The Benefits and Disadvantages of Working with Air Dry Clay
In this post, I’ll share all the PROs and CONs of working with air dry clay that I learned along the years of using it. Air hardening clay is one of the most versatile craft materials I have ever used and I encourage everyone to try it!
In the past (when I was in high school) I made jewelry with air dry clay. I created all sorts of shapes and then painted them with fun designs. It was time-consuming and I got bored of it, so I haven’t used it until the past year or so.
I’ve found a homemade air dry clay recipe on Pinterest and I had to try it. Since then, I have made tons of crafts with air dry clay, but I have to admit that I prefer the store-bought.
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You can buy other types of air hardening clays that are suitable for specific purposes. For example, epoxy air dry clay is chemical-based and has other characteristics (e.g. waterproof), cold porcelain, and other clays, like the Hearty, which are suitable for making delicate pieces like flowers, or others that are designed for doll making, like La Doll Premier.
Is air dry clay good?
Air dry clay is a wonderful craft medium suitable for all ages. It’s reasonably priced, you don’t need specific tools or equipment which makes it accessible for everyone and perfect for at-home use (compared to traditional clay which needs to be fired in a kiln, then glazed, etc.)
You don’t have to know all the ins and outs of sculpting with air dry clay. Knowing a few basic tips and some big ‘NO-Nos’ (e.g. not drying clay with a hairdryer) you can make tons of amazing crafts with clay.
Summary – air dry clay benefits and downsides
|1. easy to work with||1. easy to mess up|
|2. durable||2. not food-safe|
|3. non-toxic||3. not waterproof|
|4. easy to customize||4. flammable|
|5. no special tools or equipment needed||5. thin, delicate parts are fragile|
|6. good for all ages||6. not suitable for outdoor use|
|7. no previous experience is needed||7. takes longer to finish a project|
|8. good for mixed media||8. prone to cracking|
|9. can be used for various crafts||9. needs sealing|
|10. cheap||10. shrinks while drying|
I’ll explain a bit each point because even though, air dry clay has lots of benefits sometimes you have to pay the price, and also every cloud has a silver lining.
I’ll stop the cliches (lol) and let’s dive in!
The PROs of air drying clay
Air dry clay has lots of benefits which makes it a wonderful craft medium. I’m not surprised that some schools have air dry clay sculpting and modeling classes instead of traditional clay. Let’s see all the advantages in detail.
1. easy to work with
Air drying clay is smoother and not as sticky as traditional clay. It’s easy to manipulate, sculpt, model, and craft with it.
When it starts to get dry and you’re not finished with the modeling spray some water (don’t overdo it!) on the surface.
Some say, air dry clay breaks easily, but that’s not true! Air dry clay is durable if you don’t roll it out too thin and if you use it properly.
Yes, crafts with thin, delicate, and protruding parts will break easily, but you can make them stronger!
I’ve made several drop tests with quite thin clay pieces and they withstand my tests nicely.
The most common air drying clays like DAS, Crayola, Activa, Jovi are natural, non-toxic, earth or paper-based clays. In contrast, epoxy air dry clay is cured by chemical reactions which may cause skin reactions.
Also, if you have sensitive skin, be aware that the air drying clay usually stains your skin (they easily wash off though) and may dry it out.
The ingredients also differ from brand to brand, some contain gluten (e.g. Crayola) which may cause allergic reactions. Be extra careful when crafting with gluten-intolerant children, so they won’t put the clay in their mouths.
4. easy to customize
You can color, paint, stamp, stencil, or transfer an image on clay as you like. It’s so easy to achieve the desired effect.
I encourage everyone to experiment with a piece of air dry clay to find new and exciting ways to apply it in projects.
For example, I made an experiment on which paints are best for coloring clay.
5. no special tools or equipment needed
One of the biggest advantages of air dry clay is you don’t need a kiln or oven to cure it. It will dry on its own after 24-72 hours.
Also, I know that many air dry clay craft kits come with tons of sculpting tools.
The truth is, you don’t need them! If you’re making sculptures regularly then maybe you would make use of them. But don’t buy them if you only plan to make a pinch pot for your new succulent. It’s a waste of money!
I don’t have any. I usually use a craft knife or blade to cut the clay, a rolling pin, and my fingers sculpt. Occasionally, I add textures or shape with an old pencil, popsicle stick, or stuff around the house.
6. good for all ages
Since air drying clay is a natural, non-toxic material it can be used by kids and elderly people too. Just make sure children are supervised when crafting with the clay.
Clay is a fantastic medium to enhance creativity. It also has a relaxing effect, which makes it perfect for an art therapy session in a retirement home or to simply unwind after a busy week.
7. no previous experience is needed
You don’t need to know anything about sculpting and pottery techniques to get started. This makes air dry clay perfect for beginner crafters!
You can experiment with simple crafts like trinkets, bowls, pinch pots, earrings, etc. and if you want to take it to the next level read a book, find a course, there are plenty out there.
My recommendation is to watch youtube tutorials. For example, I enjoy Red Rocking Bird‘s channel. You can learn a lot from her about crafting with clay, and it’s a pleasure to listen to her calm, soothing voice!
8. good for mixed media
Air dry clay is perfect for mixed media projects! You can add elements like sticks, feathers, beads, chains, wire, mold glitter into the clay to achieve cool effects. Also, you can use it to make dimensional pieces for canvas paintings (for example, this African art piece).
9. can be used for various crafts
If you want to boost your creativity buy a pack of air dry clay! It’s one of the most versatile craft materials I’ve ever worked with.
You can make flower ornaments, jewelry, small decorations for cards, flower pots, trinkets, bowls, masks, pencil holders, wall decor, etc. The list goes on and on and on!
(Pssst! I also made a few cool clay crafts. If you’re interested, scroll to the end of the post, I’ll list them there.)
Air modeling clay is inexpensive, but the results look professional. You can buy a 2.2 lbs piece of clay for approximately 10$. You can make lots of wonderful crafts with it!
The CONs of air hardening clay
And now, let’s get to the ‘dark side’ and talk about the disadvantages. Luckily, you can either prevent or fix most of them, or just accept the numerous wonderful features it has and doesn’t try to use it as a replacement for ceramic or stoneware clay.
1. easy to mess up
It’s so easy to sculpt and model air dry clay. It’s a very forgiving craft medium. However, you need to know a few basic stuff so you won’t end up in the ‘Pinterest fails’ round-ups (check this out if you don’t know what I’m talking about).
So, here are my 5 best advice to not mess up crafting with air dry clay:
- Don’t try to speed up drying with a fan, hairdryer, microwave, sunlight, etc!
- Don’t add too much water when sculpting! It will result in a ton of cracks.
- Don’t paint your craft with acrylic paint while still wet! It acts as a sealant and all the moisture gets trapped inside, it will get moldy and decompose after some time.
- Don’t make your clay craft too thin! They are weak, prone to cracking and curling. Approximately a quarter inch thickness is the optimal, or slightly thinner.
- Always score and slip the details you want to attach (for example, a nose or ears to a face) and firmly push it in. If you can, try to mold the edges into the base with a sculpting tool. If you just simply press them, they will fall of when drying.
2. not food-safe
Air hardening clay is fabulous for at-home pottery, however, it’s not safe for drinking and eating. You can’t make functional mugs, plates, and bowls, it’s only suitable for decorative purposes.
If you’re interested in this topic, you can read my other article ‘Can you make a mug out of air dry clay?’
3. not waterproof
Air drying clay won’t hold water because it’s a porous material. It soaks up the water and disintegrates. So, you can’t make functional vases, mugs, or flower pots with it. Sealing it won’t help either, it just slows down the process.
You can ‘game the system’ by building it around a plastic container. Meaning, you dress it up with clay.
For example, I made this cute gnome planter by cutting a plastic bottle and covering it with clay. I can safely water my plant and I don’t have to worry about damaging my sculpture.
If you expose air dry clay to open fire, it won’t ignite. It will be charring and turn into ash.
So, if you’re planning to make a candle holder make sure to use battery-operated candles for your safety.
Also, it’s not the best idea to make ashtrays with air-hardening clay! However, you can try to use a short tin can as the base and decorate it with clay. I will make a tutorial with it soon and link it here.
5. thin, delicate parts are fragile
Small, delicate details like fingers or ears on dolls or other sculptures, flower petals, etc. made with clay are fragile and break off easily.
You can strengthen it by using an armature, for example, wire for the fingers, by slip and scoring before attaching the details, and using a sealant (2-3 layers) will make your project stronger and more durable.
If you want to know more, check out my other article on how to make your air dry clay crafts stronger.
6. not suitable for outdoor use
Air drying clay crafts are not as strong and durable as fired and glazed pottery. It’s not the best material to create outdoor decorations.
However, it’s perfectly fine to make decorative objects for your terrace or balcony, just make sure to apply a specific outdoor sealant like Mod Podge Outdoors or Yacht Varnish. They will protect your craft from moisture, sunlight, and other elements.
In my opinion, it’s best practice to not expose them to extreme weather and display them in sheltered and safe spots.
7. takes longer to finish a project
Air hardening clay crafts are not the ‘one afternoon’ or the ’10-minute craft’ type of project. Yeah, you may finish molding in 10 minutes, but you have to leave them at least 24 hours to dry. This varies based on the thickness of your craft and other factors. Read more on the topic in my other article on how to dry clay crafts properly.
So, if you want to make air dry clay ornaments as gifts for Christmas. Plan ahead!
8. prone to cracking
Cracks on your brand new air dry clay projects are annoying but normal and pretty common. Air hardening clay shrinks when it’s drying which in many cases causes cracks. It happens to experienced crafters too.
But don’t get discouraged! You can fix them! Patch small cracks with slip (a paste made with water and clay scraps) or push soft clay in bigger cracks and smooth it out. For best results, check out my other post on preventing and fixing cracks in air dry clay.
Although, if you have tons of cracks (like I did with these bunnies) it’s best to try it again or scrape the clay off the armature and start over as I did. Too many cracks make your beautiful project weak and more prone to breakage.
9. needs sealing
I don’t consider this a big disadvantage. Yes, it’s an additional step and you have to wait for it to dry, but sealing will make your clay craft more durable. It will protect it from moisture penetrating the clay and disintegrating from the inside or grow mold. Also, it makes your craft stronger.
What to use as a sealant? I wouldn’t recommend Mod Podge because it gets yellow after a while (sooner if it’s exposed to sunlight), an acrylic sealer or liquid epoxy resin will not only protect your craft but also makes it waterproof (NOTE! this doesn’t mean it will lock out water and you can use it as a vase).
10. shrinks while drying
While your craft is drying, water evaporates from the clay. This causes minimal shrinkage, which may result in cracks and distortion. Shrinking is inevitable, but you can consider it and plan your crafts accordingly.
Conclusion about the PROs and CONs of working with air dry clay
The downsides of working with air dry clay are negligible, you can prevent or fix most of them, making this craft material one of the best, in my opinion. I strongly encourage everyone who is looking into learning a new hobby to try it!
Have you made crafts with air dry clay? What do you like or dislike about working with air hardening clay? Leave a comment!
Air dry clay craft tutorials:
- Easy Mandala Jewelry Holder
- DIY Gnome Planter
- Textured Heart Ornaments
- Simple Air Dry Clay Bird
- Cute Clay Rabbit Decor
- Fall Leaf Dish