When I say I "broke" the clay gun, the first one I broke the bottom off the plunger, then both 'handles' off the side. The second one I broke the bottom off the plunger (but I'm still using it).
, you broke pieces of metal clay guns off
!! Just with your hands??
I've heard of clayers bending metal clay guns and even causing the metal paint to come off the barrel (when using one particular version of a pusher), and also bending the metal disks, but never actually breaking parts off. And your poor hands too!
Before I do my next one .. I need to figure out a way to extrude stiff clay more easily.
Oh, there are definitely ways to make that easier!
First you'd want to do things to make the clay softer (especially when using a firmer clay like Kato). Check out this page at my site on using additives, heat and friction to soften clay right from the start:http://www.glassattic.com/polymer/Conditioning.htm
...click on Stretching & Warming
and on Additives
Then check out this page for softening just before extruding
from a clay gun, and also for making a "pusher" for the clay tun to help it extrude the clay more easily and quickly:http://www.glassattic.com/polymer/claygun.htm
...click on Preparing Clay for Extruding
, and on Pushers
(You might also want to check out the category at the bottom of that page for tips on making Balinese Filigree
*The kind of pusher I make is just two hinged boards (like a "bellows"), with a hole in one board to hold the clay gun... easy and cheap to make.
With properly prepared clay, I can simply lean on the top board with my palm and whole body and extrude a whole barrelful of clay in about 2-3 seconds, so it works extremely well. And it's not necessary to remove the gun from the bellows pusher to reload it as with some of the other pushers... just unscrew the cap and load in another log.
There are other types of pushers described on my page though, as well as other clay guns, but be aware of all details because sometimes those can be harder to reload, or be harder on hands/fingers, etc, especially when used as much as you have.
P.S. Good choice on using the Kato clay too instead of Sculpey... firmer clay allows much more precision and evenness in shaping the tiny rope configurations you made, with the additional benefit of the final result being stronger. You could also use Premo or even one of the Fimos for strength but more softness from the get-go, then just rest or refrigerate the extruded ropes before shaping them.