Apr 18, 2010

Extruding Fun!

Two posts ago, I promised you a little something on clay guns. If you were born in the era of Playdough like I was, you'll probably remember those funky little plastic things with all the holes in them. You'd take a mound of the dough and push it through these holes and you would automatically have things like spaghetti and crazy Playdough hair. Clay guns and extruders follow the same principals.

There are a wide range of clay extruders and guns on the market, today. The most common one is a three piece gun plus shape discs by Sculpey. It has a barrel, a screw-on end cap to hold the shape discs, and a plunger to push the clay through. The discs come with cut-out shapes such as swuares, diamonds, triangles, circles, stars, etc. The Sculpey Clay Gun is very cheap - you can usually find one for about $7.00.

Overall, this clay gun is pretty sturdy for what it's worth. It's all metal, which is an added advantage when it comes to all the pushing you'll have to do on it. The downside is that the plunger needs to be pushed, and after awhile it really takes its toll on your hands, that's for sure. You can make things a little easier if you knead and condition your clay really well before putting it in the barrel, but the firmer brands of clay can be a lot harder to push through even if they are well kneaded. Sculpey III is one of the more softer brands of clay, so it is rather easy to tell that this gun was built for use with Sculpey III, hence the producer of this particular clay gun.

Another downside is that it can be a pain to clean. To clean, what I usually do is push any reminants of clay that are stuck to the insides of the barrel with one of my blunt clay tools. Then I get a piece of paper towel, spray it with rubbing alcohol, and wipe the insides of the barrel using my fingers. I've got long skinny fingers, so it definitely aids in this tedious process. Then I just wipe down the plunger, discs, and end cap with paper towel and a spray of rubbing alcohol.

But to be honest, I'd rather do away with all the hassle of the Sculpey clay gun and upgrade to something a little better. The best clay gun I have found is the Makin's Professional Ultimate Clay Extruder, which makes up where the Sculpey model falls short.

Not only is the Makins's Clay Extruder all metal, it is also a lot easier to clean and a lot easier to use. Instead of a plunger that you push, this plunger actually twists like a screw, which is a lot easier on the hands and provides a lot more strength and leverage even when the clay is firm. An added bonus is the fact that the plunger comes with a rubber 'O' Ring on the end so that the barrel of the extruder stays nice and clean. To clean, all of the parts just need a quick wipedown with paper towel and rubbing alcohol. The price is a steal, as well - only $20-$25 depending on where you get it.

You can buy extra discs for the Makin's model, as well... and there is a disc that allows for the shapes to be hollow so that you may use them as beads. If you're a beadmaker, this is definitely very handy.

When I had my Sculpey clay extruder, there were a few discs that I really liked that I couldn't get with the Makin's clay extruder in the same size, so what I did was take a hammer and gently flatten the lip on the sides of the Sculpey discs and now I can use them with my Makin's extruder. If your clay is extra firm, it'll be a good idea to back up a Sculpey disc with a Makin's disc that has a shape that is slightly bigger so that the pressure is put on the Makin's disc, passes through it, and then passes through the Sculpey disc with ease. This makes a lot of difference because the Sculpey discs are rather thin and can easily bend with too much pressure when they are in the larger Makin's clay extruder.

If you don't have any art supply stores nearby, you can buy the Makin's clay extruder online at The Clay Store.

In addition to clay extruders such as these, there are many other tools that you can use that can be easier to find. Many clay artists find that for fine round strands of clay (for hair, pasta, yarn, etc.) can be easily obtained by using a garlic press - and they tend to be very easy to clean, as well.

One of my personal favourites is cake decorating bags and tips. If you soften your clay down to the point where it is the texture of a pliable icing or frosting, you can use it just like you do to decorate a cake. To get your clay down to a smooth consistency, it is best to knead the clay until it is extremely soft and then put it on a clean work surface - add a small amount of liquid clay and then mash the mixture together until it is nice and smooth. I like to use the handle of a spoon for this part. You can pipe designs directly onto the clay you want to decorate, or you can pipe designs onto a ceramic tile, bake them until firm, let them cool, and then store for future use for all your decorating needs.

Is there anything you want to hear about in my next blog entry? I am always taking suggestions! :)