Starter Tool Kit For Polymer Clay Beginners

Starter Tools - Polymer Clay TutorVideo #731: If you are just starting out with polymer clay, here are the tools that will get you going without spending a lot of money.

In today’s Studio Tip, I am going to talk about Polymer Clay Tools for Beginners.

Now I am a professional polymer clay instructor with a nice studio filled with all kinds of tools, supplies, paints, inks and that kind of thing… but that isn’t where I started out. I started out as a beginner… just like everyone else.

So, I wanted to share with you some of the things I learned and show you the real basic tools that will get you started working with polymer clay.

I dug around in my studio and found the very first polymer clay beads and canes that I ever made. I though you might like to see them.

A long time ago (probably 20 years now), I was watching the Carol Duvall Show on HGTV and Donna Kato (a well known polymer clay artist who has created the Kato Polyclay line of products), came on and made this polymer clay cane. I was absolutely fascinated with what she could do with that squishy block of plastic clay!

Now I had been a little bit familiar with Fimo… played with it as a kid and actually had a block or two, and some Sculpey III, in my craft stash. But I had no idea that you could make such cool things… until seeing Carol and Donna on that fateful day. Ever since, I’ve been hooked on polymer clay.

The very first thing I made was this flower cane that was all wonky (see video)… but I was so delighted with it. Just to show you how far I have come since then, here is an example of the Easter Lily Cane that I now teach people to make and is is so much more detailed and beautiful compared to my original quirky little flower cane.

I went on to make another cane, ended up combining it with the first cane, to make this cane here (see video). That was when I got really excited about the whole process. That you could take these wonky canes and end up with something that was super detailed.

Back then there wasn’t a lot of information on how to do things, so I had to figure out a lot of the stuff on my own. Over the years I have figured out the basic things that you will need to have success with working with polymer clay. And this is the advice that I give to beginners just starting out…

To be honest all you HAVE to have is a block of clay, your hands and an oven. But there are some things that will make the process a lot easier and I have broken it down into these five things…

(1) Work Surface: You need something to work on that is non-porous. I absolutely LOVE my We-R-Memory-Keepers glass cutting mat. But… a plastic place-mat; plastic or glass cutting board; smooth cermaic or glass tile; craft mat or other nonporous surface… will also work just fine. Polymer clay will leach oils into any porous surface like wood, bamboo, unsealed stone, etc., and will not only ruin the surface, but will also cause the clay to become stiffer when the oils leach out.

(2) Roller: You need something to roll your clay with. There are so many techniques that require a nice flat even sheet of polymer clay, that you will need to roll out. An Acrylic roller is perfect for this, because it is smooth, nonporous and nonreactive with polymer clay. Alternatives are acrylic brayers, some plastic kitchen rollers, a straight sided drinking glass, the side of a pen… but I like an 8″ Acrylic Roller the best. Of course, as you advance, you will definitely want a pasta machine to roll out your sheets of polymer… but we are just talking about basic tools to start with.

(3) Clay Blade: You are going to need something to cut your clay with. Some people use an Exacto Knife or a razor blade, but my tool of choise is a clay blade. There are many out there including the Sculpey Super Slicer set of several blades and a set of handles. You will use this blade to cut strips, shapes, canes and to lift your clay sheets from your work surface. Without a clay blade these tasks are much more difficult to accomplish.

(4) Shaping Tools: If you want to sculpt or make anything that has some shape or detail to it, you will need some basic sculpting tools. This could be something as simple as a tooth pick or the side of a pen, but there are many great sculpting tool options out there. One set that I use very often, is the Sculpey Style and Detailing Set that has three different metal ball stylus’ on one end, and different shaped rubber tips on the other. You can use tools like these to ruffle the edges of flowers, create cups and rounded shapes, sculpt faces, draw on details etc. As you advance you will likely want to add even more sculpting tools to your collection as well.

(5) Baking Set-up: Once you have created your polymer clay masterpieces, you will need to bake them. It is important to do this properly, because under baked pieces will break, and pieces baked at too high a temp will scorch and discolor. You will need an oven thermometer, an insulated pan or tile, layered with paper, and a tent or foil pan lid to protect your pieces from the top element. See video for what to use and how to use it.

These are the basic things that you will need to have success, when getting started with polymer clay. In fact, if I had to move to a deserted island (with power of course), and could only take the bare minimum, the items I described in this video are what would be in my tool kit :-)

Do you have any suggestions for videos on tips, techniques or products you would like to learn more about? Let me know in the comments section below!

My goal is to help you to learn quicker and easier ways to bring up the professionalism in your polymer clay art.

Oh and don’t forget to give these videos a Thumbs Up click at YouTube if you are enjoying them. The more Likes a video gets, the higher it rises in the searches. And that means even more people will be able to join in on this polymer clay journey of a lifetime.

Also, by subscribing to our YouTube Channel directly, you will receive notifications as soon as new videos are uploaded. To subscribe, click here… Polymer Clay Tools for Beginners – Basic Starter Kit … the Subscribe Button is right near the top of that YouTube page.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Cindy Lietz SignaturePolymer Clay Tutor
  1. Anna Sabina, 01 May, 2016

    I really like that you do not promote expensive tools as a requirement to be successful. You always have hi tech and low tech suggestions. The most inportant thing to having good results is not expensive clay tools/toys. It is making sure you condition the clay welll and be diligent about the temp. and baking time. Thanks Cindy, you are awesome.

    Anna

  2. Cindy Lietz, 03 May, 2016

    Thank you for dropping by and commenting Anna. I really appreciate it. Although I do ‘love me some’ wonderful tools… I remember when I didn’t have ‘the right’ tools and got started anyway. It is about doing… with whatever you’ve got and going from there. I have talked to so many people who spend a year buying supplies and collecting tutorials, before every making a thing. That is one of the slowest and least productive ways to do any craft. If I could get it across to people that starting is the most important thing, then I have done the right thing by people. Once you’ve started, and you’ve made a few things, you’ll figure out pretty quick what you will need, in order to improve your skills. I am glad that you see it this way too! :)

  3. Elizabeth S, 26 March, 2017

    My dilemma and the reason for contacting you. There are so many wonderful tools available these days that make polymer clay projects easier, faster, prettier, higher quality, and much more fun. However, unless I win the lottery or find a rich husband, there’s no way I can afford them all. I’ve been seriously looking at the JoolTool or one of the new Lucy Clay machines. Luckily I don’t do many canes or the Lucy Clay slicer would be on my list too.

    So, I figured I go to the expert for some advice. I’m not set on just getting either the JoolTool or Lucy Clay machine. Those are just the two expensive tools I’ve been obsessing over lately. If you could only purchase one medium to high-end piece of equipment, what would it be? Is there a piece of equipment that you just can’t live without (other than the typical pasta machine, acrylic roller, etc.), especially if it’s something you didn’t think you really needed or would use often? Such as maybe the Never Knead? I can’t see myself going through the trouble to use it on a consistent basis, but maybe it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread!!

    I will add that although I’ve been working with clay for several years, I am still very much a novice, and will always be a novice. I am active in the dog show community, so the majority of my pieces are dog related (ID / key chains / zipper pulls). Maybe that will help you figure out which piece of equipment I would get the most use out of/benefit from.

    I have watched a number of JoolTool videos and looks like it really cuts down the sanding and polishing time. And boy does it polish pieces to a blinding shine! Like you, I prefer to put the time into a nice sanding and polishing job on my pieces as opposed to using a glaze or resin. I can get a decent polish using my Dremel and Renaissance Wax, but I dream of what my pieces would look like using the JoolTool. But then, maybe it is just that…a dream. Is the sanding and polishing of a JoolTool so much better than that of a Dremel that the cost can be justified? Is there a different sanding/polishing tool that’s maybe a bit less expensive than the JoolTool that does a better job than a Dremel that might be a happy medium?

    If you’ve made it to this point, I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to read this. You have always been my go-to source whenever I have any type of question regarding polymer clay, whether it be technique, compatibility issues, tools, tip and tricks, etc. Being a chemist, I really appreciate how scientific and methodical you are when testing products.

    I am hoping that one day we may even meet. I live in Vancouver, but the “other” Vancouver (WA). I would be so delighted if you could find the time to wade through my novel and answer my question. But if not, I completely understand, you are a very busy person.

    Thank you for your time!

  4. Cindy Lietz, 28 March, 2017

    Hi Elizabeth, first of all I would like to thank you for the way you asked for help. It was done in the most respectful manner, with simple clear questions that I would be happy to help you with. :)

    I can totally understand where you are coming from in regards to the expensive tools and supplies that are available out there for polymer clayers. Just so you know, I started with a hand-me-down toaster oven, a tile and and a few kitchen tools and slowly built from there. I remember when I wanted to add some wire working to my projects, and I started with some house wire I stripped, some clunky tools from Doug’s workshop and a rock to hammer my wire on. (I quickly upgraded to an upside down cast iron frying pan to hammer on, since the rock left scratches and then finally cracked!) LOL

    Now I have wonderful tools and prefer them, but I think it is more important to make things with what you have or can easily get, then wait until you have the best of everything!

    Anyway, I guess I feel like writing a novel too! :)

    I would say the main tools I would get if I had a limited budget but still wanted some decent tools to work with would be an Atlas Wellness 150 with the Anodized Aluminum Rollers like my Gold one and a power buffing machine of some sort. You can buy all of the JoolTool brushes and buffs to put on a much lower end bench top buffer and get similar results. You’ll want one with two heads and variable speed. (I have been meaning to get a hold of one so that I can share with people this option.) I would still hand sand using those foam sanding pads I did the video on. Then polish and buff with the power buffer. Dremels are ok, but a larger buffer is much nicer and quicker to use for doing lots of pieces. Plus it isn’t as hard on your hands, because there is no vibration issues like with the hand held Dremel.

    Here are some Amazon affiliate links to products that I am referring to:

    Atlas Wellness 150 Past Machine
    Eurotool Bench Top Polisher
    Proline Max Bench Polishing Machine
    3M Bristle Brush 400g (Blue)
    3M Bristle Brush 6 micron (Peach)
    3M Bristle Brush 1 micron (Green)
    Jewelry Quality Buffing Wheel

    Hope that helps!

  5. Starr P, 12 August, 2017

    You know Cindy it’s really funny that I decided to watch your starter video now after I’ve been watching you for the last 2 months but you really made me laugh at this one your canes look just like mine 20 years ago and I had to be self-taught because you’re right there was nothing Amoco so polymer clay I got my pasta machine from Italy and there was actually 5 military canes that they sold in craft stores are from Amber Co. I’m hoping by watching and learning so much from you as well as others that I’ll be as good as you in less time I love watching your videos you explain everything wonderfully thank you

  6. Cindy Lietz, 22 August, 2017

    Thank you so much Starr for saying that! It is fun to hear about other peoples journeys with polymer clay. I am happy to hear you are still learning! I try and learn something new almost everyday. It keeps things more interesting and makes our brains work harder… keeps us young, when we continue to learn. Thanks again for your comment!

  7. Ramaa Ramesh, 20 November, 2017

    Hi Cindy,
    I loved your Vedio on tool kit for beginners .Im beginner in this and want to know whether it’s a must to have an oven? Can’t we leave the clay bead or pendant to dry naturally?
    Love
    Ramaa

  8. Cindy Lietz, 20 November, 2017

    Hello Ramaa, actually if you are using an oven bake polymer clay like the ones I use on this site, you will have to have an oven and will not be able to just let your piece air dry. But you can use your regular home oven if you wish. (Do a search on this blog for ‘baking’ and you will find some excellent information that will help.) Of course if you were to use an Air-Dry polymer clay, you don’t need to have an oven at all.

  9. Brenda R, 03 January, 2018

    I’m so intimidated by the level of accomplishment in polymer artists and their airy references to, “This awful thing is something I made 20 years ago.” I don’t have 20 years to become competent in a new medium. Sigh.

    However, if I overcome my intimidation, I will follow the advice you give here and I thank you for guidance in how to get started without investing a big bunch of cash!

  10. Cindy Lietz, 08 January, 2018

    Hi Brenda, thank you for your comment! I completely understand where you are coming from. Those kinds of comments from artists are annoying. I want to point out something that I believe to be true about learning any new medium…

    If you want to get good at something, you need to do more of it. Period.

    How long that will take, will be determined by the skills you already bring to the table, and how much time you are willing to put into the constant improvement of those skills.

    I have seen people creating professional level work in their first year… and I have seen people who have been ‘doing it’ for 20 years and they haven’t really improved at all.

    You say, you don’t have 20 years to become competent in a medium. I say, what do you want to do with the next 20 years? Would you like to work with this medium or another? Would you like to get really good at it, fast or slow? How much time so you want to put into learning and practicing your craft?

    These are the things that will determine whether or not you will still be working in this medium 20 years from now and whether or not you will be any good at it.

    Don’t be intimidated by others in any field. Everyone comes to the table with a different level of skills and determination to improve them. Their journey has nothing to do with yours. You alone, decide what you want to do with your creative life.

    Remember, I am here to help you, should you need it. Enjoy!

  11. Lori Parker, 01 July, 2018

    I was given some packages of polymer clay along with some tools to use with the clay but there was no packaging to tell me what kind of clay or thep to use. So how do I tell which clay I have. Thank you for your time and help and have a wonderful and blessed day. Lori

  12. Cindy Lietz, 02 July, 2018

    Hi Lori, that is pretty tricky for you to figure out. If I saw, touched and smelled the clay, I might be able to make a pretty good guess, but since you are new to the material and I can’t see what you’re dealing with I won’t be able to help you identify it. You can do some testing of your own though, to figure out what temp to bake it at. Most clay bakes around the 275 F level, but some will be higher and some lower. Start there, put some test strips in the oven and see how they do at 275F for one hour. If they start smelling strongly and you think they are burning, check and lower temp if necessary. If not, then bake and test for strength. If it is too brittle, then bump up the temp a bit and see if that helps. You can also use this clay by mixing a small amount of it into a brand that you do know what it is. That may be the easiest way to use up a clay, that you are unsure of the quality or baking temps. Hope that helps! Good luck!

  13. Lori Parker, 13 July, 2018

    Hi Cindy! I just wanted to let ya know I haven’t used the clay in the oven yet still trying to figure out what to make and so far all I seem to make is mud. I think I got a few things figured out but not really sure. I would send you a pic of what I have been working on but I am not sure how too. The things I’ve made look like a child made it. And believe me I am no child by no means . I thought I would let ya know. Thank you for your time and help and have a wonderful and blessed day. Lori

  14. Patricia McKeown, 23 March, 2019

    I am making “sticks,” I guess you would call them, 1/4 inch square of various lengths for a necklace. I get the first set of 1/4 inch by pressing down between two 1/4 inch wood strips. Then I have to cut the other two sides, and I never seem to get a straight cut.

    Is there some device to use? I see cutters for canes but nothing for something thick. Thank you in advance! Love your site!!

  15. Cindy Lietz, 25 March, 2019

    There’s probably a few things you could do… you could use a quilter’s ruler which is see through with a grid on it. That way you could line up the cut edges perfectly with the 1/4 inch mark and cut your next piece perfectly straight. You could also consider using an 1/4 square die in an extruder like the Lucy Clay Extruder like this one on Amazon (affiliate link). Hopefully that helps!

  16. Patricia McKeown, 26 March, 2019

    Thanks so much!

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