TOOLS A few bead baking tools

"How do you bake your beads?" Not THE burning question of the day, is it? ;-)  That's mainly because baking polymer clay beads is not a fussy process. Really, it isn't, at least when compared to many other materials.

However, when the discussion comes up, I never had a quick and easy way to show folks what I use. Tis time to change that! I have three tools/ways to bake beads, depending mostly on their shape, size and the number of beads.

  • "W" folded index cards
  • a soft fluffy 'earth bed'
  • a wooden bead rack

And then a recent visitor to my site mentioned I that I didn't mention the most important tool of baking - the oven I use! Good point. This remedies that.


"W" folded index cards
The simplest tool is a folded index card. This paper is ideal because it is easy to fold but is stiff enough to hold its shape when it holds small beads. It really helps to keep those roly poly beads from running everywhere.



a soft fluffy 'earth bed' feels like a nice bed to my beads, anyway. When it comes to raw clay shapes like those big lentils and any other shape I won't tolerate flat spots due to the beads resting on a flat surface during baking. I place them on a nice soft bed of fluffy diatomaceous earth covered with some tissues or toilet paper.

I gently stir the earth with a pencil or stick, then place the tissue on top. If no diatomaceous earth handy for you, try baking soda or some other powder.

I carefully place the beads on the tissue. Place carefully because the powder can poof up and stick to the raw clay beads.

  The earth and tissue conform to the bead curves and supports it nicely during baking.


a wooden bead rack
This is the most elaborate setup I use. It's great for baking a large number of small to medium sized beads. It consists of 5 1foot long 1.5" wide flat wood molding strips; two that serve as the base and three that serve as the ribs. Add to that several hardened steel wires. It took me a few minutes to staple gun together.

What surprised me is this modest staple-joined rack has lasted about 10 years now, through several cross country moves!

Those spots you see on the wood are caused by the oils in the wood seeping to the surface during bakings. The notches help keep those wires settled in one spot.

My beautiful, wonderful oven!
This is a Sharp microwave/convection oven. It's about 25 years old now. And it's still ticking just fine, thank you. I select the temperature specified, i.e. 275 for my old Fimo and Premo then punch in 60 minutes. Yes, 60 minutes.
I don't care to calculate and I know the clay won't burn if baked at the right convected temperature for that length of time.

I absolutely love these kinds of ovens, because:

  • convection is a much better baking environment, especially for polymer clay,
  • it's digital, so I have to punch in the baking time; it's impossible to bake longer than intended
  • I don't need to do tenting because of the convection environment.

But it's not a cost-effective suggestion, especially for those who are looking for a second polymer clay dedicated baking appliance. But if you find a good used one at a nice price... count your lucky stars.

What about the fumes and smell? Some folks worry about the fumes generated by baking and want to dedicate a separate oven just for polymer clay, placing it in a whole different part of the house or even outside. To use your kitchen oven or not - it's actually a controversial topic! However, I don't worry baking polymer clay in my home because:

  • I knew a polymer clayer who, for over 10 years, baked in her kitchen oven who also had small birds (parakeets or canaries) in her kitchen. The birds suffered no ill respiratory effects.
  • I knew a jeweler who had severe respiratory problems and sensitivities after working years in jewelry business where she was exposed to lots of chemicals that damaged her lungs. She started working with polymer clay to keep some creativity in her life. She initially worried about the baking fumes. After a few years, she still had not noticed any breathing problems.
  • There's far more gasing out from all the polyesters and plastics such as, well... nearly everything made of plastic in our homes (computers, appliances, furniture, carpets, etc.) and vehicle interiors. I'm not going to put in extraordinary effort towards quelling a little polymer clay bake gasing that appears to be no more harmful than everything else in my environment.
  • I don't bake often.
  • However, for production level work or if you're hypersensitive to the smell (which not offensive, just distinctive), an oven just for polymer clay might be a good idea. ;-)

What about toaster ovens? Sorry folks, I feel a toaster oven is the worst baking device for polymer clay. Admittedly, it's possible to find a decent one, but it's easier to find lousy ones. They may be adequate for toasting appetizers and bread, but polymer clay needs a stable temperate environment to cure properly. Reasons I have concerns about using toaster ovens for baking polymer clay:

  • Most toaster oven brands fluctuate too broadly in temperature; they're not designed for precision baking. They'll might *average* the temperature setting, but can cycle 25-75 degrees +/- that average.
  • The space near the heating elements in the little chamber is too hot; the area near the door isn't hot enough. And the temperature can vary quite a bit due to simple drafts or power draws if the oven is on the same circuit from other electrical devices. Consequently, most often, toaster ovens will either underbake, burn or do both.
  • They have virtually no sweet spot (where the tempeature is spot on). Standard sized convention ovens have larger sweet spots. Convection ovens have the largest sweet spots.

Still, I can't afford some fancy schmancy oven. What can I do? There are a couple/few things you can do to counteract the toaster and regular oven deficiencies. I'd recommend getting a separate oven thermometer. Most ovens are pretty inaccurate anyway. Place your clay items on an index card or whatever, place that on the baking tray and cover with a baking dish. This will create a more stable temperature environment. Then, disregard any timing recommendations on the clay package - bake for an hour at the recommended temp as indicated by your oven thermometer (not your oven dial).

There's nothing better than having a great tool when you need it.


Last update to this page: 18 Mar 09. Send comments, questions or suggestions to Desiree McCrorey.