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Say I wanted to make a custom phone stand, or a vertical stand/pocket for my laptop -- is there some kind of clay I can get that I can mold/shape and then let harden so I can use it? Something that won't be fragile after it has hardened?

  • I don't need the final form to be too heat resistant. The objects will just be used to hold my phone or laptop while they charge.
  • I'm hoping for something I can mold with my hands so I can get the angles and shape exactly how I need/want them.
  • It does not matter how long it takes to harden.
  • This is just for personal use so I don't need it to be pretty when it is done.
  • My goal is to spend less than 20 dollars.
  • I don't need it to fold or to be able to be disassembled.
  • I am ultimately going to make two stands:
    • One stand for my phone with a hole near the base for my magnetic USB charging cable so that when I put my phone down it connects and starts charging but disconnects when I remove the phone.

    • One vertical one for my Dell laptop. Something like the following:

      enter image description here
      source

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4 Answers 4

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Probably the most available materials are cardboard and paper. Cardboard is easy to cut into shapes like a laptop stand. If you want maximum stability, cut cross-sections of the stand out of many sheets of cardboard and glue all the sheets together to make a solid stand.

You could also shred the cardboard or paper and mix it with 50/50 water and white glue to make paper maché that can be sculpted. The paper maché shrinks when it dries, but it gets incredibly solid while still being lightweight. A solid object made from paper maché can take a week or longer to fully dry.

Another method often used is roughly shaping the object with something like chicken wire or a similar wire mesh and then covering this "skeleton" with several layers of paper and glue. It's very practical, dries faster than solid paper maché and doesn't shrink. For it to be able to hold up a laptop you'll need a strong skeleton, though. Since the paper is just a thin skin, it crumbles under pressure unless it's well supported by the skeleton. The finished object can be painted and varnished.

All of the above methods have the advantage that you can add weights like stones or metal scrap to the bottom of the stand to make it more stable. If the stand is too light weight, it might fall over at the slightest nudge.

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  • Cardboard is an interesting idea. It may work for my phone but not my vertical laptop stand. I updated my question with more details. Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 2:10
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    @IMTheNachoMan The vertical dock looks very interesting, but if you don't have a magnetic charger for your laptop as well, you'll have to be extremely pecise when making the stand, or you risk breaking the charger. I still think that paper maché is a viable option, but I would use a wooden board for the base to give it more stability. Maybe this video will inspire you, but it requires a 3D printer to make a mold for the paper maché.
    – Elmy
    Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 11:37
  • Yeah, it will have to be precise. I want something I can just slide the laptop in at night to charge. Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 4:05
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There are endless materials you could potentially use. I'll assume you want to make both stands out of the same material (correct me if I'm wrong). The $20 limit eliminates a few moldable materials. There are a number of different basic approaches you can use.

  • If you want a sleek design with thin walls, like the laptop stand in your link, that won't be practical with dirt-cheap materials and simple, handmade construction. But you could actually come close at a low cost if you can do some planning and design in advance, and some iterative building. You could basically replicate the laptop stand from off-the-shelf materials like plastic pipe and sheets.

    If you warm PVC pipe, you can shape it. You can also form sheets into curves and tubes with heat. Small sheets of acrylic, ABS, or polystyrene are inexpensive and easy to work with, and you can assemble the pieces by solvent welding. You can also get inexpensive sheets sold as diffusers for ceiling light fixtures.

    If you can live with square corners, you could make something similar from thin wood.

  • Staying for a moment with stock materials that you cut and assemble, Elmy's suggestion of cardboard is a good one that would work for both stands. People make strong furniture out of corrugated cardboard, and I've seen a cardboard bridge that supported a car.

    The laptop stand is very doable in cardboard, a number of different ways.

    1. You can create a skeleton from a single layer of corrugated cardboard and cover that with paper mache or paper mache clay for additional strength and shaping.
    2. Use several layers of corrugated cardboard plus some support pieces for rigidity (and cover that to enhance its appearance).
    3. Create it from cross-section slices with corrugated cardboard so the whole thing is a solid block in the shape you want (you could probably stand on that).

    If you don't want just square corners, you can replicate the curved ends with sections of cardboard tubes (nest and glue several layers). An alternate method is to use corrugated cardboard and slice between the corrugations on the outside of the curve. It will then bend easily into a curve, and you can wrap and glue the outside with a sheet of kraft paper (making it curved corrugated cardboard).

  • If you want to mold the whole thing by hand with a clay material, there are plenty of air dry clays. You can buy them ready-made, but they're easy and inexpensive to make yourself, and those are just as good (or better if you experiment a little to optimize it to your requirements and preferences). A good place to start is Ultimate Paper Mache (a variety of very good air dry clay recipes).

    If you go this route, you need some clearance so your electronics slide in and out easily, and most of these clays shrink a little when they dry. They also tend to crack if you create thick layers (although that's easily fixable and doesn't affect the strength). You can make the stand entirely from clay if you make it in relatively thin layers and allow each layer to dry before adding the next. But it's usually faster and easier to create some form of skeleton in the basic shape and cover that with one or two layers of clay or a layer of paper mache and a layer of clay.

    You will want to preserve the equipment openings the entire time that at least the innermost layer of clay is drying, so you probably won't want to tie up your actual equipment as a placeholder. Pad your gadget all around with a layer of chipboard, like from a cereal box, and measure that. Then there are a few different approaches you can use for the equipment hole in the stand.

    1. Replicate the shape and thickness with layers of corrugated cardboard and chipboard glued together to make a dummy, and cover that tightly with plastic wrap. Hold the dummy in position with a makeshift fixture and form the clay around it. After the clay is fully dry, remove the dummy.
    2. Make a sleeve for the gadget out of corrugated cardboard or other suitable material (chipboard will warp from the clay's moisture), and incorporate that sleeve as part of the stand.

    In addition to air dry clays, there are cement products, like SculptCrete that you can mold like clay. These cure faster than the air dry clays and don't shrink or crack. They will give the stand more weight. For the same thickness, the air dry clays are probably stronger (less brittle, able to handle tension stress), but I've never tested it. With SculptCrete and similar products, you can create thinner walls, that won't break when you handle them, than with normal cement, but I wouldn't skimp on wall thickness. Putting equipment in and out can create leverage that would stress the walls.

  • There is an alternative to clay that involves shaping a wet material, which would probably work for this application. You need some form of basic skeleton that also serves to hold the dummy or sleeve in position. Use fabric (old towels work well), or heavy-duty paper shop towels. Saturate them with cement or Plaster of Paris. Wrap this around the dummy and drape it over the skeleton. When it hardens, you have your stand. One thickness of cloth towel soaked in cement would be plenty. You might want two layers of paper shop towels. This will work better with an integral sleeve to protect your equipment because cement can be abrasive.

  • Casting your stand is another approach that can be done without a lot of precise planning. Position the dummy or sleeve. Create a simple mold around it for the outside shape (can be done in layers to simplify complex shapes, and you can use fast mold construction like gluing cardboard forms and coating it in Vaseline). Pour the casting material between them. Just don't make the walls too thin.

    Good materials for casting would be cement like CementAll, HydroCal (an enhanced Plaster of Paris that's stronger and less brittle), or Plaster of Paris made with a little PVA glue (much stronger and less brittle). To protect the equipment from scratches, mold in a protective sleeve. An alternative is to sand the equipment cavity smooth, then apply a layer of paint or PVA glue.

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One option is to use Sugru which is a mouldable glue and heat resistant to 180C (356F).

From wikipedia: Sugru (/ˈsuːɡruː/), also known as Formerol, is a patented multi-purpose, non-slumping brand of silicone rubber that resembles modelling clay. It is available in several colours and upon exposure to air, cures to a rubber-like texture.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=sugru&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

It's a little expensive but very versatile

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Seeing your examples, I've got another idea. There is an air-dry clay called "cold porcelain" because the finished material looks somewhat like porcelain but it doesn't have to be fired in a kiln. It's very hard and can withstand a lot of force (if it's thick enough). Some recipes are rock solid, others are slightly bendable.

An honest warning: every time I tried to create cold porcelain, I failed. But there seem to be many people out there who love this stuff and craft lovely things with it.

Here are some links with recipes and instructions:

To save you some time, here are my personal experiences with failed attempts:

  • You need to use corn starch, not potato starch or tapioca starch or rice starch or any other kind of starch. It must be corn starch. I don't understand the chemistry behind it, but any other kind of starch will turn into a rubber ball instead of a clay.
  • Start with small batches. Instead of a cup of corn starch, start with 1 - 2 table spoons. That way you don't waste a ton of materials when it doesn't work out.
  • If your glue is very thick (I used wood glue instead of crafting glue), dilute it with water. Otherwise the clay will be too dry. On the other hand, dry clay doesn't shrink as much as very soft clay.
  • Try different methods. If the microwave method doesn't work for you, try the stovetop method or vice versa.
  • Start kneading the dough as soon as possible. I wear a vinyl glove over a knit or leather glove to protect my hand from the heat.
  • Keep kneading for at least 10 minutes, even if the stuff sticks to everything and seems impossible to knead.
  • Do not add more oil or lotion to the mix if it's too sticky. Add starch instead. I once added so much oil that the clay left oily stains everywhere and was disgusting to touch.
  • Cold porcelain is water soluble. You need to coat the finished object with a protective layer like varnish.
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    Traditional (PVA/starch) cold porcelain has very high shrinkage. If you constrain the size on an armature, most of the shrinkage will be in thickness. On miniatures, it typically doesn't matter. Thin structures like flowers dry quickly and shrink mostly in thickness. It wouldn't be the most practical material for a solid clay structure, but it's strong and tough and would make a good shell over a skeleton stand. (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 20:49
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    Some interesting links here. A couple of notes: The last recipe (non-shrink) is an unusual air dry clay optimized for thin structures like flowers, so it isn't clear how it would do or how to modify it for more "bulk" applications. The next to last (flexible) is starch bioplastic. You can make it less flexible, even rigid, by reducing the glycerin. As noted under the video, though, the material breaks down over time so it isn't suited to objects that need to last.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 20:49

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