What malleable substance can be shaped like clay for craft projects but turns out lighter like styrofoam once hardened and dried?
November 13, 2009 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Does this substance exist? Arts & crafts people or hardware store people: for a craft project, I want a material that is malleable like clay but winds up lighter-weight like styrofoam/polystyrene once it has set and hardened. Maybe it it's dispensed from a tube or can?

I want to make some creative and whimsical frames for some irregularly sized/shaped art, which is too fun for regular frames. I'm looking for a material that is malleable like clay that I can form into fun shapes, which then dries and hardens and is lightweight like something approaching styrofoam, or at least a lot lighter than clay.

Have you ever seen somebody make a frame out of clay spirals? They roll the clay into long thin tubes or strips and then roll those up in to sweetroll spirals. Then they glue those spirals to a backing and/or to each other so that a border of those spirals squished tightly side by side goes all the way around whatever they're framing. Often they paint them and glue on other stuff.

I want to do that, but I don't want something as heavy as clay. I want something that is maybe sprayed out of a can or probably something thicker that is squeezed out of a tube like toothpaste or like caulk from a caulk gun. I want to aim and twist and prod and shape that stuff into various shapes and designs, the spirals are one example, maybe with some wavy tentacles to go along with them, and then leave it to set or dry. At the end of it I want something that is rigid and lightweight and holds its shape. Ideally the finished product would be lightweight like styrofoam and have a smooth surface that accepts paint nicely. A bit heavier than styrofoam is fine, particularly if it's stronger than styrofoam.

I understand that thanks to silly old physics, I may have to give up one or more of those qualities to get the others, but just shoot for the closest thing you can think of. It doesn't have to squirt out of a can or tube, that's just how I was thinking I might get a material that's lightweight.

I've found Versi-Foam, but it's more like spray insulation and requires a framework and special equipment and then sculpting and sanding. I'm looking more for something that can be dispensed in a more limited and controlled way that will stay in its toothpaste-like tube shape if I do nothing else to it. It's hard to imagine, but if it could be not so sticky like caulk, that would allow me to do other things with it than leave it in the tube shape. Basically I want something with the malleable properties of clay that winds up very lightweight.

Arts and crafts people in the house, or even hardware store materials people, what substance am I looking for?
posted by kookoobirdz to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Despite being marketed towards kids, Crayola Model Magic is pretty easy to work with, dries very lightweight, and can be painted. And I'm sure there's a lot of different guns and tools you can get to go with it. It's pretty fun to work with.
posted by amethysts at 11:41 AM on November 13, 2009

or like caulk from a caulk gun

There's your answer. Just lubricate your sculpting tools to avoid the stickiness issue. Painting could be a bit difficult, but I'm sure it can be done.

Have you considered something like Polyfilla? Lightweight, dries well..
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:43 AM on November 13, 2009

Best answer: paper clay. I've never used that brand, but check a few out. I've found Japanese brands usually dry lighter. It's not quite as heavy as styrofoam, but it's much, much stronger.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:44 AM on November 13, 2009

quite as light as styrofoam, that is.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:45 AM on November 13, 2009

I'm seconding the Crayola Model Magic. It sounds like it would work really well for what you want.
posted by TooFewShoes at 11:49 AM on November 13, 2009

Best answer: What sort of volume are you looking for? Could you make a positive in clay or something water soluble, then make a mold, and cast something? That opens you up to using _much_ lighter weight materials (plastics, foams, etc).
posted by paanta at 11:55 AM on November 13, 2009

Came in here to suggest Model Magic as well.
posted by runningwithscissors at 12:01 PM on November 13, 2009

I was going to suggest Crayola Model Magic too. It's pretty neat stuff.
posted by Miko at 12:01 PM on November 13, 2009

Best answer: Hearty Clay seems to be another possibility. Model Magic is probably the easiest to find, and really is a whole lot of fun.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:19 PM on November 13, 2009

Response by poster: Who's got two thumbs and is going to try out some Crayola Model Magic and some paper clay? This guy! Thanks everybody, and keep 'em coming.

And I like the mold/positive/cast idea too for more uniform shapes to use as building blocks for larger frames - some of them will indeed be larger. I could cast lots of them and glue them together. Maybe I'll try the Hearty Clay as an experiment in more flexible material that won't, say, break during packing and transport. Hey, I bet I could have an inexpensive, fun, and mall-free Christmas present making session with all of this stuff.
posted by kookoobirdz at 12:39 PM on November 13, 2009

you can carve the rigid insulation foam that comes in big pink or blue sheets from the home improvement store. It sands wonderfully smooth, and you can get fine detail with an Xacto. Or you can use it as a lightweight core and build sculpted elements onto the surface.
posted by Lou Stuells at 12:47 PM on November 13, 2009

DAP makes lightweight spackling compound which comes in a tub (Fast & Final Lightweight Spackle), and a patching compound that comes in a stick (Patch Stick - what else are you gonna call it?). These are not toothpasty but might be good to have around for patching any cracks that might develop in your sculpture as it dries. They're quite lightweight - people who fly model airplanes use them for filling in gaps and dings. You can find them at hardware stores and home-depot-type places.

Not toothpasty, but the stuff in a tub looks sinfully like cake frosting. You'll have to keep reminding yourself not to lick your fingers when you use it.
posted by Quietgal at 1:23 PM on November 13, 2009

I think Sculpey makes products like this.
posted by not_on_display at 3:02 PM on November 13, 2009

You can mix in rice with clay, it burns out in firing and the hollow spaces left behind result in the finished product weighing much less than otherwise.

(OK, technically it is as heavy as clay, but the weight would be less)

I have not tried this with other grain products, but teff or couscous might give you some easier working properties.
posted by yohko at 3:04 PM on November 13, 2009

There is a two part epoxy putty made by Abatron called Wood Epox that should ring your bell. You can mold it, saw it, chisel, it, plane it. It's tough as nails and it is quite light weight. But it's not cheap, around $35.00 for 2 pints.
posted by sgobbare at 3:09 PM on November 13, 2009

Great Stuff?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:59 PM on November 13, 2009

Response by poster: UPDATE: Got a couple test packs of Model Magic and it's great. So lightweight. A fistful of it weighs almost nothing, which is exactly what I needed. It dries overnight to a still slightly bendable final form.

Anyone else trying it may want to work some water into it fresh out of the package. If you spend any time making pieces that you're then going to bend, you can get some degradation in the bends so that it's not all the way smooth. Making it more moist to start with helps.
posted by kookoobirdz at 8:48 PM on November 15, 2009

Captain Safety here, just dropping in to say that Great Stuff contains isocyanates, which are considered kind of ultra-poisonous. Isocyanates are a sensitizer, which means that every time you use them in a product, you are more and more likely to have an allergic reaction. Their listed TLV-TSA is .005 parts per million, whereas acetone's TLV is 500 ppm, I think. And the allergy to isocyanates (as with many sensitizers) can take effect very suddenly, putting one at risk for anaphylactic shock. Skin contact can even play a role in respiratory effect.

CDC link here.
posted by lauranesson at 8:21 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Unbelievable. This is almost exactly the question I was going to ask on AskMeFi and here it is. I love this place.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:32 AM on February 24, 2010

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