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Polymer Clay FAQ
Prepared by Arlene Thayer

Is it safe?
Polymer clay is certified as non-toxic, but it is advised that you do not use the same utensils or other tools for any food preparation. Thoroughly clean any area used for polyclay manufacturing before preparing food in the same area. Clean your hands well before handling food using a light abrasive such as liquid cleansers. Follow up with hand cream as the clay is very drying to your hands.Alcohol wipes, like "Wet-Ones" are great for hand-cleaning. They are also good for cleaning surfaces and equipment.
The metallic powders used with the polymer clay will irritate your throat and lungs. You are strongly advise to wear a mask and gloves while working with powders. Read the labels of the products you are working with and follow directions carefully. Polymer clays, baked at the proper temperatures do not present a hazard. Prolonged inhalation of the fumes is not recommended. Polymer clay is petroleum base material so you should avoid excessive fumes if possible. If you accidentally burn the polymer clay, immediately ventilate the area. The gases produced from burning polymer clay can be irritating to your lungs and eyes. Avoid the area until the fumes dissipate and thoroughly clean the oven before using again.The fumes are particularly hazardous to small pets.
Avoid breathing the powder residue from drilling and sanding the polymer clay. Careful handling of instruments and equipment can eliminate accidents as well.
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What is the difference between brands of "Clay"?
All Clays Bake at 260-275F (Fluorescent and Glow-in-Dark usually lower, Formello higher). Read labels - formulations of FIMO are changing, so don't make any assumptions. Use an oven thermometer - don't trust your oven to be accurate. Most ovens are off 25-50 degrees.
The thicker the item, the longer it must be baked. Small beads may need only 20 minutes. When in doubt, bake longer. The clay gains strength up to 2 hours. Because the clay has no water in it, it can be baked for over 24 hours without being harmed if the temperature is not too hot. My oven keeps an even temperature for about 45 minutes and then the temperature starts climbing. Clay baked too hot will discolor, brown or burn. Burned clay (300+ degrees will burn) creates toxic fumes. Air out the room immediately. Use caution, stay safe, and you will have success.

Cost:           Medium    
Strength:       Good to Excellent - Tough, Strong       
Baked Texture:  Hard, Cool to Touch        
Working Text.:  Not Mushy, Not Stiff - Very Nice        
Conditioning:   Needs Time, but not too Tough        
Colors:         Waxy, not much Pigment -
                "Glamour" Colors Better        
Availability:   Somewhat hard to Find       
Finish:         Semi-Matte       
Weight:         Medium      
Manufactured:   Germany        
Best Uses:      Great for Thin Sheets in Wrinkled
                Textures - Strong against Abrasion
                and Pressure - Best product for
                doll making

FIMO Cost: Medium/High Strength: Good to Excellent - Resilient Baked Texture: Slightly Rubber-like, Warm to Touch Working Text.: Slightly Stiff, keeps integrity Conditioning: Tough to knead, sometimes crumbly Colors: Excellent (dark colors get darker after baking) Availability: Excellent Finish: Semi-Glossy Weight: Heavy Manufactured: Germany Best Uses: When Resilience is Necessary When Color and Strength are Both Important - Best product for cane making. FORMELLO Cost: Medium Strength: Good (Must Bake at 275F/20 min. or Very Weak) Baked Texture: Warm to Touch - Quite Flexible in Thin Layers Working Text.: Sticks to Itself, Easy to Slice Conditioning: Easy - Not too Mushy, Not too Stiff Colors: Pretty Good - Some Colors Slightly Waxy Availability: Difficult to Find Finish: Semi-Matte Sheen Weight: Medium/Heavy Manufactured: Germany Best Uses: When Flexibility Needed; General Use Special Concerns: Can crack unpredictably when not smooth on the surface before baking. PROMAT Cost: Medium/High Strength: Strong Baked Texture: Waxy Working Text.: Resinous, Sticky, Wax-like Conditioning: Stiff but not Crumbly Colors: Translucent, Except for Frosted Colors, Metallics (Does have three Glow-in-the-Dark Colors) Availability: Somewhat Difficult to Find Finish: Semi-Gloss Weight: Medium Manufactured: U.S.A. Best Uses: Tensile Strength, Glow Colors SCULPEY III Cost: Inexpensive Strength: Brittle in Sheets, Fine for Beads Baked Texture: Porous, Dry to the Touch Working Text.: Soft, Mushy in Hot Weather (may smear when sliced) Conditioning: Minimal Kneading Necessary Colors: Strong Pigment, Sometimes Garish, Good for Blending Availability: Excellent Finish: Matte, Ceramic-Like Weight: Lightweight Manufactured: U.S.A. Best Uses: For Children or Arthritic Hands (Less kneading); beads; when weight is a Problem. Large earrings, center of large beads.

The Polymer Clay Color Chip Chart is now available. It includes all brands with samples of baked color chips. Contact Kelly Keniston at http://www.jewlart.com/chart/ for ordering information.
Question List

How is it prepared for use?
There are a number of ways to warm polyclay for use and some are quite inventive. You may use whatever it takes to warm the clay, short of baking. Some will carry the packaged clay in their pocket and use body warmth. Some use a heating pad on the lowest setting. Placing the opened product in a sandwich baggy and floating in warm water will also work. Add more warm water as it cools and turn the baggy often for approximately 15 minutes. You can even warm it with your hands, rolling it until pliable. Microwavable gel packs, meant for warming baby bottles are another good suggestion. If you place the clay on a window sill to soften by the sun's warmth, be careful not to leave it for more than a few minutes. The sun can begin to bake the clay quite rapidly. If the temperature of the clay rises above body temperature, it will begin to cure.

(PCC Note: In the original FAQ, there was a mention at this point about using a microwave oven to warm the clay to help conditioning. Since this FAQ was written - in the mid 90's - there has been new information and discussion on the use of a microwave with polymer clay, and the concensus now is that it can be dangerous and should NOT be attempted. The clay manufacturers clearly post warnings about using a microwave, and this is not a practice that Polymer Clay Central recommends.)
By popular opinion, the food processor is the conditioner of choice. Not only does it warm the clay but aids in the conditioning. The food processor should be dedicated to this purpose only and not used for food preparation. First the package of clay is cut into 1/2 inch pieces and dumped into the processor. The processor is then pulsed off and on until the clumping stops. Then, run the processor for approximately 30 seconds. This turns the clay into tiny balls, and also warms it. If it feels dry and won't press together easily, add one or two drops of mineral oil, vegetable oil or Sculpey Dilutent (a plasticizer in a bottle) and run the processor again. Too much oil, however, can make the clay sticky and too soft. Press the clay balls together and take out of the processor. It can then be flattened and run through the pasta machine.
Before kneading begins, wash your hands. Especially, clean hands thoroughly before changing colors.
Clay that is warmed by methods other than the food processor must be kneaded by hand until it no longer crumbles when twisted. Kneading is accomplished by squeezing the clay in your hands. It will soon yield to the pressure and you can begin to roll it between your palms making a snake shape. Fold the snake over onto itself and twist the two sides until it breaks and repeat the process until pliable. The pasta machine can also be used to knead the clay. When the clay is pliable enough to make a snake shape, it can be pressed through the pasta machine, starting at the widest open position. Flatten the clay with a roller or brayer and pass it through the pasta machine. Continue folding the sheets and running it through the machine adjusting the opening smaller as the clay becomes softer and more malleable. About 15 passes should condition the clay for use and ensure that when the clay is cured it will be stable and not brittle. Improper kneading can cause the finished product to crack or have a porous look. Colors can also be mixed together using any of these methods.
MixQuick is a softening medium developed especially for FIMO to make it more workable. Adding one part to 4 or 5 parts is the general rule. It is also acceptable to incorporate a dab of petroleum jelly. Though Sculpey is a much softer composition, it still requires proper conditioning to produce an acceptable product.
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