Pinholing is a common surface defect that occurs with ceramic glazes. The problem emerges from the kiln and can occur erratically in production.
A glaze defect where tiny holes are present in the fired glaze surface. These holes normally go down to the body surface below. Pinholing is a plague in industry, the tiniest hole in the glaze surface of a tile or utilitarian item can make it a reject. Industry goes to great pains to get materials of very fine particle size for their bodies and glazes to reduce the occurrence of glaze defects. Glazes which melt and flow well often still have pinholes if gas producing particles are present in the body (these expel gases up through the glaze melt thereby disturbing its surface). Thicker layers of glaze pinhole more than thinner ones. Blisters, dimples and pinholes often occur together. Some glaze chemistries are much more prone to pinholing.
Pinholing on the inside of a cone 6 whiteware bowl. This is glaze G2926B. The cause is likely a combination of thick glaze layer and gas-producing particles in the body. Bodies containing ball clays and bentonites often have particles in the +150 and even +100 mesh sizes. The presence of such particles is often sporadic, thus it is possible to produce defect-free ware for a time. But at some point problems will be encountered. Companies in production either have to filter press or wet process these bodies to remove the particles. Or, they need to switch to more expensive bodies containing only kaolins and highly processed plasticizers.
First, the layer is very thick. Second, the body was only bisque fired to cone 06 and it is a raw brown burning stoneware with lots of coarser particles that generate gases as they are heated. Third, the glaze contains zircopax, it stiffens the melt and makes it less able to heal disruptions in the surface. Fourth, the glaze is high in B2O3, so it starts melting early (around 1450F) and seals the surface so the gases must bubble up through. Fifth, the firing was soaked at the end rather than dropping the temperature a little first (e.g. 100F) and soaking there instead.
It was put into the kiln before it was dry (from glazing). The kiln was fired fairly fast (without using a drop-and-hold firing schedule). These glazes have significant boron, they melt early and seal the surface. But water vapor can remain until surprisingly high temperatures. And it needs to get out. So it finds a discontinuity in the glaze cover and vents and bubbles out there. That leaves these defects that even a drop-and-soak and slow-cooling did not heal.
This is L3724E terra cotta stoneware. The inside slip is L3685S, a frit-fluxed engobe that is hard like the body and attaches well to it (engobes are often insufficiently fluxed). The glaze (G1916Q) is Frit 3195, Frit 3110 and 15% ball clay. The body has about 3% porosity, enough to make very strong pots. However that porosity is still enough to absorb water (and coffee). Although not too visible here, the pinhole in the inner surface has enabled absorption and there is a quarter-sized area of discoloration below the glaze. The piece could possibly be fired a cone higher, but testing would be required to see if the slip is still firing-shrinkage and thermal-expansion compatible with the body and that the body would not be over-fired. A better solution is adjust the firing curve to heal the glaze better. High temperature stoneware can easily have a 3% porosity also, so this is not just a low fire issue.
There is a direct relationship between the way ceramic glazes fire and their chemistry. Wrapping your mind around that and overcome your aversion to chemistry is a key to getting control of your glazes. You can fix problems like crazing, blistering, pinholing, settling, gelling, clouding, leaching, crawling, marking, scratching, powdering. Substitute frits or incorporate better, cheaper materials, replace no-longer-available ones (all while maintaining the same chemistry). Adjust melting temperature, gloss, surface character, color. Identify weaknesses in glazes to avoid problems. Create and optimize base glazes to work with difficult colors or stains and for special effects dependent on opacification, crystallization or variegation. Create glazes from scratch and use your own native materials in the highest possible percentage.
This chart compares the gassing behavior of 6 materials (5 of which are very common in ceramic glazes) as they are fired from 500-1700F. It is a reminder that some late gassers overlap early melters. The LOI (loss on ignition) of these materials can affect your glazes (e.g. bubbles, blisters, pinholes, crawling). Notice that talc is not finished until after 1650F (many glazes have already begin melting by then).
These are thick pieces, they need time for heat to penetrate. Both were soaked 15 minutes at cone 6 (2195F in our test kiln). But the one on the left was control-cooled to 2095F degrees and soaked 45 more minutes. Pinholes and dimples are gone, the clay is more mature and the glaze is glossier and melted better. Why is this better than just soaking longer at cone 6? As the temperature rises the mineral particles decompose and generate gases (e.g. CO2, SO4). These need to bubble through the glaze. But on the way down this activity is ceasing. Whatever is gassing and creating the pinholes will has stopped by 2095F. Also, these are boron-fluxed glazes, they stay fluid all the way down to 1900F (so you could drop even further before soaking).
The glaze is simply insufficiently melted. In cone 10 reduction the iron acts as a flux and it melts very very well, so there are no pinholes. But here it simply does not have enough fluidity to heal the disruptions caused as gases escaping from the body below bubble up through it.
This problem was suffered by a potter moving from Europe to Canada. In Europe she used lead based glazes and got smooth defect-free surfaces. But in Canada she began using our Gerstley Borate based glazes and had many problems adapting to them. By using glaze chemistry to both adjust recipes to source boron from frits instead or GB and to reduce their melt fluidity, by bisque firing higher, glaze firing higher, using a finer particle sized terra cotta body and using a drop-and-hold firing schedule (like C03DRH) she was able to eliminate the issues.
These particles contaminating particles are exposed on the rim of a bisque fired mug. The liqnite ones have burned away but the iron particle is still there (and will produce a speck in the glaze). Remnants of the lignite remain inside the matrix and can pinhole glazes. Since ball clays are air floated (a stream of air takes away the lighter particles and the heavier ones recycle for regrinding) it seems that contamination like this would be impossible. But the equipment requires vigilance for correct operation, especially when there is pressure to maximize production. Ores in Tennessee are higher in coal than those in Kentucky. North American clay body manufacturers who confront ball clay suppliers with this contamination find that ceramic applications have become a very small part of the total ball clay market, complaints are not taken with the same seriousness as in the past.
Example of the oversize particles from a 100 gram wet sieve analysis test of a powdered sample of a porcelain body made from North American refined materials. Although these materials are sold as 200 mesh, that designation does not mean that there are no particles coarser than 200 mesh. Here there are significant numbers of particles on the 100 and even 70 mesh screens. These contain some darker particles that could produce fired specks (if they are iron and not lignite); that goodness in this case they do not. Oversize particle is a fact of life in bodies made from refined materials and used by potters and hobbyists. Industrial manufacturers (e.g. tile, tableware, sanitaryware) commonly process the materials further, slurrying them and screening or ball milling; this is done to guarantee defect-free glazed surfaces.
Pinholing is often related to the smoothness of the underlying body surface. The lower half of this vase was tooled during the leather hard stage, all the pinholes occur there. Even though this glaze contains 10% grog, the pinholes are not appearing on the upper half because the slip generated during throwing has left a smooth surface.
Testing for pinholes and dimples is often best done using a transparent glaze over a large surface and looking at the surface in the light. In this case, an open bowl is used. Heavy pieces like this are difficult to fire evenly and encourage under fired areas where pinholes are more likely to appear.
This is happening on five different stains at 8% concentrations. The body: A fritted porcelain. Temperature: Cone 03. The glaze: 85% frit. The solution? Documentation for inclusion frits notes that adding 2-3% zircon can brighten the color. Although this does not seem intuitive, we added 2% anyway and refired another sample. You can see the dramatic difference on that tile below. The color is brighter because the micro-bubble clouds that were diffusing it are gone! Of course, it is apparent that the percentage of stain also needs to be increased to get more intense color. What happened to the bubbles? It could be that the particles of zircon that float, unmelted in the glaze melt, act as seed-points for bubble agglomeration and the bigger bubbles then break the surface and it heals behind them. But where do the bubbles come from? I do not know.
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Analyze the causes of ceramic glaze pinholing and pitting so your fix is dealing with the real issues, not a symptom.