View Full Version : Aves Critter Clay, a comprehensive review

02-21-2008, 01:23 PM
Part 1:

Aves Critter Clay is a stone based, air dry clay that's used for various projects like sculpting and repair. It comes in various sizes available for sale. I bought the 5 pound package at http://www.sculptingstudio.com.

The transaction was smooth as they use a good catalog website that reminds me a lot of oscommerce, but with a lot of modifications. They accept paypal, which is a big plus also. I received the clay in short order and opened up the box to inspect it. I was alarmed that the clay had what I can only describe as "mold looking pock marks" all over its surface. The clay I bought was their "natural" colored material, as I wanted the higher surface contrast for sculpting purposes.

I called the store owner, informed her that I thought the clay was contaminated, and she promptly sent out a new 5 pound package to my address. She inspected it first to see if there was any noticable "stuff" on the clay's surface. There wasn't. It was just fine. I asked if she'd like the initial 5 pound box back, but she said no, so I tossed it out.

It's packaged like most other water based clays, just in a plastic bag with a twist tie closing it off. The surface of the clay was not sloppy wet, but had enough moisture in it to mold very easily. It's density is similar to most other water based clays, but its surface reminds me of a sandy beach where the ocean waves wash over it, and then leave a "dried" look after the water receeds. You know there's water in it, but the sand makes it look drier than it really is.

That's a plus because after making several sample shapes, the clay left almost no residue on my fingers or my work table. It seems to surface dry pretty fast.

Speaking of surface drying, I had to smooth over some of the parts with my fingers to seal off some of the surface fractures in the clay as I was manipulating the parts. My guess is that, unlike polymer clays or epoxies, the plasticity of this clay gets lost quickly at its surface. I didn't use any water to smooth out parts, although I could. I just made some shapes quickly.

I'll post pictures if I think it's necessary later.

Finally for this post: I can see where model makers might like clays like this. It's forgiving enough to mold and shape easily, unlike Fimo clays which are very hard at first, and it tends to hold the shape you give it without sagging under its own weight. Also, it's not at all sticky to your skin or other objects. It seems the people at Aves have found a good middle ground between ease of use and density that makes scratchbuilding a quicker process. I've used many other materials which all have good points, but they usually have one drawback that makes them less than perfect.

So far, so good. Now all I have to do is wait for the parts to cure so I can do some other tests. I'll keep updating this thread as I move further through the tests.

02-22-2008, 08:41 PM
After one day, the thin cross sections and narrow pieces were quite brittle and snapped easily. There is very little, if any, flexibility in this material.

Additionally, the surface color has darkened to a medium brown, although the inner core of each piece remains the lighter shade.

These parts are drying under typical ambient conditions with no extra heat applied.

I'll update this thread tomorrow with pictures and further thoughts.

02-24-2008, 10:22 PM
Hmm this is a very interesting sounding clay. I look forward to seeing your final thoughts on it.

02-25-2008, 01:44 PM

Here are my final thoughts...

While it's an inexpensive clay for scratchbuilding ($15 for 5 pounds of clay vs $33 for 3 pounds of Apoxie Clay), the price does reflect the usability properties. I've used other apoxies clays before, and although you have to mix them together, taking time, the results are worth the extra money.

I've scored the cured product now on several tests I just performed (5 being the best)

Ease of handling when soft = 5
Surface shape retention = 4
Structural shape retention = 4
Cleanup = 5
Curing time = 2 *
Cured product strength = 2
Shrinkage = 4
Machinability using typical tools = 5
Sand paper or file loading = 4
"Fuzz" factor = 5
Applicable to figure model scratchbuilding = 3

* While it's not fair to compare curing time of a water based clay to that of an epoxie which usually cures within 4 hours, this product's inherent longer curing time makes it less suitable for quick buildups.

As you can see by how I scored the product, working with the wet product is easy. You can shape it, smooth it, and add details with little or no worry about the features losing their shape. The surface of the product remains free of excessive wetness or stickiness, giving you and your tools an easy time of it.

The curing time necessary makes this product less practical than epoxies. I had to wait a few days to let things harden, and even then, the core, or "marrow", of each part is still a little softer than the shell. It reminds me of the difference between the shell and core of "Skittles" candies.

The major weakness of this product is its resistance to breakage. This stuff snaps easily, not just in thin cross sections, but in wider ones also. It took very little force to break a 3/8" diameter cross section piece. There is no flexibility or ductility in this product. If it goes, it goes all the way through to breakage.

And that's a big concern given that the product machines just like Epoxy Sculp that I've used many times. It machines smoothly to a mirror finish just by using a simple hobby chisel. Its resistance to machining makes for excellent detail capture, but its structural weakness means that you could be cutting or gouging away and break the part in half accidentally.

Since it's a stone clay, the files, chisels, and knives you'd use to carve it out will take a beating. Stone clays will dull sharp tools faster than paper clays, epoxies, or oven cure polymer clays. Keeping your tools sharp is an important safety concern, as sharp tools require less force to operate than dull tools. And they produce cleaner finishes.

As for the sandpaper and file "loading" (the resulting clogging of files and sandpaper with the clay product), it scores higher than polymers and paper clays, but is just about the same as epoxies. Files and sandpaper can't do their job if they get clogged up.

Finally, when it comes to my opinion of how applicable Critter Clay is to scratchbuilding figures, I gave it only a so-so score. There are some great features of this clay that make it a good choice for certain scratchbuilding tasks like making bulk areas like the head, torso, and legs. It's easy enough to pick up and use. But its cure time and breakage drawbacks make it nearly impossible to use for one-off projects. Even if a sculptor plans to recast his/her work, the thin pieces they might sculpt could get broken during the demold process from the original. Handling cured parts is tricky and requires tremendous care. If you drop a thin piece, say goodbye!

I bought a 5 pound block of this stuff and will use it up eventually. I have some ideas for making bulk body parts and I think this will fit nicely there. My Natalie Portman project could also get a boost using Critter Clay, but I'd rather stick to a 2-part system.

The bottom line is this: If you're careful and don't mind occasional breakage, this is an inexpensive clay that finishes like more expensive epoxies. Just make sure you get enough of the detail work done during the clay's "wet" phase, as deep undercut finishing can cause a nose to snap off!