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This tool is designed to decorate clay, or any impressionable surface, with a pattern which builds into a finish which resembles fish, snake or dragon scales, feathers or even, with small adjustment, roof tiles.

I think pottery decorators in ancient China invented the basic, original tool – potters used it to emboss fish or dragon scales on their ornaments or vessels.

Figure 1
The basic design is a flat blade which has been shaped so that its centre comes to a point and on either side of the point, the blade has shaped "shoulders" - usually quarter sectors of a circle (Fig. 1 right)

Figure 2

When the point is repeatedly pressed into clay, it forms a row of continuous semicircles.
(Fig. 2)
Figure 3

Then the point is pressed repeatedly into the clay beneath the first row of impressions, but offset by half its width, so that interlocking semicircles, just like fish scales , are formed.
(Fig. 3)
Figure 4

The tool is used to cover the entire surface to be embossed with scales.
(Fig. 4)
Of course, the shape of the tool must be symmetrical (the curve from the point to each shoulder should be equivalent) in order to achieve the fish-scale effect. With some adjustment of the shape, more squared scales like reptiles (and probably dragons!) may be created. Elongation of the point-to-shoulder distance with a much more gentle curve will produce a surface embossing that resembles feathers. A tool which has no curve, but has a triangular cutout on both sides will create a more mechanical, roof-tile effect. One can even decorate the edge of the tool with cutouts or file small slots around it – this gives a very "fantastical" look to the scales and is excellent for dragon or other mythical creature decoration.

Figure 5


I made my scale tools from fairly thick brass sheet for durability and mounted them into decorated handles – (Fig.5 - right). The main difficulty with these is that they have to be filed or machined into shape, which would be impossible without appropriate cutting tools.

Figure 6

One alternative that I’ve designed is very simple and needs little special equipment. Take a short strip of thin metal, such as thin brass or the metal of an aluminium drink can, and, using a single hole punch, make a partial circular hole on both sides.
(Fig. 6)
Figure 7

Next, fold the metal at its narrowest point, so that the semicircles coincide. Then use superglue or double-faced tape to stick the two halves together (Fig. 7 and 8).
Figure 8

Finally fix the metal tool into a handle of your choice. This metal is so thin that it can be cut with sturdy scissors, and so the final shape of the tool may be adjusted to your needs.


Another alternative is that the tools be made from clay itself – a good, flexible clay (Premo, Fimo or Kato) rolled into a sheet, shaped with a craft knife and circle (or other shapes) cutters. The clay must obviously be baked thoroughly and finally coated or even wrapped in tinfoil to prevent its sticking to the clay to be textured.

Note: At the right is a sampling of the tools that Alan has constructed. Looking at the brass ends you can see that the variety of textures are limited only by your imagination!

Alan Vernall
©2006 Text and Photos

We want to thank Alan for sharing this excellent tool construction with Polymer Clay Central! If you have a lesson or tutorial, or something you would like to share with PCC, please email Leigh or Stephen and we will help you prepare your project for the PCC Website!


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