Working with clay is a wonderful journey of discovery for those willing to experiment, make mistakes, and try new things. It can all start with some simple forms as we try and create some bowls, mugs, and vases. We may focus on the shapes and functionality through our hand-building, coiling, or techniques on an electric pottery wheel. But, soon enough, we feel the need to get more creative and add some personal touches. Or, we try and outdo ourselves with neater finishes. This is where we need to turn to the best clay sculpting tools for a better result.
In this guide, I have selected a series of the best clay sculpting tools and sets for your consideration. Some of these could be a little extreme for first-timers, but I have tried to showcase the range of options as best I can. Before we look at those, let’s talk about why those tools are so helpful and what you should look out for.
How can the best clay sculpting tools help to transform your work?
While working by hand is a wonderfully rewarding tactile experience for a lot of clay artists, there are limitations when using your fingers alone. Bringing tools into the equation gives you the chance to make more detailed marks and patterns, engraving into pieces to reveal colors to create a more complex design.
There are lots of knives, loop tools, and ribbon tools where you can score into the clay and create clean cuts and patterns. With a steady hand, you can use some of these while working on a wheel. These are some of the most common clay sculpting tools that you find in sets to allow for engraving.
Meanwhile, you don’t want to overlook the importance of some of the more basic tools in your arsenal. For example, a good brush will help you apply slip and glaze for hand-decorated work. Sponges let you apply water more delicately when working on your clay so it doesn’t get too wet. Also, don’t forget about a cut-off wire if you are working on a wheel and a nice apron to keep yourself clean.
What should you look out for when choosing the best clay sculpting tools?
Before we look at some of the different sets of interesting implements that are available, I want to highlight some important considerations for choosing the best tools for the job.
1) Do you want to start with a basic introductory set or go all-in with a comprehensive selection?
The answer to this may depend on your current experience level or your confidence in trying out different tools. If you are new to all of this you might decide to start small and then get a bigger set later. This is understandable as some of the massive 30+ piece sets can be a little overwhelming when you aren’t sure what all the implements do. Or, you may have grand ambitions for expanding your pottery skills and decide to dive in at the deep end. Either way, be sure to find a set that has the quality you need at a fair price.
2) What are the tools made from?
There are lots of sets out there that offer metal tools with wooden handles. These are popular and effective because of the shape of the wires, the strength of the metal, and the feel of the wood in your hand. However, there are also rubber and silicone tipped tools that offer a different effect. You could find these as a separate set or included in one of the larger options. You can also find plastic tools in beginner sets, which have their pros and cons.
3) Would you prefer double-ended or single-ended tools?
Double-ended tools are common because it means that you get twice the applications and effects with half the tools in a set. You can switch ends to get different-sized loops, cutters, and other devices to diversify your mark-making. Many potters appreciate these tools as they are more convenient. But, they may be a little daunting if you haven’t used them before. Again, some of the more extensive sets will offer a combination of single and double-ended tools to play with.
4) Do you get any helpful extra features with the tools to add greater value for money?
Finally, it is worth looking at the additional features that may come with the set to make things easier or add to the experience. A storage solution is always helpful, whether that means a box or a bag that wraps up nicely and neatly. A lot of sets will provide a sponge but not all, which is why it helps to find a full listing before you buy. You could also find a set with an apron.
Some of the best double-sided clay sculpting tools.
As mentioned before, a double-sided tool can be a beneficial choice when working on your sculptures. But, I also appreciate that these can be a little daunting when there are such dangerous-looking implements with no “safe” end to handle. There are some nice basic sets out there that are well-made and act as a nice starting point. But, I also want to highlight an alternative for younger audiences that could be of interest.
1) S & E TEACHER’S EDITION 6 Pcs Pottery & Clay Sculpting Tools.
I think the name “teacher’s edition” will get a lot of people clicking onto this product to learn more. It is understandable as it gives the impression of a more professional tool that your art teacher may use themselves. This might not be the case, as there are comments about the worth. The quality of the wood is not great and get what you pay for. Still, there is a wide variety of tools available with the aim of “smoothing, cleaning, carving, shaping and sculpting”. Each piece is also double-headed for greater variation.
2) Sculpt Pro Pottery Tool Kit – 11-Piece 21-Tool Beginner’s Clay Sculpting Set
This alternative set looks pretty much the same when you compare each tool individually, but I do think that there is greater value here if you want a wider selection. Each double-headed tool has a birch handle and stainless steel appliance. There is also an aluminum brush and I like that there are some plastic covers this time for protection. Just be aware that it doesn’t really come with a case as such, despite what the listing says.
3) Outus 10 Pieces Plastic Clay Tools Modeling Clay Tools for Kids
I understand if you want to skim straight over this one as something unsuitable for your needs. However, I did want to offer a broad range here to show you what is available. This set could be the ideal choice if you have young potters keen on learning more about mark-making and improving their pieces. The tools have similar functions but are just plastic for safety. They also come in many bright colors. They might not last long, but they could be a stepping stone to other tools.
Some of the best clay sculpting tool sets.
Once you gain a little more confidence with the clay, and with your own skills with these tools, you can start to play around with some alternative options and increase your collection. This is where it helps to upgrade from a more basic set of double-sided tools to a more complex array of pieces. This should offer access to some different designs and implements that can take your work in new directions.
1) Meuxan 30PCS Pottery Tools Clay Sculpting Tool Set
The first of these sets has a lot of components that you tend to see in this sort of produce. In many ways, there is nothing particularly special about this set, but there is also the fact that this could make it a little more accessible for those that don’t want anything too strange. A lot of the tools have that Double-sided design that is so helpful, with a nice combination of “long-lasting” wood and stainless steel. You also get the needle tool, potter’s rib, and a sponge to complete the set. Just be sure not to try and use it on hard clay.
2) Blisstime Set of 30 Clay Sculpting Tools
This next set is very similar to the one above in that you get a lot of double-headed pieces in wood and steel with a range of purposes, as well as some of the basic elements. The main difference here is that there are three double-headed rubber shapers that have six soft tips. This allows for a different feel and effect for experimentation. There are comments about redundant pieces but is it better to have too much rather than too little?
3) Ejiubas 14 Pcs Clay Sculpting Tools Set
If you are interested in trying these rubber tools instead, or want to add some alternative implements to a current selection, this could be for you. There is a different feel to this set with the various materials and ways of shaping and indenting the clay. You don’t get as much here as you do in the more comprehensive sets, but it is still a great add-on once you get more adventurous with your work.
Some of the best clay sculpting tools with cases.
A case can make a big difference when choosing the best possible set of tools. Not only do these tools provide ample storage for everything that you need when not in use, but it aids with organization during your session with the clay. If you are anything like me when I work with various tools – be it needles, pens, etc – they always seem to wander off. So, I recommend getting more of a complete set like this to keep an inventory of all these tools.
1) KEENEST 24 PCS Pottery Tools and Clay Sculpting Tools with Storage Bag
This set might not have as many pieces as the sets above, but it still offers a nice range of items. You might not have the same “redundant” implements. You get a series of wooden handle ball stylus tools, color sharpers, wooden clay tools, plastic tools, and ball stylus dotting tools. It is a great introductory set, just without the rubber pieces. What I like most about this one is the traditional style of the carry case. The bag wraps up and secures nicely to save space.
2) BAOSUMEI 57PCS Pottery Tools, Clay Sculpting Tool Set,
There are comments about this set that describe it as overkill. This is accurate but in the best possible way. 57 pieces is a lot and you can get by easily enough with half that. But, the range of items does mean you can spend ages playing around to see what they all do. My only issue is that I don’t like the case, I have something similar in my sewing kit for embroidery thread but it doesn’t have the same authentic feel as the wrap-up nylon cases.
3) Joypea Pottery and Clay Sculpting Tools
This is another set that does a brilliant job of providing all the most important shaping and sculpting tools, such as knives, ribbon tools, and more. There are also some of the more basic elements, such as the sponge, which some companies leave out. You can also benefit from the alternative silicon tools. Everything fits nicely into another of those brilliant nylon traditional cases. But, the best part of all is the free apron. This is something easily overlooked and greatly appreciated.
Finding the best clay sculpting tools to suit you.
As you can see, there are lots of different types of tools and various approaches with their forms and materials. I know that the little plastic set will be too child-friendly for a lot of people, but they could be an entry point for some kids. From there, you can build up with some interesting double-headed tools, before going more comprehensive with a larger case of implements. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what they all do at first. The fun comes in working with them and seeing what marks they make. You could surprise yourself.
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.