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    Thread: Using Air Dry clay for Tarantula hides

    1. #1
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      Using Air Dry clay for Tarantula hides

      Some time ago, NewSpiderMom alluded to using clay to make custom hides for tarantulas. After contacting the Crayola company, a spokesperson gave me the entire ingredient list of their Air-Dry clay. After reviewing the ingredient list, I felt certain that the Crayola brand of clay would be safe for tarantulas. The 'Terra Cotta' color clay does have Red dye #4 in it, I personally felt that the natural off-white clay would be a safer option. Beyond this dye in the terra cotta clay, all other ingredients are either clay, or milk or egg-based products. As of this writing, my pretty little pulchra, Alandra has had a clay hide for 9 months, and absolutely adores it. Pic below shows Alandra in her hide.... or 'bomb-shelter', or something, LOL!

      Click image for larger version. 

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      Attachment 1065

      Intermediate Tools and Techniques

      Below are shown a few of the most common tools. The item on the far left is a clay extruder, they cost about $15, and can be used to make elaborate shapes, such as my 'Spaghetti and Meatball' hide.





      Below are some plastic sheets used to texture clay. These are designed primarily for polymer clay, such as Sculpty, but are equally useful with ordinary clay. Sets of these sheets can be purchased from Amazon.com for around $5.00.


      Common tools

      Clay can easily worked with just your bare hands, but tools can be bought, or even made from wooden doweling, for more advanced techniques. What I consider essential tools are marked with an asterisk (*)

      - Crayola Air-Dry clay *

      - Clean, non-porous work surface *

      - One or 2 dishes of warm water *

      - Damp, smooth cloth *

      -Acrylic or wood roller to smooth clay (cost from about $8-12, also 1.5"-2.5" doweling can be used, but sand it well) *

      - Clay 'slurry' (clay and water mixed to the consistency of very heavy cream) *

      - Metal or bamboo clay scraper (I prefer the metal ones, prices range from about $1.75 for the common steel ones, to $16 for imported bamboo scrapers) *

      - various clay molding tools (prices vary widely, but a basic set can be found for $8-10, while a 'semi-pro' set of tools might cost up to $40.) I do not recommend plastic tools made primarily for children, as these are not durable enough for regular use. The best tools are usually made of bamboo or acacia wood, with the occasional steel or aluminum tool. While the initial investment can be a little high, better made tools will last a very long time. I still have clay working tools I inherited from my grandmother.
      - sharp single-edged razor and X-acto blades, for cutting 'doors' in clay, 'squaring up' clay pieces, cross-hatching clay pieces to assemble them, etc. Obviously, observe ALL safety precautions when using blades, keep any children and pets away, always cut AWAY from yourself, and only use a blade when you are alert, and fully awake. Work only in a clean, well-lit area. Yes, it's true a SHARP blade is less likely to injure a person, a dull blade can slip, or 'bounce'. Sadly, I do know of what I speak here... *

      - different grades of sandpaper, to smooth clay pieces, coarse sandpaper can also be used to texture damp clay. I recommend 'emery cloth', as this type can be used wet or dry, and lasts far longer than traditional 'sandpaper'. *

      - one natural and one synthetic sponge, for textured clay, and to smooth rough edges*

      - small battery-powered, or AC powered fan to aid in drying

      - raised, stable platform for elaborate clay pieces. A turntable-type would be ideal here.

      - various decorative items to make impressions or patterns in clay *

      - rather stiff, short bristle paintbrush (I confess that I don't know the 'real' name for these, I have heard them called 'scruffy' brushes.. basically, I use a very old, beaten up brush that's 'past its' prime', so to speak.) For texturing clay, and smoothing edges. *

      Click image for larger version. 

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      Many people may have some of these supplies at home already. Others can be purchased online (Amazon.com carries a wide variety of clay working tools) , at local art supply stores, I have even bought decorative items for clay patterns at resale shops, or rummage sales.

      Part 1: Basic Techniques

      To begin, just PLAY with the clay! It will usually be rather stiff when it is first worked. Water can be added to this clay, and kneaded, to loosen it slightly, and make it easier to work with. Monitor the dampness of your clay carefully, the goal is to keep clay workable, but never soaking wet. Add water slowly, especially if you are new to working with it. It's easy to add more water to clay, but can take some time and effort to 'dry' out clay that is too wet. Also, excessively wet clay will not hold details.
      The key to minimize any cracking or breaking of a clay piece, is to allow it to dry out in a slow, controlled manner. I generally allow my pieces to dry next to a small fan for about 6 hours, and then to move it near a gentle heat source. I have gas forced-air heat, and have found that allowing pieces to cure slowly next to a furnace register (think 'indirect heat') will keep cracking to a minimum. For durability, Crayola recommends pieces be a minimum of 1/4" thick. Work slowly and carefully with thinner pieces, as they are prone to crack or break until fully cured. Full cure takes approximately 36 hours, in most cases. When cured, the clay is rock-hard, and fairly durable

      Click image for larger version. 

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      The picture below shows common clay working tools. The tool on the left is a clay extruder, which can make very interesting efects, such as my 'Spahgetti and One Meatball' hide.

      Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails ClayToolsScaled.jpg  
      Last edited by marcfrick2112; 07-02-2011 at 07:18 PM. Reason: Updated
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    3. #3
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      Part 2:

      First of all, don't get discouraged when a piece doesn't turn out right, or if it breaks. Until you get a 'feel' for the clay, it may be a little tricky to work with. Broken pieces can be re-assembled by coating both surfaces with warm clay slurry, and applying gentle, even pressure to both pieces. After that, resist the temptation to 'mess' with it too much... IME, this is when clay is most prone to break. Remember, small imperfections can be sanded out later. Clay can also easily be added to a piece that is already cured. To do this, I usually wet the cured clay, allowing it to slightly soften in that area, and join the 2 pieces in the manner above.

      So then, what should you make? The sky is nearly the limit. Here is one of my 'novelty hides', and 2 decorative items made for an 'undersea theme hide' I am working on.

      Click image for larger version. 

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      Above is my infamous 'spaghetti and one meatball' hide, made mainly because of a dare by another forum member. LOL! The 'noodles' were made using the clay extruder, directly over the hide form, as these thin strips of clay are quite fragile. I tried to make as many noodle strands touch as many others as I could, gently pressing them in place when needed. This is not really a practical design, it is mainly to show just what can be done with clay.
      Click image for larger version. 

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      Above are 2 decorative items made for an unfinished undersea theme. The 'coral' or 'sea snakes', or whatever they are, are just pieces of clay rolled into 'snake' shapes, tapered at the ends, and then twisted around each other, all by hand. As you can see, the tips of many of these broke off, I eventually just left them as is. The texture on the base was made by wetting the base well, and using combinations of coarse sponges, and coarse sandpaper to texture the surface, done after the 'coral' was attached and cured.

      Painting
      You will notice I painted these. The safest paint to use around inverts is a non-toxic watercolor. Water will, of course, soften this clay, so be careful to not over-wet the clay while painting. Work slowly, painting small sections at a time. I use a kids' watercolor set made in Russia for about $8 at a local art supply store.

      And 2 more pics... The 'Ruined wall' was patterned using decorative buttons, an old bend-up thumbtack, and my hands. The 'Roman Ruins' were made with one of the pattern sheets shown in the first post.
      Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails ClayRuins.jpg   RomanRuins.jpg  
      Last edited by marcfrick2112; 05-28-2011 at 06:00 PM.
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      Ah this is an awesome thread, ive always wanted to make Sandwich his own little castle..and now i can yayy

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      she likes it!

      Laila enjoying a clay decoration I made for her... Well, after she filled it, and her water dish with sub. LOL!

      Click image for larger version. 

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      Part 3: Intermediate and advanced techniques

      Elaborate clay pieces can be made by assembling smaller pieces, as I mentioned earlier. To make even-thickness slabs of clay, a square frame can be made of basswood strips (available online, or in most art supply stores), in the desired form. Then simply roll over this form. Ack! I forgot a clay roller in the supplies list! LOL! Well, they make small acrylic rolling pins for polymer clay, but even a piece of .5" - 1.5" thick smooth wood doweling, or some paintbrush handles will work equally well.

      Also, remember almost Anything can be used to texture clay. Next time any of you are at the hardware store, see if they have small 'grout floats', I think they are called. Some of them even have several different patterns of teeth, you may even be able to find less expensive plastic ones, as well. Well, just set up a somewhat thick frame, securely, (1/4" or better), use fairly loose clay, hmm, I don't want to say 'damp', but use clay wetter than you normally would for this. So, fill the frame with this 'semi-wet' clay, and be sloppy about it! LOL! You want the clay to be nicely mounded over the frame. Assuming your frame is secure, and the clay is loose enough, you can just drag the float over this to make all sorts of effects... How about a 'corrugated steel' T hide? Heck, anyone have any Matchbox cars lying around, you could have mini tire tracks all around your T... LOL again!
      The trick with this though, is that you have to be fairly patient when you let these pieces dry. In this instance, a small battery or AC powered fan comes in handy. For a clay slab made this way this is EXACTLY the process I use:
      I leave the slab in the frame (or form) and aim a small fan at it for a minimum of 8 hours, at room temperature. Then using a very thin metal clay scraper, I 'test' the clay by gently seeing if I could slide the scraper under the piece. If I feel any resistance, I stop right away, and go back to the fan....and watch a DVD or something... Now, at this point the clay has stiffened, but it is Highly brittle at this stage....if your piece could possibly shatter into 1,000,000 little bits, This is when it would happen.
      *sigh* the oyster shell hide from my original DIY is long-gone...

      So, this is where the patience comes in... Ideally, you should have a moveable stable surface that can be used, for example,to take your clay piece, frame and all to a warmer place in your house. Examples: on top of the fridge, near a furnace register, etc. Don't be in too much of a rush while clay cures. Best bet, is to just have a few projects going at once, so you don't get bored waiting for clay to dry, lol. Crayola says that a full cure takes about 36 hours, I personally would give it closer to 48 hours time. My most durable hides are those I made, put in a warm place, and then forgot about them...
      (Too many 'irons in the fire', so to speak)
      Alandra's 'flintstone house' actually survived a 4-foot fall to a hardwood floor... barely... trust me, you will still cringe anytime a clay piece falls..
      Last edited by marcfrick2112; 12-28-2011 at 04:07 AM. Reason: typo x2
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      oooooh i wana make some hides ^.^ this looks fun!!

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      Quote Originally Posted by TalulaTarantula View Post
      Ah this is an awesome thread, ive always wanted to make Sandwich his own little castle..and now i can yayy
      Hey Talula, they made brick and random stone pattern sheets for clay, they cost about $5 per set of 4. Just search Amazon for 'clay tools' or 'ceramic tools'. Here's a pic showing some of them. These slabs are unpainted, so the texture isn't too visible, after painting the details become quite obvious. If you did a textured 'stone' castle for Sandwich, it would look awesome! And be sure to post pics, if you do!!
      Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails TexturedClay.jpg  
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      The babies:
      Jinx and Minx - PZB twins
      Remi - A. diversipes (R.I.P.)
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      TGrin

      Durability and humidity resistance

      One limitation of air dry clay is that it normally can't be used for arboreal T's, or those that need very high humidity. Alandra, my pulchra, has had a clay hide for some time, @ 40-50% humidity, the hide has lasted very well.

      One possible option to 'moisture-proof' a hide might be to use what is known as 'spar varnish'. Spar varnish was made for use on ships (hence the name), and was originally made from plant materials. Unfortunately, most of this sold today is of the Polyurethane variety. I would STRONGLY recommend that if this be tried, the varnish should be allowed to dry for at least a week, ideally in a location of the house with good ventilation. Also, if you can detect any 'varnish smell', you can be assured that it will probably bother a T.

      I do NOT recommend any spray sealers, or 'clear-coats' as these are laden with chemicals that aren't safe for people, let alone T's.

      Another issue is weather Sculpty (polymer clay) is safe for T's. I got in a minor argument with a former member about this. What I DO know, is that Sculpty gives off fumes when baked, and continues to do so for some time afterwards. Personally, I avoid it for any T/inverts' tank. If one Insists on using Sculpty with T's, I would bake it as needed, but then allow it to 'air out' for up to possibly a month, before giving it to a T... Again, though, I don't recommend it, besides natural clay is cheaper.

      Another issue is with durability. More 'solid' clay pieces are quite durable, as I said in my first post, Alandra's hide survived a 4-foot fall to a hardwood floor. More complex pieces with several joined elements will probably break apart if dropped. Obviously, most clay pieces can be repaired. What I usually do, is to re-assemble the pieces with warm clay slurry, allow to partially dry, and reinforce the inside seam with a 'snake' of semi-moist clay, gently pressing it into place. If several pieces have broken, repair one piece at a time, allowing around 8 hours' time to cure before continuing the repairs.

      More Advanced techniques

      Once you get a 'feel' for natural clay, it is possible to shape, or shave clay to a desired size, using nothing more than an X-acto knife, before it has fully cured. This requires a bit of patience, and practice. After a few hours, the clay will start to harden, once it gets to the hardness of bar soap, the clay will also feel cool, (compared to room temperature) at this stage, this is when you would want to try this technique. Remember, clay is VERY brittle at this stage. This is where the sharp blade comes in. With a sharp blade, this 'not-quite cured' clay can be carved, or shaved to fine-tune a piece. Obviously, heed the safety warnings in my first post. You want to shave off small amounts of clay each pass, don't try to cut too much, or go too fast, all at once.

      After clay has fully cured, it can even be sanded or detailed with X-acto knives, steel clay working tools, etc. Crayola says that any traditional clay working techniques can be used with this clay, including being thrown on a wheel... Personally, I feel this clay may be too stiff for a wheel.... but, as always, your mileage may vary..

      Here's a page giving some basic advice for clay throwing... ( and no, I DON'T mean throwing wet clay at your buddies, spouse, etc. .. lol!)

      http://www.jhpottery.com/tutorial/center.htm

      Here's a link to a clay throwing video for the novice:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kapm9e6y2hA

      Obviously, only more serious hobbyists would have a wheel handy.... Although Amazon.com does have some cheaper wheels, they tend to be rather poorly made. OK, I'll admit, as much of a nut as I am, *I* don't even have a wheel right now, I just mention as an option. Many cities also have open clay workshops where you can get access to a wheel, if you want to try it. I still want to make one of my T's a clay reproduction of a Greek amphora as a hide... LOL!


      There are also many other brands of clay that would be suitable. Just make sure it is ONLY natural clay. A number of brands from the USA and Italy would be suitable. I hope that I can get a partial listing of these soon.

      Best advice? Practice makes perfect. 'Nuff said.

      Last edited by marcfrick2112; 07-04-2011 at 11:27 PM. Reason: added information
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      Life itself is our most precious gift!

      Marc's Angels:

      Fuzzy - 5" MF G. rosea
      Gabby - 5.5" MM G. pulchripes
      Laila - 3" Aphono. 'NR'
      Lorenzo- MM G. pulchripes
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      Jinx and Minx - PZB twins
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      My girlfriend and I went to a hobby store and bought some air dry clay and made some caves for our T's it is pretty fun and a cheap way to make your set ups look even better.

    11. The Following User Says Thank You to Mat For This Useful Post:

      marcfrick2112 (01-11-2012)

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