How to Carve Air-Dry Clay

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Air-Dry clay is a great crafting clay for beginners that air-dries within one day. But what do you do if your sculpture is dry and you forgot to change something or you want to change something about the sculpture after it has fully dried? Well, you can work with air-dry clay even after it has fully hardened it is just a little more complicated. In this article, I will show you exactly how to carve and sand air-dry clay properly.

As a whole, air-dry clay can be carved with a sharp knife, a scalpel, or a Dremel without any issues as long as the knife is sharp. Air-dry clay can also be sanded and filed to shape after it has dried. It is important to be very careful and delicate when carving air-dry clay as it breaks easily.

There are several ways to work with air-dry clay after it has dried, like carving the clay or sanding the clay. In this article, I will teach you exactly how to properly carve air-dry clay and what to watch out for when carving air-dry clay.

Carving Air-Dry Clay

There are several ways to carve air-dry clay. Probably the most widely known method is using a sharp knife or a carving scalpel to carve air-dry clay.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife or a scalpel for carving
  • a knife sharpener

The knife should be short and sharp. A regular short kitchen knife or a special scalpel for carving will be perfect for carving air-dry clay.

The knife sharpener is only needed to sharpen the knife if it gets too dull. Carving air-dry clay will dull your knife quite fast so using a knife sharpener is especially important if you have a bigger sculpture that you want to carve.

Sharpen the Knife

Before you start carving you should make sure that the knife is sharp enough to carve air-dry clay.

I personally test the sharpness of my knife on a scrap piece of dry air-dry clay to see if it cuts it well enough.

You shouldn´t need a lot of strength to cut through air-dry clay. So scrape the knife over the dried clay and if it doesn´t get caught along the way then it is sharp enough.

If it isn´t sharp enough then simply sharpen it with the knife sharpener until it is sharp enough.

Start Carving

There are some important things that you should always keep in mind while working with a sharp knife.

The most important rule that you should never break is to always cut away from your body never towards it.

The reason why this rule is so important is that if you ever slip with the knife then you won´t cut yourself if you have been cutting away from your body. And slipping will happen when you are carving air-dry clay.

And the second rule that you should never break is to keep your knife sharp.

Your knife will get dull while you carve air-dry clay and you should sharpen it as soon as you find that the knife isn´t cutting properly anymore. A dull knife tends to slip more often than a sharp one.

When you start carving with a knife try to apply even pressure and don´t try to force the knife to cut through the clay. Instead, you should carefully scrape the knife over the dry clay.

You can also turn the knife while applying some pressure to carve holes or controlled lines in the dry clay that you would not be able to sculpt on the surface of the clay.

Do be careful not to use too much force because air dry clay isn´t the most durable of crafting materials.

It isn´t fragile but it is also not extremely durable. You can read more about the durability of air-dry clay in another article that I wrote.

It is also recommended to seal air dry clay once you are done carving the clay to ensure its longevity. You can read everything about sealing air-dry clay in another article that I wrote.

If you want to know how to work with air dry clay including smoothing the clay before you even let it dry, then consider reading this guide.

Sanding Air-Dry Clay

Another way to carve air-dry clay is by sanding it with a file or with some fine-grit sandpaper. This method is a lot easier than using a knife.

I personally prefer using this method over carving air-dry clay with a knife simply because it´s faster and easier and I am used to this method by now.

I only use knives for carving when I can´t reach the spot with a file or when I want to carve something very detailed, where using a file would not work as well as a knife.

I use a wide variety of different sizes and kinds of files from wood files, all the way to jewelry files.

But you can also simply use some fine-grit sandpaper, wooden sticks, and some super glue to make your own customized files. Simply glue the sandpaper to the wooden sticks and you have a working file to carve your clay.

When carving air-dry clay it is important that you don´t use a lot of force.

Simply push the file down very lightly and carefully move it back and forth to remove some of the air dry clay. You can use rough-grit sandpaper to remove more material and fine-grit sandpaper to remove less.

Using a Dremel to Carve Air-Dry Clay

Finally, the last method to carve air-dry clay is using a Dremel with a carving tip. I personally prefer using the 2050 Dremel for most of my projects.

It is quite cheap and very versatile and it has more than enough RPM (Rotations per minute) for all of my needs.

You can buy it in your local hardware store or right here on Amazon.

When using a Dremel I prefer the round and the tipped carving bits for carving. You can carve a lot of details with them and it is probably the best choice if you want to carve very detailed surface details.

Just make sure that you don´t turn the RPM of your Dremel too high.

Test the bits on a scrap piece of dried air-dry clay to see if the setting is good. If the Dremel removes the material smoothly without any resistance then the settings are perfect.

It is also a good idea to only move the Dremel away from your body when using it just to make sure that you don´t hurt yourself if you should slip.

After you are done you should seal the air-dry clay sculpture to protect it from damage. You can read everything about sealing air-dry clay in another article of mine if you are interested.

Hi, I am a passionate maker and professional prop maker for the entertainment industry. I use my woodworking, programming, electronics, and illustration know-how to create interactive props and puzzles for Escape Games and marketing agencies. And I share my knowledge and my experience on this blog with you so that you can become a maker yourself.

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