-Thermometer/dp/B00004XSCA/ref=pd_bxgy_k_img_b – they look like this, although the one I bought was far more expensive (can’t remember where I bought it sorry) – the better your thermometer is the more reliable will be the bake. Oh, and I learned on a Donna Kato workshop that she always puts anything she bakes into a bed of baking powder – we are talking about an inch thick bed!

  10. I had mentioned awhile back about a well known artist said cornstarch weakened the clay, you said you would have to do some tests. What did you find out? I have seen alot of people use a bed of cornstarch to bake in and it shows that white does not get dark using that method. Just let me know your findings. Lynn W.

  11. @Penny: I like to bake on a bed of cornstarch too. It is important to bake your piece immediately after setting in the cornstarch though, so it doesn’t absorb too much of the plasticizer and become brittle.

    @Lynn: It will make the clay weaker, only if the raw clay sits on the cornstarch for a long period of time before baking. If you put the piece in the oven right away, there is no adverse effects at all!
    .

  12. Thank you for the Cornstarch tips, Cindy – I learned that the hard way having made some beads and sat them in the bed of cornstarch for a couple of days whilst making more (being pragmatic – get as much in the oven as I can) – what a disaster! brittle bits all over the place.

  13. Does the small amount of cornstarch used for the final roll of the bead & the piercing interact with the clay if I let them sit for a few days before baking?

  14. @Penny: It can be such a pain to learn the hard way, EH? Oh well. At least we can learn from our mistakes. :-)

    @Rose: That is an excellent question! The small amount of cornstarch that you use to rub out fingerprints or do a final roll in, won’t compromise the strength of your clay at all. It is just when it sits in a bed of it that it draws out the plasticizers.

  15. I’ve read several people post, describing their vigilant thermometer watch. I use a Sunbeam digital cooking thermometer. It has a programmable alert! So I can set it to sound an alarm if the temperature gets too high. I did a quick google search and it appears that some of the newer models also have a timer function. I couldn’t find any posts on here mentioning this really convenient tool, so I’m just adding this comment as a helpful note.

    • @Ella: That’s the first I’ve heard, but it sounds great! I’ve done the vigilant watch many times. It would be really nice to walk away from the oven, knowing I’d be alerted if my oven’s getting too hot! Thanks for posting this; I’m sure others will be glad to hear about this cool tool!

  16. Hi all,
    I want to ask if anyone actually preheat the oven before baking the clay? And if anyone used Kato Clay before?
    My oven is a cheap oven I bought it over a sale, cost less than $50, absolute new piece (it’s specially for baking clay, no foodstuffs or anything). Best part of it, it never burnt my clay work before, and I am doing it without using an oven thermometer. The only thing is that I do it using the usual baking way, preheat before baking.

    I agreed with Cindy for Sculpey III, it’s soft and easy to condition and to work with, the finish curing project would go hard, but brittle, easily crack and break… Perhaps I made it too thin, but it’s the same with Kato! When conditioning Kato, it’s so much harder than Sculpey III, Premo! and Fimo, I had to use the clay machine to work it out ( and best part of Kato was that when I used it to throw onto the wall, it wasn’t even out of shape like others do). When I made it into flower petals, after baking, it would stay good for… 3 days? or sometimes less than that, and the flower petals started to crack and broke, which made me really sad as I sometimes spent the whole day just to make a plateful of flowers (usually I would make them into studs or earrings to sell). As for beads, it would crack on the sides of the hole of the beads when using, which supposingly I had already made it slightly bigger than usual. No reason for breaking when working on them. I hope someone will help me on this, how to cure them to the extend of… they are not that easily crack or brittle, because it’s a waste of effort and time trying to get something done but only to fail when it is done.

    I have yet to use Premo! even though I own the full range colour, because of the price and the failure of the other 2 clays. It’s just like a treasure to me. Hoping to use it for projects that’s really beautiful and it will be able to last a long time.

    I have lots of these clays (Sculpey III, Premo! and Kato) and I don’t really want to throw Sculpey III and Kato away, which is a waste. Please Help! Thanks a million.

  17. The point about Kato clay is that it needs lots of conditioning. Once it is well conditioned – and it takes effort – it will remain pliable and useable longer than other clays (all this conditioning is the main reason that cindy doesn’t use it – isn’t that so Cindy?) When Kato is baked it is baked at a higher temperature than other clays (150 degrees) and Donna Kato cooks hers for much longer than the recommended time. The longer it is cooked, the more strong it will be. She sometimes cookes pieces over and over – thus giving it 2 or more hours of curing. In my experience a thermometer is an absolute necessity – every oven I have ever used is not accurate according to the settings on the oven, and ‘spikes’ during use so needs adjustment.

  18. Hi Snow,

    I use Kato almost exclusively. It is VERY strong and not at all brittle when cured properly, but it needs to be cured at a higher temperature than other brands (150C/300F, or even 163C/325F for maximum strength from info I received from Van Aken International). The curing temperature makes the most difference to the strength, but curing time is also a factor. For example, I can roll Kato on the thinnest setting on my pasta machine, then roll it out even thinner by hand, and after curing it’s still difficult to break even when deliberately trying to destroy it.

    I posted some temperature/time/strength testing results on this blog a while ago that will give you an idea of the differences; even I was surprised at just how much difference the temperature made:

    If your Kato is brittle or easily broken, it’s most likely one of two things:

    1. You aren’t curing it at a high enough temperature. (See above, as well as the other blog post referenced.)

    2. You’re curing the item sitting on, or partially or wholly immersed in, cornstarch (cornflour). It’s OK to use a light dusting of cornstarch with Kato for smoothing or shaping, but you definitely shouldn’t sit Kato in or on cornstarch during curing because it seems to make the end product extremely weak (has done in all my testing, and I’ve seen others report the same thing). Use baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) instead… that works wonderfully with Kato.

    Two other possible factors:

    3. You aren’t curing for a long enough time, particularly if your items are being baked in contact with something else that will slow the rate at which they reach baking temperature (e.g. sitting on a heavy tile, or being partially immersed in something with insulating properties. For example, I generally cure the thinnest items I make for 25 minutes; most beads are cured for 40-45 minutes, and larger beads get about 70 minutes. My oven is extremely accurate and has hardly any temperature variation… if the temperature in your oven rises and lowers as the heating elements are turned on and off, you’ll probably need to extend the curing time to ensure sufficient time at the higher/optimum curing temperature.

    4. The clay hasn’t been conditioned properly. Kato is best conditioned using quite a different method to other polymer clay brands. Donna Kato has a free tutorial on this over as CraftEDU, but I first saw it described on the web site of Over the Rainbow. Have a look at the following (they’re down for maintenance right now but should be up again in a few hours):

    polymerclay.com.au/polymer-clay-kato-polyclay-c-21_446_493.html

    And yes, I do preheat my oven. I mostly use a good-quality convection oven (actually a convection microwave in convection-only mode).

    Anyway, hopefully some of that will help. Good luck!

    Sue

  19. Hi All,

    Sorry for replying this late as I was working and thanks for all the advices.
    Just a pity that here in Singapore the oven thermo is hard to come by, or it will be very expensive.
    Any online suggestion shop I can access to with a good price for it?

    • @Snow: Hi Snow…out of curiousity, did you ever find a decent deal on an oven thermostat for yourself there in Singapore? I hope so, and that you’re having lots of fun claying! ~ Kat

  20. I just finished some brightly colored beads covered with very thin canes of white and translucent, I baked them for nearly 2 hours (based on thickness of the beads) in a very pre-heated oven set at 260. My oven did spike, but I opened the door and let the heat out, but the translucent clay did come out a tan or light brown color. I assume this is ‘burnt’ and the oven temp was too high? I use a thermometer which is fairly accurate (boiling water registers 212F)

    I’m going to try this again, but would like some insite into what I did wrong first. I did toss the beads into an ice bath as soon as they came out.

  21. Sorry, the temp I tried for was 270, not 260; I don’t trust my oven at all, and the thermometer was a cheap one.

  22. I am going to upset the apple cart now because a posting by the leading technician at the company who make Kato clay tells us that kato polymer clay starts to cure at 120 degrees c (248F) thus you can cook Kato at a lower temperature. I mention this because Kato translucent clay has a reputation for going light brown if cooked for a long time, or at a high temperature.
    If you covered your beads with a cover of translucent then if it were me I would bake the beads for as long as you want before putting the outer cover of translucent. A second baking with the translucent added, at a lower temperature, for a shorter time, would surely do the trick.

    • @Penny Vingoe: Well, if anyone knew, it would be them….amazing test network with Kato. Again, the only real test I have is my own attention span and “ovens” so if I can duplicate that with the stock I have, great!!! Don’t like how the blues brown, so this could be the ticket.

  23. I baked my first slice of butterfly cane. I tried to keep the temperature between 265-275F, but it seems very difficult to keep in steady temperature, so I always turn the switch up or down to have steady temperature between 265-275F. However, I bake them between 250-275F but after baked for 1 hour, they are still weak. So what can I do? should I re-bake them?
    Thanks

    • @Dia H:Dia, found that coating the bottom and sides of the oven with tiles or small beach stones regulated the temp better. Just pile them up out of the way, and let them help moderate the temps.

    • @Dia H: When you say weak, do you mean they are flexible or that they break? Because when thin slices of Premo are baked, they will remain somewhat flexible, even if they are cured properly. Which it does sound like you are doing right.

      If you don’t like your thin pieces to be flexible, you can add a layer of resin and it will stiffen them right up. Learn more about UV Resin by clicking the link by my name. Hope that answers your question.

  24. I used ‘fire bricks’ used for blow torches, Enough to cover the bottom rack, wrapped in heavy duty foil and set inside an oven used to cook potatos for 40 mins at 375F before I cooked the clay. I was looking for the type of firebricks that you use in bbq grills, but these were all I could find and they’re light and porous. Still, the oven will never be better preheated. I used all Premo clay, scrap for the core, color for the outside, and covered in translucent and pearl that I cut then ran thru the pasta machine on thin, but possibly layered together too much. As stated before, I took the beads out and dropped into an ice water bath.

  25. Hi Cindy,

    I have some wooden eggs that I found in my sewing room (aka craft storage room) that I want to cover with millifiori flower and/or lace canes. Do I need to take the size of the egg into account when baking my creation? So far I haven’t done very much that is baked over 30 minutes.

    Thanks,
    Sarah

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