Oil Based Clay: Some Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
There are plenty of resources on our website here dedicated to educating our customers about the varied uses and amazing utility of our Papa’s Clay, a polymer blend that is available in many colors and will not dry out till it is baked.
Our Papa’s Clay is ideal for the pursuit of both therapeutic and artistic pursuits, and crafters will enjoy the texture and the process of molding and sculpting it. However, it is not the only clay in our product catalog; we also offer oil based clay as well.
Oil based clay is useful for a different set of reasons from those that make polymer clay popular. If you are interested in using oil based clay for an upcoming project, check out some of these frequently asked questions and if you have more, feel free to get in touch with us.
- Does oil based clay dry out or harden?
Unlike polymer clay, which does not dry out until you bake it, oil based clay will not dry out at all and can be worked time and time again to create a wide range of different projects. Instead, oil based clays contain waxes and oils that will not evaporate or harden themselves, resulting in a clay blend that is also shelf stable and will not harden, so you’ll never be surprised by dry clay. Not only will it not air harden, but oil based mixtures cannot be fired.
Similarly, whereas water-based clays, like natural clays, need to be wetted from time to time to keep them semi-plastic and workable, the same doesn’t apply to oil based clay. Since oil clays are not formulated with water, there’s no need to moisturize them, although you may be able to alter their consistency with oil or oil soluble compounds (see below).
- Does it need to be heated up before I can work with it?
Some clays may need to be heated up or kneaded before they can be worked; natural clay may need to be both softened with water and kneaded before it can be worked. This is unlikely to be the case with our oil based clay unless the clay is exceptionally cold when you start working with it.
Just the warmth from your hands should be sufficient to heat the clay enough to keep it workable. There’s no need to heat it up or add anything to it. While some clays can become very stiff in response to temperature, loss of moisture, or other factors, oil based clay will stay highly manipulable through a wide range of conditions.
- For what types of projects can I use oil based clay?
Because oil based clay will never dry out, it’s extremely practical for a wide range of different craft and professional projects, depending on your needs and interests.
There are plenty of creative uses for polymer clay, especially if you enjoy the creative, pleasing process of crafting sculptures and then breaking them down and making something new with them. For example, you can use oil based mixtures to create tiny sculptures for fun or to serve as artistic models for sketches or paintings, only to break them down and reuse them over and over again. There’s a ton of fun you can have with oil based clays and your imagination is your only limit.
You can use oil based clays for design or prototyping, especially if you need to create 3D prototype models to serve as a base for design or planning. Since these need to be easily manipulable, it’s beneficial that oil based mixtures don’t harden and can be changed as the needs of the project or the vision change.
You can also use some oil based clays to create molds that you can use to cast more durable materials. This type of clay can be used to create molds for silicone, plastics, and much more, for the production of small cast sculptures and other artistic pieces.
- Is it possible to thin it out or condition it if I want to alter the properties?
While oil based clay will never dry out, cannot be fired, and is easy to work by hand, you might want to change its consistency or soften it. This can be accomplished with certain oils or oil soluble materials. For example, you may be able to soften the consistency of oil based clay with the addition of a little bit of baby oil or petroleum jelly.
However, we have to caution you very strongly against this because once you add more oil in, it is impossible to remove it. If you add in a substance to improve the fluidity, softness or texture of oil based modeling clay, you won’t be able to return it to its original consistency. If you must, add only a very little bit at a time. You can add more in, but you can’t take any out.
- Does it contain sulfur?
Some oil based molding compounds contain sulfur because sulfur improves the consistency of the clay. It makes the clay softer, smoother and easier to work and can potentially improve the consistency of the blend. This makes sulfur-based modeling compounds suitable for some uses of oil based clay, like prototyping and modeling, or just for plain old fun clay crafts.
However, one of the more common uses for this type of clay is as a medium for silicone molds. Some clays are used to create pourable silicone molds that are useful for casting other media and creating little figures, sculptures and busts. Unfortunately, sulfur is implicated in a chemical process known as “curing inhibition.”
If you attempt to make a silicone mold using a sulfur-bearing clay compound, the sulfur will react with the silicone, preventing it from solidifying. Interestingly, sulfur will interact with latex rubbers and urethane as well, preventing these materials from curing.
Luckily, our oil based blend is sulfur-free, so if you are interested in using it to create silicone molds, it is perfectly suitable for such applications.
- How long is the shelf life for oil based clay?
Another one of the great things about oil based clay is that it has a pretty long shelf life. When properly stored, it should last for at least a few years, especially if it is not opened. If you keep it sealed, it should last for several years at most, but even if it’s opened, it should last a while since it doesn’t dry out.
- Do I need special tools to smooth it out or prepare it?
While you actually should keep some specialized clay sculpting tools on hand to work oil based clay, they aren’t necessary, especially for smoothing it out. Actually, for that, you can probably just use your hands.
Take a small amount of clay and knead it out over a surface. You can roll it or flatten it using your hands but you can also use your fingers to smooth out small sections even after they have been applied to a sculpture. The warmth in your fingers should assist with this.
- What tools do I need to work with oil clay?
Although you don’t need specialized tools to smooth out oil based clay, in and many other instances you can improvise, clay sculpting tools can be highly valuable to the crafter. We recently published a blog on essential clay sculpting tools; for more detailed info, please see the previous link. Otherwise, you would do well to use a few of the following improvised tools:
- A clean rolling pin - A clean rolling pin is immensely helpful for rolling out clay, creating a smooth, uniform surface of even thickness that can be used to mold, stamp or cut pieces for sculpting. It’s not entirely necessary, but it certainly is more expedient than using your fingers.
- A pick (like a toothpick) - If you don’t have any dedicated crafting picks on hand, you can use a toothpick to make precise textural alterations to the surface of your clay. You can even use a sharp toothpick as a scoring tool. Plastic is better than wood, as wood will absorb moisture and can shed fibers or break.
- A wire cutter - a wire cutter, which you can improvise with a literal piece of wire, is a vital tool for cutting clay into precisely sized pieces. A knife, even a sharp knife, is a more valuable forming and sculpting tool than a cutting tool as even narrow blades tend to deform clay as they “wedge” their way through them. Wire cutters are more precise.
- Loop cutting tools - Loop cutting tools are hard to improvise but they’re worth whatever costs they incur. They’re excellent for removing or shaving small bits of clay stock from a mold or sculpture and can even be used as texturing or even scoring tools as well. They’re must-haves for the clay sculpture enthusiast, professional or amateur.
- A sharp knife - Even though a sharp knife is not particularly useful for cutting clay into pieces if it has a fine point it can be used for sculpting, forming, scoring and even texturing the clay. The flat of a knife can also be used for smoothing the surface of clay. Of course, it can also be used to cut the clay into sections in the absence of a wire cutter.
Armed with these tools, or at least with suitable substitutes for them, you’ll be well on your way to crafting detailed prototypes, molds for casting, or even mini sculptures; and if you can’t improvise, you can also head to the craft store and pick up a cheap set for a few bucks so you can get the most out of your clay crafting experience.
- Does it hold detail well?
Another one of the great benefits of oil based clay is that, even though it never dries, it holds detail exceptionally well. This is one of the main reasons why these types of clay are often expressly used to create molds, prototypes and small models. They can be very easily manipulated and will faithfully retain and convey very fine details.
- Is there a special way to clean it off my hands?
Oil based clay is not particularly messy, and it’s notably cleaner than natural clays which are water-based and are noteworthy for creating a big mess. However, if you do find that you have a bit of residue on your hands after working with an oil based blend, here’s a trick you may be able to use to get it off.
Oil and water don’t mix well, so water’s not particularly effective at cutting through the blend. However, you may find that a little bit of rubbing alcohol can remove whatever residue is left behind. Just be careful and use only a little bit, since rubbing alcohol dries out the skin.
Our oil based clay, Sculpture Pro, contains as many natural ingredients as possible. Therefore it is very easy to remove from your hands using just soap and water.
- What if I need a clay that hardens?
If your project requires a clay that will harden, either over time or when fired, you should consider polymer clay instead. For example, if you want to create a small craft like a piece of jewelry, some beads, an ornament or even something like a small vase, consider a polymer clay like our Papa’s Clay instead.
Our polymer clay, like our oil based clay, will remain soft and workable for as long as you like - but it can be fired. This makes it great for projects that you may want to come back to time and time again until you’re satisfied that you’ve completed your masterpiece. Once you’re finished with your creation, you can bake it in your oven at home to harden it.
If this list of questions does not address some of yours, please feel free to get in touch with us and we’ll help you out. You can contact us online or give us a call at 314-762-1434.
Also, make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram so you can keep up with news, specials and ideas for inspiration - and check our blog regularly where you’ll find regular posts with ideas for craft projects!