what's the one tool you *have* to have? any tips for finishing up beads and cabs would be wonderful.
The one tool I can't do with out besides my hand is my pasta machine. I couldn't get the beautiful color blends and mica shifts with out it.
Tips for finishing up cabs and beads...Sand paper is your friend. I make all of my cabs and beads very smooth using ice water to smooth out every bump and finger print before curing. When they are cured I use some very fine sandpaper and then buff them to a perfect glassy finish.
Have to agree with Gingerbell about the pasta machine. I couldn't accomplish anything without it. I don't think I could get the Premo conditioned, let alone Kato!
Sometimes, simple tools are the best! In my work, I tend towards a rustic or earthy look. And, well hands and fingers work great for that! Fingerprints make great, subtle texture. And sometimes I go out of my way to make fingerprints. I almost always hand roll my beads instead of using a bead roller - I like the imperfect round shape of hand rolling.
I also like to hand roll coils for my beads - I like the thick-thin of the hand rolled coils.
Other than the pasta machine which is an absolute essential, at the moment I'm enjoying using stamps and texture sheets. I don't know if they'd be classed as a tool but I love them and I've collected quite a few.
have so many tools I love!! I think the one I reach for most, though, is my exacto knife. I actually have a set of them, and various blades, and I use them for tons of trimming and different work. IMHO exacto knives are absolute "can't live without" tools. I recommend the sets they have at American Science and Surplus (sciplus.com).
For cabs I have to use a mold - I have premade cab molds, or if I want something odd shaped/sized I'll make my own and mold it myself. After molding I smooth as much as I can, and even out the backs as much as I can, then cure. My sanding techniques seem a little excessive to some, but they're necessary. For cabs and beads I use a tumbler, bigger items I sand by hand. I start with 220 wet/dry (for anything that's rough, smoother stuff can start with a higher grit). I go up by grit: 220/320/400/600/800/1000/1200/1600/1800/2000 (I think I got all the grits right). Never skip a grit after you start (in other words, don't go out of sequence or skip one in the sequence). Keep a towel on your lap and a bowl of warm water with a teeny bit of dish soap in it to rewet the piece and rinse the sandpaper. For the tumbler cut your sandpaper up into 1/4 inch squares, and use several full sheets per grit. Keep your grips carefully labeled and don't let them get mixed up! Tumble for several hours per grit, at least, with a small bit of warm soapy water added. I usually buff with denim, and have a bag of small denim scraps to put into the tumbler (dry) after the sandpaper to buff.
I'm another clayer who can't live without her pasta machine! I use it to condition all my clay, as well as create color blends and I use it with texture plates to create textured sheets of clay. Another tool I find myself reaching for constantly would be my knitting needle. I have several sizes, from very thin to rather thick, and they each have their uses. They're perfect for smoothing clay, and getting into tiny corners where your fingers won't fit. Sometimes I use them to texture the clay as well. That's how I achieve the look of fur on my animals. They also work well to make eye sockets and nostrils, and shape ears (for animals, humans, fairies, etc). If I had nothing more than clay, a pasta machine, and a knitting needle or two, I could create just about anything!
My pasta machine is a staple at my work table. Next to that, I think my circle cutters, for getting uniform bead sizes when needed, and also makes it easy to measure colors for color mixing.
Cabs I usually hand-form and hand-sand, although I am a little lax with the different grits, I just start at 400, then 1000, 1200, 2000, and last 4000. Then I buff using my Dremel and the buffing wheel attachment that it came with.
I'm still pretty much toolless, but yes, to buy the pasta machine was a really smart move.
Apart from that I do a lot with my sculpture tools and of course my beloved toothpicks.
I hardly ever make beads, so I don't have a tip for that which the others haven't already given.
I am another one who cannot live without my pasta machine. I did hold out for a long while, trying to use just an acrylic roller, but it is so much faster & easier to use a pasta machine for conditioning clays. Having a pasta machine has broadened my color palette since it is now easier to mix colors. It is also a must have for all the mosaic work that I do-- very helpful in making smooth tiles of an even thickness.
However, running a close 2nd & 3rd place are my cutters & texture sheets/rubber stamps! I use them for almost everything I create and I'm always looking for more unique cutters & textures. I use them for making mosaic tiles, pendants, beads and more.
How I finish beads & cabs depends on how they are made. If it is a textured bead or cab, then all they need is a glaze/varnish. I prefer to use Flecto Diamond Varathane. I use a brush to apply, then bake the item at 250*F for about 25 minutes to set. If it is a smooth bead or cab, then I will wet sand. I usually take the easy way out and let my tumbler do the work for me. I sand with 400 grit for 12-16 hours, then 600 grit for another 12-16 hours. Often, because of the length of time sanded, these are the only 2 grits I need to use for a nice smooth bead. Then I'll buff them with a felt pad with my rotary tool, which is like a Dremel, and I generally like to varnish them as well. The exception is mica shift pieces. Those I tend to hand-sand with 400, 600, 800, 1000 and 1200 grit wet sandpaper and water with a drop of dish soap, then buff with a felt pad on my rotary tool for a glassy sheen.
(If you click Tool Drool on the left column of this blog you will see many more.)