Identifying a mechanism means you identify the reason a glaze does something specific. Especially visual. Most glaze recipes can be separated into two parts: the base and the mechanism of the color, opacity and variegation. The base is likely just a transparent glossy or translucent matte (although we can also go to a deeper level and talk about the mechanism of the matteness of a glaze, for example). Most often, a 'base glaze with variations' model is the best way to build a suite glazes or transfer them to another temperature. A base glaze that is 'understood' can be improved over time, made more and more functional and easier-to-use, less and less mysterious and prone to problems. When this base is improved, variations based on it benefit also. Imagine a base that is nice to use and apply; never cracks on drying; does not settle out; is reliable; cost effective; resistant to leaching, crazing, and cutlery marking; is gloss and temperature adjustable; and is easily opacified, colored, and variegated, etc. Would it not make good sense, where possible, to transplant the 'mechanisms' from new glaze recipes into your base rather than parachute the whole recipe (with its new materials and problems) into your operation?
How do you turn a transparent glaze into a white?
Right: Ravenscrag GR6-A transparent base glaze. Left: It has been opacified (turned opaque) by adding 10% Zircopax. This opacification mechanism can be transplanted into almost any transparent glaze. It can also be employed in colored transparents, it will convert their coloration to a pastel shade, lightening it. Zircon works well in oxidation and reduction. Tin oxide is another opacifier, it is much more expensive and only works in oxidation firing.
Cone 6 glaze speckling mechanism
This cone 6 white opacified glaze has an addition pigment-bearing granular mineral to create speckle (e.g. illmenite, manganese granular, ironstone concretions). This speckling mechanism can be transplanted into almost any glaze. Unfortunately, the metallic particles that produce the speck are often heavy and settle quickly in the glaze slurry. This can be prevented somewhat by flocculating the slurry.
Why does this glaze look like this? What are its mechanisms?
This is cone 6 an oxidation transparent glaze having enough flux (from a boron frit or Gerstley Borate) to make it melt very well, that is why it is running. Iron oxide has been added (around 5%) producing this transparent amber effect. Darker coloration occurs where the glaze has run thicker. These are all simple mechanisms, which, once understood, can be transplanted into other glazes. This glaze is also crazing. This commonly occurs when the flux used is high in K2O and Na2O (the highest expansion fluxing oxides). K2O and Na2O produce the brilliant gloss. They come from feldspars, nepheline syenite and are high in certain frits.
A breaking glaze highlights incised decoration
This is the Ravenscrag slip cone 6 base (GR6-A which is 80 Ravenscrag, 20 Frit 3134) with 10% Mason 6006 stain. Notice how the color is white where it thins on contours, this is called "breaking". Thus we say that this glaze "breaks to white". The development of this color needs the right chemistry in the host glaze and it needs depth to work (on the edges the glaze is too thin so there is no color). The breaking phenomenon has many mechanisms, this is just one. Interestingly, this transparent base has more entrained micro-bubbles than a frit-based glaze, these enhance the color effect.
Compare two glazes having different mechanisms for their matteness
These are two cone 6 matte glazes (shown side by side in an account at Insight-live). G1214Z is high calcium and a high silica:alumina ratio (you can find more about it by googling 1214Z). It crystallizes during cooling to make the matte effect and the degree of matteness is adjustable by trimming the silica content (but notice how much it runs). The G2928C has high MgO and it produces the classic silky matte by micro-wrinkling the surface, its matteness is adjustable by trimming the calcined kaolin. CaO is a standard oxide that is in almost all glazes, 0.4 is not high for it. But you would never normally see more than 0.3 of MgO in a cone 6 glaze (if you do it will likely be unstable). The G2928C also has 5% tin, if that was not there it would be darker than the other one because Ravenscrag Slip has a little iron. This was made by recalculating the Moore's Matte recipe to use as much Ravenscrag Slip as possible yet keep the overall chemistry the same. This glaze actually has texture like a dolomite matte at cone 10R, it is great. And it has wonderful application properties. And it does not craze, on Plainsman M370 (it even survived and 300F to ice water plunge without cracking). This looks like it could be a great liner glaze.
The rutile mechanism in glazes
2, 3, 4, 5% rutile added to an 80:20 mix of Alberta Slip:Frit 3134 at cone 6. This variegating mechanism of rutile is well-known among potters. Rutile can be added to many glazes to variegate existing color and opacification. If more rutile is added the surface turns an ugly yellow in a mass of titanium crystals.
The mechanism of Cd, Se stain inclusion
A magnesia matte that breaks on contours
GR10-G Silky magnesia matte cone 10R (Ravenscrag 100, Talc 10, Tin Oxide 4). This is a good example silky matte mechanism of high MgO. The Ravenscrag:Talc mix produces a good silky matte, the added tin appears to break the effect at the edges.
The multitude of things iron oxide can do in reduction
Iron oxide is an amazing glaze addition in reduction. It produces celadons at low percentages, then progresses to a clear amber glass by 5%, then to an opaque brown at 7%, a tenmoku by 9% and finally metallic crystalline with increasingly large crystals past 13%. These samples were cooled naturally in a large reduction kiln, the crystallization mechanism would be much heavier if it were cooled more slowly.
Glossy blacks are best made adding a black stain to a quality base transparent
The glaze on the left is called Tenmoku Cone 6 (a popular, and old, CM recipe). It is 20% calcium carbonate, 35% Custer feldspar, 15% OM4 Ball Clay and 30% silica, 10% iron oxide. If you have any experience with glaze you will note two things that a fishy here: There is no boron, lithia or zinc sourcing material. How can this melt enough at cone 6? It looks melted, but the ease of scratching it shows it is not. So, it appears that if we saturate an incompletely melted glaze with a lot of refractory brown colorant on a dark body the effect can be black. A better idea is the glaze on the right. We start with a stable, reliable base transparent, G2926B. Then we add 5% Mason 6666 black stain (stains are smelted at high temperatures, quenched and ground, they are inert and relatively safe). A bonus is we end up with a slurry that is not nearly as messy to use and does not turn into a bucket of jelly.
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