10 Must-Have Tools for Molding Clay
Getting into clay crafts is a great pastime. It has so many different benefits, and above all, is amazingly enjoyable. Just like other artistic pursuits, crafting with molding clay can help you clear your mind, may be able to help you focus, and can have therapeutic benefits as well. On top of that, and if for no other reason, it’s just plain enjoyable to express yourself through a medium like clay.
One of the best things about clay is its versatility. It is a 3-dimensional medium that can be used to craft useful trinkets and little functional items as well as purely aesthetic decorations. It’s also enjoyable for its pleasant tactile sensation, much as it is for the visual intrigue of the finished art created from it.
The Creative Uses of Molding Clay
Molding clay can be used to make a wide variety of interesting trinkets, ornaments, and so much more. With clay, you can create jewelry like earrings and necklaces, ornaments, figurines and small statues, decorate magnets, planters and vases, beads, small holders and pots, and so much more.
Your creativity is the only limiting factor in what you can make with clay, which means you can make almost anything you can envision - if you have the right clay sculpting tools, that is. With these, you should be able to create almost anything you can imagine!
- A nonstick surface
It might be the most easily overlooked aspect of a clay sculptor’s inventory, but it is arguably the most important - at least after a little creative inspiration, that is.
Without a nonstick surface, you won’t really have anywhere practical to create your artwork. When you work with clay on any old surface, the clay will absorb impressions from that surface and if that was not bad enough, it’ll also tend to soak up whatever dust or dirt was laying on it. Some surfaces will also cling to clay, complicating your ability to sculpt it.
Some polymer clays, like our Papa’s Clay, will actually repel dust, but that doesn’t completely negate the need for a quality nonstick surface to work on. You can easily pick up a clay sculpting mat for a few dollars - but if you’re dead set against it, you just need to make sure you’re crafting on a clean, smooth surface that is free of dust, dirt, oil or other material.
- A wire cutter
A wire cutting is the most basic, and often the most effective, cutting tool for sculpting clay. When you need a crisp, fine cut along clean lines, a wire cutter is your go-to tool. For rough sizing and shaping you can just rip off bits of clay with your hands, but a wire cutter will add a whole new degree of precision to the operation.
For this reason, a clay wire cutter is not just a vital tool for meting out portions of the clay itself, but also for making alterations and crisp cuts to the project as you move along. In fact, since wire cutters themselves are narrower than even the sharpest knives, they can sometimes be even more effective at making cuts than other bladed tools.
- A roller
A roller is also a highly effective tool for clay sculptors and a vital accessory for all who take sculpting seriously. In a pinch, you can use your hands, but believe it or not, your hands will leave the impressions of dermal ridges and the other imperfections on your skin behind. If you want a truly flat, even surface, or you want to create a smooth sheet with a uniform thickness, a roller is almost imperative.
This is one of those generalized tools, which can easily be improvised with the right supplies and a little bit of ingenuity. You can use a purpose-built clay roller, but it’s not entirely necessary. If you’re without a clay roller, a smooth-walled drinking glass can be used to help roll out smooth sheets of clay - it just takes a little bit of patience and practice. Then again, rollers come with most kits that have many of the other essential molding clay sculpting tools on this list!
- A clay paddle
Clay paddles are typically reserved for traditional clay working with natural clays and are used to compress and stabilize the structure of pots and other items formed on a pottery wheel. However, a clay paddle can also be used to great effect even with polymer clays and other types in addition to natural clays.
This is because a clay paddle can be used almost like a flexible extension of your work surface. Your hands can be used to sculpt and mold clay, but as stated, they are not uniform in texture or in density and can leave behind marks. A clay paddle can be used for smoothing, evening and even for compressing clay in order to give it a more professional, clean look - if that is something you’re going for.
- A hook tool
There are many different types of hook tools out there, and you need at least one in your collection of clay sculpting tools. Generally speaking, a hook tool is self-evident and needs little introduction. While the form and angle of hook tools will vary - some are even straight - it’s basically a length of pointed metal attached to a wooden or plastic handle with a hook at one end. The hook can be sharply or gracefully angled, or theoretically even straight - although at that point it’ll be more of a pick than a hook, which is another useful tool.
A hook tool can be used for shaping the clay sculpture, but it can also be used for making very fine manipulations or impressions on the surface of the clay, for which your fingers and most other tools are just too blunt. You can also use hook tools to draw or tease out small sections of clay, which would be difficult if not impossible with almost any other type of tool. Even sharp knives often have points too cumbersome for the job. Whenever you need to make fine, precise markings on the surface of the clay, a hook is one of the most useful tools out there.
- A scoring tool
A scoring tool looks like a knife because it usually has a little blade on the end. Actually, some of them have two ends, with blades of different profiles on each. Sometimes they are not sharpened, instead serving almost like a “butter knife” to make fairly precise alterations to the surface of a clay sculpture.
With the right scoring tool, you can actually produce a variety of effects in addition to scoring. Of course, you can score the clay, which is useful for creating realistic surfaces and textures - but with some of them, you can also smooth the surface or create other textures in addition to scoring, such as the impression of scaling, feathers, or fur, among others. You can also use a scoring tool to remove small quantities of clay from a sculpture to help pare down the stock.
- A variety of wire loop tools
You can’t just get away with one wire loop tool because these are so versatile. In some ways, they are the most important molding clay tools of all!
A wire loop tool is just that - it is a hardened loop of wire attached to and protruding from a handle, often of wood or plastic. That generic descriptor, however, does not paint a complete picture of the utility of these enormously versatile tools.
First off, the curvature of the loop tool will vary, and some of them are even created with nearly pointed or fully pointed ends. This enables users to remove curved and angled bits of clay from the sculpture, creating concave curvatures in the clay that are nearly impossible to create any other way.
Wire loop tools can be used to create scales, fur, feathers, undulating patterns, divots, rounded holes, and so many other modifications to the surface of the clay. We didn’t place them at number one on this list, but you should consider them some of the most valuable clay sculpting tools available.
Whereas a straight wire cutter can only make basic cuts, a wire loop tool can make creative, expressive incisions into the surface of the clay, for nearly endless possibilities with creativity. You don’t just need one wire loop tool. In reality, your crafting kit should contain several!
- A scraper
A clay scraper, which may also be called a rib, is a very thin, flexible piece of metal that is like a larger version of a scoring tool without a handle. These often also have curved edges and can also be used for scoring, creating impressions, cutting, sectioning, and even for smoothing surfaces. By using the trailing edge of a rib, you can help to smooth or even out the surface of your clay sculpture, or to ensure even consistency and depth on your clay sheets.
A rib or scraper can also be used for creating complex texturing, although this can also be accomplished via the aid of some of the other tools mentioned on this list. Moreover, a scraper can also be used to help clean up an area after you’re done working, making them even more valuable!
- A sharp knife
The truth is that most of the functionality that can be provided by a good knife can be replicated by some of the other tools mentioned here, but there are few tools as versatile as a clay knife. It can cut, score, smooth, texture and even flatten clay out, among other useful functions.
Now, there are also specially designed clay sculpting knives that are also made of wood. These are also highly useful tools that can be used to create impressions and texture and can also be used to smooth over the surface of the clay. Some of them even have chiseled ends for making precise impressions or for crimping the edge of a clay surface.
- A place to keep them all
You’ll also want to have a place where you can reliably store all of your clay tools so that they’re all in one place when you need them. Many clay kits come with most if not all of the other tools mentioned here, and many of them come with a little plastic tube or sleeve where you can organize and store all of your tools.
If you don’t purchase a clay kit, and prefer to buy your tools piecemeal, remember that you don’t need to put a lot of money into a storage tube specifically for your clay tools. You can repurpose an old tool roll or even make your own. The great thing about this craft is it doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. The idea here is just to have all of your tools in one place when you need them!
These are some of the most basic yet important tools that you should include with your collection of clay sculpting supplies. With them, you’ll be able to make almost anything you can imagine - but you’ll still need the right clay to accomplish that objective.
Here at Firefly Art Supplies, we provide a few different types of creative clay media that are useful for different purposes. For example, our Papa’s Clay is a polymer clay that will stay pliable for as long as you need it and will not dry out until you fire it. It can also be easily fired at home and is available in a wide range of vibrant colors.
We also provide Sculpture Pro, an oil-based clay that will not dry out and is, therefore, suitable for a wide range of molding applications since it can be worked again and again.
We also firmly believe in helping people, and that crafting with clay and making art offers many holistic benefits that cannot be easily or succinctly relayed. It is an experience that simply must be enjoyed. Therefore, if you have questions about the use of these tools or about any of our different clay media, please contact us using the contact form on our website and we will be glad to assist.