Archive | Tools

Some useful tools

I was grateful for the tip about the grids on Lynn Fraley’s blog. In the previous post, you can probably see the bubble wrap lining the smaller damp box. That had been my own solution for keeping the greenware elevated from the damp plaster, but I can see her tool will work so much better. It also reminded me that I’ve meant to share some of the tools I’ve come to depend on for some odd jobs around the studio. Since I’ve been absorbed in mold-making these last few weeks most of these are tools used either for that or for prepping the resin masters.

1) Sponge-backed sanding pads
Although they are here with mold-making tools, I really use these for everything from cleaning masters, to polishing plaster to cleaning greenware. They often aren’t sold by standard grit numbers, so I like to buy them in person by feel, and I use all kinds. Often I cut them into small strips and round the edges (a big help when they are used on soft greenware, since the corners can gouge), then strip off most of the padding from the back. I find for some tasks I need them a little more flexible than the thick layer of foam allows.

2) Miskit Liquid Latex
This is another all-purpose tool in the studio. It’s primary purpose is to mask off bisques during underglazing, but I also use it when I want to clay up a resin original. The blocking clay I use, Plastalina, is really soft and sticky, so I find that masking areas with deep grooves (like the mane or the eyes) before I place that side down in the clay makes the later clean-up much easier. Just be careful to keep it well away from the mold lines, since the seal against the master needs to be tight there.

The exposed face of the resin master tends to get clay residue as well, especially near the mold lines. To clean those places without disturbing the clay, you can paint the latex over the area (including the plastalina itself) and allow it to dry. When it is peeled off, it takes the residue with it. The small square under the Miskit bottle is a rubber cement eraser, which is useful for removing dry latex. It is quite rigid, so it can be cut into shapes to reach tight areas.

3) Clay Shaper

These tools are really popular with sculptors and can be purchased with different tips and with varying firmness. I use the smallest firm (black) wedges to apply the liquid latex. The have just enough give and dried latex peels right off of them.

4) Fingertip Swivel Knife

I found this tool, made by Fiskars, at a scrapbooking store and immediately fell in love with it. (That hobby has more cool tools!) The tiny blade is just the right size for cleaning seams, and the loop that fits around your finger braces the knife in a much more controlled fashion than an ordinary Xacto handle. Even better, the blade can be positioned at any angle to the handle, so it is perfect for getting into tight spots. It was made for cleaning out the “keyholes” in manes and tails – and Oliver’s crossed legs!

5) Schwan All-Stabilo Pencil

We used these water-soluble pencils at my family’s sign shop to mark cut lines. They were great because they gave a very visible blue line that didn’t brush off easily, but could be removed completely with water. I use them to help mark out mold lines on resin masters. I can see the lines more clearly than with a regular pencil, but I can still remove the marks (or change them) when I am done.

6) Embossing Stylus

This is another cool tool from the scrapbooking store, also made by Fiskars. One of the most time-consuming – and truly boring – tasks in making molds is sealing the mold boards. The clay needs to be sealed against the edges, as do the corners of the box. It has to be done reaching inside the box, and without bothering the soft clay around the horse. It is messy work, and it always left a messy edge around the rubber master. Now I just run the larger end of the embossing stylus along the seam, and it makes a clean seal in minutes.


Here is the stylus sealing the edge of the mold in yesterday’s picture. I love this tool!

7) Swizzle Stick Sanders

I found these at a hobby store that catered to military miniatures, and they are particularly handy for sanding hard to reach areas of hard surfaces like resin. They are more rigid than the sanding pads, and can be bend at angles when needed. They come in four different grits, with the finest pretty comparable to 600 grit sandpaper.

Most of these tools are pretty inexpensive, but it is really the time saved (and frustration avoided) that makes such a difference. Hopefully some of them will prove useful to others.

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Supersize me!

When I first converted my studio for full-time work in ceramics, I imagined that like my previous efforts with resin-cast figures, most of my work would be in the smaller “mini” scale. (For readers that are not involved in equine collectibles, that makes an adult horse just a little under 3″ tall.) Most ceramic horses were either minis (often called “thumb” scale by ceramics collectors) or the slightly larger “curio” scale, with few horses going more than “classic” scale (the standard dollhouse scale). So I got a Skutt 614, which is a hexagonal kiln that measures around 12″ across the diagonal. That seemed a safe bet for almost anything I wanted to fire.

Later I added the smaller AIM 88-D, which is a square 8″. It’s the workhorse in the studio that does most of the bisque firing. It is rare that I have anything that won’t fit in the AIM, nevermind that larger Skutt. But I knew that with ceramic horses getting bigger, the time would come when I would need to replace the Skutt with something a little bigger. Since that will also mean rewiring the studio, I have been putting it off until I had a horse that no longer fit. Although it was a squeeze, so far even Stormwatch fit. But while he is a larger horse than Elsie, she takes up a lot of horizontal space so I wondered if she might be the one. I was relieved when she fit.

But what I didn’t realize back when she first arrived was just how many other items would be too small. As can be seen from the first picture, my largest mold boards proved just barely long enough to hold her master mold. I’ve included the master for Imp, a mini-scale foal, and my foot for scale. I tried to hold my hand up for scale first, but I didn’t have enough arm length to get back enough to get the whole mold in the frame. (I guess by now my liking for flowers painted on my toes is obvious.) The Imp mold is 3″ across its length, whereas Elsie is 12″.

The mold boards did fit, but I realized as I assembled my supplies that I didn’t have a container large enough for mixing that much rubber. I usually use small throw-away rubbermaid containers, but the largest ones only hold a gallon. I thought I would need around 5 lbs of rubber. I ended up purchasing a few plastic dishwashing bins that could hold 3 gallons. I got them home and realized that they were too large to sit on my scale. So I constructed a platform that would hold the bin (and still let me read the weight).

That is when I was reminded of my inability to estimate volume. I’d already done that with the Plastalina, which is the brown clay used to block out the areas that don’t yet get rubber. Not once, but twice, I had to run out to get still more of it. I probably should have known better with the rubber, but it spoils quickly and is quite expensive. I order it as it is needed for each step. So now I have an Elsie that is covered in rubber, but not really deeply enough to be stable. Luckily, additional rubber can be added after the first pour cures, so it’s just a matter of waiting for the next delivery.

I almost forgot the “damp box”. When horses are cast in separate pieces, those pieces stay in a damp box while they are cleaned and assembled. That’s my mini-scale damp box on top: a tupperware sandwich container with a thin layer of plaster on the bottom. Not even Elsie’s tail will fit in there, so I had to find a container that would work. It was surprisingly difficult to find a box deep enough for her (with the attached tail) that wasn’t also really large, but this 12 quart tote looks like it will work out well. I liked that it had flip-down handles, rather than a pull-off lid, since it will keep jostling to a minimum when I have to open the container.

I can see that going larger is going to take some adjustment when it comes to tools and materials!

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