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Before you use your clay, it will have to be well conditioned to mix in and activate the plasticizers. A pasta machine makes this job much easier but if you do not have one, you can condition by hand.
Tips For Baking Your Clay
Always preheat your oven using an oven thermometer to check your oven temperature before inserting your clay. You do not want it higher than the recommended temperature but you want it high enough for the clay to harden properly.
Note: You cannot over-bake your clay pieces. If you under-bake them they will not harden properly. If you bake at too high a temperature, they will burn. It is better to bake them a little longer (at the correct temperature) than not enough.
There are several ways for baking your pieces -- depending on what they are:
Method # 1 - Lay your pieces onto a small baking tray with quilt batting.
Method # 2 - Place them them on index cards folded like an accordion on a ceramic tile or in a baking pan.
Method # 3 - Leave beads on bead piercing tools (poultry lacers) and bake on a bead rack placed on a ceramic tile or in a baking pan.
Method # 4 - For flatter objects, bake directly onto a ceramic tile.
Method # 5 - Fill a pan about 1" deep with baking soda. Arrange your pieces as is or beads on bead piercing tools on the bed of baking soda. Cover with more baking soda and cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil. (I just use some cheap disposable foil pans with the cardboard lids.)
This method will prevent transcluscent and lighter clay colors from darkening during baking as well as preventing any "surface cracks" on larger type beads that are caused from expanding and contracting. (Do not remove from the pan until they are completely cooled.)
Baking in a Regular Oven:
If you are baking in your regular oven, place your pieces on quilt batting or ceramic tile inside an old baking pan, dedicated to clay only, covered with a tight fitting lid or seal with aluminum foil. You could also wrap the entire ceramic tile in aluminum foil, "tenting" it so it doesn't touch your clay. Do not open or unwrap inside the oven but wait until it is completely cooled after baking.
Sanding Your Work
Sanding your pieces is always optional, depending on what type of finish you are looking for. It is recommended if you want a nice smooth piece and even more so prefer a glossy finish with buffing. Sanding also helps remove any imperfections like scratches or fingerprints.
The key to sanding is that the smoother your pieces are before baking, the less sanding and fix-ups you will need to do after. This is one reason I prefer Kato clay as it is firmer, making it easier to work with and handle without leaving many marks or fingerprints.
If you choose to sand your pieces, they need to be sanded with warm water and with wet/dry sand paper. I like to cut my sandpaper sheets into smaller pieces for easier handling.
To sand your piece, fill a container with warm water and a few drops of dish detergent. Starting with a coarser grit wet/dry sandpaper (320 or 400), sand each piece keeping your paper and piece constantly wet.
If your beads are fairly smooth already, you can probably get away without using the 320 grit and start with 400. If they have a lot of deep marks or fingerprints on them, they can be removed with the 320 grit first. Do not sand too hard with the 320 or you will end up with flat spots.
Sand your beads with the 400 grit and then following with the 800. I have found using the 600 is not necessary and skip it totally from now on). Some people sand with higher grits like 1000 or even 2000. The higher the number, the finer the sandpaper and smoother the surface. Personally we haven't found too much difference between 800 and 1000 -- especially if your piece is fairly smooth to begin with.
It all depends on the type of clay you use and how smooth the surface is before baking and how shiny you want your piece to be after.
Recently we have started using the Micro Mesh and for tips on using this product to help create an even higher shine, click here.
Buffing for a High Shine
After sanding (if needed) there are several ways to "finish" your piece -- depending if you want it to be shiny or have a more natural matte finish.
You can buff by hand with a piece of denim or soft cotton cloth for a satin sheen. For a real shine, buff with a buffing machine such as a Foredom or Dremel.
We use an ordinary dremel set up in a drill press so both hands are free to hold the piece we are buffing. The dremel can also be placed into a vice which will work the same as well.
After searching for the right buffing pad, we found a fabric that works beautifully and now make our own. They are available in our online store and our Etsy Shop. You can click here to see how to attach our buffing pads to your Dremel tool. Instructions are also included with each pack.
For more tips on buffing with a Dremel tool and using our pads, click here.
A wax can be applied to your item after it is sanded. It helps to fill in any tiny scratches allowing the shine of the product to come through more. We like to rub it on and allow it to sit and "soak up" for a few minutes. You can use a rag or shop paper towel to wipe off the wax as much as possible and then buff with a clean rag or piece of clean denim. This can be done before buffing with the Dremel for a high shine.
Your pieces can be glazed but only with certain types that are compatible with polymer clay. We recommend using glazes on pieces that are textured or when items such as mica powders need to be sealed to prevent them from wearing off. Here are several that are the most popular:
Hardening Your Glaze
After applying any of the above glazes, your pieces can be baked again in a 200º - 225º F preheated oven. This tends to "melt" the glaze a bit and bond it to your clay making a much harder finish. Bake for only 10 - 15 minutes. This works especially well with the Pledge (Future) product.
Note: Make sure the glaze is completely dry before baking.
Check out our blog post, "To Glaze or Not to Glaze" for more tips on glazing.