Often when I am writing tutorials on how to make certain miniatures, you can see me talking about using this or that kind of clay. There is so much clay for crafting on the market, that I can imagine it getting confusing on what to buy or what to use.
In this article, I am going to try and clear that out for you.
What is clay?
Clay is a weathering product of rocks that disintegrate because of enormous temperature differences between the heat of the sun and freezing temperatures.
When it is carried along by water, for example, a sorting process has started; stones, grit, sand, and clay. The clay then further deteriorates because of tiny acids that are dissolved in the water, such as humic acids or carbonic acid.
During the sorting process, all kinds of organic (plant residues) and non-organic (metal oxides) contaminants can still end up in the clay. The various colors of the clay are created by metal oxides. Metal oxides are poisonous, so wash your hands well after modeling and do not eat while modeling.
The purest form of clay is Kaolin. Kaolin is the raw material for porcelain. Washed Kaolin consists of weathered granite and has very low plasticity.
Different kinds of clay.
There are different kinds of clay, a few of them:
1. Natural clay.
This is clay that has been cleaned after extraction and can be used straight away without additives.
2. Red pottery clay.
This clay is also known as Terracotta. Usually, it is a secondary clay, containing red-colored iron. It is quite soft, with good plasticity and strength. Red pottery clay is an excellent product for modeling, crafting structures by hand, and for pottery turntables.
3. China clay or Kaolin
Kaolin is a primary clay. Washed Kaolin consists of weathered granite and has very low plasticity. It shrinks just a little bit and turns white during baking. China clay serves as a binding agent. It is the basic way of obtaining a white color in most ‘clay bread’. Furthermore, it can be used as a glaze based on aluminum salts and silicates.
4. Refractory clay
Refractory clay gets its name from its heat resistance. The properties vary from species to species; some are plastic and others coarse and grainy. Refractory clays usually contain some iron and are found near coal seams.
They are used for insulating bricks, refractory bricks, the inside of furnaces, and as an additive to clay for stoneware to give them plasticity and to make them resistant to high temperatures.
Smooth plastic stoneware clays are resistant to high temperatures. They are usually buff, gray, or light brown colored. Stoneware clay cannot be used without additives.
This extremely delicate and plastic clay is originally from volcanic ash. Bentonite is added to ‘clay bread’ to improve plasticity.
7. Chamotte clay.
One of the most commonly used clays is Chamotte. There are 2 types of it:
– The finest Chamotte-clay for ceramic models with a thickness of up to 4 cms. This clay contains grains up to a thickness of 0.5 mm
– a more coarse Chamotte clay for larger modeling shapes. It contains grains with a thickness of 0.5 mm and up to 2 mm.
8. Polymer clay.
Polymer clay is a type of clay that is based on a synthetic clay, it is easy to process and has many options for modeling it. There are different types of Polymer Clay, but most types can be used interchangeably.
The only polymer clay that you cannot combine is Kato clay, this is because Kato clay is stronger and therefore has to be fired harder than other types of polymer clay.
What kinds of clay do miniature crafters use?
The answer to that is all sorts of polymer clay mostly (at least that is what I use and I’ve seen lots of others using it). Let’s name a few.
– Fimo clay :
Fimo clay is a plastic polymer clay that is very popular and easy to work with. It is produced in Germany by the manufacturer Staedtler. Fimo clay can be fired in your home oven at 130 degrees, depending on the piece of art, do this for 20 to 30 minutes.
After baking, you can sand it lightly or finish it with one of the various types of gloss lacquer or matt lacquer. It exists in a large variety of colors ànd glitter.
– Cernit clay :
How about that: made in my country, Belgium. I didn’t even realize that 😉 The brand has been bought by Cernit clay years ago and has grown stronger since then. They have made improvements and innovations and now the quality is perhaps one of the best on the market.
The big advantage of Cernit clay is that it does not color or stick on the hands after kneading it!
There are more brands off clay, but we will only mention one more because I think these are the most known and are the best ones.
– Pardo clay :
Pardo clay has a few advantages over the other types of polymer clay. It is made from beeswax, the advantage of this is that it leaves no odor when baking it and it is already preformed into little balls of clay. Just like Fimo clay, Pardo clay is produced in Germany, not by Staedtler but by the company Viva Decor.
Then there is also ‘Sculpey Premo’, ‘Sculpey III’, and ‘Katoclay’. Please let me know if you would still like some more information about these brands.
And finally: how to make your own clay?
I think lots of people are interested in this particular part, no ? I would be, so here we go 😉 :
This self-made clay is perfect; beautiful, super soft, has only natural ingredients and you can keep it for a long time. You can make this clay in less than 5 minutes. And if your child would decide to take a bite out of it, it will taste gross, but it will not do any further harm 😉
The ingredients below are per bulb.
– 1 cup of flour
– 1/4 cup of salt
– 1 tablespoon of baking soda
– 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil (baby oil or coconut oil is also possible, which gives a nice scent)
– 1/2 cup of warm water
– a dash of food coloring (if you want to make colored clay)
– Put the flour, salt and baking soda in a bowl and mix them together.
Add the spoonful of sunflower oil and stir it thoroughly.
– Fill your cup halfway with warm water and add a splash of food coloring if you want to make colored clay. If you don’t, the clay will remain white.
– Pour the colored water into your flour mixture and stir it. When the flour has absorbed some of the water, you can take the clay out of the bowl and knead it with your hands until it feels like clay. If your clay is still a bit dry, add some more water. And if it sticks too much, then add a little bit of flour.
The fun thing about making your own clay is that you can always adjust your recipe and for example add glitter!
Self-made clay is best stored in an airtight container or a resealable freezer bag. It will last up to 6 months.
You can dry homemade clay, so that you can save your piece of art. The drying process can be done quicker if you ‘bake’ the pieces in an oven. Set the oven at 100 degrees (celsius) and depending on the thickness of the clay, it is hard in 1 to 3 hours. Sometimes it takes longer. You can check if your piece is hard enough by pushing it with a fork.
As I have been mentioning the word ‘clay’ a lot in my tutorials, I thought it was time to make clear what kinds of clay for crafting there are and which ones miniaturists use for their creations.
Soon I will post some reviews on different kinds of brands for clay for crafting, so keep an eye on my website and make sure to bookmark it! Also, check out my other articles on crafting materials here.
Do you have any questions about this topic or others, please leave a comment below and I wish you happy crafting! (or playing with clay 😉 ).