Make Cold Porcelain Clay Beads & Wooden Toy Abacus (Soroban)




Introduction: Make Cold Porcelain Clay Beads & Wooden Toy Abacus (Soroban)

I needed to make specific coloured beads for my wooden soroban / suan-pan / abacus.
This wooden abacus would make a great gift any child would enjoy playing with!
Learning abacus is a fun way to introduce Bill Handley's Fun and Fast Speed Math Method.
I like his Speed Math method as it is stress free, simple and fast and so much easier to get the correct answer everytime!

This instructable shows the new recipe I developed for the abacus beads and how
I constructed the abacus from wood in under an hour. The beads took a few days to dry thoroughly.

After several experiments with the Cold Porcelain Clay recipe, I accidentally
discovered a good recipe for making beads. Previously, everything seemed
to crack and shrink and warp the next day.

This new recipe (modification of the bird's next recipe and uses two additional ingredients)
can be used for millefiori beads as well, which I'll put up some examples soon. This new recipe dries a
lot faster, after 30 minutes without cling wrap it was drying out. It took a week to dry thoroughly
and shrank a bit.

And the best part, I must say is - no baking necessary! You can keep the colours separate
so your design will have consistent harmony to your artwork, you can make
canes and even millefiori with greater ease and even skinner blends through a pasta machine.

This instructable will show you how to make mixed media beads with the new Cold Porcelain Clay recipe (3rd version).

Watch the high definition tutorial below:

Step 1: New Cold Porcelain Clay Recipe

Extra Sticky Cold Porcelain Clay Recipe :

1 cup cornflour
2 cups pva (wood) glue
3/4 cup water
2 tbl glycerine

Mix water and glue in pot. Boil on medium heat for 2 minutes. (This helps boil off the alcohol)
Stir in cornflour mixed with a bit of water, and remaining ingredients.

** You might also wish to microwave all ingredients in a bowl for one minute. First place in bowl of boiling water, glycerine, pva wood glue. Sitr until gelatine crystals and cream of tartar is dissolved. Stir in flour then microwave for 1 - 2 minutes. Cover with plastic. Knead when cool.

Leave overnight till less sticky (preferably a week) and ready to use.

An easier option that's quicker than 2-minute noodles in a cup - mix all dry ingredients together then add boiling water and wet ingredients. Knead well, adding more cornstarch as needed.

NB: This recipe resulted in a sticky mixture which is difficult to handle,
but simply knead in 70 - 50% more flour after cooking, it has a great texture.

Knead thoroughly to work the gluten in the cornstarch into a lovely pliable dough.

The added bonus to using the larger pva ratio in this recipe was no cracks!

Step 2: Playdough + CPC (4th New Recipe)

Later I experimented with another mixture where I mixed playdough recipe with 1/4 ratio of
the sticky cold porcelain clay then kneaded both together adding 40 % more cornstarch flour.

They held their form well, but the real test is in a few days how much distortion or shrinkage will occur.
UPDATE - ration of 2:9 for playdough and cold porcelain clay might result in a better mix. The beads distorted
and turned into lumpy looking rocks. If that is the effect your looking for, this clay is it.

This 'clay' dries quickly in direct sunlight, though indoors stays sticky for days.
Its more economical also since less cornflour and pva wood glue is needed.

Here's the ingredients:

Playdough Recipe
2 tbl tartaric acid
3/4 cup salt
3 cups water
4 cups plain flour

Bring water, salt and tartaric acid to simmer. Once salt crystals dissolved turn of heat and add flour.
Stir with wood spoon until smooth. Cook at medium heat until a dough forms. This method tends to
have less lumps and results in a smoother mixture.

Cold Porcelain Recipe
1 cup water
2 cups PVA wood glue
1 cup cornstarch flour

Mix water and glue in pot well first. Add cornstarch. Turn on meadium heat until a sticky gluey mixture forms.
Turn off heat, add 1/4 more cornstarch flour and stir well with wood spoon. It should result in a sticky dough.

Make playdough and cold pocelain (3rd recipe) separately.
Remove from stove. While still warm knead 1/3 cold porcelain mixture together with 2/3 playdough mixture.
Knead in extra 1/4 cup of cornflour till dough is pliable.
The resulting dough is wonderful for rolling with pasta machine and rolling pin.

Step 3: Dig Around for Mixed Media

I found some scraps of golden ribbon, silks and interesting patterned fabrics.

You could also use printed images from your colour printer.

Roll clay which has rested overnight (or a week preferably) with 60 -100% more cornstarch.
You'll find that the clay remains slightly sticky yet quite manageable.

Colour your clays as you like. I used gouache and black inks.

Dust the work area with a bit of cornflour to prevent sticking. Form beads by rolling with hands or rolling pin.

You might like to experiment with skinner blends or stamping and embossing or nail polish for special effects.

Step 4: Decide on a Design and Stick With It

After collecting some bits and pieces of coloured fabrics,
I had to decide how to arrange them on the bead.

I wanted the golden pattern to sit facing the front.
That way, they will contrast a row of plain textured and coloured beads clearly.

Use a bit of watered down pva wood glue to stick the fabric to the freshly made beads.

Other designs I used watered down pva glue to attach tiny asparagus and fava bean
flowers to the bead. The pink and blue design was pushed through a pasta machine
to create a skinner blend.

I was really surprised with the texture of this clay as it was great to work with and
did not stick and the colours remained separate so I could make several beads
patterned identically. Aft drying several days these beads
have few cracks. I noticed more cracks in over floured pieces.

The last photo shows an example of the mushy texture of the clay minus gelatine and tartar.
The colours tend to mush together. This was the 2nd recipe - which works well for bird's eggs.

Now poke a hole through the bead with a thin wire or the flat end of a floured bamboo stick.

Later, I will varnish the beads with Diamond Glaze once they are dried thoroughly.

Step 5: Different Kinds of Beads

I found some scraps of golden ribbon, silks and interesting patterned fabrics.

You could also use printed images from your colour printer.

Roll clay which has rested overnight (or a week preferably) with 60 -100% more cornstarch.
You'll find that the clay remains slightly sticky yet quite manageable.

Colour your clays as you like. I used gouache and black inks.

Dust the work area with a bit of cornflour to prevent sticking. Form beads by rolling with hands or rolling pin.

You could also embed things into the coloured clay then seal with Diamond Glaze to give a glassy appearance to your beads.

Step 6: How to Make a Wooden Abacus With Feet

I chose a simple colour scheme for the beads, black, lime and blue.
Later I will glaze them with a gloss varnish, but I quite like the matt look as well.

The colours were made by mixing food colouring into the clay. For the black clay,
I mixed a few drops of Chinese ink into the clay. This clay mixture has a small
amount of play-dough added to the cold porcelain clay. I noticed the
play-dough shrinks a lot less than the cold porcelain clay.

Step 7: Putting the Abacus Frame Together


pva glue
hand drill
bamboo skewers

First I measured a bit of wood so that it would fit around 10 rows to fit the clay beads.

Then I marked the distance to place the bamboo sticks. Next drilled a hole large enough to
fit the bamboo skewers in later.

Next time for drilling.

Step 8: How to Put Feet on the Abacus Frame

I noticed various designs possible to make the abacus stand firmly on a desktop.
This was the design that I came up with after looking at the bits of wood I'd chopped up.

First I marked holes to insert toothpicks to create a mini dowel join. I think this may
strengthen the join. Later I may add an L-brace for extra support.


Step 9: How to Insert Beads

Next I put a bit of pva wood glue at the joints and pushed the feet to the sides.
Then I stuck on a bit of sticky tape to temporarily help support the drying pieces.

Next, I pushed in the bamboo skewers at the drilled marked spots. Pushed four earthly
beads and one heavenly bead as this abacus will follow the Japanese soroban design.

You might wish to add a bit of glue if using wire instead of bamboo.

There you go - all done in an hour or so!

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    2 years ago

    You mention PVA glue being WOOD GLUE. Just wanted to correct that, as PVA glue is white school glue, such as Elmers. Using the wrong type of glue could very possibly make a big difference in the end product. I've heard other people say wood glue is not suitable for this purpose, which is why I mention it, although I've not yet tested it myself.

    I'd suggest trying smaller test batches using both types of glue - PVA and WOOD GLUE - & comparing results before making a full batch.


    Your ingredients don't call for tartar powder:
    "Extra Sticky Cold Porcelain Clay Recipe Ingredients:"
    A. 1 cup cornflour
    B. 2 cups pva (wood) glue
    C. 3/4 cup water
    D. 2 tbl glycerine
    But then you write:
    ... "Sitr until gelatine crystals and cream of tartar is dissolved"

    Would you please clarify what the ingredients / instructions are?


    8 years ago on Introduction

    i made porcelain clay with recipe 3 in microwave.. however my dough did not cook completely as my bowl was oval .. today is the second day of that dough. it is pliable but its sticky slightly. any advice?


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Didn't go through the steps for the different recipes, as I was only interested in the first one. See you mention gelatine and in the method but not in the ingredients list. How much do you use of these. Do let me know as I'd love to make this for my clay flowers. Thanks

    Gomi Romi
    Gomi Romi

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for your question, I tested using gelatine and non-gelatine and they later didn't make a difference. I used about 1 tbl diluted in hot water. Later I found out about using mostly glycerine and less water to prevent cracks, so I'd go with glycerine instead of gelatine.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for sharing that info. So did the clay dry without cracks when you used the glycerine?? Used to make clay flower arrangements for the family and friends wedding and celebration cakes i p o icing ones. ( that way the flowers last forever ) Now want to make a lot again for my display cabinet--- just for the fun of it. Thanks again, Gomi.


    I'm excited to try this recipe! I do have a question though... when you leave the clay out overnight, is it covered? Uncovered? Airtight? I just want to do all I can to set this up for success and I wasn't positive how to leave it overnight. Your recipe is appreciated and as I said, I'm very excited to try it! Thanks for your submission!


    Gomi Romi
    Gomi Romi

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Hi there! sorry for the late reply.. I usually cover it with plastic wrap immediately after cooking. A viewer on another site recommends using a lot of glycerine and hardly any water to prevent cracking.

    Gomi Romi
    Gomi Romi

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    You're welcome! I wrap the clay up with plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge, that way it will last longer. Also a person below said to use glycerine and less water to prevent cracks. I looked at some puppet hands I sculpted last year and its still pretty solid.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    You said corn flour was the same as corn starch earlier but it isn't. They are two separate and different things. Which one is it exactly, corn starch or corn flour? I want to make sure and buy the correct things before I waste a lot of money trying to make this.

    Gomi Romi
    Gomi Romi

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I would try corn starch first, i think in different countries its different things. I used cornstarch that is finely ground and the dough you make looks very white. It's around 99c for a packet in Australia.

    Gomi Romi
    Gomi Romi

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Sure, I tried several experimental recipes, it worked without gelatine. I think adding that tiny extra bit of playdough clay helped prevent a lot of shrinkage. Too much of the playdough creates a bumpy, lumpy surface (could've blended it perhaps)

    Gomi Romi
    Gomi Romi

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    The waterbased clay here