Digitalfire Ceramic Glossary

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Phase Separation

This phenomenon is responsible for some of the most interesting glazes used in ceramics. A glaze without any visible phase separation can be seen on a sink or toilet, it can be considered a homogeneous glass. Phase separation occurs when a glass melt separates into two or more liquids of slightly different chemistry (and therefore potentially different fired appearance and physical presence). The homogeneity of the fluidity of the melt can be disrupted late in the melting process or even in the cooling. It can develop as a product of the nature of the powder glaze layer or the way particles decompose and interact. Oxides that influence color and other surface characteristics can preferentially gather in one of the phases producing variegation. Silky surfaced dolomite matte glazes are an example of phase separation and happen because of the sudden melting of the MgO. If rutile is added to such glazes the variegation can be enhanced by selective crystal development. Rutile in a fluid iron containing glaze can create a phase separation that produces streaks of brilliant blue in a background of amber glass. In this case, the rutile appears to need a trigger (like the iron) to initiate the separation.


Micrograph of phase separation in a glaze

Example of a rutile-iron stained glaze. Rather than crystallizing to form the visual effect, the rutile is forming a phase separation that produces the streaking blue in the amber background glass.

Variegation and phase separation with about 5% rutile

The glaze is a dolomite matte fired to cone 10R. High fire reduction is among the best processes to exploit the variegating magic of rutile.

Frits melt so much more evenly and trouble free

These two specimens are the same terra cotta clay fired at the same temperature (cone 03) in the same kiln. The chemistry of the glazes is similar but the materials that supply that chemistry are different. The one on the left mixes 30% frit with five other materials, the one on the right mixes 90%+ frit with one other material. Ulexite is the main source of boron (the melter) in #1, it decomposes during firing expelling 30% of its weight as gases (mostly CO2). These create the bubbles. Each of its six materials has its own melting characteristics. While they interact during melting they do not mix to create a homogeneous glass, it contains phases (discontinuities) that mar the fired surface. In the fritted glaze all the particles soften and melt in unison and produce no gas. Notice that it has also interacted with the body, fluxing and darkening it and forming a better interface. And it has passed (and healed) most of the bubbles from the body.

Out Bound Links

In Bound Links

  • (Properties) Glaze Variegation

    In contrast to the typical homogeneous surfaces of...

  • (Glossary) Dolomite Matte

    Dolomite matte glazes are normally fired at cone 1...

  • (Glossary) Melting Temperature

    Unlike crystalline minerals, glazes do not have a ...

  • (Glossary) Rutile Glaze

    Many fluid glazes will do magic things (e.g. varie...

By Tony Hansen

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