Sunday, June 8, 2008

Tutorial - How-to with a dremel tool and magic eraser

Hi Everyone,

Today's post is long with a lot of detours as I point out various bits and pieces. At Morrisburg a while back I did a tutorial on how to make the Michael Buessler beads and how I sand them. While people ooh-aahhed over the beads by far the most enthusiasm was for how I sanded them. I will post a bit on the beads later but here's how I go about my sanding (though there's a twist that I tried today that I didn't teach at Morrisburg).

What you need:
- dremel tool with assorted collets and drill bits
- drywall sandpaper
- 180 grit wet/dry sandpaper
- Mr. Clean magic eraser

If you have a dremel tool one of the most useful accessories is the dremel collet set which allows you to use various drill bit sizes. You can see a picture of the kit here here. The kits are cheap, particularly at this website since I paid more than 2x that at our local home depot.

The first step is to put the bead on the drill bit. When I make the beads I start with a hole in them, but if you don't have a hole, just drill a bit through - it's actually desirable to have the bit snug in the bead. It'll loosen up and I'll get to that in a bit.

Put some damp paper towel or rag underneath some drywall sandpaper. The damp paper towel keeps a lot of the dust down. For those that are concerned about clay dust, you may want to wear a dust mask during this portion. Couple of points: if the damp is too damp, you'll end up generating a nice spray of fine clay bits all over anything in the area. If it's too dry you'll end up generating more dust. Lay the drywall sandpaper on top.

I can't take credit for the drywall sandpaper idea, Cathy M from Guild taught us the value of this tool, and she got it from someone who got it from someone who got it from one of the clay greats...

You can see in the first section of the photo below (click on the photo to get a bigger image, I can't figure out how to make it larger in the blog) that I've roughly shaped the bead into a cylinder, but there are a lot of sharp edges on it. The bead is fully baked at this point.

If you're curious as to how I got the first three images together as one image, I brought them into Microsoft PowerPoint, grouped them, then clicked on the grouping and exported as jpeg.

IMPORTANT!!! Before touching the dremel tool to the sandpaper, make sure that you've got your speed set to the lowest speed. I didn't on one of the beads and I bent the mandrel that the bead was sitting on and the bead went flying off across the room. Which brings me to another MORE IMPORTANT point - wear protective eye covering since unusual things can and will happen.

OK, enough detour, back to the lesson. Turn on the machine and press it against the drywall paper. It should start to smooth out as you can see in the middle photo.

Sometimes what will happen is that the drill bit will go all the way through the bead and the bead will start spinning on the bit rather than the bit spinning the bead. This is OK, it just makes the process a bit slower. I'm not sure why it happens, on some beads it does and some it doesn't. For whatever reason the red beads that I made do this more than some of the other colours. If I get frustrated I'll move to a larger drill bit and that will last a while. I'm tempted to try to bake the bit into the clay and see what happens with that (though that's how I bent the mandrel). There's some trial and error here. Feel free to try to push down harder on the edges to give a more tapered bead (I'll show that in a different posting) and to flip the bead on the bit. You can also start experimenting with speeds, but go slow!

Eventually (in my photos it was about three - five minutes) you'll get the bead smooth as in the third part of the first photo. Now you're ready to move onto the sanding sponge. This is a sanding sponge that's 180 grit that I bought in the paint department of our hardware store. I dampen the sponge and hold the tool to the sponge. At this point there's quite a bit of spinning of the bead and it doesn't take any pressure at all to make the bead stop spinning while the bit continues. Adding more water seems to help. You'll generate a bit of clay sludge on the sandpaper - that's actually useful because it serves as a finer grinding surface and helps with the polishing. Once you've got it as smooth as you think you can get it (you want the big scratches removed from the first sanding), you're ready to move onto the next step. The sanding sponge if everything goes well takes maybe a couple of minutes tops. But, if you're futzing with the bead because it's so slippery on the bit then it'll take longer.

This next step is where I differed from what I taught at Morrisburg. I've been seeing things on the Internet alluding to the Mr. Clean Magic Erasers being good as clay tools(if you don't know what I'm talking about, you can go see it here) though I haven't seen anything concrete (I haven't been looking too hard). So I thought I'd try this today. Tore a piece off one of the ones that I had, dampened it and tried running the bead on it. Beauty!!! It took away all of the fine scratches with no problems and I was ready to move onto the buffing.

At this point my bead is way too loose on the bit to make it useful for buffing. I switched to one of my other dremel tool attachments. I'm a complete newbie when it comes to the dremel tool. My husband gave me one for Christmas and I've been experimenting with it on and off. So this piece looked like it might work on the bead. But, as you can see after a couple of minutes buffing, the bead broke because one of the slices separated. No big deal unless you're making a matched pair, just remove the slice and put the bead back on. I played around on a variety of surfaces with the buffing. A shop towel paper towel seems to work just as well as anything.

And here's the finished buffed piece. All told, it's probably 10 minutes of polishing, but no scraped fingernails, and no futzing for many minutes before baking the bead trying to get a perfect cylinder.

Hope this helps. If anyone else discovers some modifications to what I've said here that make things even easier, I'd love to hear about them.




Ali said...

Neat technique. Thanks for sharing.

Synthethis said...

Thanks for the tute! I've had a dremel for a long time but never used it for clay( well never after my first disastrous attempt.) I think I'll give it a try again.

Francine Johnson McGee said...

This is an amazing technique! I found your post through a link on Pinterest and wanted to make sure and thank you for sharing this technique! I have had a dremel for several years, but I don't use it nearly enough. I also have this big collection of polymer clay, in mostly earth tones, I was very lucky to find for the price of a medium flat rate mailer, and a bunch of colors I found for some equally amazing price at a thrift shop. I even have a flex drive for my dremel, the purchase of which I HIGHLY recommend, as it has made everything I have used my dremel for about 100 times easier.

Sooooo i really want to start using my dremel AND making beads. I can tell from looking at and reading this polishing tutorial, and that Magic Eraser bit is GENIUS. No matter who came up with the idea(s), they are just GENIUS, and you are incredible for sharing with the rest of us newbies!

I am excited to start making beads using the clay and the dremel! I even have a pasta machine, which really helps me with the conditioning of slightly old clay. I am looking forward to continue reading your blog, and perhaps actually starting to USE my supply.

Have a WONDERFUL day, and thanks again for sharing!