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Burned Clay PiecesAll too often, the first question I hear from polymer clay newbies is how to keep their clay from burning.

I hate that question. Not because it's a difficult question to answer — but because I know the heartbreak reflected in having to ask it. I've had my share of burned pieces over the years, and some of them were just devastating. I'm not usually overly emotional, but I've definitely shed some tears over ruined work. And I know that kind of disappointment can be enough to keep a new clayer from ever touching the stuff again.

Plus, maybe it's like the Murphy's Law of Polymer Clay, but it seems to me that more work you put into a project, the more likely you are to run into problems baking it. One clay artist calls those burned pieces her "sacrifice to the clay gods." (The quote stuck with me, but not the name of the artist I got it from — please leave a comment if you know.)

In the interest of keeping those sacrifices to a minimum, here's a few tips on keeping your polymer clay pieces from burning:

  • Oven Thermometer

    Get a good oven thermometer. I've never had a toaster oven where the temperature dial was accurate. I bought a Taylor brand oven thermometer I really like on Amazon for $12 and leave it in my toaster oven at all times. Other oven thermometers would probably work, too, but I noticed the cheap-o one I had was slower to register temperature changes and harder to read accurately.

    It seems worth mentioning here that burning clay is a temperature thing, not a time thing. If the oven temperature goes above the recommended temperature for that brand of clay, it will start to burn. However, baking for longer than the minimum time should be fine.This is nice for complicated pieces, since it allows you to bake in stages. Plus many folks feel that clay that's baked longer is stronger. I've read that some brands' lighter colors may start to brown slightly (but not burn) with longer/multiple bake times — see more on solutions for that below.

  • Preheat the oven. I'm not sure "preheat" is the right word, actually. In my toaster oven, the temperature soars to over 400 degrees before settling on the right temperature after about 10 minutes. So maybe "pre-cool-down" would be more accurate? Regardless, be sure to let your oven get to the right temperature before putting your polymer clay in. If I were to put my clay in as soon as I turned my oven on, it would definitely scorch.

  • Consider changing ovens (maybe). Some of the most reliable toaster ovens I've had were $5 or less at a garage sale, so I certainly don't think expensive ovens are necessary. But if you run some tests with your toaster oven and find that it just can't keep a consistent temperature, it may be time to try a different one.

    Some folks love their convection toaster ovens, saying those are better at keeping a consistent temperature throughout the oven. I tried a couple of different convection ovens from JC Penney's Cooks line, and I couldn't get the convection oven settings to work on either. It wouldn't stay at clay temperature no matter what I tried. I was able to get the toaster oven portion on the same ovens to work, though, so all wasn't lost (and they're big, so they have plenty of room for baking lots of stuff). Still, not all convection ovens are created equal. Do some research and get some recommendations before investing in anything.

  • Be careful with certain clay brands and colors. Some polymer clay brands are just more susceptible to getting toasted. Original Sculpey white and some lighter colors of Sculpey III are especially bad about this, though I generally wouldn't recommend those brands anyway since they tend to be more brittle after baking. But you may run into the same problem with better brands' whites or translucents. If so, try taking some extra precautions (such as polyfill or tenting) when baking.

  • Aluminum Foil and Polyfill

    Try polyfill and/or tenting. If I have a tall sculpture with a piece that's a little closer to the heating element than I like, I'll often use polyfill for some extra protection. Polyfill's good for preventing the slight browning of lighter clays.

    Another method many clayers swear by is tenting with aluminum foil. I've only done this a few time, so I'll refer you to Glass Attic's baking page for some tips on tenting and otherwise enclosing your clay while baking.

  • If all else fails, paint. Sometimes a browned piece can be salvaged with a little acrylic paint. At least try it before you throw that masterpiece away!

While the occasional "mis-fire" may still occur, I hope these tips will help keep those heartbreaking burned pieces few and far between.

I'd love to hear your tips, too. Just leave a comment below.


This idea was shared with the Philadelphia guild by the New Jersey Polymer Clay guild past and present presidents, Lois Rosenthal and Robin Milne (mother and daughter). http://njpcg.wordpress.com/ I do belive Lois' husband thought of this. Take extra stoneware clay tiles or flat rocks and place them in the bottom of your oven. After preheating the tiles/rocks will hold the temperature of the oven more evenly and keep it from spiking while trying to reach the set temp. It works incredibly well.

Thanks for the tip, Sue -- sounds like a good (& inexpensive) option!

I have found that some metal trays get hotter than the surrounding temperatures in the oven so I do not bake on metal cookie sheets. Don't know how this happens, but it does. The shiney aluminum pans seem to work okay, but they reflect some of the heat---I think. If I bake directly on a metal cookie sheet, I can count on my item burning or at the very least changing colors. (I've seen this happen in lots of classes.) I always use a manila folder weight paper under my piece and then bake on ceramic tiles. I have burned two things in over ten years and one was due to baking on metal and the other to putting in before pre-heat was done and the broiler had not cut off. Also, I always suggest putting a piece of paper (I use manila folder) on top of the clay when baking. That way if the type of oven you have allows the broiler to cut on in case you open the door to check your clay and the temperature falls, you are much less likely to end up with toasted clay.

The added tip above is one of the best that I have found as well. I keep my oven full of ceramic tiles and the best part is that it takes a very short time to pre-heat when doing batches or when there is a few hours between batches. Saves on electricity!

Just a precautionary note about the polyfil. Don't use it in a convection oven because the fan can draw up minute fiber into the heat surface and blow it back into your piece. Voice of experience here. One of my fires was caused by these conditions.

Thanks for the suggestion on baking surfaces, Jeanne. And thanks for the convection oven reminder, Marian. Convection ovens can be bad about blowing around everything from polyfill to paper to embossing powders. Many ovens (like mine) have both a convection and a non-convection oven setting, so folks might be able to just switch settings when they're baking something lightweight.

the easiest and safest way not to burn the clay, is to bake it in a pyrex-form with one thermometer in and one out. no problem with convection, no preheating, no smell in the kitchen, none of that oily residue in the oven, but a very even and easy to control temperature and its also easy to clean :)

Hmm... that sounds interesting, JuLi. I'm not familiar with a pyrex-form, though I'm guessing from your description that it's some sort of enclosed baking system? Do you (or does anyone else) have a link or photo?

pyrex is a brand name, so there might be others who produce the same. i have an oblong high glass casserole, perhaps the "chicken roaster"? but then i use it upside down. :D
my small tiles fit in very well with a little space underneath so i can grab (? sorry for my english, i'm german :) ) them easily and the stand of the thermometer also fits under it. there is enough space in that casserole for a bead rack or figurines or other bigger objects.

Thanks for the link & explanation, JuLi. (And don't worry -- your English is wonderful!)

Thanks all of you for the great info.

I did my 1st burnt sacrifice to the clay gods yesterday - it was my 1st play with Fimo/Sculpey clays and after days of attempting to make beads and other (almost!) good items, to watch them smoke/burn/melt within 5 minutes of being in the oven made me feel tempted to put my own head in the oven instead!!

Having hidden my brown, blobby creations (I can't stand to look at them!), I now understand that putting a fan assisted oven on at the 230 degrees suggested on the Polymer packs was not the wisest thing I've done to date, but having gone a bit mad on buying cutters, rollers, molds, bead rollers, texture sheets, a pasta machine, extruder etc. I'm not quite ready to quit... yet.

My first question is, can someone please recommend the temperature I should set my oven at? I truly hope I can make use of the stuff I have... I don't think I can justify spending out further to get another oven (sigh).

Also, I appear to be obsessed with making beads and although I have 4 different Amaco bead rollers (which are no where near as 'easy' to use as the clips on YouTube would have you believe!), I don't have the bead rack... have any of you clever people come up with a homemade/cheaper alternative to put your bead pins on for baking please?

And finally (if you've managed to read this far without falling asleep, I thank you!), will practice make me better at making clay items or is it a case of 'either you have the skill or you don't'? In my head the items I'm going to make look wonderful, it's just my fingers/ability that let me down! ;-)

Many thanks in advance.

Penny, I'm glad to hear you're enjoying clay — but so sorry to hear about the burned items.

First, do buy an oven thermometer (there's a link to one I recommend in the post above). Ovens are so different, it's impossible to say what to set your oven dial to without one. I'd recommend putting the thermometer in, then preheating your oven for about 10 minutes (to give the temperature time to settle down), and then checking what the thermometer says. Adjust the dial as needed; give it another few minutes; and try again. Once you find the temperature on your dial that gives you 275°F/130°C (or 230°F/110°C for Fimo), consider using a permanent marker to mark that spot so it's easy to find next time. Of course, you'll still want to keep using your thermometer in case the temperature setting shifts over time.

Try baking your beads on a bed of polyfill (but as Marian mentioned above, don't use polyfill with your convection/fan setting). This soft baking surface prevents beads from getting a flat bottom. I will say, though, that if you find you continue to enjoy bead-making, the bead tray is a nice product. I held off on getting mine for quite some time, but I was surprised how much I liked it once I got it. It makes bead piercing, baking and even glazing a lot easier.

And practice improves your clay skills, just like with anything else. Keep asking questions & learning, and you'll do great. I'd recommend taking photos of your journey and occasionally looking back at how much you've improved.

Good luck!

I really appreciate your help and support... you've encouraged a newbie to scrape off her burned offerings and start over!

I hope it's OK to ask a few more questions (some of which may be silly ones that I regret asking, so sorry in advance!), but if this is the wrong place, please could you recommend where I should go with my half a brain cell? ;-)

Yes to the thermometer, they are not expensive and I only wish I'd got one last week, but... if I have to keep opening the oven to check the thermo temperature, doesn't that affect the heat the oven is at? (I'm paranoid I'm missing a vital point here!)

Also, my latest creations I've kept at a uniform thickness to experiment baking with - would you recommend 'cooking' different types of items in batches? i.e. 3mm cookie cutter pieces in one go and then 9mm beads in a separate batch please?

Finally (I'm scared of pushing my luck) do you know of a Q&A forum where I could ask my naive questions about push/flexi molds please? I cannot get a smooth backing to my *cough* masterpieces!!

Many thanks to you!

An inexpensive way to make a bead holder for curing polymer clay beads-

Thanks for the link to the bead holder tutorial, Jeanne. That looks like a perfect solution.

Penny, I leave my thermometer in my toaster oven at all times. Since my oven has a nice big glass window I can see through, I don't have to open the door to check the temperature. If that's not an option for you, then I suppose you'll have to open the oven each time. Yes, it can affect the temperature -- but in my experience, if you open and shut the door quickly, it doesn't affect it much.

Thicker/larger clay pieces do take longer to bake than thinner/smaller pieces. However, it doesn't hurt to bake the thinner clay sheets longer. If you want to do them all in one batch, just set the timer for the longer amount.

As for molds, try using a clay blade to trim the excess off the back side of your molded piece (while it's still in the mold).

If you're looking for a forums type environment, you might take a look at the Polymer Clay People message board or the clay-polymer Yahoo group. And Glass Attic has a wealth of polymer clay information, though it can be difficult to find what you're looking for.

Angela, Jeanne and JuLi - thank you so very much for the info/advice. I've joined the Yahoo group and now just have to be careful not to flood it with too many questions - I may have to consider cutting a finger or two off (don't worry, it won't affect my clay-making too much and who knows, it may even improve it!!!).

If my thermometer arrives today I'll pop something in the oven (not my head!) and see what next disaster unfolds ;-)

Thanks again,

I've been very lucky not having pc burn UNLESS I've left clay in the oven and gone away for hours! I did that ONCE!

May I suggest using disgarded microwave oven glass trays? They are wonderful! Some even have a grid on the bottom which can be useful. If shine is a problem on a baked piece polyfil or wadded paper towel or parchment paper solves the dilemma.

Thanks for the suggestion, Karen. I'll bet that nice heavy glass works wonderfully!

Great tips Angela and everyone!

I bake on a ceramic tile with a piece of parchment paper underneath my work. I've found that without the paper I get shiny spots on the bottom of the clay.

Angela, I also have a pizza stone in the oven just for cooking pizza >G

Thanks for the suggestion, Wendy. I'm a big fan of parchment paper, both for clay & for cooking. And I've got another pizza stone for cooking, too. They're wonderful for any kind of bread, not just pizza!

I am new at this clay stuff and I am finding this site very helpful although I am having trouble transferring onto clay with using a inkjet printer,,what is the trick to this? I am trying to use the liquid clay and glossy photo paper but I just can't get it to work,,,I had a few that almost worked but almost is not good enough..lol.lol..can anyone tell me what I am doing wrong? ANd YES I have rub it on to get all of the air out of it,,,lol.lol..

Sorry, Bre. There are lots of people who have lots of different techniques they swear by for doing transfers with an inkjet printer. I'm not one of them, though. I haven't had an inkjet printer for years, so I can't help you. Try doing a Google search that includes the following terms: "polymer clay" "image transfer" "inkjet printer". You might even try YouTube. Good luck!

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CraftyGoat's Notes is all about sharing polymer clay tips & tricks that have worked for me. (And even a few that haven't!)

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