What’s in the cards?

Measuring Thickness on Pasta Machines

You can help create a Standard Thickness Guide for the polymer community by reading the measuring instructions and filling out an easy survey form by March 31, 2012.  All participants will be entered in a drawing for two prizes.

Let’s do it

Don’t you think it’s time we establish a standard way to refer to the thickness of sheets of clay? A few months ago Sage published an article in The Polymer Arts magazine that suggested a playing card method. Then independently on her blog Maggie proposed a metric stacking method that makes it easier to get metric measurements by stacking sheets to be measured by a ruler. Both methods generated many comments. The common theme was “let’s do it!”

Two methods

Developing a standard is not an easy task. We aren’t working with precision tools or a precision material. Thicknesses produced on pasta machines aren’t consistent even between the same models.  Polymer itself can increase in thickness after being rolled, bouncing back a small percentage when left to rest.

However, we’ve found in the variety of machines we tested that they can all produce sheet thicknesses that measure between 1 mm to 2.5 mm.  We’d like to recommend that teachers and writers keep references to sheet thickness in this common range. That way students and readers will be able to duplicate their instructions on whatever pasta machine they own.

Measuring sheet thickness in mm is fairly precise, but requires access to calipers or time to go through Maggie’s stacking method.  Knowing there isn’t usually time and rarely a caliper in a classroom, we tested the fast and easy playing card system and found the common range to be 3-8 cards.

To confirm our findings, we would love to get results from polymer artists from all over the world. You can help us finalize a Standard Thickness Guide by taking a few minutes to measure your machine and fill out an online poll.

As a thank you to those who pitch in, we will put you in a drawing for one of two items–A $20 gift certificate towards copies or a subscription to The Polymer Arts magazine or a copy of Maggie and Lindly Haunani’s book Color Inspirations.

PCDaily will publish the results of the poll and share the final version of our Pasta Machine Thickness Guide in an upcoming guest post. Thank you for helping.

  • reply Anita Brandon ,

    What a great idea. Headed to the toy chest to dig out some playing cards. Thanks for making participation in the survey so easy.

    • reply Amber ,

      What should we do if our pasta machine brand is not listed?

      • reply Sage Bray ,

        good question! I guess we should have thought of an ‘other’ category. Just pick one on the list and put your actual brand and model in the first box for measurements. Thanks for bringing that to our attention!

      • reply Anita Brandon ,

        I just finished measuring my two pasta machines and I’d like to suggest that people might want to consider using one of the more firm clay brands if they are going to use the millimeter method. I found it very easy to distort the pile of soft clay and get unreliable results. I also found that using the playing card method yields predictably less precise results because there were several settings on my DREAM machine where X 1/2 number of cards would have been closer to the true measurement.

        • reply Sage Bray ,

          There is a general lack of precision in using polymer clay–not a bad thing, just the nature of the material. Even after rolling the clay, we found that after ‘resting’ a few minutes clay would increase in thickness by 5-10% … and it looks like different types of clay might do less, others more. Using the cards is not as precise (can be off by up to 1/5th of a mm) but how one just handles the clay can make that kind of difference too. The idea is the cards are quick and easy and will get everyone close enough to be successful when following an article, book, tutorial or classroom instruction. The mm can give exact answers if you find you need it for a particular technique. And yep, soft or new clays does make stacking and measuring a little ‘sticky’. 🙂

        • reply Susannah ,

          Is that cured or uncured clay thickness measures?

          • reply Sage Bray ,

            Uncured. The measurements would be used in communicating a process so it would be from the point that you would roll your clay to work on that step of a project. Make sense?

          • reply Susannah ,

            Oh, sorry. BTW perhaps some of you are watercolor artists? If you are, you will know that the paper is measured by weight. Perhaps it would be easier to instruct your class to use xx gram of uncured clay an roll it thin enough for whatever measurement is needed for the project? In paharmacy, dyeing fibers, and cooking I use the metric system daily and not because I am in France. It’s because I worked in a pharmacy and found I could get a completely accurate measurement regardless of item being measured. It made no difference if it was a powder, a solid, a gell, or a liquid. All of these things are easier to measure whether in the metric system and scales for cooking are cheaper than a pasta machine.

            • reply Maggio Maggio ,

              Add it to the Other section at the end of the survey.

              • reply Sue O ,

                While not opposed to this, and able to see its value in some instances, part of me is wondering if too much concern with it will detract from the very nature of creativity and hoping that it won’t.

                • reply Sage Bray ,

                  Understandable. But its purpose comes down to being able to communicate, educate and record our techniques and processes so they’re reproducible. Most fine art crafts have extensive standards and/or specialized measuring tools but there doesn’t seem to be a lack of creativity because of it. I think we’re not used to it but if you teach or write, you know how hard it is to communicate without common standards. I think this can only help us.

                • reply Tina ,

                  Standard playing cards, I’m wondering if any one else has noticed…Plastic cards are slightly thinner. They look like regular cards. I just borrowed hubby’s new deck, lol. He says ‘don’t you dare knick a corner’…haha.

                  • reply DebbieG ,

                    Yes, I was wondering if playing cards were a ‘standard’ size themselves. I suspected the plastic ones were different. Has anyone actually researched if ‘standard’ playing cards are a pretty standard thickness between brands?

                    • reply Sage Bray ,

                      I went around town buying cards at different places including thrift stores where I picked up a number of used and oddball decks. I found that if you eliminate the cheap kiddie decks and only use the plastic laminated cards, the difference between decks is only, literally, a hair’s width every 3-4 cards or so. I used different decks on the same machines and got the same numbers. I also asked everyone that helped me with my poll last year to see if a stack of 10 cards came to 3mm (1/8″)–all did come in within a hair or two of that. I figured the cards had to be close enough since the PMC community has always used cards as a thickness standard and in their case, being off by much could be a matter of some serious money not just reproducing a step.

                    • reply Wendy Moore ,

                      Certainly if you teach and don’t happen to have a nicely uniform range of pasta machines but a somewhat rag tag collection gathered over time (of…say 6 different kinds of varying quality!!) , you will have needed to make some kind of consistent way of identifying at least thick, medium and thin. I think standardising is a great thing to do to get even an approximate rule of thumb about what each of those terms mean. Can I just say, Jamie Oliver makes a pasta machine that is potentially good for pasta but not so great for polymer. No really thick setting at all. Don’t get it for polymer even if it is a bit cheaper.
                      Happy standardising.

                      • reply Maggie Maggio ,

                        Hi Wendy – I too have a ragtag collection of pasta machines but I mostly use a good old Atlas 150 that I’ve had for almost 20 years! The new machines, even the same brand, are just not the same quality. I haven’t tried the Jamie Oliver machine but its too bad the range of settings isn’t bigger. We’re finding that the Imperia also has a narrow range.

                      • reply Barbara Forbes-Lyons ,

                        • reply jan montarsi ,

                          I don’t think I have any of the pasta machines on the list.
                          I have the cheap one from Michael’s . It is either amaco or sculpy.
                          I took the cover plates so ????
                          I really wish they would be made differently. One with a stationary roller and a second spring loaded roller that slid front to back with locking buttons or even a fully adjustable moving roller that tightens any where. The we could have a standard set of stoppers
                          That you could put between the rollers until you tighten it down at any position .

                          • reply Maggie Maggio ,

                            HI Jan – Its amazing how many different brands of pasta machines are out there. I have a few really strange ones. Maybe I’ll include a photo of them all in the next post.

                            If you don’t see the brand you have on the list, just add it to the Other section at the end of the survey along with your email and country. We are getting some names I’ve never heard of!

                            Great idea about adjustable rollers. Maybe someday we will have a sheeting machine made just for polymer that looks more like a ceramic slab roller.

                          • reply Deborah Groom ,

                            This is a great idea. I assumed that the different settings were equally spaced out but with measuring I can see that there is a lot of variation. This was really good to know. Now it is back to aliens and tentacles. I love claying!

                            • reply Anke Humpert ,

                              …this is a great idea!!! Just send in my measurements. This will really help to make things easier! I was wondering about the cards: I could not get a singel card through the 3 thinnest settings at all. And I hope the European Cards have the same thickness as the American ones have? Maybe that should be measured as well?

                              • reply Maggie Maggio ,

                                Good question. I have a deck of cards I bought in Italy that stacks up the same as my US cards but we haven’t tested European brands.

                                We do know that there’s not a standard thickness for a playing card. The thickness of a full deck of US playing cards ranges between 12.7 and 17.5 mm according to this site: http://www.homepokertourney.com/cards_review.htm .

                                That means single cards can be between .24 and .35 each. That said – most of the decks we tested came out at 10 cards = 3 mm.

                                There’s always going to be some air between the cards, and there will be differences in how easily or tightly the cards fit through at different settings. We are never going to be super accurate in our measurements – we just want to be close enough to be able to share clear instructions across the polymer community.

                                • reply Anke Humpert ,

                                  well, I guess most will measure both with the cards and the mms, so that can be compared. The mm measurements will be the ones more accurate anyway.
                                  I posted it on the polyclaykunst.de Forum, too, so I hope some of our members will take part….;-))

                                  • reply Sage Bray ,

                                    Thanks for re-posting this, Anke!
                                    mm will be more accurate but that kind of accuracy ends up not being so useful when it’s not reproducible on every machine. For instance I have a DREAM I can make a 2.6mm sheet on but the closest I can get to that on my Pasta Queen is a 2.4mm. Both take 7 cards at that setting so if we had instructions that said make a 7 cards sheet we know which setting to use regardless of the machine. If the instructions ask for a 2.5mm, you’d pick the closest setting but it wouldn’t be exact, just like the cards.
                                    There’s a conversation over at PCAGOE forum about this too … lots of wishing there was a machine we could calibrate ourselves! Maybe someday …

                                    • Anke Humpert ,

                                      …ahhh!!! I see what you mean!! That will be great for the thicker settings, but most of my thin settings are too thin to even pass one card through …so the cards wont help there!

                              • reply Susan ,

                                I haven’t tried yet but I prefer the measuring better that using cards. After after so many different cards (although not all standard playing cards) ot much use they do differ in thickness. Not too great as a standard then. Plus they are quickly disappearing – I can’t even find standard one any more, just the thinner crappier ones – unless they’ve changed them.

                                • reply ronna ,

                                  Wait a minute … people measure stuff??!!?? Whoa. Whole new concept for me. My pasta machine is way too unreliable for my results to be valid — don’t get me started about craftsmanship in tools and lack thereof — but I’ll be fascinated to see your results. Sage and Maggie, thanks for doing this.

                                  • reply Maggie Maggio ,

                                    Hi Ronna – I’m going to encourage you to measure your unreliable machine. We need results from all kinds of tests and besides, a little measuring here and there is OK now and then!

                                  • reply Joanne ,

                                    Since the space between rollers can be uneven from side to side, one end wider than the other, I have used my dad’s feeler guages to check for the pasta machine with the least uneven gap before I buy it. A ‘feeler guage’ is a tool for measuring gaps in engine parts, such as the gap between ‘points’ in the carberator, or setting the gap on spark plugs. They come with a variety of steel calibrated ‘slats’ in inch or millimeter increments. Tool catalogs or automotive stores should have them.

                                    Also, if either end of the space between rollers is wider than the other, the middle of the space should be the average, if you follow me. So the measurement should be taken between the middle of the rollers.

                                    Each thickness setting may change the space ‘balance’. At one setting the right end may be wider, but at another setting the left side may be wider, etc. Just a theory, because pasta machines were not made to be consistant or precise, lol.

                                    Anyway that’s my input on the subject. My pasta machine isn’t a top of the line one anyway, and the thickness settings are opposite from the usual ones. I will try to fill out your survey when I have time to measure my machine. The survey is a great Idea!


                                    Just my thoughts on the subject.

                                    • reply Sabine Spiesser ,

                                      The gap difference also changes with pasta machine age from my experience.

                                    • reply Claire ,

                                      I think this survey is a great idea and have just completed it but you should be aware that on Question 10 there is no option for ‘Other’ when it asks what brand of pasta machine. I have a Poly-Roller bought from Fire Mountain Gems but had to choose one of the brands listed otherwise it would not let me complete the survey – I chose Makins as I am guessing this might be the closest? I hope this does not skew the results, as I am sure there are many other brands of pasta machine that people use, particularly in countries other than America.Will be very interested to see the results.

                                      • reply Maggie Maggio ,

                                        Hi Claire – You are right. We should have added the “other” option and asked folks to write in the brand. But since we missed that – oops! – you can fill in the name of your pasta machine in the box at the bottom of #10.

                                      • reply Patricia Eggan Word ,

                                        II cannot take survey – my pasta machine is not on your list. Mine is by Fire Mountain Gems, called a Poly-Roller. M#’s are:
                                        1 – 8 cards
                                        2 – 6 cards
                                        3 – 5 cards
                                        4 – 3 cards
                                        5 – 2 cards
                                        6 – 1 card
                                        7,8,9 – 1 card

                                        • reply Maggie Maggio ,

                                          Thanks Patricia! I am filling in an Excel spreadsheet with the results and will add your data.

                                        • reply DENI DAVID ,

                                          where do I send the results of my measurements? This is a great idea and a necessary one. Thanks for doing it.

                                          • reply Sage Bray ,

                                            Use the link to the survey link (in the first paragraph). Thanks!

                                          • reply Maori polymer | Polymer Clay Daily ,

                                            […] brands of pasta machines by measuring how thick or thin your clay comes out and then filling out a quick survey. Adding your answers can help set a standard that works worldwide. The numbers will be tallied next […]

                                            • reply Worldwide Pasta Machine Survey | Smashing Color ,

                                              […] = "en"; Last week Sage Bray, the editor of The Polymer Arts magazine, and I had a guest post on Polymer Clay Daily about measuring thicknesses on pasta machines. We asked the polymer community to read measuring […]

                                              • reply Patricia Eggan Word ,

                                                I have a Fire Mountain Gems Poly-roller machine. My card #’s are as follows:
                                                #1 – 8 cards
                                                #2 – 6 cards
                                                #3 – 5 cards
                                                #4 – 3 cards
                                                #5 – 2 cards
                                                #6 thru #9 – 1 card

                                                • reply Linda W ,

                                                  I took the card measurement with my OLD pasta machine that I bought back in the early 90’s and am still using (I did replace the blades from another machine I had bought that did not last at all but the blades are good). My machine is a Marcato and does not align with the Atlas machines on the questionaire so I guess I cannot participate. But I love my machine. It’s solid and holding up under hard use at times.

                                                  • reply Nancy Buchanan ,

                                                    I think I failed the math and added an extra set of 0’s to everything! ‘glad I don’t have to use math when I’m creating my pretties 😉

                                                    • reply Nancy Buchanan ,

                                                      I just realized my numbers are all backwards — my pasta machine’s largest setting is a 6 & finest is the 1 — I guess that’s why I’ve always had problems when others’ instructions say “roll it out on a number 4 setting” and mine are too thick 😉

                                                    • reply Kelly Steindorf ,

                                                      I did one online poll and then could not enter the poll for the other 3 machines I have. So here they are. 2 machines do not have any marking on them so I have no idea what brand they are.
                                                      No Markings: No Roller Gaurds Amaco
                                                      #7 7 cards #1 8 cards #9 9 cards
                                                      #6 6 cards #2 7 cards #8 8 cards
                                                      #5 5 cards #3 6 cards #7 7 cards
                                                      #4 4 Cards #4 5 cards #6 5 cards
                                                      #3 2 cards #5 4 cards #5 4 cards
                                                      #2 1 card #6 2 cards #4 3 cards
                                                      #1 1 card #7 1 card #3 2 cards
                                                      #2 1 card
                                                      #1 1 card
                                                      I hope this helps. Good luck tallying the totals.

                                                      • reply Kelly Steindorf ,

                                                        My posting did not post as I wrote it. It was supposed to be seperated in 3 seperate machines. No Markings which went from #7 thick to #1 thin. No Roller Gaurds which goes froms #1 thick to # 7 thin and finally Amaco #9 thinck to #1 thin. So the last 2 readings actually go with the Amaco. I hope this helps. Kelly

                                                      • reply Kay Olson ,

                                                        I found the measurement using a deck of cards in my MAKINS Machine to be
                                                        #1 9 cards #2 7 cards #3 5 cards #4 4 cards #5 3 cards #6 2 cards #7 1 card
                                                        The #8 setting one card was tight, and the #9 setting was too tight for the card.
                                                        I was using an old set of Canasta cards, made by Hallmark.
                                                        Cutting the clay into 10 equal parts the MMs were #1 2.8; #2 2.1; #3 1.5; #4 1.3;
                                                        #5 1.0; #6 0.7; #7 0.6 number 8 and 9 were too thin to get a good measure.
                                                        The clay I used was Premo Accent Translucent.
                                                        Sorry I am late4 with this info, I have been out of town. Kay Olson

                                                        • reply Kimberly Idalski ,

                                                          I tried both my clay pasta machines. Wow what a difference
                                                          First my polyroller machine

                                                          my sculpey clay pasta roller

                                                          • reply Sharing a language | Polymer Clay Daily ,

                                                            […] Maggio on April 6, 2012 · 0 comments Thank you to everyone who participated in the Worldwide Pasta Machine Survey.  Now we can recommend labeling pasta machines with a thickness guide that will help set a shared […]

                                                            • reply Sabine Spiesser ,

                                                              I have several pasta machines and they are all different. I have also looked at decks of cards as it’s a common measurement for precious metal clays.The vary greatly in thickness.
                                                              Unless pasta machines can be calibrated carefully, it is in my view best to specify thickness in mm. This would allow artists to choose the closest required setting on their machine.
                                                              Colour coded plastic strips are available for rolling out metal clay. For those who need exact measurements these may do the trick, alternatively a polymer clay set can be developed by someone.
                                                              The thickness suitable for a project depends very much on the brand of clay. This may be a more important consideration than the actual thickness.
                                                              Any measurement in mm is definitely better than vague terms such as thin, medium, thick.

                                                              • reply sandra ,

                                                                Thank you for teach me the measuring thickness on pasta machines.

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