My polymer clay ovens get a bit moody sometimes. And it seems like that "sometimes" is usually right in the middle of a big deadline.
My previously-reliable oven had started under-baking things, a fact I didn't realize until some of my "finished" clay mosaic tiles were crumbly instead of nice and strong. (My oven thermometer had fallen off the shelf onto the element below, and I kept forgetting to retrieve it when the oven was cool. My bad.) A whole day's worth of clay stuff was under-baked, a fact I found especially frustrating since I was furiously working on projects for my book deadline.
I hate trying to find the sweet spot on an oven knob when the thermostat is off. It requires immeasurable patience: fiddle with the knob slightly, give it 10 minutes for the oven adjust its new temperature, check the thermometer, and fiddle with the knob again. It can take an hour or more to get the right temperature.
After messing with that process a while (and getting nowhere), I got impatient. I cranked the temperature way up and made a mental note to keep a very close eye on it, lest it overheat. Luckily for me, I also did something else. I tented the project with aluminum foil.
You know what's coming next. I lost my mental note and forgot to check the oven until the timer went off. I don't remember now what the exact temperature was, but I know it was above 300. I lifted the aluminum foil piece, expecting the worst. But, to my surprise, it hadn't burned or toasted. It was just fine.
My close call reminded me that, if I didn't have time to fiddle with an oven knob, I certainly didn't have time to lose projects to a hot oven. So I took the time to get it right. But I kept that tenting thing in the back of my mind, and decided to look into it a bit more when I had more time.
If you're not familiar with tenting, it's not an especially complicated process. Take aluminum foil (I use the heavy-duty stuff because it's stronger) and shape it into a pointed shape large enough to cover your item. I re-use the same piece again and again, tweaking its shape if necessary to accommodate taller or wider items. Just place it on top of your clay tile so it sits over, but doesn't touch, the item you're baking. Leave it in place until you're done baking.
I'd never messed with tenting before, because it didn't seem logical that it would work. And I won't pretend that I understand now why it works. Something about the heat being indirect? But it does work for me. I've even gone so far as to put my clay pieces, tented, in the oven while it preheats... and I always used to think that was a bad idea.
It served as a reminder to me that there's more than one good way to do things... and sometimes it pays to experiment with new methods, even if they may not seem intuitive. Live and learn.
What about you? Have you found a better way of doing things, maybe a way that you initially resisted?