It's Easier Than You Think!
I was recently binge watching YouTube late one night and happened upon a great monster sculpt video by Jake Corrick, in which he mentions his favourite tool is a DIY rake tool. Constructed using a guitar sting and tubing, it worked wonders blending the details together in his Super Sculpy. He briefly mentions how it's made, so I decided to have a crack at producing a set. Let's get started and gather some materials!
- Low E String or Bass Guitar Strings (Roundwound)
- 5mm Brass Tubing
- Pipe and Tube Cutter
- Wire Cutters / Pliers
- Polymer Clay or Knead It Expoxy Putty
- Safety Glasses
- Tissue Blade
- Acrylic Roller / Pasta Machine
- Wire (optional extra or as an alternative)
1. Cut Your Tubing
First up, tubing. I could not find a mentioned anywhere online, a recommendation when it came to the most suitable diameter for DIY sculpture tools. I ended up going for 5mm brass tubing, though you could probably get away with 3mm if you wanted to save yourself a few bucks or make mini tools. Depending on the length of your tubing, you may need to cut it down to size. My tubes were 300mm long, so cutting them in half worked out pretty much perfectly. The easiest way to do this is using a tube and pipe cutter.
Measure and mark out your cut line with a sharpie, and clamp the tube into place. Twist the tubing, allowing the round blade to score the metal. Tighten down and repeat the motion. Continue until the blade has cut all the way through, leaving you with nice clean edges.
2. Condition Your Clay Well
Time to adhere your string cuttings to your tubing - you can either use polymer clay as instructed below, or else pick up some Knead it Epoxy Putty (as recommended in the comments by talented Artistic Training Consultant, Will Huntly).
Using an acrylic roller, start to work your piece of polymer clay. Roll it out, cut in half, stack, and roll out again. A pasta machine will speed up the process if you have one. I added a bit of Sculpy Mold Maker to help soften my old block. Since this is just for tools and doesn't need to be pretty, why not use up some of your old scrap clay?
It's very important to condition your clay before use to align the polymers - unconditioned clay may be brittle and easily break after baking. Keep working your clay until it's warmed up in your hands, becoming nice and pliable. You should be able to bend it without any splitting or cracking.
3. Cut Your Guitar or Bass Strings
When purchasing guitar or bass strings, make sure they are Roundwound to get the required tool texture. I purchased this set from Artist Guitars, as heavier strings were recommend by Jake to make these tools. However, after using them myself I believe it comes down to the sort of sculpts you are creating - if you make large pieces, heavier strings will work quickly and effectively to work the surface. If you make small or delicate prices, go for a lighter gauge. Purchasing a set of strings is a good way to go, as you can make yourself a range of tools to choose from.
Using wire cutters, snip off approx. 2 inches from each string - you can take it straight off the end, or closer to the centre for a thicker section. This is where safety glasses are a good idea, as pieces may ping off across the room. Try cutting with the wire against your lap to prevent this from happening.
4. Putting It All Together
Take your first string cutting and bend it carefully in half to form a "U" shape. You may prefer to use pliers, but I found it easy enough just with my hands. Poke it into the end of the brass tubing, squeezing the wire inwards and pushing down until it's securely anchored and your loop is at the desired size. Roll a small sausage of polymer clay and push into the tube and around the base of the loop. Roll between your fingers to smooth and make sure the inside of the loop is still clear and not obstructed. Now flip your tool around and repeat the process with another gauge of wire.
It’s Bake Time Baby!
Once you have made all of your tools, lay them on a ceramic tile or oven safe dish. The raw clay will stop them from rolling away. Preheat your oven and bake according to the instructions for your specific brand of clay. You can leave them to cool down in the oven after baking for additional strength. I was a bit concerned about air being trapped in the tubing, but didn't encounter any issues.
Once your tools are cool they are ready to use! If your guitar string eventually wears out, simple hold the end firmly and twist to remove the plug of baked clay. This will allow you to re-use the brass tubing and make a brand new one.
Can't get hold of guitar strings? Why not make some loop tools out of simple straight wire or twisted wire in a range of gauges and shapes? Or how about some custom texture tools to give your artwork a unique edge? Have dig around and see what you can find that has potential - have fun! x