Posted on 14 Comments

Come rifle through my toolbox

I was talking to a new friend yesterday, who is starting to get her feet wet in polymer clay, and I was showing her some of my tools, many of which are repurposed from some other use, or are handmade by me. It occurred to me that some of you might also be interested in a glimpse into the handmade portion of my toolbox, so here it is!

Homemade Tools for Claywork

The first four tools are made from a plastic sheet with a 1/4-inch grid printed on it.  I found a package of them in the quilting section at Michael’s.

  • 1. Button hole positioner: I use this one a lot.  To make the tool, I traced around the cookie cutters I use to make my buttons, and then I poked holes in the plastic with my needle tool, using the grid to help me center them.  The edges of the poked holes were rough on the other side of the plastic and could be used to mark the clay.  To use the tool, I center the positioner over my raw button, using the traced shape as a guide. I press down on the holes gently, and lift away the positioner.  My button now has two impressions where the holes should be, and I can use a knitting needle or my needle tool to poke them through.  Without this tool my button holes would be all over the place.
  • 2. Barrette templates: These are simply rectangles cut from the grid in the appropriate sizes to make barrette tops.  I use them as templates to cut the correct size veneer every time I make a french barrette.  This means the veneer always fits the barrette, and all of my barrettes of the same size are consistent with each other.
  • 3. Polka dot maker: This tool utilizes poked holes in the same was as the button hole positioner does.  The  holes are evenly spaced, and when impressed upon a sheet of clay, will leave indicators of where polka dots should be cut from the sheet.  Items that have been made from this cane be seen here.
  • 4. Bracelet templates: I made these in a cuff bracelet class with Donna Kato.  They are used similarly to the barrette templates, and were, in fact, the inspiration for them.

The next three tools were made by embedding some other type of tool into a raw polymer clay handle and baking it.  Please forgive the lousy photography on these. I had trouble getting my point-and-shoot to focus on this type of item.

  • 5. Needle tool and 6. Needle tool – head-on view: This is one of my most-used tools.  I embedded a large sewing needle eye-first into a clay handle.  I use it for poking guide holes in raw clay, adding texture, and anything else that requires a pointy object.
  • 7. Hand drills and 8. Hand drills – head-on view: More of my favorites, I use these to drill all of my holes in baked pieces.
  • 9. Doll hair plunger: I don’t really use this any more, but it saw a lot of action when I was still making Christmas ornaments with doll hair.  This idea came to me by way of Cecilia Determan, who said she learned it from Maureen Carlson.  To make the tool, use wire cutters to cut a sewing needle across the eye, leaving two sharp prongs.  The needle is embedded in the handle point-first so that the newly-cut prongs are exposed.  To use the tool, place a bit of doll hair on top of a raw clay head. Position the tool on top of the hair, and press downward, plunging the hair into the clay, and creating “roots” for it.  Repeat as necessary until the head is full of hair.

The rest of these are used for baking, on the off chance that baking polymer leaves a residue in the oven that I’d rather not have.  They also help contain the smell of curing clay.

  • 10. Small baking enclosure: I like using my regular toaster oven to bake my claythings, so I created this little enclosure from aluminum baking trays that will fit in my toaster.  As you can see, it’s gotten quite a bit of use and has seen better days.  To make this, I took two trays and set them together one upside-down on top of the other.  I used my needle tool to poke three holes through both layers, and threaded some wires through the holes to act as hinges.  For the inside, I cut a piece of parchment paper to size and placed it on the bottom.  This is so that I can bake items without getting the glossy spots that result from baking directly on the aluminum.  I also bought a few tiles to fit inside so that I can bake directly on tiles and still utilize the enclosure.
  • 11. Large baking enclosure and 12. Large baking enclosure – view of the hinges: This is essentially the same item as above, but it’s larger so I can use  it in my regular oven.

Now that I’ve shown you mine, I want to see yours! Have you made any of your own tools to help you in your craft (it doesn’t have to be polymer clay)? If so, blog about it and trackback to this post.  If you don’t know how to trackback, or your blogging software doesn’t do that, you can just leave a comment here and link to your post that way.  I look forward to seeing what kinds of nifty things you work with on a regular basis!


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Posted on 14 Comments

14 thoughts on “Come rifle through my toolbox

  1. Button hole positioner! Good thinkin’ 🙂 I must admit that I tend to eyeball almost everything. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t, ya know? Thanks for sharing!

    1. I have mixed results with eyeballing, too. This tool has really helped my buttons look so much better!

  2. Waht a clever polka dot maker.
    Here are some of my tools:
    my drills:
    and my Extruder Disks:

    1. Oh, wow, those extruder disks look great. I’ve never been adventurous enough to mess around with metal like that.

  3. I love your baking enclosure! What a great and cheap innovation. I think I will try to make one. I usually lay my beads flat and then they get those shiny spots. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. I love it, too. I especially like that less of that “baking smell” gets out when I use them.

  4. […] other day Lisa of Polka Dot Creations wrote about some of her DIY tools she uses in her clay work. I plan on nipping a few of the ideas – like the button hole placer! – […]

  5. Button hole placements! That’s genius 🙂 I had a problem with that this week…

    So I shared some of my brain on my tool post at

    1. Elaine, I like the rack you posted – it looks like it could come in handy in all kinds of situations. I’m not at all adventurous when it comes to metal, so it always impresses me to see this kind of thing 🙂

  6. Wow some really great template ideas here – thanks!

    1. My pleasure! I thought of a few bead-making-related ones I forgot (since I haven’t made many beads lately). I’ll have to save them for another post.

  7. Hi Lisa!
    Love your work!
    Was checking out your tools, I make buttons that are curved but i really love the flat ones you make. I actually use the head of a wine plu or stopper i guess what some people call them. Makes perfectly curved indentations! Sometimes the most simpliest things are the most effecive. I tried a pasta maker once, will never go back to it.:D I prefer to use my rolling pin, although I never get the same consistency in thickness. I guess thats what they call it OOAK:D
    Love to feature you on my blog! Message me at if you are interested!
    Happy claying!
    .-= See Melissa Cahoon’s latest blog post: Google new ‘bloggy’ best friend! =-.

  8. […] Come rifle through my toolbox – a description of the handmade tools I use regularly in my claywork […]

  9. […] a lot of buttons, you might want to create a button-hole spacer tool like this one that I made about 15 years ago. I still use it to make sure that my holes are always consistently […]

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