The relationship between the thermal expansion of body and glaze is called the "glaze fit". Glazes fit the clay body they are on when they do not form the familiar crack pattern of crazing when the ware is suddenly cooled or flake off on contours when ware is suddenly heated. Thermal expansion happens in thousandths of an inch as ware is heated during dish washing, in the oven, on the burner, etc. This sounds like a small amount of change, but ceramics are brittle and if the glaze is expanding or contracting more than the body to which it is attached, something has to give way. Thermal expansion and contraction are not to be confused with fired shrinkage that happens as a body densifies during heatup in the kiln.
Simple dilatometric curve produced by a dilatometer
Dialometric chart produced by a dilatometer. The curve represents the increase in thermal expansion that occurs as a glass is heated. Changes in the direction of the curve are interpreted as the transformation (or transition) temperature, set point and softening point (often quoted on frit data sheets). When the thermal expansion of a material is quoted as one number (on a data sheet), it is derived from this chart. Since the chart is almost never a straight line one can appreciate that the number is only an approximation of the thermal expansion profile of the material.
Why are these crazing lines dark like this?
This is an example of serious crazing in a glaze. The lines have gotten darker with use of the bowl! That means the color is organic, from food. This cannot be healthy.
Shivering on a transparent over an engobe
Example of a glaze (G1916J) shivering on the rim of a mug. But the situation is not as it might appear. This is a low quartz cone 03 vitreous red body having a lower-than-typical thermal expansion. The white slip (or engobe) has a moderate amount of quartz and is thus put under some compression by the body. But the compression is not enough to shiver off (e.g. at the rim) when by itself. However the covering glaze has an even lower expansion exerting added compression on the slip. This causes a failure at the slip-body interface.
If you think one slip fits any body, think again
This flake shivered off the rim of a low fire terra cotta mug. It is Fishsauce slip. It is about 2 inches long and has razor sharp edges. This is not the sort of thing you would want to be falling into your coffee or food and then eating! This flake did give evidence that it was loosening so there was little danger of me consuming it, but smaller flakes can go unnoticed. Slips (or engobes) must be drying compatible, have the same firing shrinkage, the same thermal expansion and be quartz inversion compatible with the body. It is easy to ignore all that and pretend that it works, but the bond between engobe and body is fragile at low fire and easily compromised by the above incompatibilities. Slips must be fitted to the specific body, glaze and temperature; that involves a testing program and often a little chemistry. I have documented online how to I adapted this slip to Plainsman Terrastone 2 using my account at insight-live.com.
This glaze fits this clay better at cone 03 than it does at 04 or 02
This is a talc body (Plainsman L213, about 50:50 talc:ball clay). They are fired to cone 04 (left), 03 (center) and 02. The glaze is G2931F, it fires crystal clear. Each of these cups has been subjected to "boiling water to ice water to boiling water" immersions. The cone 04 one crazed. The cone 02 cup cracked (the denser matrix could not withstand the shock) but did not craze (although it showed a hint of shivering). The center cup, fired at cone 03, is perfect.
An extreme example of what happens when glaze is under excessive compression
This is a low temperature slip-cast vase. Only the outside of the vessel is glazed. It burst apart like this on its own after firing.
How to make a ceramic time-bomb
This mug is pinging loudly and literally self-destructing in front of my eyes! Why? The glaze is under so much compression (the inside is pushing outward, the outside inward). Spiral cracks are developing all the way up the side. Small razor-sharp flakes are shivering off convex contours. Why? I accidentally fired a low-temperate talc body at cone 6 (the glaze is the Alberta Slip base cone 6 glossy). The clay body is not overly mature, but it just has an extremely high thermal expansion (talc is added to increase the expansion to fit low fire commercial glazes, they would craze without it). Shivering is serious, it is a mismatch of thermal expansion between body and glaze. It can happen at any temperature.
A vessel being forced apart by the pressure of a low expansion glaze inside
Notice that where there is a glaze cover on the outside there is no cracking. It is inherently risky to glaze ware only on the inside if you are not able to determine the fit. This is especially so if the body is not vitreous and does not have the strength to resist the pressure.
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