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Ovenware clay bodies have a lower thermal expansion than typical bodies so they can withstand more sudden changes in temperature without cracking. Flameware bodies are not the same, they can withstand an open flame and demand much more compromise in working properties, strength, glaze fit, etc.

Ovenware manufacturers dedicate considerable resources to producing low expansion bodies and matching glazes that are far more thermal shock resistant that what a typical potter can make. Still, potters have found ways to get away with using standard bodies and glazes by making sure glazes fit well (no crazing or excessive compression as proven by testing), drying evenly so as not to build in stresses during drying, avoiding high-quartz and highly vitreous bodies (which propagate cracks so much better), firing evenly so as not to build-in stresses, maintaining an even ware cross section, avoiding angular contours and larger sizes with broad flat bottoms and telling customers to be careful about subjecting ware to sudden temperature change.

Glaze fit is a major problem in designing an ovenware body since common glazes will certainly craze (it is much easier to make a low expansion clay body than a glaze). Thus it is normal to compromise the lowest possible expansion on the body in order to get a reliable glaze fit. The lowest expansion glazes can be made using MgO based boron frits in glazes having the lowest possible KNaO. Glaze chemistry is invaluable to shape a compromise between low expansion and the desired appearance. Anyone serious about producing low expansion ware needs to understand thermal expansion and we ready to change their process and endure increased costs.

There are main two mechanisms for creating a low expansion body: By firing to form a crystalline matrix that has low expansion (e.g. Corningware, cordierite) or by employing materials having particles of low expansion (e.g. mullite, pyrophyllite, petalite and kyanite) and formulating and firing in such a way that these particles are not altered. The former produces a more vitreous body and requires much more expertise and test equipment. As noted, the later is a bit of a 'crowbar' approach and is dependent on not firing to full maturity (otherwise mineral species can be dissolved by the feldspar in the body or simply altered in crystal form and the low expansion effect is lost). This can create a bit of a 'tug-of-war' in the body since the glass that glues all the particles into a matrix will likely have a higher expansion. Obviously, ovenware bodies should have much lower free quartz content, especially the larger particle sizes, since these have very high thermal expansion. This does not just mean avoiding only ground silica, ball clays also contribute alot of quartz.

Often, ovenware body recipes are published without any explanation about the mechanism they employ or what to do about glaze. Common recipes found in textbooks often feature a high percentage of spodumene (30%) along with some feldspar and pyrophyllite (about 10% of each) and a mix of ball clay and kaolin or stoneware clays. The object with these appears to be to create a low expansion glassy matrix in which the kaolin can convert to mullite. But if ball clays and stoneware clays are present, these contain significant amounts of quartz particles; while some may dissolve, it seems likely that much will not (a nothing in ceramics has a higher thermal expansion that quartz). Some recipes are a combination of talc and ball clay or fireclay. The intent is to create cordierite at cone 10. However cordierite does not develop until long after cone 10 so it is no coincidence that such bodies also contain large amounts of grog (which assumes the burden of absorbing or slowing cracks). For more information on this and testing standards and labs, see that last part of the article on flameware.

A common thermal expansion resistant non-glazed product that many potters are asked to make is pizza stones. These are fairly thin and can be diameters to 14 inches or more. Although they do not need to withstand the same shock as regular ovenwares, the flat shape makes them susceptible to cracking on the uneven heating they often are subjected to. The principles outlined above should be sufficient to create a product that will endure common use.

Can terra cotta ware resist an open flame? Yes.

Can terra cotta ware resist an open flame? Yes.

This is a road-side stand in Mexico in 2016. Each of these "cazuelas" (casseroles) have a flame under them to keep the food inside warm. The pedestal is unglazed. The ware is thick and heavy. The casseroles are hand decorated with under glaze slip colors and a very thin layer of lead glaze is painted over (producing a terra sigilatta type appearance, but with brush stoke texture). These have been made and used here for hundreds years. How can they not crack over an open flame? The flame is small. The clay is fired as low or lower than potters in Canada or the US would even fired their bisque. It is porous, open and able to absorb the stresses. They know these pieces are not strong, so they treat them with care.

A flameware recipe. Are they kidding?

A flameware recipe. Are they kidding?

This is a flameware, made from a recipe promoted by a popular website. Are they serious? How could you throw this? Maybe it is possible, but we need an explanation. How could the page fail to mention how coarse this surface would be? How porous and weak ware would be? We find many body and glaze recipes on the internet. These almost always just sit there, taking screen space, not explaining themselves in any way.

Out Bound Links

  • (Glossary) Flameware

    Flameware is ceramic that can withstand sudden temperature changes without cracking (i.e. stove top burners). Ovenware is another class of ceramics, it is not as resistant to thermal shock as flameware. There is some confusion among clay buyers and retailers about this. For example Japanese Donabe w...

  • (Glossary) Co-efficient of Thermal Expansion

    A measure of the reversible volume or length change of a ceramic material with temperature. The more the expansion during heating the more contraction must occur while cooling it back down. Expansion values are very small and recorded in scientific notation (e.g. 6.5 x 10-7 which is 0.00000065). Typ...

  • (Materials) Ferro Frit 3249 - Low expansion leadless magnesia borosilicate frit

    F3249 Frit, F3249 (Ferro)

  • (Tests) TSFL - Thermal Shock Failure

By Tony Hansen

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