Do you need a flexible tool to smooth and compress seams that are a little too large for conventional rubber-tipped tools? Making your own silicone-tipped tool may be the answer.
I have often wished to have a soft, round rubber tool on the end of a stick for pressing coils into the inner seams of my slab vessels or for smoothing hard to reach parts of a sculpture. There are many rubber shaper tools on the market, but they are too pointy and small for my needs. I wanted something more the size and shape of my thumb, but with a longer reach. So, I decided to make my own.
I happened to have just the thing in my studio—a two-part silicone putty for mold making. (It can be purchased at most art stores or online at retailers like Blick or Amazon.) This putty is very easy to work with and will keep its shape but remain soft after it cures. A little goes a long way, so there is no need to buy a large box.
My first attempt was to form a rounded silicone nub over the bristles of an old paintbrush, which worked well, but the silicone didn’t adhere to the brush at all, and it pulled right off the end. It works better to shape the silicone around something with a protruding edge that it can grip around and hold tight. Some examples of items found around my studio that worked well for the stick base: a really long screw, an eye hook screwed into the end of a wooden dowel, a screw drilled halfway into the end of a pencil, a broken loop tool, and the eraser end of a mechanical pencil (1).
A Few Simple Steps
Begin by measuring the ingredients. The silicone will come with directions. The kit I used works by scooping out and hand mixing equal parts of the two colors of putty. I found that a half teaspoon of each was plenty to make the size of tools I wanted.
Next, squish and blend the two putties together with your fingers until they are well mixed, maybe 15 seconds or so (2). It will be oily and have a soft, plastic feel. Roll the mixture into a nice smooth ball in your palms (3). Then, attach the ball to the stick or handle. Press your stick into the rolled ball and squeeze the putty around the screw end to give it a nice tight grip (4).
Finally, form the tip of the silicone to the desired tool shape (5). If you want a sharp angle, you can press it onto a smooth work surface or cut it with a razor blade. Finish with gentle finger taps to smooth and perfect the edges.
It takes just a few minutes for the putty set up enough to hold the shape, and about 30 minutes to be ready to use (6).
- The thinner you make the silicone tip, the more flexible it will be.
- The silicone sets up after just a few minutes, so work quickly and only mix up enough to make one tool at a time.
- Rest the tool vertically while the silicone sets, with the ball end up in the air to keep it from touching anything that might distort the shape while it sets. I stick mine into a lump of clay to hold it upright.
Bonus tip! This silicone putty also works fairly well to make small press molds, even ones with minor undercuts. Just press the freshly mixed putty around the object you want to duplicate, leaving the back open, then let it set up, remove the object, and voila! Your mold is ready to use. The trick for casting in clay is to brush a good release agent like olive oil onto the mold before pressing in your soft clay. Then, gently flex the silicone mold open to remove your clay. There are limitations to this kind of clay casting, but I’ve had some success whereas a plaster mold would have been too rigid to release a complex shape.
the author Christina Orthwein is a long-time ceramic artist who has worked in pottery, tile, jewelry, and most recently is loving a switch to figural sculpture. You can follow her process videos on Instagram @ChristinaSculpture or visit ChristinaOrthwein.com.