Wednesday, July 1, 2009

All About Salt Dough

Technique personnage masculin en pâte à sel, loisirs créatifs, activités manuelles enfants

Easy to work with and inexpensive, salt dough gives you complete creative freedom and the opportunity to do some trials without worrying that you'll have to throw out your project if it doesn’t reach your high expectations. You can create anything from traditional figurines and baskets to more innovative and trendy decorative items for your home.

This page explains how to make and work with salt dough.


  • Flour, salt, and water for the dough
  • Aluminum foil, parchment paper, and an oven-safe platter for baking
  • For decoration:
    • Paints of your choice:
      • Cold enamel paint gives a glossy, smooth look
      • Watercolor paints give pastel tones
      • Acrylic paint (glossy, matte, or pearly) gives rich tones
      • Gouache (poster paint) can be used, but it lacks luminosity and may make the salt dough mushy
    • Paintbrushes of varying sizes, according to the desired level of detail
    • Varnish of your choice:
      • Marine varnish (the least expensive)
      • Quality poster varnish
      • Crystal varnish (doesn’t yellow)
      • Spray varnish (very practical)


  • Mix 2 parts water with 1 part salt.

  • Gradually add 1 cup cold water.

  • Mix and then knead the mixture for at least 5 minutes. The dough should be soft but not sticky, a little stretchy but not dry. If dough is too sticky or watery, add more flour. Conversely, if dough is too dry, add more water.

  • Form a ball to keep the dough from drying out too quickly.

  • Mold your dough. Some tips:
    • To attach 2 pieces of dough, use some water.
    • Have materials on hand to help you with modeling: knives, forks, garlic press, rolling pin, cutters, cocktail sticks, etc. You can even use old lace for making patterns!
    • Aluminum foil, which can be removed after baking, can be used to give some volume or a particular shape to an object.
    • If you want to hang your finished projects, insert a hook or a pre-shaped wire in the wet dough.

  • Dry (not bake!) your dough.
    • In the oven:
      • Place your creations on aluminum foil or parchment paper on top of a baking tray. A fan-assisted or convection oven is ideal for this task; its temperature should be turned down low to thermostat 1 or 2 (maximum 100°C/212°F to avoid cracking).
      • Turn over the dough objects when they are half dried.
      • The “baking” time depends on the thickness of the objects: you should allow between 2 and 6 hours. To check if the object is cooked, tap it with a metal knife. If it doesn't sound hollow, it needs to stay in the oven longer. Another tip: try to stick a needle in the back of the object. If it doesn’t go in, then your object is ready!
    • Leave your creation to dry for a few days in the sun, in front of a radiator, or on a mantelpiece.

  • Decoration
    • Sand your creations with sandpaper to remove small defaults.
    • Paint your object. Start by painting the larger areas to get an overall idea of what the finished object will look like, because then you will be able to choose the colors for the details more easily. You can make several coats of paint to achieve different shades, but you should leave at least an hour between each coat.
    • Varnish your object from back to front. 3 coats are advised for protection against humidity. Regular re-varnishing is also recommended.


  • Consider using food to give color to your dough: add cinnamon, coffee, or even pepper.

  • About the dough:
    • For a finer dough, add glycerine (1/2 tablespoon).
    • For a more solid dough, add wallpaper paste (1 tablespoon mixed in with the flour).
    • You can also use whole what flour, which gives the dough a darker, more rustic appearance and also makes it easier to work with.
    • The smoother and whiter the flour, and the finer the salt, the more precise your modeling will be. For an even finer salt, blend it in a coffee grinder or in a mixer until it resembles confectioner's sugar!
    • You can also buy ready-made salt dough. You only need to add water and let it sit. It has the advantage of being finer and whiter, as well as cooking more quickly.

On the Internet

  • Learn how to make realistic-looking leaves, how to model roses, how to create knots, how to make lace effects, or how to make a basket.

  • Learn how to make cute miniature figurines with step-by-step illustrations: possibilities include a Goose , a Witch, or French cartoon characters Bécassine and Clémentine.

  • Learn how to make roses.

  • Some examples of sculpture in the round (salt dough developed in three dimensions).

Photo Source: "La Bretagne en pâte à sel (Brittany in Salt Dough)" by Brigitte Casagranda, published by Editions Ouest-France.
Photography: Xavier Scheinkmann

Translation: Emma-Jane


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