The Dream Machine
Four colors per stack. Last color of the stack becomes the color of the exterior.
Remove the standard Makin's handle.
A Bullen's adapter for a power drill.
Load the tube.
One bead from 9 bits of cane
Ready for the oven.
Today's extrusion experiment

My Dream Machine

Something about a bullseye cane pattern delights me. Kandinsky's "Farbstudie Quadrate" is a favorite painting. I have "penny rugs" based on coin circles on my floors. Naturally when I first saw polymer clay extrusions which produce perfect bullseyes, I had to buy a clay gun and start extruding my own polychromatic versions.

Several problems arose. The original clay guns were torturous on your hands and the chambers had to be cleaned after every use. Clever artists came up with caulking gun adapters, cleaning brushes and other assists. I tried every version on the market. My father-in-law machined rods that fit the chambers more snugly but the process was still difficult and the results unsatisfactory.

The Makin's clay extruder with its small tight cylinder was a giant leap forward. By adding an adapter for a variable speed drill, all the problems have been solved and I have my dream machine. (Note: The big new Polymer Clay Express extruder is reputed to be quite good but I found its size intimidating since I don't want to produce large quantities.)

Makin's rod fits the chamber snugly and never requires cleaning. The adapter from Ohio manufacturer Bullen's Wullens works like a charm. If you have a good variable speed drill set on a slow speed, you'll produce perfect canes with no strain on your muscles and joints. (You'll have to call or email Bullens Wullens, their site is under construction.)

Here's my procedure

Create a palette of colors that you like making sure that you've included sufficient light, dark and medium values. I use Fimo classic lightened with Premo pearl for softness but there's no clear winner here. Roll the colors out your pasta machine's thickest setting.

Using a 3/4" circle cutter, cut out circles from your sheets of polymer and start to assemble them into random stacks combining no more than four colors per stack. Too many colors per stack result in less well-defined color.

I make lots of short stacks (15-20 slices each) so that I create lots of variation. You could fill the chamber (20-30 slices) each time if you wanted.

End each stack with the color you wish the exterior of the cane to be. I remind myself by saying, "Last in, first out." The cane will be coated with that last color in the tube (the one closest to the extruder die). You may want to reduce the diameter of stack of slices slightly by rolling with your hand to help it slide into the tube more easily.

Connect the extruder to the drill (I leave mine connected throughout my work session) and power the drill on the slowest speed available. You may want to wear a work glove on the hand that holds onto the tube as the drill extrudes. You have to grip the tube securely and hang on.

Reverse the drill once the tube is emptied. There may be some residue clay near the die to remove but I've never had to clean the chamber between batches. Reload the chamber and go again.

What's next

Now you will have several feet of cane. Wherever you slice the cane, the color combination at that point will be different from the rest of the endless variety. Isn't that amazing?

The real challenge is figuring out how to use those canes in interesting, fun, appealing ways. Extruded canes can quickly get visually boring. When I'm stumped, I consult Gustav Klimt or Vasily Kandinsky or Lindly Haunani or Donna Kato. I'm still trying to find new ways to use extrusions....slicing, stacking, shaping and recombining them.

Lindly often combines small polymer clay beads into triplets, or quadruplets. She forms several small beads together, offsetting them at interesting angles, piercing them and baking them as one unit. That way, when they're strung, they hang in a pleasing way.

In the example here, I cut 1/8" pieces of cane and skewered a group together into one bead. It looks good and strings quickly.

Finding a way to bring my favorite patterns to life in new ways is a dream come true.

Bullen's Wullens. 5711 County Road 13, Centerburg, Ohio 43011. 740-625-5554.