Intro: Salt Clay
While browsing the internet recently, I discovered something called Salt Ceramic. It is also, according to many websites, known as Victorian Salt Clay, though I am not sure if there is anything Victorian about it.
I was intrigued by it for a few reasons. First and most important, it's cheap. It is supposed to look and feel like stone when dry and be just as hard. And it is made from three simple, completely natural ingredients: Salt, cornstarch and water. It's easy to make, easy to clean up, and very kid friendly (age 3+).
So, I decided to give it a try.
Step 1: What You Need
There are just 3 ingredients in this recipe: Salt, cornstarch and water. It is a two step process, as you will see, so the water is divided into two amounts.
2 cups of salt
2/3 cup of water
1 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup cold water
- A pot, not too big, I used a 2 quart sauce pan
- Measuring cups
- A mixing bowl
- Wooden spoon
- Parchment or waxed paper
- Plastic bag or container for storage
Step 2: Make the Salt Mixture
Mix 2 cups of salt with 2/3 cup of water in your pot.
Place it on the stove over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 4 minutes. I don't know why, but all the recipes say 4 minutes, and it seems to work. It will start to get a little thicker and you will see it beginning to form a paste, as shown in picture #2.
Remove the pot from the heat before moving on to the next step.
Step 3: Add the Cornstarch
When the salt mixture is ready, very quickly pour the cold water into the bowl with the cornstarch and stir until it dissolves. Make sure the water is cold so that you don't get any lumps.
Add this to the salt mixture and quickly stir the two together.
At this point you should get a thick dough forming. As you can see, mine was watery. If this happens, just return it to the stove and heat it a little more. Watch it closely and keep stirring, it won't take very long to thicken up.
When it forms into a big clump you can lift with your spoon, it's done. This was a little bit more than done, because I paused to take pictures. It really goes fast, so you have to watch it closely and get it off the heat as soon as it's ready.
Step 4: Cool It
Remove your dough from the pot and place it on some parchment or waxed paper. At this point it's not sticky at all so if you don't have any paper just put it on a plate or right on your counter and it'll be fine.
All the recipes I looked at said to let it cool before kneading. I don't know if there is a reason for this, but I'm guessing the lovely shade of red you see on my hand there has something to do with it.
So don't be impatient like me and wait for a few minutes. Then knead it for a few minutes.
Step 5: A Few Minutes Later...
As I was kneading the clay, something didn't seem quite right. After it had cooled, I took it over to my work table and discovered that I had made a yellowish, slightly crumbly lump of rubber. This is not what I was expecting.
When I made it before, it was a very loose, grainy consistency and almost pure white. In picture #3 you can see an example of this. This photo was taken about a week later, to show how the mixture had become watery and sticky. My plan was to take a picture to show what it looked like before when I made it again. So, just imagine this only a bit thicker.
Either I did something wrong this time, or I did something wrong last time.
My guess is that the first time I didn't add as much cornstarch, which would explain the texture. The yellowish colour I believe may be from overheating it, the result of stopping to take pictures while it was cooking. It really cooks very fast and you have to get it off of the heat quickly when it's done.
I think I prefer the grainy version to the rubbery one, though I suspect the latter is more like it is meant to be. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. For example the rubbery version is much better for making things like flowers.
Step 6: Adding Colour
Colour can be blended into the clay, as with any homemade clay. I have found that it takes colour extremely well, with both acrylic paints and food colouring.
As the salt clay dries, it turns an opaque white, which causes the colours to fade. The little hearts were red when wet. They also developed a white powdery coating after several days.
The yellow and green are done with food colouring, the red, blue and black are acrylic paint. The food colouring gave it a more vibrant colour, as you can see, which did not fade as much.
I read that salt clay also takes paint well after it is dry and I wanted to try this. I started with the skull....
And also ended with the skull. As you can see, it did not go very well. I think it might have turned out better if I had sanded the surface first, or maybe applied a base coat. I will have to try again.
I made the little circles in this pendant with the cap of the sharpie, which gave me the idea of trying to colour it with a sharpie. This seems to work well.
Step 7: Modelled Figurines
The first thing I made with salt clay was this little bird. I used a small styrofoam ball for the body and then attached the head and tail feathers.
This was my second batch of clay, the grainy one. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to work with. I did not make my bird very detailed, that wasn't what I wanted, but I believe it would be possible to get finer details. His little perch warped a bit because I didn't put anything in it to give more strength. An armature is necessary to help the clay hold it's shape, but it is rock hard once dry, as advertised.
I tried making some faces with it, one human one alien. It's not a really serious attempt, just playing around. I never finished them properly and just quickly drew on a few details so they would show up in the picture. These were made with styrofoam balls again, which you can see still exposed at the back of one.
They actually did look a little better when they were first made but they seem to have eroded a little with time and exposure to air and humidity.
Step 8: Molded Objects
This skull, like the bird, was done with the grainy mixture. I dusted my mold with a little cornstarch, packed the clay in, and left it for three days. (The mold is packaging I saved from an air freshener.)
When I took it out, it was still a little wet, and some of it stuck, but it came out pretty good.
I trimmed off the crossed bones and some of the flames around the head because they were too thin and starting to break already. Then I built it up and reshaped it a little with a ball tool and a toothpick to give it more definition.
I left it to finish drying, which took a couple more days. One of the disadvantages of salt clay is that it takes a long time to dry. But this is also an advantage because it gives you a long working time. The clay was also very wet at this point in time, which slowed things down more.
The little bowl was made by packing the clay into a dessert dish lined with plastic wrap. It also took a long time to harden, but I think that might be because I coated my hands in Vaseline to keep it from sticking. Once dry though it was still rock hard. I gave it a marbled look by adding a drop of green food colouring and just blending it in a little.
Step 9: Beads, Flowers and Faux Stones
Salt clay is excellent for making beads. It holds it's shape well and does not shrink, so you can just form the bead, poke a hole in it and set it somewhere to dry. No need to hang it up or leave anything in the centre to keep the hole open. Just flip them over after the first 12 hours or so to let the other side dry.
These beads would be suitable for ornaments and maybe for play jewelry and costumes. I don't know if they would be durable enough for everyday jewelry.
I don't have any pictures of making flowers at this time, but there are tons of tutorials on the subject everywhere, done by much more talented people.
The rubbery clay was fairly good for making roses. The grainy clay was used to make the little red rosebud type things. Because of the texture of it, it wasn't as suitable for making flowers.
The faux stones turned out amazingly well. It's hard to tell them apart from the real thing. The light grey one I added white to, before I knew this was not necessary, so it turned out a little too light. The pink granite was the result of an experiment to see what would happen if I added bronze paint to the clay. The answer is, at least in this case, it turns pink.
Step 10: What Are You Going to Do With All of This?
My very sensible and practical mother asked me this question after viewing my pile of assorted random salt clay creations. So I started doing something with it.
I decided to turn the faux stones into the little inspirational decorative stones you see in stores everywhere.
I penciled the word "believe" onto one of them (because I don't have one that says believe in my collection) and then painted over it, very carefully, with black acrylic paint. I used a toothpick to apply the paint because this gave me a finer line than any of my brushes.
I discovered that it is also possible to use the toothpick to remove the paint while it is still wet, to make corrections.
My plan was to turn this one into a fridge magnet, like the other two store bought ones I have here. But I am afraid gluing a magnet to the back now won't work. It would be better to imbed the magnet into the clay while it is still wet I think. (Incidentally, I think the salt clay stone looks much better than the store bought ones. And it was a lot cheaper.)
Next, the little bowl. I decided to turn it into a ring holder.
First, I filed down the edges to smooth them out. I wasn't able to get the edge completely straight, so we'll just say it's a "rustic" bowl.
Then I brushed on several coats of gloss varnish. The first two coats pretty much disappeared into the clay and I think I ended up doing 4 or 5 in total, over two days.
Then I added a small cone to the centre. I broke off a toothpick to the right height, then rolled a small piece of clay out into a cone the same size and carefully pushed the toothpick into the centre.
I wet the base of the cone with a little water and pushed it down onto the bowl, then went around it with a ball tool and a bit more water to make sure it stuck.
I am not sure how well stuck it is or how long it will last, but so far, so good. The only thing left to do is varnish the cone.
That is as far as I have gotten so far with doing something with all this stuff.
Step 11: Meet Harold
Putting the word "Victorian" and the word "stone" in my head together, logically, led to "gargoyles!".
And so I would like to introduce you to Harold.
Harold began life as 1.5 styrofoam balls and 2 toothpicks.
I gradually built up layers of dark grey salt clay, shaping it as I went, little by little. I don't have any pictures of this process because I was doing it just for practice at the time and planned to make another gargoyle later. But I can show you the finishing touches....
First, I decided Harold needed some teeth. After this, I did a little cosmetic surgery on his face, just to make him a little more handsome. Just by wetting my tool a little and then picking up very small bits of clay at a time, I was able to touch up various spots. This shows, on a smaller scale, how the entire sculpture was made.
Finally I used the handle of my metal file to stamp on the irises, then touched them up and added the black pupil with a bamboo skewer. Later, after they were dry, I added some white highlights.
Step 12: Harold Gets His Wings
I had made a set of wings for my gargoyle separately, with the intention of attaching them later.
But when I went to glue them on, a funny thing happened. They wouldn't stick. The glue just kept turning into little balls of rubber. I tried all the kinds of white glue I had available, including tacky glue which I was sure would work.
Rather than go through the lengthy process of finding a glue that would work, I decided to take a different approach.
I took a little of my salt clay and coloured it with the same black gel that I originally used. After placing a small amount of this where I wanted the wing to be, I pressed the wing into it and then gently started packing it in, adding little bits of clay as needed. As it began to set, I was able to sculpt it and shape it a bit more.
After doing this I had to build up the spine again to make it look right. Then I left it to dry over night.
Harold was designed to sit up high somewhere looking down, so I left him hanging on the edge of my table. And, predictably, I knocked him off a few hours later.
I was sure that the wings would be broken. But remarkably, they were in perfect condition!
Harold only suffered one injury in his fall, a broken tail, which was not unexpected. This part of the tail had no support structure and had a weak spot in it, so I had been expecting it to break. I reattached it using the same technique and left him to dry out again, this time with a nice soft chair right underneath his perch.
Later that day, I able to get into all the hard to reach places with a file and smooth out the patches so that they blend in better. The wings were now so solid that this didn't hurt them one bit (Harold assured me he didn't feel a thing).
A few more touch ups along the spine and tail, and my gargoyle was done. I intentionally left him very rough, to enhance the appearance that he is made of stone. Also, Harold was made with my very first batch of salt clay, which I made with sea salt, using a different recipe. It turned out even grainier and more stone like than either of the other two.
Step 13: Conclusion
And so that concludes my salt clay adventure. I hope you found it somewhat interesting and useful. This was not at all what I had planned for this Instructable originally. What you see here is really just the practice stage but I simply didn't have the time to go any further with it right now. Hopefully I will be able to do more with it in the near future. And I hope to explore the reasons that all 3 batches of clay came out differently and experiment a little more with the different versions as well.
Thanks for reading, please leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below. :-)
Step 14: Update
A few days later, the salt clay has lost some of its rubbery texture. When a small amount of liquid is added, it becomes very soft and sort of foam like.
It is also much drier now and dries out more quickly when working with it, the opposite of my previous batch which became more watery with time. The difference might be that I just wrapped this one in plastic wrap instead of storing it in a bag.
Looking at the photos of the two heads that I made was making me cringe. So I wanted to see if it was possible to make them better.
I started adding little bits of clay to the alien and shaping it. I only redid the area around the eyes and the nose and mouth, where it needed the most work. Then I gave him little ear holes and some fins, because he was starting to look like an aquatic creature to me. I wanted the fins to be a bit bigger but I was out of green clay and out of time.
For the human, I completely covered him in a new, more rosy colour to make him look a little more alive. Again, the mouth was the area that needed the most work. The ears were difficult because I was working overtop of rock hard clay that could not be reshaped, but I managed to do get a little better shape to them in the end.
I haven't had time to add the eyes.
At one point I had to step away and the clay dried out too much. It has been several days since I made my salt clay and it is getting drier now. When I started to work again, cracks formed. I was able to smooth them out by applying a little water and tiny bits of clay.
I'm not sure how well this is going to work in the long run, if the thin layers will stay intact or crack and break away. But for now, I can breathe a little easier knowing that they don't look quite as hideous as they did.