Playing with polymer clay is a wonderfully creative and enjoyable activity, but there’s one major hurdle that can dampen your creative spirit.
Like many artists, I choose not to carry out my polymer clay activities in the kitchen. Instead, I retreat to my studio/workshop nestled at the bottom of my garden. This secluded spot, complete with its own electrical supply, is the ideal location for all my model-making pursuits. However, despite the convenience and comfort, there is one significant drawback when it comes to making models with polymer clay in this dedicated space.
Once I have shaped and sculpted each creation, I have to transport it to the kitchen for baking. This not only disrupts my creative flow but also requires constant presence to ensure the clay is not overcooked or undercooked. The repetitive and tiresome task of shuttling my creations from the kitchen and back again and lurking in the kitchen to watch them shatters my concentration and stifles my creativity.
Not only is using a domestic oven for polymer clay inconvenient it’s also an expensive method. Think of it like using a jet engine to blow out a candle – it’s hugely inefficient in terms of both energy and money, especially with the current surge in energy costs. The large oven takes time and effort to heat up, all for small projects that only measure a few centimetres in size. It’s not only wasteful, but it can also lead to overcooked or undercooked creations.
Furthermore, the clash between my hobby and family mealtime creates a conflict. Hobbies should be a source of relaxation and enjoyment, but instead, my passion for polymer clay was causing unnecessary stress and arguments.
In short, finding a more suitable and efficient way to bake my polymer clay creations was imperative. And doing in the kitchen wasn’t working. It was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole; it simply did not work.
I started looking for a solution to this problem and came across an interesting idea – using an air fryer for polymer clay.
What are air fryers?
If you’ve not come across these before, they’re kitchen appliances that cook food by circulating hot air in a small area. Think deep-fat fryer without the oil. Their small internal area means the air gets to the desired temperature faster, They’re well known for being more cheaper to run than traditional ovens as explained here, and take less time to cook (as explained here), or in the case of polymer clay bake.
Air fryers for polymer clay
At first, I was sceptical. Could polymer clay be baked in an air fryer? After doing some research, I found out that many people have successfully used this method (as discussed on Reddit here) with great results so decided to give one a go.
There’s little difference in the actual process of using an air fryer compared to a traditional over, hot air swirls around the self-contained area, heating the clay up and baking it so the polymers melt. In fact, not only is there no major difference, but air fryers can be better. Because the air is circulating, it doesn’t build up in spots, as it can in an oven, leading to dark spots in the clay – as mentioned in the above conversation on Reddit.
I came across a variety of compact, sleek models that seemed to hold great promise
Being small, they wouldn’t occupy a lot of space in my workshop so would be close to hand – I could pop projects in them and keep an eye on them while continuing work on other things. In theory, they’d be much cheaper to bake polymer clay in and importantly they would be no more conflict with other members of the family.
I opted for the budget-priced, Chefman TurboFry 2 Litre Air Fryer, which I found on Amazon.
At a compact 20.3 x 22.9 x 27.9 centimetres, it doesn’t occupy much space on a worktop but still holds 2 litres, and while this wouldn’t be enough if used to cook meals for our family of three and occasionally four, it’s more than enough for the small clay creations I make. Its black sleek styling also doesn’t look out of place amongst the other tools and appliances I have on my workbenches (my desktop sander and Dremel for example)
It has temperature control and can handle the temperatures required for polymer clay — a number of other units I considered couldn’t do this — and has a built-in timer function. Although I use it nearby, a timer is still handy to have as I tend to get engrossed when working on something and it would be easy to forget I’ve left clay in it and avoid burning or under-baking.
I’ve been using it for a few weeks now with Fimo, and Sculpey Premo clays and I’m amazed at how much easier and quicker my projects are coming together. It’s easily the best air fryer for Fimo that I’ve found.
I can condition my clay, make the initial pieces (eyes for a figure, the frame for a model house window or a fairy door for example), and place them into the fryer while continuing to work on the next piece. By the time it’s finished, I have other elements ready, and the model can be assembled and put back into the fryer for final baking.
While this is working, I can tidy up my workspace or work on something else while keeping an eye on the fryer. No loss of concentration or creativity. (The quiet operation of this particular air fryer also helps in this – it’s a subtle hum).
The lower running costs have also proven correct, my electricity bill is already lower, and there are no more arguments at mealtime or discussions about the lingering smell of baked polymer clay lingering around.
Tips for using an air fryer with polymer clay
Having used it for a while, there are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up to using air fryers will clay.
- Preheat your air fryer. To ensure that your clay bakes evenly and thoroughly, it’s important to preheat your air fryer before use. It will of course be cheaper to preheat an air-fryer than a traditional oven as the area to heat is smaller.
- Use a thermometer. While most air fryers, including the one tested here, come with built-in temperature controls, it’s always a good idea to use a thermometer to double-check that your air fryer is reaching the desired temperature. This can help prevent under or over-baking your clay pieces.
- Use a timer. Set a timer for your baking time to ensure that you don’t over-bake your polymer clay. Most polymer clay brands recommend baking for 15-30 minutes per 1/4 inch of thickness, but you’ll want to check the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific clay brand to be sure. As mentioned, the Chefman TurboFry 2 Litre Air Fryer has a built-in timer with a little ping at the end.
- Let your clay cool before handling. After baking, let your polymer clay cool completely before handling it. This will help prevent any warping or cracking that can occur if you handle the clay while it’s still warm.
- Finally, and hopefully, obviously but I mention it here for good measure, don’t put cooking oil into the air fryer when baking polymer clay!
Overall, using an air fryer to bake polymer clay has been a game-changer for me.
It’s a simple solution to a frustrating problem, and it has made my crafting process much more enjoyable. If you’re in a similar situation, I highly recommend giving it a try. And if you’re looking for a budget but very suitable, air fryer, I suggest checking out the Chefman TurboFry 2 Litre Air Fryer, on Amazon. It’s definitely worth the investment.
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