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Make custom made to fit thimbles, out of Epoxy Putty or Polymer Clay (for sewing) cheap, quick, and easy!

Here's a repeated problem that I've had over the years. I'll be sewing, stitching, or mending something *manly*. Things where the material is thick and hard to sew. Things like tents, backpacks, luggage, leather, thick denim, upholstery, or 1000+ denier nylon. You get the idea. *Manly* stuff. Usually instead of thread I'm using 60lb test spectra braided fishing line. So the needle I'm using usually isn't your standard wimpy sewing needle. I'm using a *manly* upholstery needle.

But here's the problem. I can get the needle into the material but I need a little extra help poking it all the way through. Typically I'll resort to using my multi-tool pliers to man-handle the needle through the material. This makes for a very slow process. Constantly dropping the tool to pull the thread through, then picking it back up again to poke the needle back through.

Ideally I'd like to have a thimble. But I've got big old MAN hands. I'm over 6 foot tall and 200lbs. I've got big hands. I've searched for years in the craft stores and fabric stores for a *MAN* sized thimble, and never found one. The usual thimbles I've found don't even fit on my pinkie finger. Now recently I've found that there are some flexible thimbles out there that can stretch to fit fingers of different sizes. However, I just don't think they would be able to hold up to the types of projects I want to use them for.

I need a MANLY, Man Sized, MAN thimble! For MAN projects. So since I can't find anything out there, I started thinking, "how could I make a rough and tumble Manly Man thimble?".

Making one out of metal sounded difficult and time consuming at best. I saw an instructable here on how to make a man thimble out of duct tape and a dime. A good start I'm thinking, and a brilliant idea. Personally, I love any projects that I can use duct tape for. But I wanted a solution that would be a little more robust.

So my next thought is ceramics. I've seen many thimbles made out of ceramics, but they are always too small for my fingers. So with polymer clay I could make my own man thimble. Polymer clay is available at any craft store or W*lmart. There's some advantages to this approach. You basically have infinite molding time with it. If you make a mistake you can ball it all up and start over. You don't need a kiln to fire it, because it cures at approximately 275 degrees Fahrenheit (135 degrees Celcius) in a toaster oven. Most people use a separate toaster oven just for polymer clay and not for food. I've got one and have done a few polymer clay projects.

Now I should mention that sometimes I don't use a toaster oven for baking my polymer clay. I simply put my project on a glazed white tile that I got at the home improvement store for under $1. I then cover the tile with aluminum foil, then place the whole thing directly on the electric burner of my electric stove. I set it to the lowest setting I can, then set the timer for 15 minutes. After that I remove the whole thing and let it cool for an hour.

The problem with polymer clay is that I've found it to be rather brittle and falls apart with a little bit of man-handling, that may be a result of over-baking. I may revisit this idea, because maybe if I coat it in a couple of polyurethane it might hold up. I'm going to try that technique too.

UPDATE: I've made a thimble out of polymer clay and it worked just fine. You have to make it a little thicker than with epoxy putty, but it works! I didn't even need to coat it with anything (polyurethane). My previous attempts with polymer clay produced items that were brittle, but I think now that that was probably due to over baking and uneven heating.

Then another thought hit me. I've been using plumbers epoxy putty for fabricating missing pieces lately. My wife's fishing pole had a broken piece on it and I used epoxy putty to fill in the missing pieces. It was the part that holds the reel to the rod. I'd never used epoxy putty before and I was surprised at how *AWESOME* the stuff is. It worked perfectly and is almost as strong as metal. So I then used it to fabricate a missing hinge part which holds an axle for a clasp on my tackle box. And it's held strong. Color me impressed.

Epoxy putty is damn manly stuff. It's instantly gone to the top of my favorite manly materials list. Some kinds of epoxy putty actually have metallic powder in them, so they are partly metallic. If you've never used or seen the stuff before, I *HIGHLY* recommend you get a stick of it. It's simply awesome stuff! It's available in the hardware section of just about any store. I've found it at HomeDepot, Lowes, Ace, W*lmart, and even hobby stores.

A note about epoxy putty, for those of you that are unfamiliar with it. It's a two part putty. It comes in a cylindrical stick form. Usually in 2oz or 4oz sizes. Basically there is a core of one material which is one color, with a second material wrapped around it which is a different color. You slice off the amount you want to use from the stick, then knead the two materials together until you get a uniform color out of the putty. I use a folding technique similar to how you knead bread dough. This should only take about a minute or two. Now that the two parts of the putty are well mixed together you have about 20-25 minutes to work with it until it hardens enough that you can't really work with it any more. So you mold and form it at this point into the shape that you want. Then you just let it sit and cure for 24 hours. The package says it only takes an hour to harden, but for this project I found that 24 hours is best. It was much harder 24 hours later than it was an hour after mixing the putty. And that's it, no oven baking like with polymer clay.

Oh and "I made this at TechShop", BTW! Everyone in the shop was asking me what the heck I was doing, and after I explained it to them they all said it was a great idea.

So let's get started shall we?

Step 1: Materials List:

1 standard toothpick (or a fancy one)
Some plastic wrap
a sheet of paper
some scissors
a file or piece of sandpaper

two bamboo skewers (or something straight and even about that width)

some masking tape

some clear tape

a spare piece of wood or a small cutting board

a bottle (or something to roll the material out smooth and even)
a razor blade

a stick of epoxy putty. (I had some left over from a previous project) OR a 2oz package of polymer clay.

NOTE: You can get epoxy putty that sets fast, but personally I don't like this kind for most projects because I like to take my time and work the putty to perfect it before it sets. So, especially for your first project, I'd recommend getting the longest setting epoxy putty you can find.

*optional : a small package of polymer clay, you might find this handy to practice your molding technique before going with the epoxy putty. Personally I would *strongly* recommend that you do this. I did this when making my first one and it helped me greatly. You won't bake the polymer clay so you can re-use it for another project. I love this stuff and it's on the list of something that I like to carry with me whenever I know I'm going to be making or fixing something. Along with epoxy putty as well, that is.

UPDATE: I've made a thimble completely out of polymer clay and it works just fine. I just had to make it a little thicker than with the epoxy putty, and give it even heating in the oven. But it works fine.

Step 2: Fabricating the Dimple Maker

Ok, most commercial or even antique thimbles have dimples on them. They are there so that the end of the needle doesn't slip around on you and cause problems. So we are going to want dimples on our thimbles as well.

To make the dimples I took a fancy cocktail toothpick. Mine was only pointy on one side. But most common toothpicks in the U.S. are double sided. So with these you will want to cut one tip off at the fattest (thickest) part of the toothpick first with the razor blade.

First I broke off the fancy top piece, this is going to break off anyway. Next you just use some sandpaper (or the file from your multi-tool) to round off the tip. We just want a nice smooth dome on the end to make the impressions into the material which will make our dimples.

Step 3: Make Our Template and Making Our Jig for Rolling.

So I made two before I wrote this Instructable. One for my thumb and one for my forefinger. I used what I learned from making the first two, to modify my techniques. You only want the thimble to cover the tip of your finger up to your first knuckle (but not covering it). You'll want the extra mobility of that first knuckle when using the thimble.


The next thing I thought of was to make a paper pattern of the approximate size of the finger used so you know how much to roll out your material.

So cut out a paper rectangle which fits around the finger that you want to make the thimble for, from the tip to the first knuckle. Place this on a flat surface. I used a spare piece of wood from the shop, but a small cutting board would work as well. Over this I put a sheet of plastic wrap (saran wrap). Over the plastic I taped two bamboo skewers. These are to make sure when we roll out or polymer clay or epoxy putty we get a uniform sheet.

Step 4: Roll the Epoxy Putty (or Polymer Clay) Into a Uniform Sheet and Cut It.

NOTE: In the pictures I'm substituting white polymer clay in place of epoxy putty. But they both mold and shape very similar.

Now epoxy putty sets up rather quickly so I'd recommend practicing your molding technique first. For this I'd recommend using polymer clay. It's available at craft stores, and a small 4 ounce package is available for around $1 (US). It goes under the names of Fimo or Sculpey and there are others.

Take your polymer clay and knead it at this point to soften it up, this takes about 3-5 minutes. You'll need a little less than an inch (2.5cm) cube of the material (depending on the size of your finger). You'll need more for a thumb. This is probably the best material to practice with as it's very forgiving and if you mess up you can ball it all up and start over. You don't have any time limit to work with this material. Plus when you are done practicing you can ball it up and save it for another project.

If you are ready for the epoxy putty, cut off about an inch of the stick with a razor blade. We can get this stuff pretty thin and it will still be strong. Mix it (knead it) together until you get a uniform color. Remember you only have about 20 minutes to work with this material.

Place your material on the plastic wrap over the paper pattern. Place a second sheet of plastic wrap over the material. I did not do this in the pictures because I was working with polymer clay. Then use a bottle to roll it out into a uniform sheet which covers your paper pattern. I recommend having a bit of overlap all the way around. The paper template that we made is just a guide so we know about how much we need. You want the overlap on the top to fill in the tip of the finger. You want the overlap on the bottom to make a nice lip for the opening of the thimble. You want the overlap on the sides so that they need together into a cylinder. You can use a razor blade to trim the sides. I rolled my material out to just under 1/8th of an inch thick (about 2-3 mm).

Step 5: Make a Lip or Rim

NOTE: In the pictures I'm substituting white polymer clay in place of epoxy putty. But they both mold and shape very similar.

Remove the top layer of plastic wrap. On the bottom edge take the excess material and fold it back up upon itself. This makes for a nice little rim for the thimble.

Step 6: Thimble Shape Fabrication

NOTE: In the pictures I'm substituting white polymer clay in place of epoxy putty. But they both mold and shape very similar.

Wrap your finger with a small bit of plastic wrap so that the material does not stick to your finger. Remove the material sheet from the plastic wrap and wrap it around the tip of your finger (which is wrapped with plastic wrap). Remember the rim side should be next to your first knuckle. I like to put the seam at the top of the finger, because you'll be putting dimples on the bottom (fingerprint side) of your finger. Work the material so that the two edges are well joined together. Next take the excess at the top and mold it around the tip of your finger. I pushed the tip of my finger into a flat surface to make a flat top, and did the same with the fingerprint side of the finger to make a flat(ish) face on the thimble.

Step 7: Making the Dimples

NOTE: In the pictures I'm substituting white polymer clay in place of epoxy putty. But they both mold and shape very similar.

Then take the dimple maker that you made out of a toothpick in step 2. Use this to make indentations into the thimble for your dimples. I've found you have to make these a bit deeper than you'd think because they seem to relax a bit when working on the material. I made a pattern of dimples at the top and one on the fingerprint face. If you are on the epoxy putty step, once you have your dimple pattern set, go back around to all the dimples again with the dimple maker. Mine seemed to un-mold a bit while fabricating them. Make sure you don't make your dimples too deep, because you don't want the needle poking through once it's done. I'd say you want dimples that are just about 1mm (less than 1/16th of an inch) deep, maybe just a hair less than that.

Step 8: Curing/Hardening

This one (in the pictures) is made with epoxy putty. It's the mark III. It may not be pretty but it's supposed to be MANLY after all!

Assuming you are using epoxy putty, once you have it molded (and dimpled), leave it on your finger for 20 minutes. Just sit around and watch TV. Don't move your hand around, just let it sit. After 20 minutes the epoxy should be firm enough to remove from your fingertip without distorting the shape of it. The plastic wrap that you had wrapped around your finger should stay stuck inside the inside of the thimble. I used gentle twisting, rocking motions to coax it out. Place it open side down on a flat surface for an hour, then flip it over and leave it over night. Epoxy putty get's firm in 20-30 minutes, but I've noticed that it doesn't reach it full hardness until after 24 hours.

And there you have it. You now have a MANLY, MAN sized thimble for your MAN projects, which is perfectly fit to the size of your finger. I noticed that my index finger thimble fit fine around my right hand index finger but was very loose around my left hand finger. Basically, what I'm saying is that your hands aren't perfectly symmetrical, so each thimble will only best fit the finger for which it was made. The one in the pictures here is the mark III, which is for my left hand index finger.

<p>Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I'm teaching a small nine year old to sew, and there are no thimbles small enough for her. This may be the solution. </p>
<p>BTW, last night I made one out of polymer clay and it came out just fine. I've been subjecting it to punishment all morning and haven't broken it yet. I just had to make it a little thicker than with epoxy putty.</p>
<p>Even better! Which specific product did you use? Going a less toxic route is attractive, and the potential for something colorful is a plus. </p>
<p>I just used Sculpey III, but only because I bought a big brick of it at WallyWorld to use with my many projects. Premo, Fimo, and Kato would probably be better choices. Personally I've found Kato to be my go-to brand when I want something more robust.</p><p>But here's a site that's done all the compression, tension, and flexibility tests for us all aready.</p><p>http://www.garieinternational.com.sg/clay/shop/tension_test.htm</p>
<p>Thanks so much for the link! I'll check it out.</p>
<p>I've updated the image for the instructable to include an image of the polymer clay thimble.</p>
<p>Well the epoxy putty isn't toxic, especially after it's cured. But the polymer clay is definitely listed as non-toxic. I had some old sculpey III pieces that I mixed with some more sculpey that I bought at WallyWorld recently. The new sculpey was certainly softer and creamier than my older stuff. I baked it in a toaster oven set between 275&deg;F and 300&deg;F for 30 minutes<em>.</em></p>
<p>Oh well I hadn't thought of the other end of the size spectrum! That's interesting. You are welcome! I was hoping many others could make use of this technique.</p>
<p>Excellent! I have also used the multi-tool method with my upholstery needles.</p>
<p>Yep! But it makes for slow going. These thimbles speed things up a bit and I'm done faster. Plus they are cheap, easy to make, last a long time, and it's a fairly quick project.</p>

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Bio: Just your typical Evil Mad Scientist, constantly thinking of new inventions to subjugate the world with! I'm big on hydroponics, electronics, and small portable ... More »
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