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Na2O (Sodium Oxide, Soda)
Notes-Sodium is a slightly more powerful glaze flux than potassium, but otherwise very similar in its behavior and properties. Together they are referenced as KNaO. Sodium belongs to the Alkaline group. It is the strongest common flux and works across all temperature ranges from 900-1300C. Thus care must be taken to avoid excessive melt fluidity in glazes having significant sodium. Almost all frits and glazes have at least some KNaO.
-Sodium is sourced primarily from feldspars and frits. Some frits are available that have double the sodium content of feldspar yet very little Al2O3, most have at least some B2O3.
-Sodium produces bright and brilliant glaze surfaces and gives strong color responses to copper, cobalt, and iron (coupling high alkali with low alumina gives the most intense colors). High soda glazes can often be soluble and easily scratched, so other oxides are also needed (like CaO, MgO) to produce durability, tensile strength, elasticity and leach resistance. Bottle glass is made using a combination of soda and lime as the fluxes.
-Unfortunately, the bright colors possible with high Na2O come at the expense of glaze fit. It has a higher thermal expansion than any other oxide and will promote crazing (especially in glazes lacking silica and/or alumina). Glazes having a high feldspar content (over 35-40%) are thus prime candidates for crazing. If a specific color effect requires high sodium (e.g. copper blue) it may be necessary to adjust the body to eliminate the crazing (increase its thermal expansion). Crystalline glazes, for example, are high in sodium and most often crazed. Celadons and copper reds also tend to be high in sodium, they likewise craze in the hands of many people. However it is possible to find a compromise between brilliant color and low enough thermal expansion if you substitute some of the KNaO for CaO, MgO, BaO, SrO or Li2O3 and maximize the SiO2 and Al2O3 (while still getting a good melt). Boron can also be employed, it has a very low expansion and enables adding more SiO2 and Al2O3, they push it down further. Some glazes have high sodium content (and thus craze) completely unnecessarily. Cone 10 dolomite mattes are an example, some have 60% feldspar! The mechanism of these is high MgO in an otherwise fairly fluid base. However MgO has the lowest thermal expansion of all fluxes and it works well even if SiO2 and Al2O3 are high. CaO is a very active flux also (with a much lower thermal expansion), it can easily handle the majority of the fluxing duties. Of course, you need a little ceramic chemistry to do all of this.
-Soda works well with boric oxide (and also lithia and potassium) in low temperature lead-free glazes.
-The alkalis can increase lead solubility.
-A number of common sodium-sourcing materials are soluble (e.g. soda ash, borax) or slightly soluble (e.g. nepheline syenite, sodium frits, Gerstley Borate). Special techniques or considerations are required to use these materials in glazes.
-Sodium can begin to volatilize at high temperatures, this is the mechanism of soda and salt glazing.
A down side of high feldspar glazes: Crazing!
This is crazing in a cone 10 reduction celadon glaze, on a porcelain. This is common because such glazes are often high in K2O/Na2O. Where do these oxides come from? Feldspars. Feldspars do produce brilliant glossy surfaces and they produce great colors but a glaze having 40% or more feldspar comes at a cost. Some body manufacturers in the North America produce whitewares and porcelains having extremely high quartz and ball clay contents, these will actually work with such glazes. However if you are using traditional bodies this problem can be solved by substituting some of the KNaO for lower expansion fluxes like MgO, SrO, CaO, Li2O (using glaze chemistry software).
Frits melt so much better than raw materials
Feldspar and talc are both flux sources (glaze melters). But the fluxes (Na2O and MgO) within these materials need the right mix of other oxides with which to interact to vitrify or melt a mix. The feldspar does source other oxides for the Na2O to interact with, but lacks other fluxes and the proportions are not right, it is only beginning to soften at cone 6. The soda frit is already very active at cone 06! As high as cone 6, talc (the best source of MgO) shows no signs of melting activity at all. But a high MgO frit is melting beautifully at cone 06. While the frits are melting primarily because of the boron content, the Na2O and MgO have become active participants in the melting of a low temperature glass. In addition, the oxides exist in a glass matrix that is much easier to melt than the crystal matrix of the raw materials.
Ceramic Oxide Periodic Table in SVG Format
The periodic table of common ceramic oxides in scalable vector format (SVG). Try scaling this thumbnail: It will be crystal-clear no matter how large you zoom it. All common pottery base glazes are made from only 11 elements (the grey boxes) plus oxygen. Materials decompose when glazes melt, sourcing these elements in oxide form; the kiln builds the glaze from these. The kiln does not care what material sources what oxide (unless the glaze is not melting completely). Each of these oxides contributes specific properties to the glass, so you can look at a formula and make a very good prediction of how it will fire. This is actually simpler than looking at glazes as recipes of hundreds of different materials.
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