I have a long checklist of things that I take with me when I'm crafting away from home, including, among other things, clay, clay tools, TLS, rubbing alcohol, baby wipes, and the big one... the pasta machine. Most of the stuff can be grabbed and tossed into my bag fairly easily. But the pasta machine requires unclamping and disassembling, and then getting it back just right whenever I get home.
When I was just going to my monthly polymer clay guild meetings, it wasn't a big deal. I'd allow myself an extra half an hour to pack up my stuff, and it worked fine. Then some friends of mine started a monthly Downtown DIY craft night. Add on the occasional class, and it started to feel like I was spending more time packing and unpacking my pasta machine than actually using it. And for some reason, it's a little harder to get out the door nowadays than it was, say, 6 months ago.
So I decided I wanted a second set-up: a basic set of tools I could leave packed up and ready to take. I had duplicates of some tools, and a few older tools I didn't use often at home but would be happy enough with at a meeting. But a second pasta machine seemed like a real splurge.
I've been using my Atlas 150 for almost 10 years now, and it's served me well. But I got it back when the good ones were cheap on eBay... there weren't nearly as many polymer clayers to compete with on the bidding. And since some of the newer Atlas machines have scraper problems, I don't feel entirely comfortable buying one online anyway. I'd want to inspect it.
I learned at the IPCA Retreat that there's a new Sculpey pasta machine, er rather a "Clay Conditioning Machine" (it's about impossible for me to call it anything but a pasta machine!). It's cheaper new than I'd pay for a used Atlas on eBay, so I decided I'd give it a try. After all, it seems like a machine made for clay stands a fair shot at working just as well with clay (or better) than a machine made for pasta.
The machine starts with 1 as its largest setting, which is nice. I didn't want to have to get used to a "backwards" machine. There are 9 settings, which is 3 more than my Atlas has. And the best part is, I can actually use all of those settings. My Atlas's 6th (thinnest) setting always shreds my clay, so I avoid it. The clay goes easily through all 9 settings on the Sculpey machine.
I don't like the dial on the Sculpey machine, though. The numbers are on the outside of the dial, away from the machine. This, plus the fact that the indicator arrow is the tiniest of bumps, makes it hard to tell which number it's lined up next to, or whether it's even lined up to a number at all. The dial also seems a little less solid than my Atlas's dial. I don't get that satisfying click that tells me it's locked into a gear.
While I don't have an accurate measuring device to determine the thickness of the pieces, I did make a cheat sheet to compare its settings to my Atlas. I found that the settings were more or less the same on settings #1-4 (the Sculpey may be ever-so-slightly thicker). The 5th setting on my Atlas seemed the same as the 6th setting on the Sculpey machine. And the 6th (thinnest) setting on the Atlas seemed the same as the 9th (thinnest) setting on the Sculpey machine. So while the Sculpey machine has three extra settings, that doesn't necessarily mean it gets thinner sheets.
The ClampI'm not crazy about the top portion of the C-clamp (the part that fits in the
My other gripe is really about clamps in general. Why don't the clamps close down further than they do? I guess they were originally designed to fit on kitchen cabinets (back when they were, ya know, used for pasta). But they tend not to fit on thinner work desks or tables — most people have to use a wooden block or some other spacer to get their machine clamped securely. One of the clay machine manufacturers should recognize that as an opportunity and include a clamp that can clamp down to fit thinner tables.
The HandleThe most visible difference between this
The handle itself seems to stay in place better than other machines' handles. I haven't had it fall off once. Of course that may be the case with all newer machines — perhaps they get looser as they age.
The box has nice pictures showing what a
pasta machine can do. I also liked that it has clay-specific instructions (vs. instructions for pasta use). I often forget that these things aren't intuitive to a newbie — for example, that you have to start with the thickest setting then make your way to the desired thickness. These instructions cover that, plus some basic cleaning instructions. Still, I think the instructions could be improved on. Why not include a booklet with Skinner blend instructions, or a couple of projects that rely on the pasta machine?
I like the Sculpey machine. It handles the clay nicely, even on the thinnest settings. The comfort grip on the handle makes it more comfortable to use for people with arthritis or hand pain. I'm not crazy about the gears — I like the certainty I get when I snap my Atlas gears into place. But that's a minor thing that I think I can get used to.
I was originally concerned that I needed another (comparatively expensive) Atlas. Atlas is supposed to be one of the best brands, so I worried anything else would feel flimsy by comparison. But the Sculpey machine has changed my mind. As it stands right now, I plan to make the Sculpey my main
pasta machine, and I'll relegate my Atlas to the travelling bag. The primary reason is that I can make use of all of its settings, where my Atlas shreds clay on its thinnest setting. Granted, a good take-apart cleaning might fix my Atlas (I'm not the best about keeping it clean)... not to mention that I got it used, so who knows what kind of abuse it went through before me. So other folks may find the Atlas vastly superior to the Sculpey machine. But for me, the Sculpey machine will work just fine.
Just don't make me call it a clay conditioning machine. :-)