Clay is a wonderful material to work with and it is great fun being able to manipulate it into all kinds of shapes. However, sometimes working purely by hand isn’t the answer. It helps to be able to call on a range of different tools for shaping and sculpting clay into more decorative or practical forms. In a previous guide, I talked about the benefits of using the best clay sculpting tool sets for shaping and mark-marking on pots and other pieces. Today, I want to highlight the potential of the clay extruder.
Why do you need a clay extruder?
You might ask why you can’t just pull handles and coils by hand. You can do this for small pieces and for a more rustic look to your work. But extruding them by handle can lead to inconsistencies in the way that the clay looks. If you add too much pressure at a certain point then you will get a thinner piece. This could then become noticeable if you try and make a cup or a bowl out of these inconsistent pieces. The extruder should allow for a more fluid and smooth shape with the same thickness all the way through, making things much easier later on.
The other benefit of using an extruder is that you can add a disc called a die to the end, over the hole, to create a different shape for your clay. This could allow for handles or other decorative features with more interest than a standard tube.
How does a clay extruder work?
The process is quite straightforward. You load your clay into the barrel of the extruder, put your chosen die on the end for the right shape, and then force the clay through the hole. If you have ever played with a child’s Play-Dough factory, with all the different shapes to create, you will get a good idea. This is a more professional version of that.
Some art studios and classrooms will have a large-scale device mounted to the wall. Here, users can load up the clay, pull the handle, and get their shaped clay with relative ease. But, these aren’t that practical at home. Instead, you can get a hand-held extruder.
What to look for when choosing the best clay extruder.
Before we look at some of the most important features in these top hand-held clay extruders, it is important to note that some may not be listed as clay extruders. Brands tend to add tags to their products that will help them sell more units. While many potters are looking for a way to create these shaped lengths of clay, there are also plenty of bakers that want an alternative to piping and shaping fondant. So, you may see these tools down as baking tools and fondant extruders. Obviously, make sure to clean the tool very carefully if you ever plan to use it for both functions.
1) Is the product easy to use?
This is an important starting point. There is no point in having a nice portable tool with lots of potential if you can work the mechanism to extrude the clay. There are different methods available here. The most common is the rotatory device with a handle that you twist round to push out the clay. This is popular because it doesn’t require a lot of hard work. A good grip on the handle works well too.
However, there are alternative approaches and I have added some of those in the guide too. The first is the hand-held model that you squeeze. There are trigger-like handles – either a pair of or a single handle to the side – that put pressure on the extruder and force the clay out the other end. This might not be so good for those that struggle with their grip or have limited power in their arm muscles. The other is the hand-crank model. The one in this guide mounts to a tabletop for greater ease of use.
2) Do you get plenty of dies in the pack?
Most products should come with dies to add to the end of the device. Some cheaper products may only have a few basic shapes while others will allow for a much wider range. Take a moment to investigate any photos of the dies for a better idea of the shapes. You might find that some have something a little more interesting, like hearts or water droplets, rather than the basic round and square ones. Also, look to see if the dies are aluminum, stainless steel, or plastic. The latter isn’t as durable and there is a chemical risk if using with food products.
3) Do you get any additional features with it to improve the experience?
Because there is that cross-over appeal here with potters and bakers, some brands play on this with extra features. You can find some sets with added baking tools for applying the fondant or other aspects of the cake. Then there are others that lean more into the pottery side with clay sculpting tools. You can also find cleaning brushes in some sets, which can help a lot.
6 of the best clay extruders for your consideration.
1) Swpeet 36Pcs Clay Extruder Gun
What I love about this option is the number of pieces that you get in the set. While a lot of them are for cake-making, so may not be suitable for any of your endeavors, there are also clay tools. You get some ball stylus tools, dotters, scrapers, and more. The green 6.5-inch extruder also has 20 dies made from stainless steel.
2) Mi4uhappy 23Pcs Stainless Steel Clay Extruder
In many ways, this is a very similar product, right down to the shape and color of the tool. There is the same purpose of working with clay or fondant and the same rotary design on the device. Again, you get 20 of those die for the end of the barrel. There are plenty of different shapes for various effects. But, instead of offering the sculpting tools or scrapers, you get a spare rubber ring and a cleaning brush. That brush is ideal if you want to switch between materials.
3) BESTonZON Clay Gun Extruder
While there is a tag on this extruder’s listing that says “educational toy for kids”, don’t be put off by that. There is a similar tool to the ones above, with the same materials and rotary style. You also get a really nice selection of 20 dies to create a nice range of shapes. I think that this is a great piece to get started with if the bigger sets are a little daunting. I also like that it is rose gold and not green.
4) LUCY CLAY Stainless Steel Cz Extruder Set
This next option is something completely different as there is not only a hand-crank method of extruding the clay, but also a vice system to mount to tool to a table. This should make it nice and secure, adding to the ease of use. It should become a nice durable permanent addition to a home studio. The only downside is that you don’t get any dies or tools. This more of an upgrade for those that always have dies in their collection. It should be difficult to get some to match.
5) Weoto Clay Extruder, Hand-held Soft Clay Mud Squeeze
Next, we move on to different sort of mechanism for the same result. I like these options because they are smaller and fit nicely in the hand, making them a bit more user-friendly for some. But, others may struggle with squeezing the triggers so much. This model is light as it is made from aluminum alloy and just 6 inches long. You also get a familiar set of 20 dies.
6) Polyform Sculpey Clay Extruder
Finally, we have another smaller option that is much easier to class as a hand-held option than some of the others. There is a smaller barrel and a simple mechanism to squeeze to manipulate the plunger. It doesn’t stand out in terms of features or its look, as there isn’t the same bright exterior as the rotating models nor the same tools. But, you do get a more simplistic product made from strong steel that has 19 dies.
Choosing the best clay extruder for your studio.
As you can see, there is a common theme with these products for a hand-held option with that rotating handle. They are almost always green too – for some reason. You should be able to get along with this solution as long as you have the right dies. I also recommend these if you do want to try them out for cake-making as well. However, I think that the table-mounted hand-crank option is brilliant for those with a lot of clay projects and a dedicated studio space at home. Take your time to go over your options and see which will be the most effective solution for you.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my toddler however, that is typically a challenge with her limited attention span, messiness, and desire to always have clean hands. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and fond memory for the both of us.