What is conditioning?

Conditioning is the process that makes polymer clay ready to work with. Most conditioning is done simply by working the clay with your hands until it reaches a good working consistency. The warmth of your hands combined with the physical process of stretching and compressing the clay changes its texture, making it softer and more pliable.

Why should I condition clay?

Conditioning clay softens it, making it easy to work with and mold. It also makes the clay stickier and less brittle, letting you roll thin sheets without causing the clay to crack and break.

Some clay brands so soft out of the package that you’ll be tempted not to bother with conditioning, but you will find that taking the time will improve both the workability of the clay and the strength of your fired pieces.

How do I condition my clay?

The simplest way to condition polymer clay is to work it with your hands for several minutes. Take a chunk of clay of a size you feel comfortable working with, half an ounce to an ounce or so, and begin squishing it between your fingers. As the clay warms and softens, start rolling it between your palms info a snake shape. Then move your hands against each other in a circular motion to compress the snake back to a ball. Repeat this process several times.

How long do I need to condition the clay?

The time can vary depending on the type of clay you are using, your style of conditioning, the amount of clay, and the temperature, but usually it takes something between three and ten minutes.

The clay’s texture changes during the conditioning process. As you get more experienced, you’ll be able to see and feel this change to tell when your clay is completely conditioned.

How can I speed up the conditioning process?

Conditioning large amounts of clay can take enough time and effort to be annoying, particularly if you have arthritis in the hands, or are using a stiff clay. There are a number of ways to make conditioning faster and less hard of the hands:

Pre-warming the clay
You can start the conditioning process by putting the clay in a warm place for fifteen or twenty minutes. Just be careful: excessive heat and ultra-violet light will cause the clay to start curing, making it unusable. Don’t put the clay in the sun. If you are using a heat source such as a lamp or heating pad, make sure the clay does not get much warmer than your body temperature.

Chopping the clay
Many artists use a food processor or chop up the clay. The small chopped bits are easier to work with than large chunks, and the friction of the blade warms the clay. After chopping the clay, you dump out the chopped bits, press them together with your fingers and continue conditioning as described above.

Adding softening agents to the clay

- Eberhard-Faber FIMO Mix-Quick. It is a solid block of extra plasticizer. You can add Mix-Quick to your clay up to a third of the total.

- You can also mix a few drops of mineral oil into polymer clay. Add only a small amount, as it is easy to overestimate the amount you need.

Using a pasta machine

Another method of conditioning is to press soft clay into a sheet and put it through a pasta machine, on the widest setting. Fold the sheet in half and put it through, fold first, and repeat this process ten or fifteen times. This method can be used on already somewhat conditioned clay.

Whichever method you use, make sure your clay is well conditioned before you use it, since under-conditioned clay can cause you problems in workability and reduce the strength of your finished items.

Is there such a thing as too much conditioning?

There is not. Some clays get softer the longer they’re worked and the warmer they get (e.g. Cernit). If your clay is getting too soft, you can let it rest for a few hours or chill for an hour or so to firm it up.

If you added too much Diluent or mineral oil, try flattening the clay into a sheet and placing it in between two or more sheets of printer paper, and leaving it overnight. The paper will absorb some of the oil and stiffen the clay. If the clay is still very soft, you can repeat the process with fresh sheets of paper. Make sure you do not use the paper with print on it, otherwise it will be imprinted on your clay and discolor it.