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Tony Hansen's Thousand-Post TimeLine

I am the creator of Digitalfire Insight, Digitalfire.com and Insight-live.com. I have made hundreds of posts like these on my Facebook page and personal timeline. My posts are like no others, they help you understand your glazes and clay bodies, take control. They are also part of the Digitalfire Reference Database (referenced from one or more articles, glossary entries, materials, oxides, test procedures, etc). Visit and Like my page to get a notification each time I post.

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Specific gravity of a glaze using a scale and measuring cup

The specific gravity of a glaze slurry is simply its weight compared to water. Different glazes optimize to different specific gravities, but 1.4 to 1.5 is typical (highly fritted glaze are higher). To measure, counter-weigh a plastic measuring cup on your scale and fill it with 500 grams of water and note how high the water fills it (hopefully to the 500cc mark!). Fill the container with your glaze to the same place. Divide its weight by the number of ccs (in this case, 500) and you have the specific gravity. The more you weigh the more accurate is the test.

Wednesday 25th March 2015

Measuring specific gravity

This is the easiest way to measure the specific gravity of a glaze if it is not in a container deep enough to float a hydrometer (or if it is too thick to float it properly). Just fill to the 100cc mark and the scale reads the specific gravity. Be careful on cheap plastic graduated cylinders like this, check them with water and correct the true 100cc mark if needed. You could actually use any tall narrow container you have (if you make the 100cc level).

Wednesday 16th July 2014

You cannot fix this crazing with a process or firing change

This is severe crazing (at cone 10R). It is happening because of the chemistry of the glaze, not the firing. The first option to check when fixing crazing is: Can the glaze accept an addition of SiO2? This glaze is an excellent candidate for that because the melt is highly fluid, it will surely be able to dissolve extra SiO2. But it could also accept Al2O3 because it is highly glossy (a little extra Al2O3 will not matte it and would also reduce expansion and increase fired hardness and durability). What to do then? I would start with a 10% addition of a mix of two parts silica to one part kaolin (this mix has a 10:1 SiO2:Al2O3 ratio, about the same as most glossy glazes).

Friday 10th April 2015

Do not rely on material data sheets, do the testing

The cone 6 porcelain on the left uses Grolleg kaolin, the right uses Tile #6 kaolin. The Grolleg body needs 5-10% less feldspar to vitrify it to zero porosity. It thus contains more kaolin, yet it fires significantly whiter. Theoretically this seems simple. Tile #6 contains alot more iron than Grolleg. Wrong! According to the data sheets, Grolleg has the more iron of the two. Why does it always fire whiter? I actually do not know. But the point is, do not rely totally on numbers on data sheets, do the testing yourself.

Monday 23rd March 2015

Ball clay vs. Kaolin porcelain at cone 6

Left: A porcelain that is plasticized using only ball clays (Spinx Gleason and Old Hickory #5). Right: Only kaolin (in this case Grolleg). Kaolins are much less plastic so bentonite (e.g. 2-5%) is typically needed to get good plasticity. The color can be alot whiter using a clean kaolin, but there are down sides. Kaolins have double the LOI of ball clays, so there are more gasses that potentially need to bubble up through the glaze (ball clay porcelains can produce brilliantly glassy and clean results in transparent glazes even at fast fire, while pure kaolins can produce tiny dimples in the glaze surface if firings are not soaked long enough). Kaolins plasticized by bentonite often do not dry as well as ball clays even though the drying shrinkage is usually less. Strangely, even though ball clays are so much harder and stronger in the dry state, a porcelain made using only ball clays often still needs some bentonite. If you do not need the very whitest result, it seems that a hibrid using both is still the best general purpose, low cost answer.

Saturday 25th April 2015

The difference between vitrified and sintered

The top fired bar is a translucent porcelain (made from kaolin, silica and feldspar). It has zero porosity and is very hard and strong at room temperature because fibrous mullite crystals have developed around the quartz and kaolinite grains and feldspar silicate glass has flowed within to cement the matrix together securely (that what vitrified means). But it has a high fired shrinkage, very poor thermal shock resistance and little stability at above red-heat temperatures. The bar below is zirconium silicate plus 3% binder, all that cements it together is sintered bonds between closely packed particles. Yet it is surprisingly strong, it cannot be scratched with metal. It has low fired shrinkage, zero thermal expansion and maintain its strength and hardness to very high temperatures.

Saturday 18th April 2015

What would happen if you made a body from 50:50 kaolin:ball clay?

It would craze! This is fired at cone 6 and the crazing was like this out of the kiln. This is about as bad as I have ever seen. One might think that there is adequate quartz in this high of a percentage of ball clay to at least minimize crazing, but no so. This demonstrates the need for adequate pure silica powder in stoneware bodies to give them high enough thermal expansion to squeeze glaze on cooling to prevent crazing like this. This is also not proving to be quite as refractory as I thought, it looks like it will have about 3% porosity at cone 10.

Saturday 18th April 2015

A root-of-two series of test sieves

The coarsest screen is at the top, the finest on the bottom. The opening for each is shown on the label. They are chosen such that each successive screen going down has an opening that is about half the area of the one above it. Using this series you can produce a practical measurement of the distribution of particle sizes in ceramic materials and bodies used in traditional ceramics (structural products industries, like brick, measure coarser particles than this, starting at perhaps 10 mesh and ending at 70). The 325 screen on the bottom is only used sometimes, it is difficult to finer-that-325 particles to pass through it because it blinds. It is not possible to shake powder through sieves that are this fine, samples must be washed through.

Thursday 19th February 2009

This is what labs use to measure particle size

To measure particle size in a slurry or powder you need sieves. This is the most popular type used in labs. They are made from brass by a company named Tyler. The range screen sizes for testing particle size is very wide. The top screen has an opening of 56 mm (that size and smaller pieces can fall through). The bottom sieve has an opening of 0.1 mm, the wires are almost too small to see. Coarser and finer sieves are available. You can buy these on ebay for a lot less than new ones, just search for tyler sieves. Keep in mind that the finer sieves (especially 325) are fragile and easily ripped. We use a series that bottoms out at 200.

Thursday 23rd April 2015

Can you throw zircopax on the potters wheel? Yes!

These crucibles are thrown from a mixture of 97% Zircopax (zirconium silicate) and 3% Veegum T. The consistency of the material is good for rolling and making tiles but is not quite plastic enough to throw very thin (so I would try 4% Veegum next time). It takes alot of time to dewater on a plaster bat. But, these are like nothing I could make from any other material. They are incredibly refractory (fired to cone 10 they look like bisqued porcelain), a have amazing resistance to thermal shock. I could pour molten metal into them and they will not crack. I can heat one area red hot and it will not crack. I can throw the red hot piece into water and it will not crack!

Thursday 23rd April 2015


These posts are actually pictures referenced on pages in The Digitalfire Reference Database, thousands of pages of explaining things you need to know to formulate, adjust and troubleshoot traditional ceramic bodies and glazes. It is organized as: Oxides, minerals, materials, recipes, articles, glossary, hazards, library, MDTs for INSIGHT, pictures, properties, firing schedules, significant temperatures, tests and troubleshooting. Level 2 desktop INSIGHT and Insight-Live both interact with it.

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  • I want you to know how much it means to me to have you help with my questions. I have been doing pottery for over 20 years and never new this stuff. I feel so responsible for my glazes leaching and stupid to not have known, and the stress or waiting for the lab test results has been eating me up.
  • Tony, the Boraq II substition for gerstley borate in the formula I sent you a while ago was succesful. Congratulations for figuring out boraq! I've tested Murray's, Gillespie, Laguna, IMCO, and also raw materials such as Cadycal, Ulexite, Colemanite, and the substitutes you recommended in your articles made of several components blended with Cadycal (I referred to these in my previous letter) all with varying degrees of success but only the boraq II produced results that were indistinguishable from GB. This glaze is very sensitive so I consider the test a success. It had to mess with the plasticity with additions of hectorite and ball clay.
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