Intro: Monster Claws With Homemade Paper Clay
I like monster costumes. Unfortunately, most of them out there look cheesy, are too expensive, or both, so I end up making a lot of my own pieces. One piece I specifically have had trouble finding is some decent claws.
I wanted claws that had the following qualities:
- Looked realistic, or close-enough.
- Secure, but easy to put on and take off
- Hard to the touch
- Could be made without expensive tools or materials to purchase or with complicated molds (I might have cheated on the tools a bit, but you don't have to.)
I looked all over the internet for some monster claws that fit my needs and couldn't find any to buy. I also couldn't find any decent DIY videos or instructables that met my needs so I decided to figure it out on my own and show you how.
I made mine at TechShop where the laser cutter, belt and disc sander, and dremel sander made this easier but those tools aren't absolutely necessary. You should plan 3-4 days to make these, as there is some drying time required between some steps.
- Ultimate Paper Mache's "Paper Mache Clay" (I'll show you how to make this! This recipe makes WAY more than you'll need, so feel free to cut the recipe in half or even 25%)
- For Paper Clay: 1 1/4 cup CHEAP toilet paper
- For Paper Clay: 1 cup drywall compound
- For Paper Clay: 3/4 cup white/elmer's/PVA glue
- For Paper Clay: 1/2 cup white flour
- Something to make "rings" with. I used clear acrylic so my rings are mostly see-through, but you could use wood, heavy cardstock, wire wrap some, or even just buy ring blanks. You could hypothetically make the entire ring out of paper clay, but that's a little more complicated.
- Matte Mod Podge (You could probably get away with more PVA glue.)
- Brown leather dye (I used Eco-Flo Bison Brown. Feel free to experiment with other paints/dyes if you can't get your hands on this. You might not even want it at all depending on your look.)
- Some kind of sanding device and sandpaper. You can probably do this ALL by hand with sandpaper, but it will take much longer. I used a belt sander, a disc sander, and a dremel with an engraving tip and a barrel sander.
- Cheap paint brush for Mod Podge and leather dye.
- A food processor or blender, ideally. You could also use a bucket and drill with a paint mixer tip, or you can do this all by hand, which is fine, it just takes longer.
- Something to cut your rings with. I used a laser cutter for my acrylic, but you could use wood-working tools, or just a pair of scissors or an Xacto if you are making your rings out of cardstock.
- Measuring cups, for ingredients.
- Ideally, a container that will hold 1 QT or more with an airtight lid.
Step 1: Laser Cut Your Rings
If you've got access to a laser cutter, like at Tech Shop, you'll be able to laser cut rings that fit well. I used the Wikipedia Ring Size article to make a ring gauge on Corel Draw to test my fingertips and see what sizes fit best. My ring gauge is attached in .cdr and .eps and there's another gauge with the sizes I ended up going with. I ended up using sizes 7.5, 3.5, 4, 3.75, and 2.5. If your fingers are amazingly the same size, my rings are in that file as well.
I tested my fingers and noted their sizes, guessing at where I needed a larger or smaller size. Then I went into Corel Draw and drew out circles of those sizes, and gave it a little texture up top so the paper clay would have something to hold onto and not just grip smooth plastic. In hind sight, this definitely helped.
I cut those on the Trotec laser cutter and re-tested them on my fingertips. They look great! I used 4.5mm clear plastic for mine as I wanted them beefy and stable but didn't want them to be easily seen. In hindsight, it might be better to experiment with oval shapes as your fingertips aren't really that circular and they might be more comfortable in the long run with horizontal ovals. Also in hindsight, you may want your rings to be a little bigger than you'd expect because the paper clay ended up making mine a little tight. You can always add more paper clay to them and tighten them up if they're too loose.
If you don't have access to a laser cutter, you should be able to carve some basic blanks out of wood with a drill and a bandsaw, wrap your fingertips in cardstock and masking tape and make ring blanks, or wrap them in wire. Again, you can also buy ring blanks for this and save yourself a step. If anyone has any other ideas, let me know in the comments and I'll list it here!
Step 2: Make Your Paper Mache Clay
I use a slightly modified recipe to the one found on UltimatePaperMache.com. Jonni's paper clay dries hard, is really cheap, and shapes well once it's dried by sanding, so it's perfect for our claws. It also happens to make a very realistic looking bone material when finished out properly.
This makes about 1 qt of paper clay, which should be way more than we need for our claws. I was using it for some other projects too so it wasn't a problem for me. You can find the original recipe at Ultimate Paper Mache with a lot of tips and tricks from Jonni Good, the artist who runs the site. She's also got videos at that link that may make it easier to see what you're getting into. She does amazing work and I've been following her website for 5 years now. You can probably learn a lot from Jonni, but if you're just here for the recipe, I've included it here.
Materials for this step:
- 1 1/4 cup wet cheap toilet paper
- 1 cup joint compound (I use SHEETROCK Brand All-Purpose Drywall Joint Compound because it's what I already had at home. Jonni says don't use DAP.)
- 3/4 cup white/PVA/Elmer's glue
- 1/2 cup white flour
- Jonni's website also lists 2 tablespoons linseed or mineral oil but I haven't found this necessary. There's some discussion about the oil on Jonni's website if you're interested.
Take the cheap toilet paper and soak it in a bowl of warm water and squeeze it to remove any excess. The paper should be saturated, but not dripping. Shove it into a measuring cup like in the photo here. You want a total of 1 1/4 cups of compressed, wet toilet paper.
Break the paper up with your hands into small chunks, about 1-2" wide, put all the pieces into your mixer and chop it up until it's finely chopped. If you still see lumps, you need to chop it more. I use a food processor at home for this, but as I was making it at TechShop, I used a drill with a paint stirring bit. That worked ok, but no where near as well as a food processor. You can also tear this up by hand, but it will take a lot of work to keep it from being lumpy.
At this point, Jonni says to add all the other ingredients to the food processor and mixing it till it's smooth but I don't like throwing all these items into my food processor, as I only have the one and like using it for food. Toilet paper chopping in my food processor is one thing but joint compound and white glue? Gross.
Fortunately, I haven't had trouble mixing this by hand. Just get a handful and keep squishing it and squishing it until it's well mixed. If you still see dry flour or lumpy bits, keep mixing. You can also add a little water if it feels dry. My joint compound was partially dried out so I had to do this myself.
If you don't plan to use this right away or have extra when you're done, put it in an airtight container and leave it in the fridge. The clay will stay usable for a few days, but it will get moldy if you continue to wet it and don't use it quickly. If it smells, toss it out unless you don't mind your work smelling for a year or two. Trust me on this. Experience.
Step 3: Sculpting Your Claws, Step One
Sculpting my claws was my favorite part of this, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. This is the additive sculpting step. Step Two is subtractive.
At this point, you want to put your fingertip rings on and toll a ball of clay about the size shown in the photo. Mush the clay on top of the ring in the general shape that you want your claws. There is a lot of personal preference to this step, but I found the shape I went with works well. This clay shrinks a little as it dries, so make sure to leave yourself room for shrinkage. I didn't and they ended up tight. You might not have this problem if you made your fingertip rings fit loosely in the previous step.
You'll be sanding these down a lot later, so making them bigger and chunkier than you want in the end is a good idea. But note, the bigger and chunkier they are, the longer they will take to dry. If you want really big claws you might be better off using a form or by layering paper clay on top of more paper clay. If you have extra, feel free to make more and experiment.
When they've been sculpted into the shape that you want, carefully remove them and put them somewhere safe to dry. I only waited 24 hours for mine to dry, but it would have been better if I had waited 36 or 48 hours. More on that in the next step. Be sure to save any excess paper clay in case you need to fix anything.
Step 4: Sculpting Your Claws, Part Two
It's been a day or two and hopefully your claws are dry. If you've only waited 24 hours, you might want to wait longer, they may look dry on the outside but the inside might still be wet and crumbly.
Once they're dry, take them to whatever sanding tools you have available. I had good luck getting my basic shaping down with a belt and disc sander at TechShop. I've shaped this sort of thing using an orbital or palm sander, but the belt/disc sander is definitely better. I found I could get a good angle on the disc sander by reaching my claws around the edge as shown in the photo. I went back and forth between these two until I was happy.
When I finished here, I powered up the dremel and a 60 grit barrel sander and shaped the details and smoothed them out. I wanted mine to look a little rough, but you should be able to get a smoother finish if you move to a 120 grit sand paper after your 60 grit. I had issues with mine being too tight, so also had to get really deep in mind around the ring blank itself and clean it out. I found that a metal engraving tool in the dremel worked best for this.
If you do manage to damage your claws like I did, don't fret! If you saved your excess clay like I suggested, it's an easy fix. This stuff sticks to itself well so all you have to do is glob more on top of your broken pieces, wait for it to dry, and try again.
Keep sculpting until you're happy with them!
Step 5: Finishing Your Claws
I found the best way to get a real bone on this paper clay look was to seal this with Mod Podge. There are all sorts of materials that you might have on hand that would work just as well, and a watered down PVA glue might even be fine. I painted this on and let it dry. Don't glob it on, just paint a thin layer. If it seems too thick, it probably is. Put a little water on your paintbrush and thin it and spread it out. You can always add a second coat later.
I gave mine 3-4 hours to dry before staining this with watered-down Eco-Flo Bison Brown leather dye. Leather dye is one of my favorite materials for staining, aging and coloring. Pour a little bit into a bottle cap or other tiny container with a 50/50 mix of dye to water.
Then, paint on a light coat, paint and wipe it off with a paper towel or toilet paper leftover from the paper clay step. If they're too dark, keep rubbing it off with the paper towel. If they're too light, add another coat of dye.
Eventually, you'll have a full set of monster claws! Wear them with pride and please share your photos in the comments if you make these!