What Wire Should I Use For The Armature?

by Nik

Question: I am new to sculpting (outside of the cyber world), and I have seen a lot of doll makers using wires of different gauges for the armature.
Is there a particular type of wire that should be used?
Are there certain wire types that should NOT be used, since the sculptures need to be baked in an oven?
I have this fear that my creations will explode from the wire heating up. HELP!

Answer: Well I'm happy to say that I've never had an explosion haha.
There are two things to keep in mind when you're selecting the wire for an armature. The fact that it's going in an oven- like you said- and that it needs to be strong enough so that the sculpture will not bend and flex.

Taking the first point into consideration, you shouldn't use any wire that is coated with plastic, foam or anything else that would normally be damaged with exposure to heat. Although I doubt it would ruin the oven, using a wire with a coating like that would likely affect how well the clay bakes, and may even cause serious cracks, breaks and discoloration.

Considering the strength of wire, it really does need to be a very solid wire. If the armature bends or flexes easily then it can cause the sculpture to break. After the sculpture is baked, the clay generally has no flexibility in it. So if the wire underneath the clay is weak, then it is almost as though you have no wire at all.

If the wire is weak, you will notice that your doll will break easily around the neck, arms or legs. This can be helped by using a more flexible clay like Puppen Fimo because inflexible clays like Sculpey or Prosculpt will often
break even with a solid armature. However, you will always be running a risk if the wire isn't strong.

I often recommend using a simple galvanized wire that you find in hardware stores. Galvanized wire tends to be very solid, being so strong that you often cannot bend it without using pliers. Wrapping another wire around it is a great way to double the strength.

Of course you can also use "Armature Wire" sold in hobby stores but it is very expensive and often is also very soft. It's designed more for people working with clays like Chavant (chavant stays moist, never drying and is often used to make maquettes for molding). Armature wire is specifically designed so that it doesn't rust which is why people using clays like chavant use it.
However, since galvanized wire doesn't get exposed to moisture or the elements after polymer clay has baked around it there is next to no chance of it ever rusting.

If you want to make the softer armature wire a lot stronger, you can try covering the armature with Magic Sculpt. Magic Sculpt is a two-part epoxy putty that sets hard as rock. This is both a blessing and a curse. It provides a very solid base for the polymer clay. The problem comes in if you have made a mistake, for example- if you made the legs too long or if you wanted to change the pose. The Magic Sculpt is so hard you have to literally break off any mistakes.

To make an armature, I will usually create a skeleton of galvanized wire, doubled-over and twisted together, bulked out with tightly packed aluminum foil paper and wrapped in good quality masking tape. This will give you a strong armature ready to be covered in clay.

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Galvanized safety???
by: Anonymous

Hi Amanda! I have been going crazy trying to find a safe wire to use for my projects. I was using jewelry wire before visiting the hardware store today. I read on the back of the galvanized steel wire that it can cause cancer(what doesn't these days?) and you should wash your hands well after touching it. I spoke to a knowledgeable man there who also said the galvanized coating releases very toxic fumes when heated...needless to say I'm concerned about putting it in the oven. Do you know anything about this? Thought I should say something...we don't want to get sick creating the things we love!
Many thanks for your wonderful tutorials. Take care :)

*Note From Amanda*
You'll find that not all wire will have these warnings and there is a reason for that.
Studies have been conducted and some companies choose to put warnings on their wire because galvanized wire is coated in zinc (that is how they galvanize the wire). In large quantities if used in a garden this could ruin the PH levels of the soil through run off or if ingested in large quantities could make you ill. There has also been studies that the wire releases fumes during the welding process (ie. when "heated") that could cause health problems including cancer, though inconclusive. These fumes are not only from the zinc galvanization but from the elements of the steel too and have only been noted during the welding process.
So it would seem this does not apply to our industry. Steel trash cans sitting outside in the sun actually reach a higher temperature than the wire inside of a polymer clay doll, which is encased with foil, masking tape and clay and baked at a low 130 degrees celsius. I would recommend keeping the wire out of reach of children though because sucking on it probably isn't advisable. I would definitely recommend always baking in a well ventilated area, don't sit in the same room while baking, and when handling the wire you could even wear rubber gloves. I hope that helps!

Aluminum Wire
by: AL

Hi, I am reading your suggestions about using galvanized wire for the armature. I have 18 Gauge Aluminum wire can I use this one instead the galvanized one? or would that affect the result of the piece?


*Note from Amanda*
As long as the wire is sturdy and not too soft and flexible it should work fine. You just need wire that will support the doll well. :)

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