DIY pottery with air dry clay

April 21st 2013

Oh god. I have another craft crush. Making pots with air dry clay!

I decided to give this a go after taking a fabulous beginner pottery class with The Amazings right here in Stoke Newington. I’ll share a bit more about the class once I’ve got my handiwork back – it’s being glazed and fired at Lesley’s workshop right now – but it really gave me the pottery bug.

Traditional pottery isn’t exactly an accessible do-at-home hobby: you need lots of make-a-mess space, a wheel and a kiln to do the proper stuff. But then I remembered you can buy air dry clay which doesn’t need a to be fired in a kiln – it just hardens in the air. It’s kind of a hybrid between sculpting clay like Fimo and real kiln-fired clay. I picked up a kilo brick of white Das brand stuff from Cass Art for a fiver – Amazon has it too. You can reseal the packet so you don’t need to use it all at once – although I kind of got carried away and used it all over one weekend. Make all the pots!

I found that working with the air dry clay has both pros and cons over traditional clay. On the bad side, the surface more readily picked up unwanted textures from my rolling cloth and fingers, so it was hard to get a really smooth surface. I found that rolling out on a smooth wooden board got much better results than on a cloth tea towel. It didn’t seem to respond to water in the same way as earthen clay, so you can’t just smooth out any flaws with a damp sponge. It can develop cracks easily too since it begins drying as soon as it’s exposed to air, so you’ll want to keep your excess clay sealed as you work.

Having said that, it’s pretty pliable and easy to work with generally, and does keep moist for quite a while so you don’t have to rush. For me the biggest pro is it’s easier than terracotta clay to keep clean while working, and no special kit is needed: I used tools I had lying around like a wooden rolling pin, knitting needle and plastic ruler.

For my first go, I made some simple column pots decorated with embossed textures and cut-out shapes. I used the technique I learned in the the Amazings class of using a cardboard tube wrapped in paper to mould the clay, then attaching a circular base. The pots then need to dry out for 24-48 hours: you can tell they’re fully dry when they have turned paler in colour and no longer feel cold to the touch. You can then use a fine sandpaper to smooth the edges, and apply acrylic paints and varnishes.

I was going for a sort of pastel-glazed ceramic effect, so used a few layers of paint mixed with acrylic varnish. I don’t think it was 100% successful but never mind – I’ll still use my wibbly-wobbly pots as candle holders and vases.

Four unique new pots for a fiver, not bad eh? Would you give air dry clay a go?

Comments (47)

  • Kim

    April 22nd 2013 at 7:03 am

    These are so lovely, Katie! I’ve used das before, but waaaayy back when I was in uni? Great to see it have a ‘grown up’ use!

  • Rhianne

    April 22nd 2013 at 9:49 am

    wow, they look great!

  • Bridget Hassall

    April 22nd 2013 at 5:23 pm

    Hi Katie
    Love them and their wibbly-wobbly-ness :)

  • divad and kram

    April 23rd 2013 at 2:09 pm

    wow… they look fab. I would have a go, but I know I would end up with five ashtrays, and I don’t even smoke…

  • Christine

    April 23rd 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Wow, that’s amazing! You have the gift to be good at every craft ;)

  • Lena Misquitta

    June 14th 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Hi, your work is so elegant. I use fine plastic gloves when smoothening out the clay on to a surface – like photo frames. This way I don’t leave my palm and finger imprints on the clay.

    1. Katie

      June 14th 2013 at 12:48 pm

      Great tip, thanks!

  • David Louis Randall

    July 8th 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Hey, amazing work!
    I have a couple of questions about the clay you used and its durability.
    First though, I think I should describe my project.
    I am working on a craft for my friends who smoke. I live in a nice gated apartment complex and I didn’t like seeing all the cigarette buds in the grass near my place, so I decided to make my own “smokers outpost”.
    A picture of a commercial one can be seen here: Common Commercial Smokers Outpost
    I used a large sangria bottle, fitted a spare plastic shelf tube that I lined it with aluminum foil to it, and used a large empty prescription bottle to make the the top.
    You can see a picture of its current state here: Homemade Smoker’s Outpost WIP
    As you can see, the top is kind of an eyesore and I would like to change that. I figured that using some type of clay to sculpt around it would be the best and it would have a cleaner look (I would like to leave the bottle there and use it as a base still). I would also like to create a small “tray” for the top of it where I plan to use my small rubber stamp set to write out “Narrow Pole. | Please Squish Your Bud.”

    OK, now the questions…
    Would the clay you used here be ideal for this type of project?
    Can it withstand high heat, freezing cold, terrible humidity, snow, ice, and rain?*
    Will any of the above cause it to crack or turn to mush after it has hardened?

    I have been reading about several air dry clays. It seems I made a mistake in buying the 2.5lb tub of Crayola White Air Dry Clay. Luckily I have not opened it and I plan to return it to Michael’s later today.

    ANY advice and/or tips for this would be great!
    Thank you! :)

    *I live in Missouri US and the Mid-West can be all sorts of extreme (Tornado Ally and what not). -_-

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  • Ashley Dawson Qualls

    January 22nd 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Love this idea! Im thinking about giving this a go after seeing how lovely your pots turned out. I wasn’t sure about the air dry clay at first. Thanks Katie! (:

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  • Erin Nel

    February 9th 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Hi Katie! I found your page after a lengthy search and must say I was so glad to read about your pots ( since I needed a bit of a push to start on mine!) Now, at long last I also have the confidence to take my air dry clay and take the leap :)

  • Michelle

    March 12th 2014 at 11:20 am

    Very nice, my clay is never so pretty.

  • Theresa

    April 18th 2014 at 11:27 pm

    Can this be thrown on a potter’s wheel?

  • Dana

    May 22nd 2015 at 2:11 am

    Lovely work! I Brough some air dry clay the other day and I’m wanting to make a vase for my mum but what I’m wanting to know is after its dry, can it holy water without turning to mush?

    1. Dana

      May 22nd 2015 at 2:12 am

      Hold water*

    2. katie

      May 24th 2015 at 5:12 pm

      I’m not sure, probably not! Maybe you could varnish the inside with a water-tight glaze to make it waterproof?

    3. Kate

      November 12th 2016 at 2:42 am

      I think if you Mod Podge many layers it should hold liquid just fine. This is a old post, but I thought I’d answer anyways. ☺

  • Tasha

    June 17th 2015 at 11:00 pm

    Great article! I was just wondering, it looks like you have some jars or smaller pots inside the ones you’ve made. Did you work around them, or did you put them in once the clay dried? Also, what kind of paper did you use for your mould?

    1. katie

      June 19th 2015 at 11:17 am

      Hey, they were placed inside once I’d made the pots (they are candles that came in pots!). I used newspaper and cardboard tubes, like the kind you mail posters in.

  • Shianna

    June 29th 2015 at 4:07 am

    Hi Katie,
    Your pots are beautiful!
    I have worked a little bit with polymer clay that you have to bake. I tested it out for lace jewelry dishes as a wedding favor for my guests.
    My question is, the clay that you used, is air dried, what is the texture like? When the polymer clay is baked and cooled it has a hard yet flexible plastic or hard rubber texture to it, which is fine as a last resort. I have 2 months until my wedding and I need to figure this out and get to crafting!
    What I really want is a hard kiln fired ceramic pottery texture, I just think they will look more “mature” and elegant. A wheel and kiln I do not have as well as the space for the mess. So I wondered if when these are air dried is it a plastic rubbery texture like polymer clay or a kiln fired ceramic texture?
    I tested a gloss on the polymer clay afterwards with modge podge gloss and 3 months later it is still tacky, and left brush strokes. Polymer clay can not be sprayed with clear coat, I guess over time it breaks down the polymer clay. So I also wondered what the air dry clay can be used with for a clear gloss?

    1. katie

      July 7th 2015 at 4:10 pm

      Hi Shianna, I think it’s more a rubbery than ceramic type finish once dry. I used a modge podge type gloss and it seemed fine!

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  • Mynia butler

    October 14th 2015 at 8:02 pm

    hi, i am doing a school project and i need to use clay for this project.
    do you know how to make a sculpture of a face or a head out of clay? if you do, i would really like to know how to. it would mean alot. THANK YOU!

  • Ema

    November 7th 2015 at 11:44 pm

    I’ve been working with air drying clay on and off for a bit now and hated using das. I’d also been to a pottery class and was looking for something that would have a similar feel to working with kiln clay. das felt too much like fimo and I had all the problems you mentioned. I tend to use scola now, both the terracotta and the stone. It’s very similar to kiln clay, it responds to water in the same way and doesn’t crack when drying. Having said that, your pots do look lovely x

    1. katie

      November 14th 2015 at 8:27 pm

      Thank you for the tips!

  • Daymon

    December 26th 2015 at 7:04 pm

    I am using the Air dry clay as a way to introduce ceramics to children. Personally I do slab construction and wheel thrown pottery, but that is a bit much for young children. The air dry clay allows children to experience ceramics at an earlier age.

    1. Fernanda

      December 4th 2016 at 9:34 pm

      Hi, one question,
      which would be a good clay to start throwing? Hopefully something that is water resistant and can be used in the kitchen.

  • Phyllis

    December 29th 2015 at 5:25 am

    I have discovered Disney clay, a non-firing clay. I also work with regular clay that is fired and am aware of the differences. There are a lot of things that you can’t make with non-fired clay. No matter what you spray on it to seal it, you can’t put water in it. Also it cracks and breaks easily. I use acrylic paints to cover it. I use the non-fired clay with a group of adults I volunteer with once a week and don’t have access to a kiln with them. There aren’t too many things they can make with this clay. Large pieces and pieces with parts sticking out will crack. It is fairly inexpensive, $12 for 25 pounds. I get it at my local ceramics supply store.

  • Sophie Ollis

    March 16th 2016 at 3:31 pm

    I have just finished making my first things using DAS clay. And I’m already obsessed. So looking forward to making more. Do you know if there’s a DIY glaze I could use?


  • Marc

    March 31st 2016 at 5:26 pm

    Hi. I love this! I’m definitely going to give it a go. I’d like to include your instructions on my site – it’s a site for people who have made great things for their home. I can link it back to yours. Would that be ok?

  • Angela

    April 27th 2016 at 10:58 pm

    I came here for the clay info, and left coveting that moon globe! Where did you get that? I need one! : D

    1. katie

      April 28th 2016 at 9:21 am

      Isn’t it lovely? It was a secondhand find on Etsy.

  • Leah Kelley

    December 15th 2016 at 1:53 pm

    So glad you posted this! I’ve been looking for an easy diy for a while now. Thanks!

  • Rajeshwari

    February 10th 2017 at 9:49 am

    Wow this is pretty….. Thank u….will definitely give it a try

  • Fergal

    February 26th 2017 at 8:26 pm

    Can I ask what the painting and varnishing process is like ? What type of paint ?

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  • Rae

    August 16th 2017 at 9:03 pm

    Hi Katy, did you find the clay sticking to the wooden rolling pin? And how did you resolve that? As I have bought hundreds of laser cut embossed wooden rolling pins and they are engraved inwards, so the clay becomes stuck inside the patterns if the patterns are large gaps.

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      August 29th 2017 at 11:10 pm

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  • hilary

    January 9th 2019 at 12:17 am

    What paint colour did you use to mix with the glaze? xx

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