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Why Textbook Glazes Are So Difficult

Section: Glazes, Subsection: General


The trade is glaze recipes has spawned generations of potters going up blind alleys trying recipes that don't work and living with ones that are much more trouble than they are worth. It is time to leave this behind and take control.

Article Text

These recipes used to be in textbooks, now they are in computer databases and on the web. But most still do not work! So many potters and companies simply buy prepared glazes. In fact, recent years have seen an explosion in the number of small manufacturers of prepared glazes. Yet, there are still lots of masochists out there that are determined to make their own glazes and continue on their quest to find that perfect glaze just by trying textbook recipes at random. I want to make my own glazes but I am not a masochist and I do not need faith. Like me, more and more ceramic artists and technicians are saying "I am at the stage now where I want to know why, I want to understand glazes so I can fix and adjust and even formulate my own". I want to make my own glazes either from scratch or adjust an existing base, it is the only way I will get what I really want. And it is alot less expensive.

It can take new potters years to get textbook glazes out of their system. However, experience soon teaches us that these glazes seldom behave, and they are frequently touchy and introduce more problems than they solve. Sometimes people claim to have found useful glazes that work well in their circumstances. But how well? The glaze may fire to the surface they want, but what other problems and quirks do they have to endure with it that they simply overlook and tolerate. Perhaps you will agree that textbook quests don't normally breed intimate knowledge of how glazes work or even that they can be adjusted and controlled.

A good glaze is a little like a good dog. It is best to raise your own from a pup rather than trying to adopt someone else's full grown hound. Let's consider some of the reasons why a textbook glaze might not "travel" very well. As we will see, much more goes into achieving a particular glaze effect then just weighing it, throwing in some water, and slapping it on the ware. I'm not trying to discourage the use of all glaze recipes that you might import into your studio or business but I am saying a few words of warning.

Yes, there is something that travels even better than oxide formulas. It is the knowledge of what each oxide type contributes to a glaze, what each mineral type does to give it fired personality, and how they affect physical working properties. Each new recipe either confirms or fine tunes your existing oxide-effect knowledge, or educates you in the effects of its special purpose source materials (i.e. colorants, opacifiers, crystal forming agents) or unique formula (i.e. crystals from high CaO and low Al2O3 ). Each can be adapted to your own proven base recipes.

Add a smattering of line blending and trial and error adjustment, and you can make anything you want; adjust it any way you want. You can tell the glaze what to do. So why jump through hoops trying to pacify temperamental recipes that are always throwing ceramic tantrums in your kiln? You don't have to put up with that any more.

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By Tony Hansen

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