How to lift polymer clay without stretching and distortion

Polymer clay distorted during liftingAvoid distorting your polymer clay when lifting it from your work surface. These four steps will help lift it without stretching.

If you attempt to remove polymer clay from your work surface using the same method you would use for other materials, you run the risk of harming the edges and altering the clay’s shape.

This is particularly challenging when working with thin rectangular pieces like walls and doors for buildings and where straight edges and consistent sizing are needed.

I have been working with polymer clay for many years, and I’ve learned a lot about how to lift and transport it without stretching or damaging it. One of the first things I learned when I started using polymer clay was how to make model buildings, such as fantasy hobbit houses and railway structures.

To do this, I would condition the clay, flatten it on the worktop, and then shape it into the rectangular, circular, or arched outlines needed for the doors, windows, and walls.

The problem came when I lifted these shapes up for baking in the air fryer. The clay stretched as it was pulled free and ended up with distorted edges, spreading out in uneven directions like a Dali clock, as seen in the photos above and below.

How NOT to lift up polymer clay

How NOT to lift polymer clay; rolling and picking at the edges.

After some trial and error, I learned what not to do, such as prying the clay off the surface with my fingernails or rolling up the edges which can cause stretching and dents on the edges but not how to stop it happening.

I went in search of a solution.

Having watched dozens of YouTube clips and worked through my supply of polymer clay reference books, I’ve eventually settled on a three-step technique for lifting clay off my workbench without trashing the size, shape and surface pattern.

Four step method for lifting clay without stretching

1. Use a firm clay

Many polymer clays are made to be easy to work with, particularly for children, which means they are soft and pliable. But for many projects where detailing and precise size and shape are important, this softness is a disadvantage as it doesn’t hold. Instead, use firmer clays. I use Super Sculpey Premo.

For other makes/brands that are too soft, leach them first to remove oils and other agents. This will firm them up making them less prone to unwanted expansion and compression.

2. Work on a smooth, glossy, surface

Since clay can easily adhere to porous materials, it’s best to work on a smooth, glossy surface, such as a sheet of tempered glass or a large glazed ceramic tile. This reduces the impact of any clinginess and allows the clay to be lifted easily and disengage freely. Sculpey covered this in more detail.

3. Use a blade and slide it under the clay

Use a rigid blade at a 45-degree angle to the work surface, and slide it under the clay in a single continuous movement. Use a rigid blade, as opposed to a tissue blade that may bend or flex, and ensure that the edge is against the work surface will lift the clay evenly along the length of the blade.

There’s a helpful overview of different polymer clay blades below.

Working in a single continuous movement at a consistent speed prevents the clay from attaching itself to the blade in the process and tearing bits off the surface. It’s also important to support the blade at both ends, applying equal pressure along the edge. Even now I still occasionally get carried away and rush this step, moving the blade too quickly or using one hand and then regretting it.

If you don’t have a blade,  aluminium foil can be used. But use the thicker variety, as found in preformed baking trays. Cut a rectangle of the length required and slide it under the clay in the same way as a knife.

4. Remove the clay

Once all of the clay has been lifted from the work surface, lift it vertically away while using the blade to support the underneath. Avoid holding it at the edges, which may cause pinching or stretching.

If the project is large, more than a couple of centimetres, using multiple blades and support it diagonally in an “x” pattern can help with sagging and resulting stretching.

Additional tips for lifting polymer clay

  • Cool the clay in a fridge for a few minutes before attempting to lift it. The temperature drop will make it less sticky while making it firmer. For small projects, I do this by working on a small tile that I can slip into the fridge I use for glues and the occasional beer 🙂
  • Ensure that your work surface is stable and won’t move under the clay. I use an old glass shelf that I’ve repurposed.
  • Use both hands on your blade, supporting each end.
  • Keep the blade at a 45-degree angle, it doesn’t have to be precisely 45 degrees but it mustn’t be flat to the work surface or perpendicular to the clay.
  • Watch out for fingerprints after lifting the clay. I avoid them by using nitrile gloves, but fingerprints can also be removed if you have an accident.
  • After lifting, support the clay from the underside, and don’t hold it by the edges or pinch it.

By following these tips, you can lift your polymer clay with accuracy and ease, without affecting its form or structure.


Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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