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Conditioning Hard and Crumbly Clay

Conditioning Hard and Crumbly Clay main article image
Posted on April 4, 2022 by Anj Parma

I have a lot of old, crumbly clay and because of the current clay shortage, I really want to make sure that none of my clay goes to waste.

I’m sure that other clay crafters have their preferred way of softening hard and crumbly clay, but what I’m sharing with you today are my four favorite ways of making old clay useable again. 

The first is the classic way which is just to just condition your clay. I first use my own fingers’ warmth and then pass the clay through my pasta roller. I normally set my roller into the thinnest setting just to really press the crumbs together. My test to see if the clay is already conditioned enough is to roll it into a ball or into a log.  The pro of doing this method is that you don’t need to add anything to your clay. The con is that it will take a bit of time to get your clay to the level that you can use and mold it without crumbling.

The second way that I like to do it is to add a bit of soft translucent clay. This will make it easier for the dry, crumbly clay to stick together. Run it through the pasta machine again until the clay doesn’t come apart. Note that there will be a very slight color difference when we add translucent clay. The pro of using this method is that it takes less time to condition the clay. The con is if you are very specific in color, you might not like the subtle change in color. Another con may be that the clay may turn too soft. If this is the case, simply put it into the fridge for a bit so that the clay can be easier to handle.

The third way (my favorite way) of softening clay is by hitting it with a hammer or a mallet. I have a small craft hammer, and I use this whenever I work with super hard clay. I cut my clay up, put it inside a plastic bag to keep all the crumbs together, and then I just pound on my clay until they stick together. The pro of using this method is that again it takes less time to condition your clay, which is ideal for someone like me who has wrist problems. The con is that you have to get a small hammer, and you also have to have a surface that you can hit repeatedly.

And the last way is to hit the clay with the hammer, but also to add a little bit of liquid Sculpey. As I hit the clay with the hammer, I fold in the clay with the liquid Sculpey. This just speeds up the process of softening the clay. The con is that some of you may not have liquid Sculpey on hand, so it’s another material that you’ll need to have. Another con is similar to adding translucent clay, you may find that there is a slight deviation in color. The pro is the time that it takes to condition the clay is cut down.

I hope you find my tips help to increase the lifespan of your clay!

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