Last modified: Saturday, January 6, 2001 6:20 PM

I'm motivated to write an article on Magic Sculp (insert magical sound effect here) because Dean of WESCO Enterprises wrote & thanked me for the positive mention I'd made of their product in a few of my project articles. They even added a link at their web site. Cool! I don't know how they found out about that, but I must say that the praise for their product was well-deserved. Magic Sculp is a great product. (and they aren't paying me to say that!)

As a sculpting medium, it's one of several choices you have. Your decision of which product to use depends on the nature of the project. (I'll mention two of the most popular choices, even though there are others, like natural clays, plasticene, wax, wood, raw granite, etc...)

Polymer Clays-- Everyone seems to knows about these! But in case you don't, these are products like Sculpey, Super Sculpey, Sculpey III, Premo, Fimo and Cernit. The products within this class exhibit different properties in their unbaked and baked forms-- Unbaked, the softer clays are easier to form into large smooth planes, whereas the harder clays are easier to work for detail. Baked, some are more stiff and brittle than others. A pliable clay (not brittle) is considered "stronger" and better for thin parts.

Polymer clays have the advantage of remaining soft until you bake them (low temperature; about 240-275 degrees Fahrenheit). This means you can work on a sculpture for days, or weeks. Fresh clay can be added to a baked piece, which can be sanded and polished. Polymer clays are a great sculpting medium -- very predictable and controllable. I currently prefer Super Sculpey, since it's easier to condition and less rubbery than Premo, although I'm not too fond of its translucence. (That's easily fixed by mixing it with Sculpey III.)

The biggest disadvantage of Polymer clays is that the baked pieces are not very sturdy, and the pieces are fairly dense and heavy. If you used it for armor on a 12" articulated figure, it would make it difficult to pose without falling down under its own weight. In addition, to properly polymerize for strength, the material should be baked near the recommended temperature of 275 degrees Fahrenheit. This is too high a temperature if you're adding clay onto a plastic figure. However, this is a very popular technique, and most get around the problem of melted plastic by conservatively baking the clay either by boiling or baking at about 220 Fahrenheit.

Because of these properties, I usually use Polymer clays for stand-alone sculptures which are intended to be master patterns for molding. In that case, it really doesn't matter if the clay master is destroyed in the process of demolding (even though it's heartbreaking)-- as long as I've got a reasonably good mold. In fact, larger sculptures often tend to develop cracks even if they have armatures, and even if they're baked at the recommended temperature. (More info on Polymer Clays)

Epoxy Putty --these include products like Milliput and Magic Sculp, as well as the stuff you find at the hardware store, sometimes called "5-minute Plumber's putty". Like the name suggests, the putty forms a very good bond to most materials, and is very strong, like rock. Epoxy putty is a two-part product-- you mix the different colored puttys together and lo and behold-- after a while you've got a rock hard lump of putty. Of course, it's more useful than that! Before the workable time is up, you can use it to fill seams, build up sculptures on existing objects, and even do entire sculptures from the stuff. I haven't used it for large sculptures yet, but I'm confident that if you worked out some armature techniques, it would work very well. Unfortunately, with an ounce of hardware store putty costing about $2, or 4 ounces of Milliput costing close to $16, you're not likely to want to use this to make large sculptures!

This is where Magic Sculp comes to the rescue... You can get FIVE POUNDS of the stuff for around $30 ($25 + postage). It's even more economical if you buy it in larger quantities. I believe that this actually makes it more economical than Polymer Clay. This is the stuff to use if you want to apply Zimmerit to a 1/6th scale Tiger Tank...

Epoxy putties are suitable for permanent work, because the material is very hard and stable when cured. I consider Polymer clays inappropriate for plastic patch work, because if the chemicals (plasticizers?) aren't fully polymerized, something is liable to leach out and react with the plastic. I have seen unfired polyclay melt a piece of styrene where the two were in contact for an extended period of time. Just a personal paranoia perhaps... Nevertheless, epoxy putties are the only choice for major patching or decorating of resin, for everything larger than a pinhole or seam.

Like clays, you can add putty to a previously cured section, so the workable time isn't really a limitation. I don't think a sane person would expect to sculpt something with the detail of Giger's Alien in one sitting anyway.

Hardware store putties are usually sold as a "convenient" layered roll, with one part in the center, and the other part wrapped around it on the outside, so that if you slice a piece off, you have the proper proportion of the two. They have a coarser texture than hobby putties and cure very quickly. A 5 or 10-minute putty doesn't give you much time to sculpt before the material is unworkable. However, it is useful in some situations; if you're using it for reinforcement, the sculpting job is simple, or if you're horribly impatient. (It works pretty well on patching pipes too.) The worst thing about this type of putty is that it's hard to avoid getting the "shell"-- hardened pieces of the exterior wrap-- mixed in with the softer "fresh" putty, and irritating to find after you've worked hard to smooth a puttied surface.

Milliput is an old favorite of modelers. It comes in several grades, from coarse to superfine. (I've only used the superfine) Magic Sculp is a fairly new product, and only comes in one grade-- I estimate it to be finer grained than Milliput's superfine. It cures to an almost porcelain-like surface. Both products give you a much longer working time-- the cure time (it's not a "drying" time, since a chemical reaction is involved) is temperature dependent, but I've never timed it. If you're impatient or in a hurry, it's always too long. If you conk out for the evening, it's usually pretty hard by the time you wake up (snicker). You can accelerate the cure time with heat-- a lamp works well, but you do have to be careful if the putty is adhered to a temperature-sensitive plastic item. Lamps can put out quite a bit of heat-- the putty can stand it, but not all plastics can!

Milliput and Magic Sculp can be smoothed with water as you work. I'm in the habit of also using alcohol, but I don't know if that's good for the stuff. Both feather onto surfaces very well, but it's slightly easier with Magic Sculp because it's initially softer. This softness makes Magic Sculp less suitable for sculpting fine detail at the beginning. The material isn't as firm as Milliput, and moves around under your sculpting tool. However, one of the unique qualities of epoxy putties is that its "character" changes as it cures. It gets harder and less sticky. This makes it a more interesting and challenging material than clay, and requires some experience to anticipate its behavior. It's easy to pick up though. These qualities can be useful too-- at different points along this cycle, you can create sharp-edged lines and more rounded and gentle indentations. So Magic Sculp's softness isn't a real problem-- you just have to know how to use it. In fact, I like the softness because it reassures me that the product isn't drying up and expiring. The components of uncured Milliput get harder & crustier through time, to the point where you wonder if it's still useable. Although WESCO mentions how you can soften their product (microwave the resin), so far I haven't found any need to.

Sooo... check out their web site. They have lots of good tips, answers and examples there. You can order directly from them if you can't find a local distributor. The stuff is cheap and useful to have around. Not only that, but for the time being, they'll even send you a free sample!

--Jimbob, 02/13/99