Small Horse Head Magnets : Costs, How-to’s, etc.

Mix and Match Equines!
Mix and Match Equines!

I’m finally getting ready to start posting magnets to Etsy, so I figured what better time to do a How-to on how I make them, how much they cost to make (and sell).

This will cover all the supplies used, the time and methods for each step, and the accounting bits that go alongside. To be honest I made these just to learn how to cast in plaster, but then I got addicted to all the color possibilities and the fun of rearranging them. Figured it couldn’t hurt to share them in case another office out there was in dire need of a small crazy colored herd of whimsy.

The process of making these really isn’t that hard, but it does take time to learn how to make the silicone molds and to learn how to cast with the Plaster of Paris and wood glue mixture. While it’s still obviously cheaper to buy the magnets from me than to make them, it’s certainly more fun to grow your own! 😀

Creating the Original Sculpt

I am the MASTER!
I am the MASTER!

I sculpted the original head and mane out of white Sculpey, which costs $13ish for a 1.75lb box so the head and mane used about $0.07. This took roughly half an hour to sculpt and 15 minutes to bake and an hour or so to cool off.

I actually created several version of this head and mane set before I hit one I liked, so if I wanted to I could include all the failed attempts into the sculpting time. But there’s no point because…

I don’t include the time and materials cost of this step in the final calculation because it was a one-time event and falls under general operating costs. If this had been a One-of-a-kind (OOAK) sculpture, then I’d roll it into the pricing math.

Creating the Silicon Mold

Silicone mold making using a Mother Mold
Silicone mold making using a Mother Mold

This actually took a few tries to get right, which you can see in the series of blog posts I did on the subject. Once you get the hang of it, it’s actually pretty easy and a lot cheaper than the molding kits.

Making the mold takes only a few minutes, most of the timesink here comes in waiting for the silicone to dry.

A tube of 100% silicone caulk will cost me $5.21 at Lowes and generic dishwashing soap is about a buck. On estimate I’d say I used maybe a 15th of the tube to make a single mold, but that’s a really rough estimation. I’ve gotten better at the mold making as I’ve put more practice into it, so I know I use a lot less silicone per mold now that I did when I started.

Again, it doesn’t matter because these are one-time costs.

Plaster (and Wood Glue) Casting

Mold ALL the things!
Mold ALL the things!

And now we’ve finally hit the point where time and materials start to matter– but these little guys are 90% time and 10% materials.

I have enough molds that I can currently cast 10 heads and 8 manes at the same time. Mixing the wood glue and plaster and then pouring it out only takes maybe 10-15 minutes, but waiting for the casts to try takes roughly 12 hours. If I made them with just plaster, that time drops significantly, but adding the wood glue means a stronger cast and a longer dry time. (Check out the previous post on these casting methods.)

The Plaster of Paris costs about $1.25 a pound, wood glue costs $2.00ish and the individual magnets use a miniscule amount of both. But not every casting is a success, so for every five good casts I get at least one that needs some serious repair work.

Raw Cast, Wood Glue Layers, Painted
Raw Cast, Wood Glue Layers, Painted

After the cast has dried, I have to carve, sand, and use plaster to remove the excess material and fill in any defects in the cast. Depending on the cast this can take anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes but the materials used (sandpaper, exacto blades, extra plaster) aren’t really consumed so they have no real cost. I’m slowly coming to the realization that it’s cheaper to throw away the bad casts than to try and fix them– but I hate throwing things out!

Once the cast has been cleaned up, it’s time for the glue coating. I go back with a mixture of water and wood glue that is tinted slightly with paint (for visibility) and paint each cast for added durability. I normally do 3-4 coats of this, with a dry time of at least 30 minutes between the coats.

I have a bit of a production line method at this point, where I do through and prep all castings for painting, even if I’m not planning on painting them yet. This lets me get ahead of any custom orders plus it lets me experiment without having to pause and cast new ones every time.

Total Material Costs: Negligible
Total Time Costs: 10min each (give or take)

Painting and Magnets

Can you feel the attraction?
Can you feel the attraction?

I paint these little guys usinger craft paints, which run anywhere from $0.50 to $2.00 for 2oz and then seal them with a brush on sealer (Liquitex Gloss and Matte Varnishes, 8oz for $14.99). The magnets take multiple coats of paint to get a nice solid color, but I have yet to use up a bottle of paint (or sealer) so I’m estimating maybe a $0.10 materials cost.

The magnets are the pricey part of this equation– or at least they can be.

The normal magnet I use for these little guys is the flat rolls, which is $2.99 for ten feet or roughly $0.02 an inch. I need about two inches (with all the cutting) to fit the head and the mane, so about $0.04. Which is pretty darned reasonable, but not very strong.

If I want magnets that can do something other than hold themselves up (and a single piece of paper) then I have to swap over to neodymium magnets, which are the only one both small and powerful. Those smallest cost $3.98 for 12, or $0.33 each– which means a pair would be $0.66 and the price only goes up as the magnets get bigger.

I could buy them in bulk (and I’m still thinking about it) but for now they are going in as an ‘optional extra’ on the Etsy listings.

Total Material Costs: $0.14 to $0.80
Total Time Costs: 15min each (give or take)

Photographs, Listings, and Other Fancy Stuff

Photography Blues
Photography Blues

…I really don’t want to think about how much time it takes to get decent photos, much less all the editing and drafting of sales copy. So I’m going to file this one away under ‘I only have to do it once’ and not time myself.

Ignorance, she is sometimes a necessary bliss.


Whole Herd of Horse Heads
Whole Herd of Horse Heads

I use the same shipping methods for these guys as I do for the micro minis, so the costs are about $3.00. Although with the raise in the USPS rates that may have changed. Hmm, will have to assemble a box and weight it to see.

Eventually I will also be learning how to make nifty little display boxes so customers have a slightly more professional looking package when they unpack it. That’s a tutorial for another day…

Doing the Final Math

Now that we have all the steps done, it’s time to add everything up!

For a Set of 6 Magnets (12 pieces)

Shipping Costs($3.00)
Etsy Listing Fees($0.20)
Sale Price (with Shipping)$13.00
Etsy Final Fees (3.5%)($0.46)
Etsy Payment Fees (3% + 0.25)($0.89)
TOTAL (‘Profit’)($6.72)

Now the fun part is that it took me roughly 25 minutes to make each magnet. For six magnets that’s about two and a half hours of work… for $6.72. In a perfect world, at my $10 an hour goal it should take six minutes per magnet.

Note to self: And this is why you really need to sit down and do blog posts like these before picking a price that ‘seems fair’. *sighs*

Looks like I’m going to have to improve my process or raise prices! 😛

Martha Bechtel

My name is Martha Bechtel and I write fantasy and science fiction stories, paint small model horses silly colors, cast resin and plaster magnets, code random code (and Wordpress plugins)... Come on in and join in the fun!

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