Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Polymer Clay Hints and Tips: Making a Clay-Covered Pen Shiny

 Okay, so last time I showed you how to cover a pen in polymer clay cane slices- this week it is sanding, buffing and glazing.  Let's start with sanding. 

There are a couple of important keys to sanding polymer clay items.  First, get the clay as smooth as you can before you bake so you don't have to sand as much.  Second, don't skip grades of sandpaper.  I usually start with 220 grit, then move on to 320, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1500, and 2000.  Sometimes I don't go all the way to 2000, depending on how shiny I want it and whether I will be glazing the piece.  Use wet/dry sandpaper (the black kind) and cut the sheets into quarters for easier handling.  If the piece you cut doesn't have the grit printed on the back, be sure to write it on there- you can't tell what grit it is by looks or touch. :)

I use a dremel minimite drill for sanding my pens.  I just happened to have a bit for the dremel that looks like this:

 I don't know what it is called or what size it is but it's just a shaft with a wood-screw-type end on it that screws into the end of the pen just perfectly:

If you don't have this stuff, or can't figure out where to buy it, you can just hold the pen in your hand and sand longer.

You're also going to need a place to work and a bowl of water.  (I usually have mine lukewarm.  Hot will soften the clay and cold will freeze your hands.)  For a work surface, I usually settle into my easy chair with the TV remote handy, lay a towel on my lap, add one of the glass panels I clay on, and add another towel on top of that, with a third towel under my elbow to catch the water that tends to run down my arm.  (Although that usually only happens when I'm not using the drill.)

Dip the sandpaper in the water:

Hold the drill in one hand and the sandpaper in the other, kind of curved to the shape of the pen.  (I'm a lefty so I won't even try to tell you which hand should hold what- I'll get all confused.)  Don't turn the drill on until you have the pen against the sandpaper.  If you aren't (gently) holding on to the pen, it could wobble all over and stretch the opening of the pen until it doesn't fit on there anymore.  Move the sandpaper back and forth as the pen spins around, holding the sandpaper lightly against the pen.  Every so often, stop and feel the pen with your fingers to find places it needs more sanding.  The first grit will need a lot more sanding than the others.  Use the first grit until you can't find any more dips or bumps with your fingers.  Rinse your sandpaper in the water every so often to keep residue from building up on it and to keep it wet.  Then move on to the other grits for about 30 seconds each.  (A minute or two if you are not using the drill.) 

 After you have gone through all of the grits, buff the pen on a dry part of one of your towels:

You can stop there or you can buff or glaze the pen- read on:

Some people own an electric buffer but I just couldn't afford one so I came up with my own alternative using stuff I already had on hand.  So here's my method:

You need a vise.  This one suctions on to the table.

You also need a buffing wheel.  I made mine out of a white felt and old jeans denim.  I cut a bunch of 5-inch circles from the felt and the denim and then glued them together in a stack about 2 inches thick.  I put a hole in the center (can't remember how, but I'm sure you'll come up with something...) and stuck a piece of threaded metal stuff (had to cut it down to about 6 inches) I found at the hardware store through the hole.  I added a washer and a nut to each side of the fabric and tightened it down good to hold it in place. 

 Now you need an electric drill.  Stick the bar of the buffing wheel into the drill and tighten it down:

 Make sure your vise is securely attached to the table and clamp the drill upside down in the vise:

Don't forget your earplugs- this is gonna be loud.  Safety glasses are probably a good idea too.


Now, I don't know if all drills have this button but hubby says most of them do.  When you hold down the trigger on the drill, there should be a switch or button somewhere that you can use to hold the trigger down when you let go.  On mine, it's the little black switch above (below) the trigger.  Now you'll have two hands to hang on to your pen:

Make sure that the bottom of the wheel is turning away from you.  Hold the pen GENTLY against the buffing wheel, making sure that you are holding it near the bottom of the wheel so if it grabs the pen, the pen will go flying away from you and not toward you.  Keep the pen moving constantly so it doesn't get to warm anywhere. 

And there's your shiny pen all ready for its charms!

If you don't want to mess with the buffing (and even some of the sanding) you can glaze your pen instead.  I like the feel of a buffed pen the best but sometimes you don't have time or equipment for sanding and buffing, or you've used metal foils or surface treatments that need to be sealed. 

Here's how I glaze a pen:

You need a way to stand the pen up while it is drying.  I use a piece of foam packing material.  You can use a bamboo skewer or you can use toothpicks inside the pen to stand it up.  I usually use the toothpicks.  Hold two of them together and stick them about halfway into the end of the pen:

Stick a third toothpick in the opening next to the other two.  Hopefully, it will create a tight fit and stick out beyond the other two toothpicks.  If it's too loose, try a fatter toothpick, or push it up level with the others and add a fourth toothpick.

Stick it in your foam thing.  Here you can see my glaze of choice.  Don't use a spray as most of them will react with the clay and keep it sticky forever.  The same goes for any oil-based varnish or fingernail polish.

Wet a makeup sponge and wring it out thoroughly.  Dip the corner of the sponge in the glaze and scrape the excess on the edge of the container:

Apply the glaze to the pen with the sponge, re-dipping as needed:

 Let it dry for a 2-3 minutes and then look for air bubbles.  You can see one here:

Use the corner of the sponge to gently wipe away the air bubble.  You can also try a sharp pin to burst the bubble but I haven't had much luck with that.

Let it dry for at least a couple of hours.  If you want, do another coat or two.

Next time we will add a charm to our clay pen...


Thursday, June 23, 2011

What I've been working on...

I keep promising myself that I'm going to start blogging more often and then things come up and I just can't get to it as often as I'd like.  Now I'm getting ready for the next craft fair on July 2nd.  I don't have as much inventory as I'd like so as soon as a craft fair starts to get closer, I start to panic and clay like crazy.  You'd think I'd learn and try to work more steadily, but I'd probably still panic during the last two weeks 'cause I still don't have enough stuff.

So, here's a quick post about the projects I've been working on (almost all of these photos will have to be redone before I can post them in my Artfire and Etsy shops, so you probably won't see them there for a while):

I wanted to do one of those "variations on a kaleidoscope" canes... All three canes in this bracelet were made from the same elements- just put together in different ways.  I also came up with my own method for making a bezel out of clay.  The small disk beads are clay and the bicones are czech crystals.  They're all strung on stretchy cord so I wouldn't have to figure out how to do a clasp.  (I really don't have many jewelry parts.)
 The rest of the photos are things I've been developing for my "Christmas in July" section in my booth:

This one and the next three snowflakes all measure about 4 inches across.  They are entirely made of strings and balls of solid white clay liberally coated with iridescent glitter.  I used a picture of a real snowflake under a glass work surface to provide a template for each snowflake.  None of them look much like the real snowflakes they represent except for the basic structure.  I really enjoyed doing these.  There will probably be more in the future.

These three are some filigree bulbs I did.  They each took 2-3 hours to make so I probably won't sell many of them 'cause the prices will be fairly high...  They are all made with extruded clay strings in red, green, and gold clay and then brushed with metallic powders to make them really shine.

This one's my favorite.  Unfortunately, it also took the longest to make.

Hopefully you'll see another new post soon!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Clay-Covered Pen Tutorial: How to Cover a Pen with Polymer Clay

I decided it's about time that I do a pen tutorial since I've only done about 120 of them (pens, I mean)...

This is a very simple method of doing a pen.  The size and shape of the cane makes it really easy to line everything up well.

You may notice that the cane I used in this tutorial is the one in the cane tutorial that I did last time.  I didn't plan it that way.  I actually made the cane a year or so ago and I just made this pen yesterday.  Anyway, here it is...

square cane
Bic Round Stic pen (some other brands will work but some will melt in the oven so be careful if you choose another brand)

needle-nose pliers
sharp tissue blade
tiny circle cutter or sharp craft knife
1 sheet white cardstock
clay-dedicated baking pan

Step 1:  Take the ink out of the pen.  Use a pair of needle-nose pliers to gently but firmly pull on the black part of the pen until it comes out of the barrel.  (Don't pull on the metal part or you will have a mess.)

Step 2:  Prepare your cane.  For this tutorial, you need to use a square cane sized to as close to 1/2 inch as you can get. 

Step 3:  Slice your cane.  You'll need about 20 slices.  Try to get them as even as possible.  The thicker they are, the easier it is to roll the seams together but the thicker the pen will be.  So keep that in mind when you cut your slices.  Some people say to slice as thin as possible but I don't agree with that for pens.  It's really up to you. 
Step 4:  Start covering the pen.  Start at the top of the pen and put two slices of cane side by side around the end of the pen.  (Sorry this pic is blurry.)

If the bottom edges don't quite match up, use the flat of a tissue blade to gently press the lower edge up a little to even things up.

Continue covering the pen with cane slices, evening out the edges as you go.

Don't cover the end of the pen where it narrows yet.

The two slices on the end need special treatment.  Squeeze two adjacent corners toward one another to make the shapes shown below.  Press the slices onto the tip of the pen, lining up the wider bottom edge with the slices already in place.  If the other sides don't line up with the end of the pen, don't worry about it as long as they are close.

For the top end of the pen, cut a small circle out of the center of a cane slice, either with a tiny circle cutter or a sharp craft knife.

Press it over the open spot on the end of the pen.  Smooth the edges down the best you can with your finger. (We'll come back to this later.)

Step 5:  Finishing.  Lay the pen on your work surface and roll it back and forth with your palm a little.  
(Not pictured) Using a really sharp tissue blade, shave off raised areas to prevent too much distortion.  Then roll it on the work surface again to smooth everything out.
Hold the top end of the pen lightly in your fingers and roll the bottom end of the pen on the work surface to smooth the seams out there.

Tap the top end of the pen on the work surface to get rid of the seam.  Smooth it out the rest of the way with your fingers.

Rolling should have made the two cane slices at the end extend out beyond it a little.  If it didn't, add a couple of slivers of clay from another slice.  Trim the end neatly with a sharp blade.

Lay the pen on your work surface and run your fingers lenthwise along the pen to smooth it out even more.

Step 6: Bake it on a piece of accordian-folded cardstock.  I usually bake a pen at 265F for 30 minutes.  Here's the pen with a couple of others I've done as well as some beads my 6-year-old made.
Next time I'll share some sanding and buffing tips...