There are many tricks that professional crafters have learned how to make Air Dry Clay stronger. The best way to ensure that the final piece is strong is to use good quality clay to begin with and give your crafts time to dry out completely.
You can also infuse your crafts with nails, wood or wire armatures to give them a metal skeletal structure. This is great when you make mini-figures and ensures that their limbs don’t fall off, or for reinforcing thin areas like stems on flowers.
Let’s look at some of the things you can do to make your ADC projects stronger.
Choose a Good Clay
The quality of the clay matters a lot. If you want a strong and sturdy finish, then make sure to choose professional-quality clay from a popular brand.
When making animal crafts or delicate figurines, consider using clay that is made precisely for that purpose. Good examples of such clay include “Activa Hearty” and “La Doll” which are perfect for sculpting.
Air dry clays, like “Creative Paperclay”, are also great. It is very versatile, comparatively strong, and can easily be combined with other materials to create intricate and exquisite artwork. “Sculpey Porcelain Air Dry” clay is another good choice for a strong finish.
Remember though, these clays are high-quality and high-price. If you can’t afford to use them for your whole project, then you can mix the work with different types of clay.
Use good quality clay for delicate, detailed work like sculpting the face or hands. You can use some lower-priced clay for the torso and the rest of the project.
If your clay project turns out to be too brittle, or cracks, you will be disappointed with the result. So save yourself some trouble battling the clay that is stiff or crumbly and get better quality clay!
For an in-depth article that reviews all the best air dry clays, please read my article here:
Use An Armature
An armature gives your sculptures the internal foundation that helps keep them upright. It acts similar to our own human skeletal system.
Just as our skeleton keeps us standing in an upright position, an armature is used to keep the artist’s clay from collapsing. In addition, it will also protect the integrity of any outward extensions, such as thin limbs or legs.
Many professional crafters use a wooden or metal armature for their sculptures and ADC projects. A good, solid skeleton offers the following benefits.
- You will be able to complete projects faster
- It will waste less clay during work
- Your projects will dry faster
- The sculpture will be stronger due to support
- A chance of cracks on the statue is lower
For the armature, you can use a gauge wire that’s bendable but strong and holds its shape.
Here’s a tutorial:
Sculpt In Layers
Instead of shaping your project in one go, consider building it in layers. This is very important when working with air-dry clays to build strong models.
When you craft your projects in layers, it is much easier to control, shape, and spread the clay. You should deposit clay in thin layers, one on top of another.
Since ADC is water-based, you have to keep it moist while sculpting. Keep a small jar of clean water nearby. Gently sprinkle water on the unfinished craft or dip your fingers/tools in the jar as you add each layer.
Another important thing to remember is to give each part some time to dry and join with the rest before you proceed with the next. This is particularly useful when you are sculpting fine details.
For example, when adding multiple fingers to the hand, add one finger at a time and give it a few minutes to connect before you add another. You can work on other parts of the figurine while you are letting the first component dry.
Add a Solid Core to Thick Structures
If your sculpture is larger or thicker than your fist, then you can add a solid core to its base. You can use anything from a rock to kitchen foil paper or polystyrene to make it sturdy.
Not only will this make your crafts stronger, but it will also make them lighter. Using a solid core also prevents too many cracks on the surface.
Air Dry Clay shrinks as it dries because it loses water molecules. If you have a core made of solid stones or polystyrene, it will not shrink significantly and prevent unnecessary cracks on the surface.
Another benefit of bulking this way is that you will use less clay for your crafts and have more available for future projects.
Use Moist Clay
Make sure to use fresh clay that is moist and soft. It is difficult to shape clay when it has already started drying and lost more than half its water content.
Reshaping it after it has dried halfway also means that the inner bonds will not be very strong. It will be very brittle and break easily.
You can sprinkle some water on the clay to keep it moist as you work. When you work with clay that has started drying you can smooth out any imperfections and edges with a finger dipped in water.
Your air dry clay project is most likely going to crack as it dries. Do not panic and accept it as normal. Cracks are caused due to shrinkage and the loss of the water molecules inside the clay body.
There are several ways you can fix cracks in your sculpture.
- Let the clay dry out completely
- Once dry, create a wet mix of clay (use the same clay you’re working with) and fill it inside the cracks.
- After you’ve filled all of the cracks, simply let the clay dry again
If you try to fix the cracks while the clay is drying, it is likely going to mess up the shape or finer details of your project.
For working with a larger model, you can fill in the cracks while it dries. For delicate work, however, it is always best to let it dry completely and then fill in the cracks.
Keep Unfinished Work in Air-Tight Container
If you are working on a bigger project, you may not have enough time to finish it in one session. To keep your piece workable for the next session, wrap a cling film or a moist tea towel around it.
If you make it completely airtight in this way, the clay will remain easy to work with for up to four days. This ensures that your finished project is strong and sturdy.
Bake It for Maximum Strength
The most effective way to dry your project and ensure bond strength is to heat it in an oven. You can heat up and dry your craft in a standard kitchen oven.
When you leave your ADC projects to dry at regular room temperature, some of the moisture may not fully escape and remain inside the model. But using a heating oven ensures that your crafts will dry up quicker and more thoroughly.
Here’s how to dry it:
- Take a baking tray and line it with aluminum foil. This will ensure that the clay does not stick to the tray.
- Place your completed sculpture in the middle of the baking tray, preferably on wooden supports. Remember that the tray will become quite hot while it is in the oven. If possible, try to have as little of the clay actually lay on the sheet to prevent warping.
- Put the tray into a cold oven and turn it on at the lowest setting. This ensures that the temperature of your craft rises slowly and prevents cracks. Do not put the craft into an already hot oven. The sudden shift in temperature is likely to make it crack.
- Total time to bake your craft depends on the size and thickness of your sculpture. For a small sculpture about the size of your fist, about 10 minutes at the lowest setting, (200-250°F) should suffice.
- Never heat your clay crafts for more than 20 minutes at one time. Otherwise, you may burn the clay. For objects larger than 6 inches it is better to heat them repeatedly in short intervals. Turn the oven on for 15 minutes, then turn it off and leave it to cool for an hour. Repeat the process a couple of times to get the best results.
- Finally, when you remove your sculpture from the oven make sure to do it gently. Remove it from the oven and leave it to cool down for a couple of hours. Letting it cool completely ensures that you can tell when it is fully dry.
Air dry clays, are very versatile and some of them can be used to make beautiful, strong crafts. You can also combine them with comparatively strong materials in the core to create sturdy crafts that do not break or crack.
If you are interested in other types of clay, please read my article here:
In this article, we shared some great tips on how to make your ADC projects stronger. If you have more questions or want to add something let us know!