Oil Based Clay

Clay is a fun material to work with because you get such a hands-on experience manipulating the material into all kinds of shapes and models. There are different types of clay for use at home away from the earthenware and terracotta of the studio. One that deserves some more recognition is oil based clay.

In this guide, I am going to explain a little more about what makes oil based clay so different from other forms of clay. We will look at some of the properties and uses, as well as a couple of tricks on getting the best out of it. Then there are some of the best oil based clay products to help you find the right option for your next project. 

What Is Oil Based Clay?

Oil based clays are a really fun and interesting tool for model making because they don’t dry out. This sounds strange if you are more used to working with wet clay. Here you can work on pieces continually as you play with ideas and turn temporary items back into balls of clay when they are no longer needed. This is possible long after they are made. You can get oil based clay in different forms, sizes, and colors to suit your needs.

Is Plasticine Oil Based Clay?

You may be thinking that this sounds familiar from your time playing with plasticine as a child. Plasticine is a form of oil based clay and is often overlooked as a craft item. You can use this colorful material with your kids as a great introduction to non-permanent model making. However, there are also more grown-up products out there that have similar properties in large blocks of clay.

If It Doesn’t Dry Out, How Do You Harden Oil Based Clay?

This is the most important thing to know about oil-based clay like plasticines. The models do not harden when formed and therefore don’t create a firm finished piece. There is no way to dry it out and make it harder. So, if you need a finished model with a hard finish, you need something else.

What Clays Do Harden at Home?

This is where you may have hit a fork in the road in terms of finding the right clay for your project. If you are sure that non-drying adaptable oil based clay is ideal for your needs, you can learn more about its uses and some of the best products below. If not, you may be after an alternative.

Some of the best alternatives to plasticine are polymer clay or Fimo. These clays have similar feels and properties when working with them and you can make some really colorful creations. But these will also harden when put in the oven. Another option is to go for an air-drying clay. This does exactly as the name suggests and you can get big blocks of the stuff, wet it down, and create some great sculptures in your craft room.

How To Soften Oil Based Clay

You can’t harden oil based clay with heat as you would an oven-baked clay because the heat softens the product. If you have a piece of clay that is hard to work with, such as something from the back of a cupboard that’s cold and unused, you can soften it up with a hairdryer if your hands aren’t enough.

Once your clay is nice and soft, you shouldn’t find it too difficult to work with. You can create a lot of the basic shapes and forms by hand, but don’t be afraid to use some of your clay sculpting tools for details and mark-making.

How To Smooth Oil Based Clay

You may also wonder how to smooth out oil based clay when oil and water don’t mix. If you can’t get the right effect with the warmth of your fingers, you might want to try petroleum jelly. There is also a comment online about using white spirit with a brush, but that sounds extreme.

What Can You Use Oil Based Clay For?

Now we know what this clay is like, we need to know more about its applications. One of the most popular uses for these non-hardening clays is sculpture and model making. The continual malleability of the clay makes it perfect for playing with forms in practice runs for later pieces. You can test out proportions on a scale model in oil based clay and then move on to working in clay that will harden or be fired in a kiln. Kids can also use child-friendly plasticine as a fun craft without permanent results.

An alternative option is to try making molds for casting with oil based clay. Clay is a great tool for making molds because you can create all kinds of shapes and detailed impressions. Kids can press into the surface, pour in plaster or resin, and get little figures or charms. The non-hardening clay is also easily manipulated to get it away from the set material. The used clay is then free to transform into something else. 

With this in mind, you need to make sure that you get the best oil based clay for the project you have in mind. Many of the best products have the quality and properties for use in many applications. Others are slightly better suited to one process than the other. 

Oil Based Clays For Sculpting That We like

1) Sargent Art Plastilina Non-hardening Modeling Clay

Sargent Art White Clay, 5 Pound, Non-Hardening and Individually Wrapped, Long Lasting & Non-Toxic, Air Dry, Soft Molding Magic Clay for Kids, Beginners, and Artists
Sargent Art White Clay, 5 Pound, Non-Hardening and Individually Wrapped, Long Lasting & Non-Toxic, Air Dry, Soft Molding Magic Clay for Kids, Beginners, and Artists

When talking about the best products for sculpting, we need to start with plasticine. This may be a cheaper alternative in some ways, but it is one of the more pliable products for model making. This option from Sargent gives you 5lbs or white clay to shape again and again as you create designs. It is a non-toxic substance with mass appeal for artists, crafters, and kids. It may be a little drier than other oily clays, but it is a great starting point.

2) Jovi Plastilina Reusable and Non-Drying Modeling Clay

Jovi Plastilina Reusable and Non-Drying Modeling Clay; 1.75 Oz. Bars, Set of 30, 2 Each of 15 Colors, Perfect for Arts and Crafts Projects, Multicolor (70-S)
Jovi Plastilina Reusable and Non-Drying Modeling Clay; 1.75 Oz. Bars, Set of 30, 2 Each of 15 Colors, Perfect for Arts and Crafts Projects, Multicolor (70-S)

A great alternative form of plasticine is this option from Jovi. You will find a lot of kid-friendly options and I love how this introduces children to model making through so many fun colors. There are 15 colors in total with two sticks of each. Kids can build, destroy, and recreate as much as they like. 

3) Monster Clay Premium Grade Modeling Clay

Monster Clay Premium Grade Modeling Clay (4.5lb)
Monster Clay Premium Grade Modeling Clay (4.5lb)

I couldn’t end this section on model making without taking a look at something more for “big kids”. This is sold as a more professional oil based clay for detailed model making. This one really is for grown-ups only because the best results come when you heat up the clay in the oven-safe tin to make it more pliable. Users can get great details and love the feel and consistency of the product. There is also the promise that it can be reused indefinitely for greater value. 

Oil Based Clay for Mold Making That We Like

1) Chavant NSP Medium Oil Based Sulfur Free Sculpting Clay

Chavant NSP Medium Oil Based Sulfur Free Sculpting Clay – Green (2 lbs.)
Chavant NSP Medium Oil Based Sulfur Free Sculpting Clay – Green (2 lbs.)

There is no reason why you can’t try plasticine for mold making as well. But you might prefer to use something with a bit more body and quality. Chavant is a popular brand with blocks in different hardnesses and a sulfur-free formula. This medium 2lbs block shouldn’t be too difficult to work with to create the best impressions and mold for your work. The green color is just one option, but it should contrast with pale plaster casts or resin. Just be aware that some find it oilier than Monster Clay.

5) Sculptex Hard Non-Drying Sulfur-Free Modeling Clay

Sculptex Hard Non-Drying, Sulfur-Free Modeling Clay - 1 lb. Bar
Sculptex Hard Non-Drying, Sulfur-Free Modeling Clay - 1 lb. Bar

Last up in this product list, we have this option from Scupltex. This is another sulfur-free option but this time there is a harder consistency. This might make it easier to create a strong mold that holds its form. It is still malleable with heat and easier to work with. There are different colors again, depending on your needs, but you only get half as much as you do with a 2lbs Chavant block.

How To Make Oil Based Clay

Finally, I want to talk about the potential for making oil based clay at home. I personally wouldn’t advise doing so because of the mess, fumes, and other safety implications. But the option is there if you are keen and careful. First, you need to get your ingredients of hydrated lime, good beeswax to avoid the chemicals of paraffin, some baby oil, and petroleum jelly. Melt together in a pan inside another pan of boiling water. Leave it to cool on baking sheets covered in foil until soft enough to use.

Is Oil Based Clay Right for You?

Oil based clay has great advantages for model making and mold making but the non-hardening formula is the deal-breaker. If you want something, you can reuse and for draft models and different mold then the clays and plasticine products above are great. If you need something that hardens, you are better off with air-drying clay which can be painted or oven-baking clay.