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A condition where glaze separates into clumps or islands (during firing) leaving bare clay patches showing in-between.

This problem is almost always caused by glazes shrinking too much during drying and then cracking. Those cracks become the crawl-points during firing. Excessive shrinkage is normally a product of too much raw clay in a glaze. Glazes having marginally high clay that can normally be used successfully will crack if applied too thick. It is likewise with multi-layer application without consideration for the specific needs of that process.

Glazes contain clay to suspend their slurries. Clay shrinks when it dries. Some shrinkage can be tolerated but when it is excessive something has to give. As glaze layer thickness increases it is afforded more and more power to impose its shrinkage on the bond with the body. At some point that bond will be compromise in places where cracks occur to release the tension.

Multi-layering of glazes rewets the first layer, stressing its bond with the body and pulling it away from the body as it shrinks. Crawling is quite prevalent in once fired ware.

Common fixes are to use a clay of similar chemistry but less shrinkage (in the recipe), calcining part of the clay, reformulating the glaze to source more Al2O3 from feldspar (or frit) and less from clay. For multi-layering, the first coat can be bisque fired on, binders can be added, thinner application done or glazes of lower clay content used (or calcined clay).

Crawling problems are not without band-aid solutions, fixes often recommended, but which do not address the key causes. For example, some authors have recommended adding feldspar or silica to glazes to reduce crawling. But such solutions have minimal chance of helping without large additions. These are almost certain to change the fired character of the glaze. For example, most glazes are already close to crazing (or already crazing). Adding significant feldspar will make that worse. It will also affect gloss and melting temperature (feldspar is a melter). Adding some silica is fine if a glaze is really well melted already. But adding enough to dilute too-high clay content is certain to affect melt fluidity and gloss and thermal expansion. Excess raw clay in a glaze is by far best dealt with by reducing percentage of that raw clay, not diluting it with something else that changes the character. Others blame dusty bisque ware, saying that it should be washed before glazing. Wetting bisque ware is counter productive, removing traces of dust to accommodate glazes which are 100% dust mixed with water makes little sense.

Sometimes glazes are made to crawl intentionally. One technique to make this happen is to add 15-20% magnesium carbonate (testing required to determine amount) to a low fire transparent glaze.

Crawling on a thickly applied glaze (cone 6)

Example of glaze crawling on the inside of a stoneware mug. Notice how thick it is. Thickly applied glazes have more ability to assert their shrinkage during drying and thus compromise their bond with the body below. The cracks that appear become bare patches after firing.

Mag carb causes crawling in higher amounts

Example of two crawling glazes. Both have magnesium carbonate added to make this happen (around 10%). On the left at cone 04 on a terra cotta body, on the right at cone 6 on a porcelain. Magnesium carbonate also mattes glazes.

An additive that will make a glaze crawl

Light magnesium carbonate has been added to a low temperature terra cotta white glaze (about 10%). It induces crawling. It also mattes the glaze because it sources MgO.

Two glazes. One crawls, the other does not. Why?

The glaze on the right is crawling at the inside corner. Multiple factors contribute. The angle between the wall and base is sharper. A thicker layer of glaze has collected there (the thicker it is the more power it has to impose a crack as it shrinks during drying). It also shrinks more during drying because it has a higher water content. But the leading cause: Its high raw clay content increases drying shrinkage. Calcining part of the raw clay is an effective way to deal with this. Or doing a little chemistry to source some Al2O3 from other materials than clay.

Badly crawled glaze fired at cone 5 reduction

It was spray applied on the dried bowl (no bisque fire) an was too thick (not to mention under fired). But the main problem was a glaze recipe having too high a clay content. If a glaze has more than about 25% clay, consider a mix of the raw clay and calcined. For example, you can buy calcined kaolin to mix with raw kaolin. Or you can calcine the clay in bowls in your kiln by firing it to about 1200F.

Something is definitely wrong. What is it?

An example of how a glaze that contains too much plastic has been applied too thick. It shrinks and cracks during drying and is guaranteed to crawl. This is raw Alberta Slip. To solve this problem you need to tune a mix of raw and calcine material. Enough raw is needed to suspend the slurry and dry it to a hard surface, but enough calcine is needed to keep the shrinkage low enough that this cracking does not happen. The Alberta Slip website has a page about how to do the calcining.

Why does the glaze on the right crawl?

This is G2415J Alberta Slip glaze on porcelain at cone 6. Why did the one on the right crawl? Left: thinnest application. Middle: thicker. Right thicker yet and crawling. All of these use a 50:50 calcine:raw mix of Alberta Slip in the recipe. While that appears fine for the two on the left, more calcine is needed to reduce shrinkage for the glaze on the right (perhaps 60:40 calcine:raw). This is a good demonstration of the need to adjust raw clay content for any glaze that tends to crack on drying. Albertaslip.com and Ravenscrag.com both have pages about how to calcine and calculate how much to use to tune the recipe to be perfect.

Crawling glaze on slip cast ware is common

This cone 6 white glaze is crawling on the inside and outside of a thin-walled cast piece. This happened because the thick glaze application took a long time to dry, this extended period, coupled with the ability of the thicker glaze layer to assert its shrinkage, compromised the fragile bond between dried glaze and fairly smooth body. To solve this problem the ware could be heated before glazing, the glaze applied thinner, or glazing the inside and outside could be done as separate operations with a drying period between.

Alberta Slip crawling because it shrinks too much on drying

Example of Alberta Slip which has been sprayed on dry ware and single fired. This happened because the slip shrunk during drying creating a network of cracks. These cracks become the crawl-points during firing.

I have always done it this way. Why is it not working now?

Are you really sure the problem is with the materials? I had been using an 85% Ravenscrag, 15% frit glaze for many years with no crawling problems. But then it started crawling. I tried mixes with new materials and the old ones. Still crawled. The problem? What was I thinking? An 85% clay glaze is going to crawl so the question should have been: How did I get away with it for so long? I actually do not know! But I am now calcining Ravenscrag as appropriate (as documented at ravenscrag.com) and I love the control this gives me in balancing slurry properties with drying hardness.

Fixing a crawling problem with Ravenscrag Tenmoku

Crawling of a cone 10R Ravenscrag iron crystal glaze. The added iron oxide flocculates the slurry raising the water content, increasing the drying shrinkage. To solve this problem you can calcine part of the Ravenscrag Slip, that reduces the shrinkage. Ravenscrag.com has information on how to do this.

Do not glaze bisque ware when it is too wet

These mugs are quite thin walled. A glaze has just been applied to the inside. Notice how it has water logged the bisque (you can see the contrast at the base, where the clay is a little thicker and has not changed color yet). Although there may be enough absorbency that a glaze could be applied now, it would still not be a good idea because it would completely waterlog the piece and result in a very long drying time. This is bad, not only because of process logistics, but also because slow drying glazes almost always crack and lift from the bisque (causing crawling).

Will this crawl when fired? For sure!

This dry glaze is shrinking too much, it is going to crawl during firing. This common issue happens because there is too much plastic clay in the glaze recipe (common with slip glazes). Clay is needed to suspend the other particles (they would quickly settle to the bottom of the bucket without it), but too much causes excessive shrinkage. Fixing this problem is not nearly as difficult as most people think. You can reduce shrinkage by calcining part of the clay or swapping a clay component for another of similar chemistry but lower shrinkage. The best way: Use glaze chemistry to source some Al2O3 (contributed by the clay) from feldspar instead. Of course this involves juggling amounts of other materials in the recipe to maintain the overall chemistry.

Glaze cracking during drying? Wash it off and change the process or glaze.

If your drying glaze is doing what you see on the left, do not smooth it with your finger and hope for the best. It is going to crawl during firing. Wash it off, dry the ware and change your glaze or process. This is Ravenscrag Slip being used pure as a glaze, it is shrinking too much so I simply add some calcined material to the bucket. That reduces the shrinkage and therefore the cracking (trade some of the kaolin in your glaze for calcined kaolin to do the same thing). Glazes need clay to suspend and harden them, but if your glaze has 20%+ kaolin and also bentonite, drop the bentonite (not needed). Other causes: Double-layering. Putting it on too thick. May be flocculating (high water content). Slow drying (try bisquing lower, heating before dipping; or glaze inside, dry it, then glaze outside).

Out Bound Links

In Bound Links

  • (Materials) Light Magnesium Carbonate - 4MgCO3.Mg(OH)2.4H2O

    Hydrated Magnesium Carbonate Mineral, Hydromagnesite, Magnesium Carbonate

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    Glaze slurries can gel if they contain soluble mat...

  • (Glossary) Surface Tension

    Surface tension is of concern in ceramics because ...

  • (Glossary) Shino

    Shino glazes were developed in Japan and their aes...

  • (Glossary) Glaze Layering

    Glazes are often layered for decorative effects. T...

By Tony Hansen

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