Scrimshaw (thin lines, faux ivory)
....."ripped transfer" to etch lines
Baked clay & linoleum cutters, etc.
...guidelines & patterns
Raw clay (direct "carving")
Stamping, faux carving
....etching plates for paper prints
Carving tools
Websites (for shallow carving)

"carving" 3-D sculptures (not shallow carving)
...and other carving
Turning on a lathe
Simulating lathe turning


There are various ways to carve baked or raw clay, or to simulate various kinds of carving and scrimshaw (stamping, ripped transfers, etching, etc).
....The carved areas can then be colored with paints, backfilled with soft clay, etc., left plain, have their high areas highlighted with metallic powders, etc.
....Small pieces of simulated turquoise or other pre-baked clay shapes can be embedded also.

categories for "carving" below are somewhat overlapping, so you may want to read them all

(very thin carved lines, like etching or engraving... usually antiqued)

There are various ways to simulate scrimshaw; check out all the categories below, as well as these links:

scrimshaw swap (made with various techniques on polymer)
Jane Zhao's scrimshaw scene "painting" on flat clay, with twisted gold ropes frame (stand also made from clay)
more of Denise's scrimshaws http://hobbystage (gone or inaccessible)
Jane Zhao'ss scrimshaw scene on large blue clay-covered egg (carving backfilled with white? or just egg showing through?)
Lisa P's scrimshaw on ostrich eggs ...& some explanation of history, etc.

other (real) scrimshaw sites: Denise in Austin

After marking her pencil pattern on raw clay (see below in "guidelines & patterns"), Denise slowly scratches the transferred guidelines into raw clay with a needle tool to a depth of about 1/16th inch... bakes... uses black paint to fill the carvings, and afterward brown paint to antique ...she has some tips about how to use the needle tool as well

very fine lines can also be etched into raw clay by using a polymer clay " transfer" technique which is not allowed to work the way it should...
...(aka "ripped" transfers" or "tear away" technique) a photocopy image face down on your shaped "ivory" clay...burnish well.. .heat lightly with hair dryer 30 sec, then let sit 15 min... repeat (instead of gingerly removing the paper as with a regular transfer) rip the paper off firmly to the side
.. when it's handled this way, the toner will bond to the clay in any areas it contacts well enough to actually remove a little bit of clay
... this leaves behind an etched (depressed) pattern in the raw clay... bake... wet sand color the depressions, rub a dark brown oil or acylic paint all over the piece and into the etched areas... wipe off excess ... buff
.(see Transfers > Copier > Etched for much more on this technique)
(or you can use the ripped transfer sheet later as a printing plate for printing onto paper with etching inks or paints, as with the etching techniques mentioned under real Etching above)

how to simulate ivory (as a base for doing scrimshaw on)
.... Desiree's lesson
....simulated ivory can be made just by using a plain ivory-colored clay, often with a bit of translucent mixed into it
....... more realistic faux ivory can be made with several colors of clay creating striations
..........rods or bullseye canes laid side by side, then cut from the side, for example
.........stack of layers, composed of sheets of all-translucent, a light cream colored clay (equal amounts of white and ecru-beige, or equivalents), and possibly other layers of slightly different combinations of cream/white/etc. with or without translucent mixed in).
.............the sheets are usually created with a pasta machine (quicker and more even--though can be done by hand), and stacked alternately... then rolled thinner, cut in half and restacked....the rolling/cutting/stacking is repeated until the lines are very thin (personal choice). ...then the clay is used from the side with the stripes showing.
(see many more lessons & tips on mkaing faux ivory are in Faux--Ivory )

see below in "Tools" for potential carving tools

(for more info on scrimshaw, check out ( many posts on this subject from our newsgroup rec.crafts.polymer-clay; use the search words: (scrimshaw or "burnt umber" or carv*).

(thicker) carving ...on Baked Clay

"Carving" is accomplished with a needle tool, or a linoleum cutter, or a pattern cutter .... or anything else that works!

To further delineate the carved lines (especially lightly carved, thin lines), "antique" the piece, leaving color only in the depressions of the carvings
..... acrylic paint (tube) can be rubbed into all the baked clay for several minutes, then rubbed or rinsed off the surface (more or less of the paint will stay in the cracks depending on the length of waiting time and degree of wiping--the paint also accentuates some of the tiny cracks created by the original layering when carving on faux ivory)....(the color Burnt Umber is often used)..... then lightly sand and buff
.......oil paints could also be used the same way if they are rebaked for 5 min. to hasten drying
.......or completely "backfill" the carved lines with raw clay (contrasting color) ... see Backfilling below for much more info.

Elizabeth's lesson on carving letters onto a pen (!) with a linoleum cutter, then backfilling with Diluent-thinned black clay

Donna Kato cures the clay for about 10 minutes, carves the still-warm piece, then returns it to the oven to finish curing. .... it's easier to carve the clay when it's partially cured than when it's fully cured)
....I'm glad to hear that you're carving while the clay is still warm (and slightly soft). I've seen linoleum cutters do some nasty damage if they slip and cut across the palm of your hand... be careful. Stargazer
. . .fully bake your piece of clay before carving though because I don't believe that baking later has the same effect on clay strength...Patti

MORE LESSONS below in Guidelines

It doesn't take a lot of effort to push the carving tool through baked clay if you're working with a good quality, sharp tool.
..... (I've used the cheap wood carving tools you can get at Michael's, too, but they are not as sharp, and the tips are kind of large for most clay work.) Tinidril
....(see details on carving tools below in "Tools")

Kato, Premo or Fimo clays are better for carving because they remain supple after baking and cooling...... I have carved Sculpey III, but it tends to crumble. Tinidril

It's probably best to use at least 2 layers of #1-3 thickness clay to make sure the surface is thick enough to carve into, but not all the way through.

Then using linoleum cutters, follow your lines
. . . .don't try to go too deep at first... you can always hollow out a channel further by going over it more than once.

When you're carving, it helps to have both hands resting on your work surface, rather than holding the knife and the object up in the air.
...and it's better to press the object against the blade rather than pressing the blade against the object . I feel like I have more control when I'm moving the object and keeping the blade steady, rather than the other way around. Thalassa
....Use the little finger of your carving hand as an anchor
....I placed the surface I was working on in my lap so that I could turn it all round in order to follow a line all the way through.
... If your hand does slip and you make a boo-boo, you can backfill with the background clay color.
.....Work slowly as you carve.

I found that baked liquid clay also seems to carve pretty easily! ......Sara Jane

Celie Fago's pendants and needlecase carved with linoelum cutters ... many with black backfill (click on various photos to enlarge)
...more Celie's carvings, some with multiple colors of fill or antiquing
Louise's simple but elegant thin lines (not ruler-straight) carved in uneven rows (no backfill)
Irene's photos of carving faux jade with V-shaped linoleum cutter and then antiquing with brownish-red
Dominique's carved or stamped gashes, etc., in faux stones.. then antiqued with light colored (paint?) (photo with giraffe) (gone)

(see more examples below in Websites for Shallow Carving )

(some geometric fabric patterns can be wonderfullly inspirational for carving ... such as mud cloth & kente cloth )

guidelines & patterns

You can always carve freehand, but to get a pattern to follow:
..... .first sketch your design onto the baked clay with a sharp pencil.
Patti ...
.....Elizabeth uses a Sharpie
.... or transfer your lines or patterns using another method... e.g., stamping, transfers, stencils, pencil rubbings, etc.
.... I prefer the stamp before baking methods for transferrig the design (or drawing directly on the clay) smearing of the design. Patty B

Donna Kato's lesson on pressing and drawing guide lines with a needle tool a into a raw bead (embossing powder + translucent over a core)
...she then bakes the bead and more deeply carves out the guide lines (and adds more lines to the design) with the mini carving gouge tool she sells
...then antiques the lower areas with dark brown oil paint

Claude's lesson on using a long, pointed Xacto type tool blade to cut out a fancy "hook" shape (a little like a French curve ruler) from his slab of ivory
....draw the pattern on cardstock and cut out ...then place pattern on top of the prepared ivory clay
....cut out the interior parts first, then cut around the exterior
....use a nail, or the Xacto blade at an angle, continously along the lines to smooth ...sandpaper after baking if needed; antique

Barbara McGuire's lesson on "carving"
--she transfers a design (which has been drawn, printed out, or photocopied onto tracing paper) to raw clay, by laying it over raw clay and pressing over the lines with a ballpoint pen, creating impressed lines in the clay --removes the paper
--she then goes over impressed lines with a ballpoint stylus, always pulling toward herself (any curls can be sanded off after baking),1158,CRHO_project_13579,00.html

Denise Standifer's lesson on making scrimshaw by drawing over the lines of an image with a pencil (adding details/shading if wanted), but rubbing it on raw clay to transfer it
.....(could trace image also on reverse side of tracing paper if wanted image to remain in same orientation?)

could also use graphite papers (white, black or gray) to transfer designs? (dressmaker's colored transfer papers may contain oils??)

I drew my design on paper, laid this over the clay (secured with tape), then cut through the lines and into the clay with an X-acto knife. I didn't have any carbon paper and had to improvise... =) Tinidril

FEW MORE LESSONS above in Thicker Carving on Baked Clay

sculptural high-relief carving ... directly carving Raw Clay

Christy Hensler's lesson on "carving" a sculptural high relief image in raw clay by beginning with a scratched-in drawing ..baked
...she then makes a silicone mold from the carving for making duplicates ...see more examples of finished duplicates at

using Layers technique

(one layer baked, one raw)
Another way to do this is Katherine Dewey’s, I think. She bakes a flat sheet of clay, then covers it with a raw sheet. . . she then carves only into this top layer (either raw, or she bakes it for a just few minutes).

(both layers baked)
...I used a thin layer of a second color over my core bead sphere, and after baking the beads, used tiny wood carving tools to carve designs in the outer color, leaving inner color showing through. Jeannine
...Donna Kato now has a lesson on carving down to a second color layer on a large oval bead (curved surface) ...her upper layer is actually two layers (# 1 skinner blend on top of #5 black) compressed to # 2 .. the combined raw layer is wrapped around a raw black core bead (black side out) ...the surface is stamped to create guidelines, or if freehand making straight lines use a needle tool rolled from bottom to tip... after baking, carve through the top black layer...the skinner blend will show only in the carved areas,,HGTV_3238_2766700,00.html

same method? (Donna Kato carved black pendants)

the carving method can be used with any colors --black on red, e.g. is a stunning example.
ou could also apply a thin layer of faux ivory to a light color sheet of clay to do the carving (instead of using all faux ivory. .. )
There is an ivory layer below the light green layer (the membrane layer) that you can also reveal for a 3rd color.
...I really like the faux cinnabar technique idea mentioned by Porro
.......covering the sheet with another clay color, and then carving through to the bright color.

I carved designs with linoleum cutters into baked clay
.. then I pressed into the carvings thin-layered colored clay stacks in contrasting colors (like what you'd use for mokume gane)
..then I sliced off the raised areas. ...Looked nice --sort of a variant on sgrafitto. Georgia
(...see also Mica for "ghost impressions" made with stamps in mica clays this way)

Some people then put a light inside (or behind) to illuminate the carving. Helen P.

Stamping & Faux Carving

~Another method to simulate scrimshaw or carving is to use a rubber stamp with raw clay. The stamp can be:
--pressed to a pigment ink pad (any color or gold/metallics), then pressed into the clay and baked (brown ink can look very realistic on ivory!!);
--pressed into the clay without ink and later antiqued with Burnt Umber as before;
--pressed into embossing powders then onto raw clay (this one needs more work than I've done);
--OR pressed into with a baked stamp made from polymer clay, then have its depressions rubbed full of soft clay of another color, and wet-sanded to remove excess from surface (see more below in Backfilling). Diane

for using a photocopy to create

Kathy M's lesson on stamping raw clay (for covering a box top) with dye-based ink (placing clay on top of stamp)
....then impressing-dragging over the lines with an "awl" (pointed, stiff thick needle) for the thinner lines
........or pressing with a ball-headed stylus dry embossing tool for thicker, shaded areas
(....she uses a marbled sheet of faux ivory (1/2 translucent, 1/2 white) for her carving)
....edges of clay will probably need trimming since clay has probably spread out a bit with the manipulations ... bake
....antiquing the entire surface with brown or black acrylic paint (she used water-mixable oil paint, but could use acrylic) will both put more color in the depressions and also color the background (upraised areas) ... depressions will still appear mostly black though
...could also add extra carvings (lines, dots, scratches, patterns of dots).,,HGTV_3352_1958331,00.html

Donna Kato used fluid chalk pads to highlight some clay sheets textured with texture sheets (or could use stamps) (this was later used around transfers as framing)
...this gave a beautiful ethnic "carved" look since fluid chalks are matte unless a gloss finish is used, and semi-transparent effect was subtle on lighter colors of clay, but darkened and popped when gloss finish added (was it liquid clay?)

I bent wire shapes, then hammered them flat, and pressed them into pre-cut raw, flat clay shapes...painted the sections with different colors of pearlex.... baked them... started prying the wire up to add some liquid clay to make a strong bond between the wire and the clay. . . . but as I am pulling the wire off, I am thinking they actually look better without the wire maybe (with the black background clay showing through and assuming the wire shape). (inspired by a Mike B. pin) Kellie
....good for backfilling with clays or tinted liquid clays too?
...I bet it'd look wonderful pressed into a clay covered votive, leaving a thin area for the light to shine through where the wire was pressed in. Darla
......other stuff could probably be used instead of the wire. a smooth piece of twine, perhaps. lay it down on the clay in a design, and then brayer the twine down into the clay. texture, and apply pearlex, then gently remove the twine. Kellie
...Dotty's lesson on doing the same (with wire), using a small paintbrush to apply the Pearl Ex,2025,DIY_13762_2921641,00.html

mokume gane:
In Nan Roche's 1999 video, Special Techniques in Polymer Clay, the slab of layers is either impressed with "positive" rubber stamps, or is pressed into the "negative" image sheet (molds). Some top areas are sliced off and are laid onto another base.
....Dotty's faux carved items, using Nan Roche's mokume gane technique (website gone)

(see Mokume Gane for more)

(see also Liquid Sculpey/Cloissone,etc. for more on stamping into clay rather than carving it, then backfilling with LS or softened clay)


Carving clay to make clay molds is fun! ......(like a texture sheet or flat stamp)
...Completely bake a #1 setting sheet of scrap clay and then carve into it with linoleum cutters or wood carving tools. Premo is really good for this (then use this as a mold for raw clay, or make a mold from the mold then use with raw clay). Jody B.

If you use the fine linoleum cutter, you can create a cell mold for faux enameling.
The raw clay will have a tendency to stick the first couple of times you use the mold, so powder it well.
When I'm pressing out enameling blanks, I put the clay on a clean sheet of paper, put that on the floor, position the mold on the clay and use my heel to press straight down on the mold. Lots easier than trying to use my hands...
Jody Bishel
....see also Liquid Sculpey/Cloissone (faux enameling) for stamping into clay for cloissone rather than carving it (and then backfilling with LS or softened clay)

I used a tool (dental?) with a very small end to texture the molded bits to make them look as though they had been carved out ...The molds were taken from a brass buckle, a brass calendar, a bone bead, and a plastic bead. Stacia

Christy Hensler's lesson on making a silicone mold from a bas-relief type carving which she carved and baked ...for duplicates of her original carving
more Christy's bas reliefs from molds ...some antiqued, or made with lightly tinted clays pressed in mold, as if lightly painted

Kathy M. also suggests using (bas relief type molds) to mold raw clay, then enhancing the shadows which are already present in the molded clay image (by pressing/dragging with a ball stylus or other tool?).

more on Sanding/Buffing

(for more on antiquing, see Faux--Ivory)
What I've done with carved (faux scrimshaw) pendants, is to brush black, or a mixed sepia brown, acrylic paint all over the surface. I let that dry, then use a little water to dampen a soft plastic scrubber such as is used for bathroom scrubbing or fine woodworking. I use that to take the paint off the high spots, leaving it in the carved areas. One trick that really helps this type of project go extra smoothly is if you happen to have used Future on the piece before carving. Then it's even easier to get the paint off the high spots and leave it in the carved places, with much less rubbing.
Julie's carved (& "carved" impression) beads, antiqued (website gone)

Sanding with steel wool is good for removing excess paint after antiquing .. . patinas

Most folks will then wet sand (after paint is completely set) with 400 and 600 sandpaper, then buff with a rotating muslin wheel (or even blue jeans). When it's well done, I don't think an amateur could tell the difference from real ivory; when it's not so well done, it still looks really good.

If you want to restore color to carved areas that get kinda whtish when carving, pop your carved piece back in the oven for a few minutes.
.... Donna Kato suggested "painting" over the carved areas with a slim paintbrush dipped in Diluent, too, before re-baking.


Backfilling refers to a technique in which incised lines (from having carved into baked clay, or having stamped or carved into raw clay) are filled in with a contrasting colorof clay or another material.
The excess backfill material is then removed from the upper areas of the surface, leaving the backfill material only in the incised lines
The piece is then usually baked to cure the backfill if needed.
...The backfill material usually completely fills the trough of the incised lines and is even with the clay surface, but it can also be simply a coloring or partial filling which doesn't extend to the very top.

Elizabeth's lesson on backfilling with clay thinned with Diluent ... using first a palette knife or spatula, then fingers to rub in
...then removing most with alcohol-soaked paper towel or baby wipe ... baking .... then sanding and buffing

PCC's various carved and backfilled items from a challenge
Tonja's large curved-rod bead, with carving and black clay backfill over its pattern

Other materials which could be used for the backfill material are:
.... liquid clay (usually tinted) ...or liquid clay mixed with an inclusion like metallic powders or inks or (non-acrylic) or chalks-pastels
....acrylic or oil paints ....this is more often referred to as "antiquing"
........."paints" made from clear finishes with inclusions of metallic powders, inks, etc.

Liquid clays may not work as easily for vertical or curved surfaces, (unless thicker, or used only to color). Tinidril

Very soft clay is needed when using clay for backfill... so you can use a very soft clay like Sculpey III
....... or condition and warm another clay very well
........or best? thin it with Diluent or Vaseline or mineral oil
....I make a really gooey, gluey thick paste from clay and Diluent that feels like caulking rubber to do backfilling..... it isn't "pourable" like TLS, it's stiffer than that, but it's not moldable or sculptable either. Elizabeth (see Eliz's lesson link just above)'s hard to describe the exact softness that works with backfilling except to say I use very soft clay... softer than Sculpey III out of the package.

After backfiling, the majority of the excess clay can then be removed by using the edge of a credit card or the back side of a tissue blade, etc.

If there is a residual film of polymer around the edges, these can be carefully cleaned up using a q-tip and isopropyl alcohol
ou can clean up the surface by working in TLS to thin the raw clay... wipe off excess with an alcohol-soaked paper towel... repeat until the surface is clean. Tinidril
...If you wipe off the excess with a rag or some such material with tooth, you are creating drag on the backfill, and that can pull it out. Meredith
...the piece will often be sanded after baking too, which will also remove excess clay or clay film.

Beware of clays for backfill which are over saturated colors (like reds and maybe some blacks)
.... to keep it from staining the clay around it, try cutting the red clay at least by half with translucent clay (not liquid clay).... And I would leach the mixture. Get as much of the plasticizer that will help to spread the color out as possible before using it to backfill. Just my thoughts. Valerie

You have to push solid, raw clay into the *dry* carving lines. ....when you've used liquid clay to clean up the surface, it leaves enough behind to seal the new clay in.
. in fact, if you try doing using more liquid clay under the backfill, you'll never get the solid clay into the crevices! It will just slide right out.Tinidril

I do have trouble with the softened clay pulling out of the backfilled areas when I'm trying to remove the excess
....Sometimes it does pull out, and I just put it back and push it with my fingers some more until it stays there....sometimes I use the backside of my tissue blade to scrape the excess clay off. Kat
.... It sounds to me like you may be carving extremely shallow grooves and that is always a problem to keep clay in
....... (unless they are needle scratches, that is, which hold clay in by virtue of being so narrow that when you scrape the excess clay off it serves to shove more down into the scratches)
....I let the piece sit for a day or so after backfilling. I think the plasticizers in the unbaked clay start to leach a bit into the baked stuff and makes for a stronger bond between the two surfaces . Irene
Don't forget you can roughen-up the area before filling in(?) ~ smooth to smooth doesn't always work.Naomi
....Maybe try some kind of white glue to help hold it in, as you would use on glass or wood?
(...see above for the proper softness and stickness that works best for backfill)

If using a sticky mixture of thinned clay doesn't help with the "pulling away" problems, you can maybe wipe out the areas with rubbing alcohol before filling
... but make sure that there's no water or any kind of sanding dust in the crevices or even in the work area before you put in the "goop". Elizabeth\

I don't understand why you are softening the clay for backfill. I never add a softener (Diluent or mineral oil of any kind) to it and I do a lot of carve and backfill
..... I use Premo and never have any problems as the Premo is soft enough all by itself already
..... I've also Fimo and Cernit, never adding anything to them either and didn't have any trouble with those staying put.

I've found that when I back-fill with Sculpey III , I just don't remove all the excess clay before baking
...I just sand it off after baking instead (so I don't progress to the stage where the backfill might come out). Adrienne

Backfilling is a little tough on the fingertips... because you push the raw clay into the crevices and then wipe across the top of the clay with your finger (so try one of the other methods for removing the excess). Tinidril

to backfill with a number of diff. colors, kellie carved doodle shapes, backfilled, and baked at a time, for her "doodle box" lid
. . . (also)
...I covered the tin in black clay.... and then baked it, but not for the full time
...while still warm, I carved a few doodles in it, and filled with a grout made of clay and diluent.
...then I baked for about 5 minutes ....
...then I carved again, and filled with a different color grout
I repeated this process for each new color ....and finished off with a full baking.
...then I sanded it smooth, and buffed to a shine. kellie

Kathy W.'s backfilled? Balinese Filigree (after baking, & sanded after baking again?)

lines or other impressions can be made in raw clay by using stamps, or drawing with a blunt needle, etc., or by impressing with small tips like the end of a screwdriver or a ball-headed tool
....these lines, dots, etc., can also create details in a less detailed shape
........ (e.g. in a plain cookie cutter cutout or silhouette, as in creating facial features and beard lines on a Santa cutout made with a cookie cutter, or adding decorations to an Easter Egg shaped cutout)
....or they can follow the shapes in a pattern of clay (like sheets of pattern, marbled clay, mokume gane, etc.), coloring them in with different color
.........(e.g., impressing and backfilling a new dot made in the center of a bullseye slice, or doing lines or series of dots, etc. along the outline of a color or shape, etc.)
..this example isn't backfill, but it could be done that way by rolling figure cutout silhouettes into a background clay sheet, then drawing along the edge of the silhouette, and backfilling with white clay

Backfilling with tinted (or plain) translucent clay will give a votive glass a totally different look when the candle is lit. Patty

Nancy B. also demonstrated a slightly diff. method of coloring the recesses of inclusion clay that's carved (or stamped?).
....paint the entire surface of your baked clay with acrylic paint (only so you can see it better?), then carve.
....fill the carved areas with a contrasting color of acrylic paint (your final color for the carved area).
....let dry thoroughly... then run under warm/hot water using a Buff Puff facial scrub pad (or store brand at Walgreens, Longs, etc.) to take off the paint on the upper surfaces, leaving it in the carved crevices.

You can also cut out whole shapes with small cutters (or carve them out), then back-fill with clay... bake; sand.

faux "carved" shell buttons, etc ... use one of the opal, quartz, or abalone, etc., recipes on the Faux-Many page to create faux pearly white shell...then carve, stamp or texture into the clay. . . . antique or backfill the resulting low lying areas with white Rub 'N Buff, white acrylic paint, Diluent-thinned white clay, or even white Pearl Ex or Fimo Pulver in liquid clay or a finish like Varathane

(For backfilling after stamping into raw clay and baking, see above in "Stamping" ....or go to Stamping > Coloring or Filling In)
(for more on stamping into clay rather than carving it, then backfilling with liquid clay or softened clay, see also Liquid Sculpey > Cloissone,etc. )
( for other ways to "carve" before backfilling ....for example using bent wire to create channels of pattern which could be backfilled, see above)


So many of the carving patterns can be used for clay. It just surprises me that more people don't do it. The chip carving would be really cool on an egg done in clay! Karen

dZi beads from Tibet (shiny beads with eye, stripe and line patterns, generally browns and blacks) ...designs were originally chemically etched, but could be carved

4-12-00: I got this idea from playing around after Mike B's class (lesson)…I came up with the idea last night so I don't have a whole lot of trial and error info.
Get your hands on some acrylic ink. I found it at my local art supply store. Suggested colors could be navy, burnt sienna, raw sienna or black - something dark for starters.
Roll out a 2" X 8" sheet of clay (#3 - #4 on the ole pasta machine). It could be any color from white to a medium in darkness range (maybe an ivory) …Place your clay sheet on a sheet of wax paper.
Place several drops of the acrylic ink on the clay; smear the ink across with a palette knife or with your tissue blade. Keep smearing until you've covered one side entirely. Let the ink completely dry. Blot the surface with a paper towel to accelerate the drying.
Starting at one 2" wide end, carefully roll the clay sheet (no air bubbles), until you have a nice fat 2" wide log.
Cut along
and/or into the sides of the rolled log to carve out a nice bead shape - oval, rectangular... whatever. …Depending on your carving skill you can do this before or after baking the cane.
The simplest carving would be to stand the raw cane up on end and shave off four sides. If you cut in at an angle like to cut out a pyramid or bi-cone shape, you'll get a stronger pattern effect. See? The ink gives a nice line of color without the hassle of trying to roll a reeeeeeeally thin sheet of clay. If anyone has suggested this before, could you let me know, too. I'm dying to find out if this is actually a kind of new technique or not. Desiree
~I did a little of this 2 years ago....I tried to do mokume gane type of work. You can't get the ink too thick, or it becomes elastic and tight, and won't give with the clay. I have some vessel projects I've put on hold lately... PS....Try the Pearlescent inks...FABULOUS! Patti
Thanks so much for this info. I was pondering where a couple of snags were coming from when I tried cut along the grain of the raw cane. In most areas, I have kept the ink thin so there was no problem, but those snags must be due to a small accumulation of ink in a couple of places.
(Also), given the info you've provided, I'm wondering what would happen if I painted a thin layer of TLS on glass, then a layer of ink on the TLS. Desiree

After the clay has been shaped and baked, some people embed colored pre-baked tiles/chips of different shapes called appliques before baking sometimes they're simulated turquoise/coral/etc., sometimes not --see rec.crafts.polymer-clay newsgroup posts above for more --). . .
Tory Hughes’ ivory, carved/inlaid (see Vol. 9)

….But using white paint on a light color clay sure made it look different (if you carved partially baked clay or used molds, then followed with a white wash)

(for carving erasers to make stamps, see Stamping)
eraser-carving examples --very applicable to clay!!

Using "etching" plates to print on paper

"etching plates" (a printing technique) ...carved and/or impressed clay-sheet plates (....for printing on paper... or on other clay, etc)
.....Christine Aaron makes flat sheets of clay and textures them to make printing plates (like real etching plates or engraving plates):
After baking a clay sheet, she carves lines into it (hence the word "intaglio") (and sometimes if she doesn't like what she has, she patches and rebakes)
...Later, to make a print on paper with her etching plate, she rolls and daubs ink onto it, then lays dampened paper on it and rubs it down to get a print. (but she really wants an etching press to make it work best, which has a flat bed that rolls between two rollers kind of like laundry going rollers ... lay a plate on the press bed, (then lay a sheet of paper on the plate) and then cover it with thick felt blankets and roll everything through...the blankets push the paper into the grooves in the plate to print all the ink in the crevices)

I make a "relief sculpture plate" on clay (sheet?) - you can carve before and/or after the clay is cured (I do most of it before). ...after creating the plate, you cure (bake).... the plates are then inked and/or painted using etching inks, which are oils. ....a sheet of paper is put on the plates and they are put through an etching press together. The press pushes the paper into the crevices of the plate so it picks up and prints the ink on the paper. Viola. Barbara
...could use something else heavy and flat to press them together hard enough, or maybe press areas separately with something smaller?

(a photocopy can be used to create a paper sheet with baked clay on the image lines as a printing plate for printing onto paper with etching inks or paints,... see above under Scrimshaw)

(see also Texturing > Texture Plates ... and Transfers > Photosensitive > Polymer Plates ... is rubberstamp sheeting stiff enough to use as plate too?)
(...making plates from copper to use for printing on clay is in Gwen Gibson's video Cuff Bracelets & Surface Treatments?)

carving Tools (electric)

(see Tools page for the electric Dremels... since some of their attachments may work well for engraving or carving electric tool for carving really isn't necessary as the cutter goes through the baked clay like it was butter! Besides, the speed of a power tool would melt rather than carve the clay (??) tinidril (if true, would that just make the gouge smoother?)

also, the S-4040 RotoFlex for vibration-less (and dust-less) carving, etching, etc., powered by a vacuum cleaner --click on Tools button (The Eggery Place will be 1-888-ASK-EGGS to find new web address if the old one is gone by now)

could also use a wood burning tool .. or would the fumes be unhealthy if not well ventilated?

carving Tools (hand)

It doesn't take a lot of effort to push the carving tool through baked clay if you're working with a good quality, sharp tool. (I've used the cheap wood carving tools you can get at Michael's, too, but they are not as sharp and they're kind of large for most clay work.) That's why I use the Dockyard tools. Tinidril

MICRO carving gouges are smaller at the carving end than traditional carving gouges
.. I tried them, and they are WAY more comfortable to use than the linoleum carvers I was using! ...And not so hard on the hands because they are narrower, and also the long shaft before the cutting tip is smooth - when I used a linoleum carver, I was digging into my own fingers with the edges!
Kato Carving Tools
....micro carving gouges -- V gauge in sizes 1, 2, 3...U gauge in sizes 1, 2
....we've also added a scribe/needle tool, KPN
....these tools have a slight curve to the gouge perfect for carving in clay as we use a shorter stroke then wood carvers.
....made from hardened carbon steel...smooth handle fits comfortably in hand.
Dockyard carving tools (also micro carving gouges)
....also buy them at
...check out woodworking sites like if you want to get these. you can get a whole set of micro carving tools for a lot cheaper. Lori

I also have a couple of the Docksider Wood Carving tools and another set of the miniature wood carving tools. I actually use the Docksider tools more than the others because they had a smaller V groove.. . . Last time I was looking at the Speedball stuff, they had come out with a smaller V groove blade also. kat

Linoleum cutting blades (curved carving blades --Speedball, etc.) work well for carving baked polymer clay, and are cheaper than woodcarving tools. Again, you'll find these someplace that carries block printing supplies (like art supply stores). (For the longest time, I thought that when people were talking about carving with linoleum cutters, they were talking about those big wicked blades that people use for cutting floor tiles -- I couldn't imagine how people carved with them without amputating something important!) Thalassa
...Speedball linoluem cutters. I bought a kit that has two red bulb shaped handles, and 6 different carving bits that fit in the handles. I first read about them at glassattic, of course! LOL! . . . they really do carve the clay nicely. and really, if the clay is still slightly warm, the carvers go right thru the clay like it's butter! this set looks really similar to wood carving kits, but at about 1/3rd of the cost of a wood carving kit. (my handle is actually a dark red, like maroon, at this link they look red) I use the various V groove blades mostly; only occasionally, the U groove. I also have a couple of the Docksider Wood Carving tools and another set of the miniature wood carving tools. I actually use the Docksider tools more than the others.. .
... I have seen the regular Speedball linoleum tools at both Hobby Lobby and Michaels (as well as art supply stores).
....Speedball makes a handle to hold all of it's blades. kellie
....Some people don't even buy the handle, just the blades; then they make a handle of clay. Kat

I actually find the one I have with a polyclay handle more comfortable to use than the Speedball handle. ..I've heard that woodcarving tools are great (Dockyard tools mentioned in particular) but I took one look at the price and went for the linoleum blades. ….Thalassa

I use Linozip cutters (blades?) (which fit into a Speedball handle, with a chuck to hold them firmly and a storage space in the handle.the blades).These are 'pull' blades rather than 'push' blades as the regular blades are. They are much easier to use (unless you are left handed--because of the angle) and safer, and don't require a stop block to hold your work (I've carved on curved clay such as colored clay baked over a round votive "bowl" quite easily.. I know that the Dick Blick catalog carries them ...also available from Sax Arts & Crafts: http.//,800-558-6696. ...item #340-6204 sells for $4.70 set of four, or $4.25 for 12 sets of four. ...either keep the extras or share with members of your guild ,etc....purchase the handle separately for $4.50. Or you can buy the Linozip Assortment #37 with 5 blades (a liner, small & large v-gouge, small & large u-gouge) for $10.10 set.
. . . could also be pushed into a polymer clay handle and baked, although I like the Speedball handle because I can store the extra blades in the handle.Patty B
( on making polymer handles for bits and tools in Tools > Handles)

Other tools can be used on baked or raw clay for engraving, depending on how thick you want the lines, the flexibility vs. stiffness of the carving tip, etc.
....needles of all kinds, including those with handles you make yourself for different grips
.........these can be made stiffer by extending only a short portion of the shaft out of the rigid handle
....for flexibility, a longer or thinner needle or disposable dental tool (see Tools)
....for stiffness, the sides or backs of pointed blades like Xacto's or disposable scalpels, or other blades whose corners you can use, for a scratching or carving motion

For larger work, I use normal Exacto blades. For final carving, use a fresh blade unless you know how hone a blade to razor sharp condition. Lysle
(see much more on sharpening blades in Cutters-Blades > Blades > sharpening)

For doing really small carving I did what the dentists do I use 'scalers' (what they use to scrape the plaque off the base of your teeth...they are very stiff.)
.....BUT I went one step farther. I took one scaler that was broken, then filed, wet sanded, and polished it into a razor sharp cutter (I did both is the equlivanet to a #11 xacto blade but is only about 1.5 mm along the cutting edge.... the other is about 2.5 mm and has it's own special shape since the original tool was a 'left handed' scaler. It is as if the blade were mounted with a 45 degree and also at a 30 degree angle to the handle)
.......(if you get a set of these do NOT grind with a power grinder as that will heat the metal and remove the temper. All grinding, polishing, etc should be done on a sharpening (whet) stone with plenty of oil. The oil keeps the pores of the stone un clogged and the metal cooled. Lysle

(see also the Kato scribe-needle tool just above)

WEBSITES for shallow clay carving

all kinds of carved sheets ...Elizabeth's swap
.... in each photo, the carved/onlaid original "stamp" sheet is on the left (and its negative --impression-- is on the right ).
photos of carving and carvings (clay or other material?)
Violette's carved faux ivory bowls (in faux ivory/stone)

Tory Hughes ..... see her ivory, carved/inlaid,(Vol. 9) and her carvings in faux jade (backfilled with dark red) (Vol.10)
Irene D's (fatback) carved?, filled or antiqued textures, mostly with stamps, but some carved? (look around)

Carved Viking Ivory Caskets
Oscelyn’s back-filled cut-outs
(website gone)
Carol Simmon’s class using photo copies, carving, inlays, and back-filling to create a variety
of etched and inlaid effects
Barbara's Nigerian masks (ivory, carved, and embellished) (website gone)
Ed's scratch-carvings and ink-simulated carving, etc., in faux ivory items

*Wanda's carved and stamped (flower) beads, with backfill (website gone)
Greg's faux ivory box, with inlaid shapes, carving/antiquing, stamping (website gone)
Sally's carved/inlaid palm tree
(website gone)
Dianne C's carved, backfilled, and translucent-covered beads

Sarajane's carved transfers, and similar to sgraffito, antiquing

(see also: Faux ivory, Faux wood, Stamping, Liquid Sculpey, Molds/antiquing, Blades, Tools/Dremels)

"CARVING" 3-D sculptures
(deeper than the shallow carvings above)

vermiculite & plaster for shaping and/or carving afterward . . .someone somewhere needed a cheap material to provide kids with a carving medium and this works great
....when I taught subtractive sculpture in high schools, we used 1/2 gallon paper milk cartons to pour the plaster/vermiculite mix into.
........for junior high, we use the smaller quart paper cartons and only filled them half full.
....plaster was mixed with vermiculite dry by hand, usually about a 1 to 1 ratio by volume using the milk cartons.
....this dry mix was then poured into the water in a plastic bucket and stirred by hand can also add dry tempra to the water and mix well just before adding the plaster/vermiculite for a colored "stone" to carve
... as soon as it started to get thick, it would be poured into the paper cartons ....then dropped a couple of times to force air bubbles to the top. (don't let younger kids do this...they want to drop it from too high and hope it spills!) ... just lift a couple inches off the table.
....allow the plaster to set up overnight. day, pull the paper away....the plaster will be quite can be carved with spoons and table knives at this point and will be easy to rough out a general shape. 2 or 3 days, the plaster will begin to harden more, and eventually Surform rasps (lumber yard, home improvement centers) will be necessary to carve with. . . . The longer the plaster sits, the harder it will become.
...the sculpture can be smoothed with metal window screening or sheetrock sanding screens (Wal Mart)
...a coating of polyurethane can be painted over after it is bone dry. can even be painted with acrylics
( the way, work on old newspapers and throw in the trash to help with the clean up. Patty B
......(according to the Illinois Board of Public Health, a mine in Montana did once produce vermiculite that was contaminated with asbestos ... they did say that not all vermiculite has had this contamination, so I strongly suspect that it isn't a problem anymore... and that's old enough that all of it is probably gone.)
....Is this different from "Perlite" . . . still availble?

Sharon K's lesson & examples of carvings (from plaster and vermiculite)

other carving

drywall sheet can be carved with linoleum cutters etc., to create shallow carvings
... these could also be used as molds for clay? (...or printing plates?)
...wet and remove thick paper from one side of drywall ... keeping gypsum damp, carve with linoleum tools or anything else that works


baked clay

Wear a dust mask and also eye protection when turning baked clay!

The first clayers to experiment with turning (baked) clay on a wood lathe, I believe, may have been City Zen Cane (now Ford & Forlano) and/or Daniel "woodpants" below.

I seem to remember a photo of some stripey, fancy turned pieces made by CZC --one of which had a ring carved out from one section but still around the piece.... more about it can probably be found by looking in the newsgroup archives --see rec.crafts.polymer-clay newsgroup above-- using the search word lathe.

In the woodshop at Arrowmont 1997, Derek (shop coordinator) and I drilled, glued, veneered, sawed, turned and sanded 3 brands of baked polymer clays (these were before Premo and Kato clay were introduced), with different results
....(NOTE: while this was happening there was a constant flow of "Polydust" theives going through shop... for inclusion material, etc.).
RESULTS ...baked polymer clay machines beautifully, leaving smooth clean surfaces... these look good and are excellent glue lines
....Cernit (brand of polymer clay) worked best for turning... it was stiff and very smooth BEFORE being sanded . students condition and bake their clay greatly affects the strenght of finished product.
...which glues you choose are critical! (some actually dissolve polymer over time)
......Chris Hentz class was an excellent source for this info. Daniel (woodpants)
...polymer has some propperties similar to wood...i.e., clay has grain direction with "long graining" being the strongest... Daniel?

(Nowadays, one would probably use Premo, Kato Polyclay, FimoClassic, or Cernit, especially for turning baked clay to avoid the brittleness of Sculpey and FimoSoft.)

At Ravensdale 98, there was a clay turning demo. The woman who did it sold lathes that she had built. I think she said that turning polymer is easier than turning wood.

CZC did underbake (both in time and temp) before turning their clay... they rebaked at the end. KateAnd

Christine Taylor experimented with turning clay on a wood lathe for creating a finial, and discovered several things:
...she used Premo, and found that it worked better to bake it at reg. temp and time (rather than underbaking)... 275 for 20 min.
...she found it easiest to get the form approximately the correct shape first so she would have less turning to do this case, she created 5 or so medium-height, flat-pointed, bicone beads
.......she baked them separately... and drilled holes through each about the diameter of a "ready bolt" she'd chosen (1/8")
...painted the long bolt with liquid clay.... threaded beads onto bolt (leaving bolt extending from each end)
...(added a bit of liquid clay between?)...baked again...attached one bolt end into the lathe's chuck
...used a wood gouge tool (like linoleum cutter?...regular lathe cutting tools are not delicate enough) for cutting the bolt-and-clay, being careful to hold the tool on a tool rest just below center
...sanded the clay while on the lathe as well, by holding the sandpaper against the turning clay
...removed finial from chuck... cut off one end of bolt with hack saw...(attached the finial into the center of her clay lid, for a cut-off gourd)

Christine also suggested that one might be able to use a drill (in a drill press) rather than a wood lathe
....the carving would then be done vertically rather than horizontally L-shaped, makeshift tool rest could be fixed to the base of the press, and the tool held against its vertical side, moving up and down as needed on the clay-and-bolt

armatures for stiffness?
...Would it be good to use a thinner rod of clay that's harder and stiffer after baking when it'
s thin (Sculpey,FimoSoft) under the clay to be turned, to give the whole rod more stiffness?
.......or could use a wood dowel, or metal rod or tube?
...........would need to be sure the armature, if not clay, was deep enough under the clay not to be "turned" though!

Any type of cane would be great for turning since the pattern goes all the way through (see Canes-Instr)
....just one cane that's could be cool would be a star cane (when turned into a "chevron bead" trimmed/turned at both ends, they look like this: )
...more real (glass) chevron beads

Non-caned things could look interesting too.

I was thinking that it would be great when making faux stones, which tend to smear and marbelize a lot if you sculpt them or press them onto a base..... rough shaped first, then turned should show the colors just like real stone which was carved.

As for safety, it is advisable to use a dust mask or ventilating mask (and eye protection) even for wood.
....If you're getting the turned piece too hot and creating fumes, you're working too hard! Klee

raw clay

Raw Clay Lathing: tools and techniques for turning pc 6-page illustrated handout -- $5.50
" Katherine teaches how to make and use her raw clay lathe!
...A technique with applications for the jewelry designer and the miniaturist, turning raw clay is as absorbing as it is adaptable.
...It's possible to turn one of a kind patterns or turn the same pattern over and over again.
...Using a "turning handle" and a turning template makes the task easier, especially for even turnings and identically turned spindles.."

Grant Diffendaffer class on turning raw clay on a lathe --and also on a diff. technique: Totally Textured Beads
... lathe turning can be done with a simple electric drill or drill press by putting the clay on a mandrel then moving it freehand
...or done like ceramic clay on a spinning wheel by turning the lathe around and working from the back side (can use raw or baked clay)
...can create ribbons, bands, and sensuous curves ...or fold the clay over and create partially enclosed, or hollowed out spaces ...possibilitiies of multi-stage curing ...color and pattern within the clay, as well as surface treatments... can use mica clay ingots to start with too sand with a lathe ...just hold the sandpaper, and the beads sand themselves. Grant
(see more on sanding this way in Sanding > Electric)

Kip Christensen turned baked (thick?) polymer clay cane slices (on base clay?) into flat, beveled (spinning) tops, with wood or plastice handles added (in the book Polymer Clay Creative Traditions, Belcher)

raw and/or baked... misc.

Aug 02: One of our guild members, Sandy Selfridge, gave a demo on using the mini-lathe to shape cured clay and immediately everyone said: "Chess Pieces!" Trina

There will be a how-to article on making polymer clay pens (or just the wood bases?), turned on a wood lathe, in the next issue (summer? 2004) of Woodturning Design magazine. Here's a link to the magazine's website: ...Ed

...(for info on using clay as faux wood veneer, see Covering > Wood > Veneers)

SIMULATING wood turning

(Katherine Dewey)
I have used this method for years to make turned legs for miniature furniture... fancy staffs for my wizards... and nifty tool handles.
....To do this technique, I wrap a sheet of clay around a hollow core, i.e. aluminum or brass tubing (for stiffness)
.....To make the clay adhere, I treat the tubing with Beacon's GemTac, a vinyl glue that doesn't bead up on metal surfaces, can handle oven heat without breaking down, and is slightly tacky after drying.
To create the turned effect there are three methods:
1- roll the clay wrapped tube over a rod (perpendicular to the clay on tube), or a series of parallel rods set in a frame, set in a frame (I call these pressure rods, as they create the turned shape by the pressure they exert. Knitting needles and brass tubes or rods of various sizes make great pressure rods).
2- insert a smaller rod through the clay- wrapped tube, allowing the wrapped tube to spin, and roll beneath a perpendicular rod, or frame set series. The smaller rod should be just small enough to allow the tube to spin; if the spinning rod is too small, you'll loose true center and may end up with an uneven turn, especially if you press too hard.
3- insert the clay wrapped rod in a manual drill (electric drills, even at low speeds are too fast) and let the drill do the spinning while you press a rod, or frame set rods, against the turning tube.
.....All of these methods work by pushing the clay aside.
....Wrapping the tube evenly, and maintaining a true center while turning take a little practice, as does holding the pressure rod at 90 degrees to the tube.
....Creating a frame to hold a series of rods in position, in order to create matched turnings is another story.