How to Make Poker Chips out of Polymer Clay
The art of caning, used with a polymer clay like Fimo or Sculpey, is perfect for creating your own personalized poker chips. My poker chips never turn out quite as perfect as the machine made plastic or clay ones you can order online, but I don't mind items having that crafty look and feel. Unfortunately, this method isn't perfect. It can take a hours to make enough chips to play with if this is your first time working with canes. I also slightly prefer the feel of professionally made poker chips. I use Fimo, which ends up feeling just slightly oily (but is stronger than Sculpey). This method does have some great advantages though. It's possible to customize everything about the poker chip, from colors, to patterns, to imprints, to stamping. If you're only interested in a personalized stamp that you do yourself, it's possible to buy poker chips in bulk from a place like WorldPokerOutlet.com (I recommend the clay ones) and jump down to the later steps of this tutorial.
The quantities below are for making a cane about 6 or 7 inches long, which turns into about 40 poker chips of the same color and pattern.
- 1 block of Fimo* in a highlighting color like White
- 3 or 4 blocks of Fimo* in a solid primary color like Red or Blue
- A razor-sharp blade. I use window scraper razors sold in the hardware section of Wal-Mart, and replace them frequently
- A rolling device made of plastic or acrylic. Traditional wood rolling pins stick to the clay too much.
- A pasta machine and a clay extruder gun are both nice, but not essential, and a bit expensive if you don't plan on working with polymer clay much in the future.
- Tiny rubber stamps with patterns you'd like to see on your stamp
- Oil-based stamp ink for embossing
- Embossing powder in gold, silver, or other colors
- Two cheap poker chips with stacking indents (ribbed edges)
*A note on clay substitution: There are a number of polymer clay brands out there. I used Fimo, and I've heard Sculpey or Super Sculpey will work as well, but you should research any substitution you plan to make since every brand varies slightly in consistency when cured.
Choose a poker chip design
The wonderful thing about fully homemade poker chips is you can use any pattern you want. If you go browsing through poker chip sites you'll find literally hundreds of other ideas.
Introduction to caning
If you've never made a cane with polymer clay before, you'll need a quick introduction to the concept. Caning is the process of creating a long (usually cylindrical) design in clay, which can then be sliced into dozens of flat pendants or poker chips. At first it can be really hard to visualize the concept but try imagining this: First imagine one long rope of clay, then imagine creating two smaller ropes of clay and sticking them to the first rope. From the top, the design looks like an odd knobby rope, and from the side it probably looks like three disconnected rope ends. Now imagine cutting the rope in half and looking at the new smooth end. It would look a lot like a stylized Mickey Mouse. Once the rope is cut into dozens of thin slices, the end result would be dozens of little Mickey Mouses.
Introduction to caning
When working with a strong primary color (like red or blue) and with white clay, it is important to never let the white clay touch your hands or your tools without cleaning them first. It's easy to get red onto the outside of your white clay, and as you try to work with the white clay it will start to get annoying pink lines through the center of it.
Whenever you pick up a new bit of clay, it will need to be rolled in your hand a bit to get it soft enough to work with, and to start forming it into the shape you need. On the other side of the coin, though, the more you work with the clay the more air bubbles become a concern. Always use a firm hand when working with the clay, and if you roll it out and fold it into itself a few times, make sure you spend a few moments firmly working it into a ball (and removing any invisible air around the fold lines) before moving on.
Create the solid colored center
Roll a long cylinder slightly larger than a nickel, or hold it up to an existing poker chip to compare. Press the ends to the table to keep them more flat than not, and try to keep a consistent width throughout the length.
Create the white dotted lines
My design has some small dotted lines encircling the center, which I created in my cane by rolling out and cutting strips of white and red clay then affixing them to the center. The strips need to be as thick as the dotted line will be in the end, and they need to be of a uniform shape and size. If you have a clay extruder gun, it is really useful here. Press one strips to the cane then beside it press down one of the other color. Press firmly to try to eliminate any air bubbles, but be careful not to distort the design by rolling it too hard or smooshing the cylinder. The final strip might be a little tricky. If it's not of the perfect size to finish the circle of dashes, you'll need to press in little strips of clay in the appropriate color. It will look a bit messy with the strips pressed in there, but it will look fine on the finished product as long as there are no air bubbles.
Add a thin layer of red
Next I rolled out a thin layer of red clay and pressed it across the entire circle. Try to keep the thickness uniform, and again use small strips to fill in any spots between layer overlaps.
Create the outer rim with white inserts
I used my clay gun to push out three long rectangles of white, but the same long rectangles can be created by using the razor to cut a block of clay on four sides. Press the white rectangles to the cane at spaced intervals, then go back and start laying in thick layers of red. This layer should be about 1/4th of an inch thick, so be generous with the clay. Again the biggest problem here is using enough force to press out air bubbles, without using so much force it messes up the shape. It can also be hard to press the red clay right up against the white strips and have no air bubbles.
Finish the cane
I like to set aside a cane for a while, then pick it back up and press on it more (working out air pockets), then set it aside again. Finish by putting the cane in a baggie or wrap it in wax paper, then put it in the freezer for about 15 minutes.
Cut the chips
Remove the cane from the freezer and lay it out beside a ruler. Lightly score with the razor blade where you want to cut each chip, then slice the cane. The bits at the end of the cane will be too jagged to use and can be discarded or rolled into beads or etc.
Place the soft poker chip on top of an existing poker chip. If you're using a tiny rubber stamp or homemade stamp to impress an image into the chip, do it now. Then, place the other pre-made poker chip over it and press lightly. The ridges on the existing chips should transfer over.
Bake the chips
Bake the sliced and indented chips on a cookie sheet in the oven, going by your modeling clays instructions. For Fimo, that's about 30 minutes at 265 degrees (I think).
Imbellish the chips
This is the easy and fun part. If you're trying to make an entire chip set, or needs hundreds of chips for a promotion, I'd skip the caning and order chips online, then follow these steps to personalize them. Ideally, you'll have a rubber stamp in the shape of what you want to add to the chips. For small words, it might be necessary to paint them by hand, but that will get time consuming. If what you want to add is so unique you know you'll never find a rubber stamp for it, look into the "make your own stamp" kits at Dick Blick. Use clear oil based embossing ink to stamp your shape onto the chip, then add shiny embossing powder to it. Heat set by the instructions on the package.