Product Review: Atlas Pasta Drive Motor

Pasta Drive

Four Stars Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

After several years as a slave of my hand-cranked

pasta machine (and sufferer of sore shoulders), I decided to get a pasta machine motor. A Christmas gift certificate helped make the purchase a much easier decision, but I felt that with all the claying I do, it would be worth the investment regardless of the cost.

I researched prices and found that Polymer Clay Express had the most reasonable deal ($80, as opposed to around $100 on other sites), so I placed my order for my Pasta Drive along with a nifty little accessory–a foot pedal ($18) similar to a sewing machine pedal. I’d be able to turn the machine on and off without using my hands–a nice feature when you’re working with a large or long piece of clay.

I receved the motor in good order. However, I found out that the older Atlas machine that I have didn’t have the requisite holes drilled around the crank case to attach the motor! Fortunately, I had another machine that had the drilled plate, so I did a little switcheroo and had a machine ready to motorize.

The machine has a crank shaft similar to the end of the crank handle plus two little catch bolts that secure and hold the motor to the machine. Ten seconds of fiddling and fitting (well, ten minutes and ten seconds, if you add the time it took to find and replace the plate), and I had a motor ready to go. I plugged it into my foot pedal, set my rollers on a #1 setting and I was ready to go. I had some clay flattened to get through the rollers–I know that if you put in too much clay at a time, you can really stress the engine–and I pressed down on the pedal to get the motor running.

WOW! LOUD LOUD LOUD! The motor is extremely loud. Almost ear-plug loud. I put the slab of clay through the machine, and the machine got louder and a bit slower until the clay was through. I folded and put the clay through again and went through normal conditioning, lickety-split. It was really nice to condition the clay in this manner, but I have to say that the noise could and will get very irritating in a short amount of time. However, the good thing about a foot pedal is that you don’t have to have the machine constantly on. You can turn it off and on easily and have your hands free at all times.

I took my slab of clay through the various settings of the pasta machine and found the performance of the motor to be just fine. However, I began to smell a bit of burning, and I immediately stopped the machine.

The nice thing about the polymer clay community is that there are a lot of people willing to help you with questions or problems. In order to find out what’s normal with this motor, I went to the Polymer Clay People Yahoo Group and asked people what was normal regarding noise, the burning smell and longevity of the motor. In no time at all, I had my answer:

- Yes, the noise level is normal. The slowing of the motor as it’s working is normal. Just don’t try to cram a bunch of clay through the machine; you should only put a sheet through that’s double or 3x the thickness of the setting at MOST.

- Yes, the burning smell is normal. Sometimes the motor burns off some of the oil used to lubricate the motor during manufacturing. The burning smell will subside.

- Yes, the motor lasts for a long time. People have quoted years of use with no end in sight.

These key pieces of information made me much more comfortable with my purchase. As we all know, when we’re unfamiliar with something, it’s always nice to hear that others have had the same experiences and the experiences are normal. That’s one of the reasons I’ve started this blog.

So, the Pasta Drive gets 4 stars out of 5. The noise kicked it down a notch. :-) I’m looking forward to less soreness in my shoulders and many more days of clay.

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Product Review: Makin’s Clay Professional Ultimate Clay Machine

1 Star 1 star (out of 5)

Suggested Retail Price: $50 – $60

Makin’s® Clay is on version 2 of the Ultimate Clay Machine. Unfortunately, their 2nd try solves one problem and creates another.

In April 2006, Makin’s Clay stopped production of its Ultimate Clay Machine. This new machine initially showed real promise. It was the only commercial “pasta” machine that touted non-stick rollers, wider rolling area (around 7″), and 9 thickness settings. No other machine had the same unique features.

It’s unfortunate that these unique features have caused great headaches for the Makin’s people. The way that pasta machines…er…clay machines work is that clay is rolled between two rollers. Below the rollers, “scrapers” keep the clay from continuing round and round the rollers–they scrape the clay off the rollers and the clay comes extrudes out below. The scraper blades are made of metal and are fairly sharp, and they tend to touch the rollers to ensure that material doesn’t continue to stick on the rollers.

This core design was troublesome for the 1st Makin’s machine. When the scraper blades touched the non-stick coated rollers, they scraped grooves into the non-stick coating at the points of contact. And when you rolled your clay through, those light grooves translated into grooves and texture onto your clay. The grooves were minor, but you could see them clearly on the rollers, and lightly on the clay.

This grooving happened to me on the very first use of the original machine. I contacted the vendor who sold me the machine, and she refunded my money. Walnut Hollow, the US distributor of the Makin’s Machine (the machine is manufactured by Hong-Kong based Sino Harvest Limited), picked up the machine via FedEx at their cost.

I thought this was the end of it, but Walnut Hollow mistakenly sent me the version 2 machine a few weeks ago. Being the curious sort that I am, I decided to test the machine. First, I read the instructions, and cleaned the machine as advised. I then took some black Kato Polyclay that I conditioned in my Atlas machine, and ran it through the #1 setting of the Makin’s Machine. I immediately noticed a scraping across the top surface of the clay–as if I had scraped a wide object across the clay and marred the surface. I folded the clay and ran it through #1 a couple of times and noticed the same scraping. This was a bad sign.

At #2, there was still scraping. At #3, more still. At #4, I had a piece of clay that was rippled on the top, with fairly deep ripples but no tearing. This rippling got worse as I set the machine thinner. This wasn’t going well.

I cleaned the machine and tried with some unconditioned clay–maybe my clay was too soft. I took some unconditioned black Kato Polyclay and flattened it with my acrylic roller. I put it through a #1 and saw the top scraping. I conditioned it on #1, folding and rolling as usual. Still some marring. And when it was getting conditioned and as I rolled it through successively thinner settings, the same rippling occurred. I also tried with some softer clay, some metallic clay, etc. The result was the same.

I turned the machine over and found the culprit–they had replaced the metal scrapers with plastic, and it was apparent that the polymer clay was sticking to or scraping against the plastic. The friction from this plastic on plastic is causing the surface marring at #1 and the rippling at #4 and beyond. HOWEVER, and this is a big HOWEVER, not everyone that has been using the new machine has experienced the same issues as I have. BUT some others have.

I contacted Walnut Hollow regarding the error and regarding the issues with the clay, and they once again sent FedEx to pick up the machine. They also sent me a technical sheet regarding use of the machine. The thing to note is this. Makin’s clearly states, “The Ultimate Clay Machine™ works best with Makin’s ® Clay. Results may vary if machine is used with brands of clay other than Makin’s Clay. Because we have no control over the manufacturing and distribution process of clays other than the Makin’s ® brand (including but not limited to ingredients; formula; nor storage, shipping or handling methods), we cannot guarantee the quality or consistency of results you may experience using the machine with other clay brands. Your results may vary depending on brand of clay used. The information on this technical sheet is presented in good faith, but no warranty is given, nor results guaranteed.

The net of it? Well, my old Atlas was abused through some very rough handling by the USPS when I sent it to and from my vacation spot. I was hoping to replace it with the Makin’s machine, but given my experience with 2 poor designs, I’m going back to the Atlas. The Atlas 180 has the wider (7″) rolling surface and 9 thickness settings. All it doesn’t have is the non-stick rollers. Given that Makin’s is suggesting the use of cornstarch, deli sheets or waxed paper in case of sticking when rolling thin sheets–the things we do with the regular steel rollers without a non-stick coating–and given that the prices of the Atlas 180 and the Makin’s machines are relatively the same, there is no advantage, and some risk, in purchasing the Makin’s machine for use with anything other than Makin’s Clay.

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Book Review: Polymer Clay–Creative Traditions

5 Stars Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

belcher.jpgBuy From Amazon

Books have been my main source of instruction and inspiration for polymer clay. I learn well from many forms of instruction, and books give me the opportunity to try things at my own pace–without distraction.

There have been many books published on polymer clay (I’ll be writing about some of them through this blog), and while most have something positive to offer, there are a few stand-out publications. “Polymer Clay: Creative Traditions” by Judy Belcher is one of these stand-outs.

You’ve probably seen Judy on HGTV’s Carol Duvall Show. She’s an incredibly talented artist with an eye for color and style. With this book, she applies her unique style and techniques used in other art forms (other creative traditions, as the book is titled) to polymer clay:

  • Glass: Lampwork, mosaics, fused/slumped glass
  • Metal: Mokume gane, enameling
  • Fiber: Ikat fabric, Bargello, Kente cloth, mudcloth, batik, quilting
  • Painting/Drawing Styles: Georgia O’Keeffe, Gustav Klimt, M.C. Escher, Georges Seurat, Jackson Pollock
  • Stone, Bone and Wood: Chatoyant stone techniques, bone simulations, wood simulations, intarsia
  • Sculpture and Ceramics: Sculpture, Ceramics (e.g. Raku), printed decoration

There are 21 technique demonstrations that range in difficulty from “beginner” to “intermediate” clay skills. My favorite is the two-color testellation, which Judy also demonstrated on a Carol Duvall Show appearance. The demos are filled with step-by-step color photographs–a must for the more advanced techniques. The book is filled with examples of both the original art form as well as clay pieces that mimic or adapt the original technique.

What sets this book apart? It is both inspirational, with a huge gallery of beautiful art in each section, as well as instructional, with detailed instructions and photographs of each piece. While there are gallery items for each technique demonstration, the focus is on understanding the technique and how it can be applied–not on creating a specific project. This may turn some beginning clayers off, but what I like about this approach is that it gives you ideas to use within your own artwork–a jumping ON point for you to enable new design techniques to energize you and spur your creativity. This book is eye candy, it’s fuel for the creative soul, and it’s one that I have read over and over, each time gaining some new insight to infuse into my work.

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What to do? What to do?

I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to convey with this blog. While I’ve been working on new art, I have been sharing that artwork through other venues (one of my favorites is Flickr). There are a lot of blogs out there about creative processes, but one of the things I really like to do is share what I know or have learned–especially about new products.

I do buy a lot of tools and materials to experiment with, but I have become increasingly aware of the mounting costs of these purchases. I thought it would be nice to be able to go somewhere and get a frank opinion–good and bad–about new products on the market that people could rely upon. It’s just one person’s opinion, but when you’re trying to make a buying decision, that information could save time and money. I’d like to attempt to make that happen here.

It has been a long time since I first created this blog, and I’ve finally decided on a direction. I hope you like it!

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A Year of Clay

One year ago, I discovered the wonders of Polymer Clay. I’m an avid crafter and weekend artist, and during my annual “decompression” vacation to Maui last March, I decided to try my hand at polymer clay. That initial two weeks of discovery has blossomed into a full-blown obsession and love of this medium. Today, I’m creating jewelry, boxes and figures, and other items for gifts or sale. Whatever can fit in my convection oven (and doesn’t melt) is fair game to be covered in polymer clay. My husband, a weekend woodturner, and I have collaborated on some turned vessels with polymer clay accents, and we are continuing to experiment with both mediums as our two artistic journeys converge.

For those of you who have never heard of polymer clay, it is an oven-cured, PVC modeling material. Initially discovered in the late 1930′s in Germany, this versatile medium has been in wide use by artists in the U.S. for the last decade, and is finally beginning to gain recognition as a fine art material (rather than a “craft” material) due to the skill and artistry of many professional polymer clay arists and designers.

This week has been a banner week for me. Last year, I was invited by Donna Kato to participate in her second annual polymer clay contest for her company and clay line, Kato Polyclay. Seventy artists were invited to create items made from the Kato Polyclay product line with the theme of “boxes.” During the recent Craft and Hobby Association (CHA) trade show in Atlanta, these entries were judged by a panel, and my piece, “Donnelly’s Sampler,” won second place! I was so honored to even have been invited to participate, that I never imagined that I would win a prize!

It has been a wonderful year of discovery, experimentation and sheer fun. This blog will be dedicated to my experiments and trials in polymer clay, including my experimentation with other mediums that mingle with clay.

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