Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tips on Caning

i haven't actually done all that much caning, as in, when i first started out, yes, i did make loads of canes. oranges, strawberries, lemons, kiwis. all of which when i remove from my container of shame, i cringe at how bad they were. but as in almost all of my clay endeavours, i seldom if ever succeed on my first try. compare and contrast:

the above canes were done before May 2009. orange canes were my first ever canes (not depicted here, you'd have to plough through my flickr account to see how horrific they were :P ). i followed Angie Scarr's really wonderful tutorials (look for the free tutorial links on her site) and as proud as i was of them back then, i knew there was room for improvement. the kiwi slices were kinda hodgepodged together, as with the strawberry slices, although i did take a few tips from Marjo Caris. along the way, i've seen truly realistic and awesome cane slices that deviated somewhat from the ones taught in popular online tutorials and books, so i figured, heck, i might as well start experimenting with my own versions of fruit canes rather than produce the more 'typical' sorts of canes. after all, i think i'd figured out the basic techniques.

the following tips are stuff i've come to slowly notice is truly important to -my- caning process. i stress this because i know there are plenty of tips available on the net, but due to individual brands of clays' properties, and the climate and conditions i live in (tropical, non-airconditioned room) i've had to struggle with finding the best clay suitable for my warm hands, and how to obtain the colours i want.

also, you might find that these tips are 'too much' as in, some aren't really necessary. but owing to my nature, i like things to have a certain consistency. and improving upon basic techniques helps reduce wastage :) well, if you are following a book/tutorial, they should pretty much have the basics laid out for you, but i don't follow any particular method nor do i own any books, so these help me in -any- sort of caning i do.

here are pointss i always try to remember:

- avoid air bubbles

while conditioning polymer clay, and assembling the cane, be careful not to introduce air bubbles. air trapped in the cane would result in holes in the cane, and distortions to the general shape. unless you -want- the bubbles, although i have no clue how you would control the reduction of the canes.

- keep to 1 brand of clay for each cane
since it's always warm here, i favour KATO polyclay. it's harder than any other brand of polymer clay i've tried. i use mainly translucent, and i've also got a pack of primary colours (red, blue, yellow concentrates) and green, since i'm terrible at mixing green. this tip is to ensure that during the caning process, the clay's hardness is evenly distributed throughout the cane. if you happen to have clays of different hardness/softness, the way the clay shifts throughout the clay will be uneven, winding up with distortion.

- test bake colours before starting on your cane
for the less experienced (i.e. me ha ha!) or those who mix up their own colours, i highly recommend testing a small pinch of clay for each colour component of your cane BEFORE you start assembling and reducing your cane. most of my earlier canes turned out chalky and almost cartoonish since i didn't know what ratio of translucent clay to use vs coloured clay. i flatten out a small ball of clay to the thickness i wish my slices to be, and bake to see how it would look. this helps reduce wastage of huge batches of clay.

- rest the clay before reduction/cutting (raw canes)
before reducing your assembled cane, try to let it rest for a while so that the temperature of the cane is evenly distributed. this is because the outermost layer would probably be softest as the clay has been in contact with your hands. if you are slicing your canes before baking (i do that for my citrus canes to give them a little more texture), make sure your canes are firm. i keep an icepack handy and plonk my canes on them before i slice. i usually only get a few slices out before i have to re-cool them, so i keep about 2-3 canes on the ice pack and rotate the canes during the slicing process.

some people recommend warming the cane up thoroughly with your hands before reduction, but i've found that makes the cane reduce too fast for my liking. who knows, it might work better for you :D

- use end caps
i recall some polymer clay caners use glass end caps for reduction. i didn't use to do that, i simply pinched and pinched and wound up with oddly shaped ends, hence more wasted clay. for my more recent canes, i used 2 tiny round ceramic tiles approx. 3/4" diameter on each end, and went at it. this method also ensures the clay is evenly distributed and drawn out along the length of the clay, as the end caps create a vacuum for the non-visible gaps between different colours of clay.

- pinch and pull, not roll
resist the urge to roll the cane. although that process helps smooth out the clay, it should really only be used after you've gotten the cane down to the size you want. rolling the clay results in uneven distribution and creates a 'swirly' effect, so unless you're making candy canes and the like, i really wouldn't recommend it.

- make sure you're baking the canes at the correct temperature
oh boy i learnt this the hard way. for the longest time i kept wondering why my canes were brittle. when i initially experimented with caning, i mixed up all sorts of brands of clay, depending on what colours i needed. bzzt. bad move. some clays require a higher baking temperature, and since i was always fearful of charring my clay, i'd baked at a lower temperature (for a longer duration). however, my canes were mostly brittle, and consistently chipped while slicing. well, i know better now :-/

- let the canes cool in the oven
some people prefer to slice their canes straight out of the oven as the hot clay is softer. i work with a fan blasting at me at all times since it's mostly warm here (23-28 deg celcius), and the canes often cooled too fast. this makes for a more brittle cane. i tested it out today on the kiwi canes, and there -is- a significant difference to the hardness/brittleness of canes that have been left to cool in the oven vs one that's sliced fresh from the oven.


ok that's all i can think of right now. i'll probably add more or adjust this at a later time. hope this was helpful to you :) if it isn't, too bad, it's helpful to me and my failing memory XD XD XD


  1. These are some great tips! Thanks a lot! =) I am still practicing my canes. It's just too bad I only have access to fimo soft. I have to do the leeching thing with my translucent clay. I am looking forward to buying other clays while in the USA this summer. =)


  2. Cindy, you're awesome, thanks for sharing your caning knowledge. :)

  3. this is crazy...the more I look at ur posts the more I want to make these cute babies! but I bet its so hard, and I'm very far from patience... I have so much respect for you!

  4. great tips, Cindy! I have a question - what are end caps and how do you use them? I've always done my caning without them and I'm wondering what I've been missing...
    thank you so much!

  5. Hey there

    I see you recommend using end caps for cane reductions, but what exactly are they? Mind you English is not my native, so could you explain, pretty please :)
    Tnx a lot

  6. hey!
    i had the same problem with brittle canes made from polmer clay and i made some test with time and temperature and my conclusion was: at least 15 minutes in a pre-heated oven will reduce drastically the "brittleness"...and i keep them in the oven and slice half of the canes on the spot (easier and more fast cutting)...but it's not mandatory anymore....nowadays i just heat them in my hand to slice them...so i hope this helps

    Note: my canes are usually 5 mm wide

    Thanks for your shared experiences!

  7. oops i didn't get updates for old posts! Marcella and Marina, if you're reading this, end caps are just flat things (i've seen on youtube some lady used old CDs!) you place on the ends of the cane during reduction. it creates a suction so the different coloured clay centres don't 'sink in' as you reduce.

    glassattic has a very good post about reduction of canes:


    worth a read :) hope this helps (albeit too late i guess :( )

  8. Hey Anonymous, thanks for the tips but i've figured out (well, a long time ago, thank goodness!) my own problem was due to an incorrect oven temperature read. Best to get an oven thermometer and follow the baking instructions as per brand of polymer clay. properly baked canes eliminate the brittleness issue. :)

  9. Cindy, thank you so much, it's never too late for helpful answers ;)
    thanks for the link too, such a goldmine of tips!

    oh, and happy 2012 :))))


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