An Overview of Baking Air Dry Clay

I am a very impatient creature. It’s funny, considering my love for ceramics, where it can take weeks to bring a piece from start to finish. But when it comes to my other crafts, I want them finished, and I want them finished yesterday.


I'd been chasing a way to make the sculpting process go by faster, but until we got a toaster oven, it had been out of reach. We'd toyed around using a hair dryer to dry our sculptures faster, but your hand starts to cramp after a while and it doesn't really work. Just leaving work outside to dry in the sun works just fine as long as you remember to bring those back in in the event of rain. Air-dry clay doesn't play well with rain. And it's still slower than I wanted.



When we bought a toaster oven, we hadn’t really made a concentrated effort to switch over to polymer clay, but I had the immediate thought that we could use it to dry our air-dry work faster. It felt like it would be a step up from putting our sculptures on a cooling rack on top of our heater in the winter, and it could be done year-round.


If you’re anything like me, the thought of baking your air-dry clay might have also occurred to you too. So here’s what we’ve learned after puttering with our toaster oven.



1. Start Low & Slow:


We can't speak for every brand of air dry clay on the market, but it's a good idea not to push your clay too hard when you're still experimenting with it. Make sure you position your sculptures in the oven well away from the heating elements, and use the low or ‘warm’ setting on your (toaster) oven.


This may seem obvious, but since air dry clay is often made of paper fibers or something similar, it’s a lot easier to burn than polymer clay. And you can’t just sand away the surface if you manage to burn your work badly enough. If your air dry clay burns, you can count on having to sand away all the burnt parts and resculpting the destroyed area, which really defeats the idea of finishing your work faster.



You can just go ahead and sand, then paint over it to hide the discoloration, but do so at your own peril. Burnt clay is more prone to crumbling. In severe cases, like the photo below, we just sanded away all the burnt clay.


2. Watch for cracks:


Baking your air dry work can increase the risk of surface cracks (especially true of Creative Paperclay), leading to more touchups, which leads to more dry times, more sanding, etc. I usually ended up paying for baking my pieces by spending the time I thought I was saving in other areas of the process as a consequence. This wasn't always bad because it felt like I was making progress instead of just sitting and watching clay dry, but be aware that this may not actually save you time in the long run. Baking is really handy for setting a structural piece quickly, or for smaller additions though.



1. Safety first, and mind the smell:


Baking your air dry clay can be smelly. And inhaling those fumes is NOT good for you! So make sure that you've got good ventilation. If you’ve worked with polymer clay, you know that baking clay can be kind of stinky, and air dry clay is the same way.


DAS releases a smell pretty different from its wet smell, but not any less noxious. I would argue it’s a worse smell, and it takes a while to dissipate. If you plan to bake DAS, I hope you have a toaster oven that you can put in a far-away, well ventilated place. Sometimes I even plugged my toaster oven in outside. Creative Paperclay has a less noticeable smell as it bakes, but I still advise you bake it somewhere you’re not going to be smelling it. (Theresa says it smells sort of like shortbread cookies but I think that's a very generous description- makes me wonder what kind of shortbread cookies she's been eating...)


I am really sensitive to smell, and get headaches pretty easily, so this point goes double if you have sensory issues like I do. Read up on your brand of clay! Some manufacturers actually have specs and safe baking temps listed on their packaging.




So, that’s three points, and to summarize, 1, start slow. You don’t want to turn your beautiful work into ashes! 2, it can cause cracking and doesn’t always save time. And 3, make sure you are in a well-ventilated space! The baking process is stinky and you shouldn't breath that in.


If you’re ok with all these things, give it a try! While it may feel counter-intuitive sometimes to bake your air dry clay pieces given the dangers, it is nice to hurry along that drying process a bit. More sculpting, less waiting! That’s our logic, at least.


Ps. If you want to see the finished photos for some of the dragons pictured here, they're in the Dragon section of our gallery!

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