2,3,4,5% rutile added to a 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.

This Nepheline Syenite flow test did not demonstrate much of a difference in melting at cone 9 between 270 and 400 mesh materials.

4sight/images/articles/skull.gif picture not found

Alberta Slip in the common 11% lithium and 4% tin Albany slip cone 6 glaze.

Copper can produce bright red glazes in correct reduction firing

G2451B Alberta Slip cone 6 glaze with 5% alumina calcined added.

A veterinarian hypodermic syringe, notice the large diameter end that enables slip to freely flow

This is fired in cone 10R. The effect becomes more intense by 5%. To achieve this same effect using Ravenscrag, which has much less natural iron content, 10% added iron is needed (which is, of course, much messier to work with).

Two runs of Alberta slip plus 20% frit 3134 in a flow test comparison at cone 6.

Alberta slip melts well with very little frit at cone 6

This demonstrates how the host glaze affects the color development of certain stains. Blue is stable in pretty well all glazes. But chrome tin pink (top row) is very particular that the glaze have the right chemistry (1214M is obviously best, it has the highest CaO and lowest B2O3). The 6100 brown works much better in the N and O base glazes (they have higher Al2O3). Stain companies have guidance on chemistry particulars and you can view the chemistry of your recipe in your account at insight-live.com.

This is what about 10% iron and some titanium and rutile can do in a transparent base glaze with slow cooling at cone 10R on a refined porcelain.

The bending of an Orton cone.

Example of a variegated wood ash glaze at cone 6 oxidation. It contains a small amount of cobalt as well as some rutile.

Courtesy of Angela Walford.

Fired to cone 10 oxidation. Although feldspar is a key melter in high and medium temperature glazes, by itself it does not melt as much as one might expect.

This is a melt fluidity test fired to cone 10. By themselves, feldspar melts surprisingly less than you might think at cone 10.

A cone 8 comparative flow tests of Custer, G-200 and i-minerals high soda and high potassium feldspars. Notice how little the pure materials are moving (bottom), even though they are fired to cone 11. In addition, the sodium feldspars move better than the potassium ones. But feldspars do their real fluxing work when they can interact with other materials. Notice how well they flow with only 10% frit added (top), even though they are being fired three cones lower.

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.

As the amount of defloccuant is increased the viscosity drops and the slurry becomes more and more fluid. However, at some point, the slurry will begin to become more viscous with increasing deflocculant percentages. This underscores the importance and tuning your casting slip recipes to avoid this problem. It is actually better to deflocculate to a point before the curve reaches its minimum (where the slop is still downward). This "controlled state of flocculation" enables the slip to gel after a period of time (to prevent sedimentation) and avoids the issues that come with over-deflocculation.

1971, the year I met him. He was the founder of Plainsman Clays. My dad had just built the factory for him and I began working there in 1972. He was a well known potter and sculptor at the time. He got me started along the fascinating road of understanding the physics of clays. He was a true "plains man", interested in the geology (notice the skulls, these inspired the Plainsman logo). I loved testing all the lumps of clay he brought back from his expeditions. John Porter, his partner and an art school trained British potter, was his partner at the time. I spent alot of time learning from John and he got me started on the chemistry that led to Insight software.

This is the home of the Whitemud formation and one of the mines of Plainsman Clays.

Ravenscrag Cone 6 Glazes Sampleboard

CMYK color separation for InkJet printer.

Ravenscrag Cone 10R Sample Board from Plainsman Clays

80/20 lustre glaze

Copper sand/copper 80/20 glaze

Glossy red lustre glaze #2

Glossy red lustre glaze #1

Gold lustre glaze

Matt red lustre glaze

1215U glazes with various Mason stains

This shows clearly how well the M version works with a chrome-tin stain compared to the others. However the 6100 brown stain works best in the N recipe (which have MgO). Notice also that the M has a higher thermal expansion than the others.

These recipes have the same chemistry but the 1215U uses frit to source the MgO and CaO. This demonstrates that it is not just chemistry that determines melt flow. Raw materials are crystalline and have different melting patterns than frits (which have already been melted and reground).

Drying disks used for the DFAC test are 12cm in diameter and 5mm thick (wet). A crack pattern develops in almost all common pottery clays as they shrink during drying. This happens because the center portion is covered and stays soft while the perimeter dries hard. This sets up a tug-of-war with the later-drying inner section pulling at the outer rigid perimeter and forcing a crack (starting from the center). If the clay has high plasticity and dry strength it can pull so hard from the center that cracks appear at the outer dried edge to relieve the tension. Or, it can create cracks that run parallel to the outer edge but at the boundary between the inner and outer sections. The nature, number and width of the cracks are interpreted to produce a drying factor that can be recorded.

By preparing these three tests you can measure many properties of a clay body. These include drying shrinkage, fired shrinkage, porosity, drying performance, soluble salts content, water content and LOI.

Data for hundreds fired clay test bars was logged into a portable Epson custom programmed HX-20 computer and uploaded to a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III where it was stored first on cassette, then floppy disk, then a loop tape. That data was later migrated to the Digitalfire DOS 4Sight lab record keeping system (as SHAB specimens) where it lived for more than 27 years (expanding to more than 200,000 tests) until being imported to an insight-live.com account in 2014.

If you are at all serious about testing glazes and clay bodies, you need one of these. There are other methods, but nothing else comes close to this. These are expensive new, this one was more than $1000. But you can get them used on ebay.com. I adapted a mount (to give it vertical adjustment) from a hardware store. Propellers are also expensive, but you can design and 3D print them yourself or have them printed at a place like shapeways.com.

This type of stamp is deal for stamping mix and ID information on SHAB (and many other test types) clay test bars. Set up the run or recipe number on the left and the specimen number on the right.

Veritas bullers ring measuring device

Electric hobby kiln

Glaze glow/fluidity tester illustration (large and small versions)

This melt flow tester demonstrates how zircon opacifys but also stiffens a glaze melt at cone 6. Zircon also hardens many glazes, even if used in smaller amounts than will opacify.

Ball mill rack pulleys and rollers picture 2

There are many mindsets that prevent us to getting control of our glazes. Many of them have nothing to do with the glazes themselves, the problem is with us, our culture as ceramists and potters.

The supply oxide dialog in INSIGHT

Insight installs on your Linux, Windows or Mac computer. It provides a very interactive way to comparing two recipes and their calculated formulas or analyses. As you make changes in the recipe you can see how it impacts the recipes. It is ideal for demonstrating concepts like unity, analysis, formula, mole%, LOI, formula-to-batch conversion.

INSIGHT calculation types

Desktop Insight can calculate the LOI of a recipe based on the LOIs it knows of the individual materials in the recipe. But sometimes you need to impose an LOI to force a calculated analysis to match an actual measured LOI in the lab.

The LOI appears below the material name and alternative names (beside the weight). The formula that goes with that LOI is the bold numbers in the blanks beside the oxide names on the right.

Original floating blue close up

Graph of wall tile frits used (traditional and fastfire)

Chart of residue on 325mesh common for different glaze types

Board of dozens of glaze tests none of which worked well

The traffic in glaze recipe will burn your success!

Fred Koschetzki porcelain dragon

Handcuffed dragon

Sulking dragon

Crying dragon

Dejected dragon

Cartoon dragon

Fired strength tester

Fire breathing cartoon dragon

The formula viewpoint

Desktop Insight was the first to enable users to compare two recipes and their formulas side-by-side and interactively update when recipe changes were made. It also enabled users to show formulas and analyses side-by-side.

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.

MOR apparatus

Sample chart from XRF machine

XRF machine in use

Albany Slip was a pure mined material, Alberta Slip is a recipe of mined materials and refined minerals designed to have the same chemistry, firing behavior and raw physical appearance.

Preparing a representative powder sample for sieve analysis

The coarsest screen is at the top, the finest on the bottom. The opening for each is shown on the label. They are chosen such that each successive screen going down has an opening that is about half the area of the one above it. Using this series you can produce a practical measurement of the distribution of particle sizes in ceramic materials and bodies used in traditional ceramics (structural products industries, like brick, measure coarser particles than this, starting at perhaps 10 mesh and ending at 70). The 325 screen on the bottom is only used sometimes, it is difficult to finer-that-325 particles to pass through it because it blinds. It is not possible to shake powder through sieves that are this fine, samples must be washed through.

This is an example of crystallization in a high MgO matte. MgO normally stiffens the glaze melt forming non-crystal mattes but at cone 10R many cool things happen with metal oxides, even at low percentages. Dolomite and talc are the key MgO sources.

Ball mill rack pulleys and rollers picture 1

Ball mill rack back side

Ball mill rack motor 1

Ball mill rack motor 2

Ball mill rack casters 1

Ball mill rack casters 2

Ball mill rack bearings 2

Ball mill rack legs and feet 1

Ball mill rack legs and feet 2

Glaze flow tester mold (three pieces). Piece on the left goes on top.

Handles expose all sides to the air and dry (and therefore shrink) much more quickly than the walls. Anything you can do to slow them down will produce a more even drying process.

Arrhenius Law Equation

Several things are needed for high silica glazes to crystallize as they cool. First a sufficiently fluid melt in which molecules can be mobile enough to assume their preferred connections. Second, cooling slowly enough to give them time to do this. Third, the slow cooling needs to occur at the temperature at which this best happens. Silica is highly crystallizable, melts of pure silica must be cooled very quickly to prevent crystallization. But Al2O3, and other oxides, disrupt the silicate hexagonal structure, making the glaze more resistant to crystallization.

Silica plus modifiers matrix

Ionic forces chart

Oxide effects on frits

Frit processing drawing

Frit production process drawing 2

Frit processing equipment

This is unlike some raw materials which melt suddenly.

Engobe adjustment parameters

Glaze reflectance measurement

Tintometric mixing system

Ink jet tile decoration machine

Ink jet decoration machine

Large and small stain particles with incident light

porcelain tile body composition pie chart

Jet mill

Cielab color space

Van De Hulst Equation

CMYK Colorspace.

CMYK Print heads for an inkjet printer in the tile industry.

CretaPrint inkjey printer.

Durst Inkjet Printer

Kerajet inkjet printer.

Keralab service

Sacmi Inkjet printing machine.

TSC Jetprint Inkjet printer.

Rotodigit inkjet printer.

Example of serious glaze shivering using G1215U low expansion glaze on a high silica body at cone 6. Be careful to do a thermal stress test before using a transparent glaze on functional ware.

The referred to surface is the outside of this large bowl. The base glaze (inside and out) is GA6-D Alberta Slip glaze fired at cone 6 on a buff stoneware. The thinness of the rutile needs to be controlled carefully, the only practical method to apply it is by spraying. The dramatical effect is a real testament to the variegating power of TiO2. An advantage of this technique is the source: Titanium dioxide instead of sourcing TiO2 from the often troublesome rutile.

A cone 6 fluid iron glaze cooled slowly (crystallizes) and rapidly (glossy).

A matte white glaze over a fluid dark colored glaze at cone 6

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.

4% rutile with 80 Alberta Slip and 20 of Frit 3134 at cone 6 on a dark clay (GA6-C recipe)

Iron stained wood ash glaze fired at cone 6. These glazes need to be reformulated with each new batch of ash you get (since the ash chemistry changes). This one was formulated by quadraxial blending the ash with feldspar, silica and kaolin to get a sweet spot, then fine tuning and finally adding about 4% rutile to variegate it.

This is the G2571A base dolomite matte recipe. The specimen on the left adds 4% tin and 1% iron oxide. The one on the right has 4% tin oxide and 0.5% iron oxide.

This bamboo glaze (made by adding 4% tin and 1% iron oxide (left) and 0.5% iron oxide (right) to the G2571A base recipe) amplifies the iron speckle in the body beneath (Plainsman H443). Unfortunately this looks good and but is not very functional. The body is quite porous (5% water absorption), this is necessary for the mottled brown visual effect.

These glazes are both 80% Alberta Slip, but the one on the right employs 20% Ferro Frit 3249 accelerate the melting (whereas the left one has 20% Frit 3134). Even though Frit 3249 is higher in boron and should melt better, its high MgO stiffens the glaze melt denying the mobility needed for the crystal growth.

You add up to 5% manganese dioxide. The base recipe is G2571A. The clay body is a buff burning stoneware having iron speckle. The quality of the surface is excellent and it is durable.

Glaze melt flow tester after casting

Flow tester side view

An example of how a liner glaze can meet another at the rim of a piece. This it quite simple to do. The technique is especially practical where mug walls are thin and cannot absorb enough water to dry the glaze after immerse-dipping. It is essential where the outer glaze is potentially leachable, or it might craze (which tenmokus often do). Thus, that straight line at the rim is not only a decorative element, it is the spot where leaching, crazing, staining and cutlery marking stop.

The liner is G2571A dolomite matte.

This is the G2571A glaze recipe. It has proven reliable and functional over many years on a wide range of clay bodies in the Plainsman Clays studio. Actually, a better brown color can be achieved using manganese dioxide.

An example of an engobe (slip) applied to dry ware and then fired at cone 2. The one of the left has been poured, the right sprayed. Control of the thickness of engobes is important, thus the specific gravity and viscosity of the slurries are very important. Engobes are invaluable since a red or brown burning body can be made to fire white like porcelain (enabling much better glaze surface quality).

These are made from Plainsman M340 and have transparent glazes. Notice the grey color of reduction vs. the yellowish of oxidation.

Cone 5R Plainsman P300 porcelain with a variety of Ravenscrag Slip and Alberta Slip based glazes.

Cone 6 iron bodies that fire non-vitreous and burn tan or brown in oxidation can easily go dark or vitreous chocolate brown (or even melting and bloated in reduction). On the right is Plainsman M350, a body that fires light tan in oxidation, notice how it burns deep brown in reduction at the same temperature. This occurs because the iron converts to a flux and the glass development that occurs brings out the dark color. On the left is Plainsman M2, a raw high iron clay that is quite vitreous in oxidation, but in reduction it is bloating badly. When reduction bodies are this vitreous there is a much great danger of black coring.

Cone 5 GR6-A glaze at cone 5R on Plainsman M340 (left) and pure Ravenscrag Slip at cone 10R on H550 (right).

Example of Alberta Slip which has been sprayed on dry ware and single fired. This happened because the slip shrunk during drying creating a network of cracks. These cracks become the crawl-points during firing.

Example of fritted white engobe over-fired to cone 2. During firing it has shrunk and the bond with the body has been completely compromised. The body has a firing shrinkage of about 6% but the slip is closer to 10%. Because glazes melt they do not have a firing shrinkage. But engobes do and it must be compatible with the body.

Preparing to make a glaze testing cone: cutting around the pattern.

Making a glaze testing cone: applying the slip for the join.

Making a glaze testing cone: finishing the join.

Making a glaze testing cone: Incising the surface to provide variation.

Making a glaze testing cone: Stamping an identification.

Alberta slip GA6A glaze (with 20% frit 3134) firing at cone 5R (left) compared to a slow cooled iron crystal glaze firing in oxidation (right).

The glaze is cutlery marking (therefore lacking hardness). Why? Notice how severely it runs on a flow tester (even melting out holes in a firebrick). Yet it does not run on the cups when fired at the same temperature (cone 10)! Glazes run like this when they lack Al2O3 (and SiO2). The SiO2 is the glass builder and the Al2O3 gives the melt body and stability. More important, Al2O3 imparts hardness and durability to the fired glass. No wonder it is cutlery marking. Will it also leach? Very likely. That is why adequate silica is very important, it makes up more than 60% of most glazes. SiO2 is the key glass builder and it forms networks with all the other oxides.

GR10-J Ravenscrag silky matte (right) and G2571A matte (left) on a dark burning iron speckled stoneware at cone 10R. Surfaces have identical feel (the chemistries are very close). The former fires a little darker color because of the iron contributed by the Ravenscrag Slip.

GR10-J Ravenscrag silky matte (right) and G2571A matte (left) on a buff stoneware at cone 10R. Surfaces feel identical, the slightly darker color is due to iron content in the Ravenscrag. The former was formulated to mimic the latter using as much Ravenscrag Slip as possible yet still maintain the same chemistry.

This is a cone 11 oxidation melt flow test. Shown (left to right) are the new shipment of Cornwall Stone 2011, the L3617 calculated equivalent (a recipe, see link), the older Cornwall shipment we have been using and the H&G substitute 2011 (far right, mislabelled on the picture). These do not flow well here, a small frit addition is needed to better compare them. However they have melted enough to see some differences in whiteness and degree of melt. Notice the L3617 is more like the old Cornwall than the new Cornwall is.

These flow tests demonstrate how similar the substitute recipe (left) is to the real material (right). 20% Frit 3134 has been added to each to enable better melting at cone 5 (they do not flow even at cone 11 without the frit). Links below provide the recipe for the substitute and outline the method of how it was derived using Digitalfire Insight software. This substitute is chemically equivalent to what we feel is the best average for the chemistry of Cornwall Stone.

These are porosity and fired shrinlage test bars, code numbered to have their data recorded in our group account at Insight-live.com. Plainsman P580 (top) has 35% ball clay and 17% American kaolin. H570 (below it) has 10% ball clay and 45% kaolin, so it burns whiter (but has a higher fired shrinkage). P700 (third down) has 50% Grolleg kaolin and no ball clay, it is the whitest and has even more fired shrinkage. Crysanthos porcelain (bottom, from China) also only employs kaolin, but at a much lower percentage, thus is has almost no plasticity (suitable for machine forming only). Do H570 and P700 sacrifice plasticity to be whiter? No, with added bentonite they have better plasticity than P580. Could that bottom one be super-charged? Yes, 3-4% VeeGum or Bentone (smectite, hectorite) would make it the most plastic of all of these (at a high cost of course).

A hydrometer is being used to check the specific gravity of a ceramic casting slip in a graduated cylinder. Common traditional clay-containing ceramic slips are usually maintained around 1.75-1.8. In this case the slurry was too heavy, almost 1.9. Yet it is very fluid, why is this? It has both too much clay and too much deflocculant. While it is possible to use such a slip, it will not drain as well and it will gel too quickly as it stands. It is better to settle for a lower specific gravity (where you can control the thixotropy and it is easier to use). It might have been better to simply fill a 100cc cylinder and weigh it to get the specific gravity (slurries that are very viscous do not permit hydrometers to float freely).

In this instance, the slurry forms a skin a few minutes after the mixer has stopped. Casting recipes do not travel well. Over-deflocculation is a danger when simply using the percentage of water and deflocculant shown. Variables in water electrolytes, solubles in materials, mixing equipment and procedures, temperature and production requirements (and other factors) necessitate adapting recipes of others to your circumstances. Add less than the recommended deflocculant to try and reach the specific gravity you want. If the slurry is too viscous (after vigorous mixing), then add more deflocculant. At times, more than what is recommended in your recipe will be needed. After all of this you will be in a position to lock-down a recipe for your production. However flexibility is still needed (for changing materials, water, seasons, etc).

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.

Example of a custom made dust collection hood in the material repackaging area of a supplier. The slots along the front suck particles into the duct, the suction comes from an exhaust fan downstream where the pipe exits the building. It has a wall switch and a sliding damper (where the hood enters the pipe) to enable stopping all airflow (to prevent heat loss in the room during cold days). Notice it is located above the scale and heat sealer where most dust is generated during weighing and packaging. Working in front of a system like this enables you to work without breathing any dust at all.

These mugs have experienced very serious shivering. This is an Albany Slip glaze with 10% lithium carbonate, it is known to have a very low thermal expansion. This problem can be solved by reducing the amount of lithium or adding high-expansion sodium or potassium. However these fixes will likely affect the appearance.

These have already been measured to deduce drying shrinkage. After firing they will be measured again to calculate the firing shrinkage. Then they will be weighed, boiled in water and weighed again to determine the water absorption. Fired shrinkage and absorption are good indicators of body maturity.

This is a Veritas measuring device. It was used to measure the size of Bullers rings. The system was set up so that an unfired ring would measure close to zero (the difference from zero was added or subtracted from the final measure). These rings provided a measure of what temperature the kiln was (as opposed to cones which say what it is). Actually, many companies placed many rings in a firing and extracted them, one-at-a-time (using a metal rod), cooled them quickly and measured them; this gave an accurate indication of the current temperature. Some companies still use these today to verify electronic measuring devices. The Orton TempCHEK system is based on this same principles, but is much more refined (and much more accurate).

The mug is the buff stoneware Plainsman M340. Firing is cone 6. On the inside is the GR6-A Ravenscrag transparent base glaze. The outside glaze is GA6-C Alberta Slip rutile blue on the outside. The transparent, although slightly amber in color compared to a frit-based transparent, does look better on buff burning stoneware bodies this.

This is one of multiple views of the solid plastic original model of a glaze melt fluidity tester.

This is one of multiple views of the solid plastic original model of a glaze melt fluidity tester.

This is one of multiple views of the mold of a glaze melt fluidity tester.

This is one of multiple views of the mold of a glaze melt fluidity tester.

Look at recipes before wasting time and money on them. Are they serious? This is a cone 6 melt flow comparison between a matte recipe, found online at a respected website, and a well-fluxed glossy glaze we use often. Yes, it is matte. But why? Because it is not melted! Matte glazes used on functional surfaces need to melt well, they should flow like a glossy glaze. How does that happen? This recipe has 40% nepheline syenite. Plus lots of dolomite and calcium carbonate. These are powerful fluxes, but at cone 10, not cone 6! To melt a cone 6 glaze boron, zinc or lithia are needed. Boron is by far the most common and best general purpose melter for potters (it comes in frits and gerstley borate, colemanite or ulexite; industry uses more boron, zinc and lithia frits). The lesson: Look at recipes before trying them.

True functional mattes have fluid melts, like glossy glazes. They need this in order to develop a hard, non-scratching durable glass. The mechanism of the matte on the right is high Al2O3 (G1214Z), it is actually melting more than the glossy glaze on the left (G1214W).

The cone 6 G1214M glaze on the left melts well. Can it benefit from a silica addition? Yes. The right adds 20% yet still melts as well, covers better, is more glossy, more resistant to leaching, harder and has a lower thermal expansion.

A closeup of a glossy Cone 6 glaze having 4% added copper carbonate. The bottom section has leached in lemon juice after 24 hours. This photo has been adjusted to spread the color gamut to highlight the difference. The leached section is now matte.

An example of how calcium carbonate can cause blistering as it decomposes during firing. This is a cone 6 Ferro Frit 3249 based transparent (G2867) with 15% CaO added (there is no blistering without the CaO). Calcium carbonate has a very high loss on ignition (LOI) and for this glaze, the gases of its decomposition are coming out at the wrong time. While there likely exists a firing schedule that takes this into account and could mature it to a perfect surface, the glaze is high in MgO, it has a high surface tension. That is likely enabling bubbles to form and hold better.

An example of the value of a good glaze testing sample. These are made at Plainsman Clays in Alberta, Canada.

G1214M with 5% added Mason 6666 stain makes a stunning black for cone 6.

A cone 11 oxidation firing schedule used at Plainsman Clays (maintained in our account at insight-live.com). Using these schedules we can predict the end of a firing within 5-10 minutes at all temperatures. We can also link schedules to recipes and report a schedule so it can be taken to the kiln and used as a guide to enter the program.

This 1 gallon heavy crock was fired to cone 6 (at 108F/hr during the final 200 degrees) and soaked 20 minutes (in a electric kiln). The bare clay base should be the color of the top test bar (which has gone to cone 6). Yet, it is the color of the bottom bar (which has gone to cone 4)! That means the base only made it to cone 4. The vertical walls are the right color (so they made cone 6). It may seem that this problem could be solved by simply firing with a longer hold at cone 6. But electric kilns heat by radiation, that base will never reach the same temperature as the sidewalls!

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).

Soak the firing 30 minutes to mature the mug and the planter will not mature. Soak 2 hours for the planter and the glaze may melt too much and the clay be too vitreous. This is a troublesome issue with electric kilns. Furthermore, they employ radiant heat. That means that sections of ware on the shady side (or the under side) will never reach the temperature of those on the element side no matter how long you soak.

The terra cotta (red earthenware) body on the upper left is melting, it is way past zero porosity, past vitrified. The red one below it and third one down on the right have 1% porosity (like a stoneware), they are still fairly stable at cone 2. The two at the bottom have higher iron contents and are also 1% porosity. By contrast the buff and white bodies have 10%+ porosities. Terra cotta bodies do not just have high iron content to fire them red, they also have high flux content (e.g. sodium and potassium bearing minerals) that vitrifies them at low temperatures. White burning bodies are white because they are more pure (not only lacking the iron but also the fluxes). The upper right? Barnard slip. It has really high iron but has less fluxes than the terra cottas (having about 3% porosity).

The white slip on the left is an adjustment to the popular Fish Sauce slip (L3685A: 8% Frit 3110 replaces 8% Pyrax to make it harder and fire-bond to the body better). The one on the right (L3685C with 15% frit) is becoming translucent, obviously it will have a higher firing shrinkage than the body (a common cause of shivering at lips and contour changes). The slip is basically a very plastic white body. Since these are not nearly as vitreous as red ones at low fire they need help to mature and a frit is the natural answer. With the right amount the fired shrinkage of body and slip can be matched and the slip will be opaque. This underscores the need to tune the maturity of an engobe to the body and temperature. Although zircon could be added to the one on the right to opacify and whiten it, that would not fix the mismatch in fired shrinkage between it and the body.

These are two cone 6 transparent glazed porcelain mugs with a light bulb inside. On the left is the porcelainous Plainsman M370 (Laguna B-Mix 6 would have similar opacity). Right is a zero-porosity New Zealand kaolin based porcelain called Polar Ice (from Plainsmanclays.com also)! The secret to making a plastic porcelain this white and translucent is not just the NZ kaolin, but the use of a very expensive plasticizer, VeeGum T, to enable maximizing the feldspar to get the fired maturity.

These bowls were made by Tony Hansen using a mixture of white and stained New-Zealand-kaolin-based porcelain (Plainsman Polar Ice) fired at cone 6. The body is not only white, but very translucent.

Recipes show us the materials in a glaze but formulas list oxide molecules and their comparative quantities. Oxides construct the fired glass. The kiln de-constructs ceramic materials to get the oxides, discards the carbon, sulfur, etc. and builds the glass from the rest. You can view glazes as recipes-of-materials or as formulas-of-oxides. Why use formulas? Because there is a direct relationship between the properties a fired glaze has (e.g. melting range, gloss, thermal expansion, hardness, durability, color response, etc) and the oxides it contains (links between firing and recipe are much less direct). There are 8-10 oxides to know about (vs. hundreds of materials). From the formula viewpoint materials are sources-of-oxides. While there are other factors besides pure chemistry that determine how a glaze fires, none is as important. Insight-live automatically shows you the formulas of your recipes and enables comparing them side-by-side. Click the "Target Formula" link (on this post at digitalfire.com) to see what each oxide does.

At first I was wondering why those two mugs cracked so badly. But actually, I should be wondering why that one did not crack! This clay has 8% drying shrinkage and is very plastic, it should crack when it dries. But still, the uncracked one demonstrates with the extra care I could probably have dried all three successfully. Suppose you use a plastic porcelain and throw large, flat pieces. They should actually crack. If they do not, expect them to do so if you do not take great care in drying them. What is great care? At no time in the drying process should any part of the piece be stiffer than another. Sometimes throwing on a plaster bat is the only way to make this happen.

Using this rubber mold I have just made 8 - 12" bats and I still have 20 lbs of plaster left in the bag! Just just weigh 1600 grams plaster, dump it in 1120 grams of water, wait 4 minutes, mix 4 minutes and pour. As soon as the water at the top disappears, dump the next batch of plaster in the water and repeat (by the time the next plaster is ready to pour you can remove the last bat from the mold). If you are in a drier climate and make wide shapes, especially with a porcelainous clay, using a plaster bat is an excellent way to get even drying and avoid cracking. Using a BatMate you can stick them down to the wheel very hard, yet they are easy to get off. I would never use any other bat than these. You can buy one at Plainsman Clays for $75 plus shipping.

This is GR6-H Ravenscrag oatmeal over G1214M black on porcelain at cone 6 oxidation to create an oil-spot effect. Both were dipped quickly. You can find more detail at ravenscrag.com.

This is Ravenscrag Slip Oatmeal over a 5% Mason 6666 stained glossy clear at cone 6. You have to be careful not to get the overglaze on too thick, I did a complete dip using dipping tongs, maybe 2 seconds. Have to get it thinner so a quick upside-down plunge glazing only the outside is the the best way I think. You may have to use a calcined:raw mix of Ravenscrag for this double layer effect to work without cracking on drying.

This cast bowl (just out of the mold and dried) is 130mm in diameter and 85mm deep and yet the walls are only 1mm thick and it only weighs 89 gm! The slip was in the mold for only 1 minute. What slip? A New Zealand Halloysite based cone 6 translucent porcelain. This NZ material is fabulous for casting slips (it needs a little extra plasticizer also to give the body the strength to pull away from the mold surface as it shrinks).

Melt fluidity test showing Perkins Studio clear recipe original (left) and a reformulated version that sources the boron from Ferro Frit 3134 instead of Gerstley Borate (right). The later is less amber in color (indicating less iron) and it melts to very close to the same degree.

This is a melt fluidity test comparing two different tin oxides in a cone 6 transparent glaze (Perkins Clear 2). The length, character and color of the flow provide an excellent indication of how similar they are.

The green boxes show cone 6 Perkins Studio Clear (left) beside an adjustment to it that I am working on (right). I am logged in to my account at insight-live.com. In the recipe on the right, code-numbered G2926A, I am using the calculation tools it provides to substitute Frit 3134 for Gerstley Borate (while maintaining the oxide chemistry). A melt flow comparison of the two (bottom left) shows that the GB version has an amber coloration (from its iron) and that it flows a little more (it has already dripped off). The flow test on the upper left shows G2926A flowing beside PGF1 transparent (a tableware glaze used in industry). Its extra flow indicates that it is too fluid, it can accept some silica. This is very good news because the more silica any glaze can accept the harder, more stable and lower expansion it will be. You might be surprised how much it took, yet still melts to a crystal clear. See the article to find out.

An Insight-live page displaying four cone 6 matte recipes. It has been exported to a CSV file which I have opened in my spreadsheet software. I then reorganized it to compare these 4 glazes and relate the chemistry to the melt flow tests.

A melt fluidity comparison between two cone 6 matte glazes. G2934 is an MgO saturated boron fluxed glaze that melts to the right degree, forms a good glass, has a low thermal expansion, resists leaching and does not cutlery mark. G2000 is a much-trafficked cone 6 recipe, it is fluxed by zinc to produce a surface mesh of micro-crystals that not only mattes but also opacifies the glaze. But it forms a poor glass, runs too much, cutlery marks badly, stains easily, crazes and is likely not food safe! The G2934 recipe is google-searchable and a good demonstration of how the high-MgO matte mechanism (from talc) creates a silky surface at cone 6 oxidation the same as it does at cone 10 reduction (from dolomite). However it does need a tin or zircon addition to be white.

Left: a cone 6 matte glaze (G2934 with no colorant). Middle: 5% Mason 6006 chrome-tin red stain added. Right: 5% Mason 6021 encapsulated red stain added. Why is there absolutely no color in the center glaze? This host recipe does not have the needed chemistry to develop the #6006 chrome-tin color (it lacks sufficient CaO and has alot of MgO). Yet this same matte glaze intensifies the #6021 encapsulated stain at only 5% (using 20% or more encapsulated stain is to develop the color is not unusual).

The old, worn-out plaster slab has been removed (using a sledge hammer) and everything cleaned up. One cardboard insert has been put in place.

4x4 legs. 1x12 side. 2x4 cross members.

2x4s are nailed to the 1x12s along the length to support the 2x4 cross members.

A plaster table wooden frame with cardboard retainers stapled in place and ready for the plastic liner. This will hold a 350 pound plaster slab. That slab will absorb 100 lbs of water from a slurry.

Each has been cut and folded to size and stabled in place. These will bear the weight of the plaster when poured.

These liners have been covered in plastic tape. They extend 3/4 inch above the outside wooden frame. The plaster slab must rise above the frame.

The plaster will push the plastic into place tightly against the frame.

The drying will take a couple of weeks. It can be accelerated using fans. The table is now very heavy, it cannot be easily moved. The plaster has found its own level, slurry poured onto it will not run in any particular direction.

Slips and engobes are fool-proof, right? Just mix the recipe you found on the internet, or that someone else recommends, and you are good to go. Wrong! Low fire slips need to be compatible with the body in two principle ways: drying and firing. Terra cotta bodies have low shrinkage at cone 06-04 (but high at cone 02). The percentage of frit in the engobe determines its firing shrinkage at each of those temperatures. Too much and the engobe is stretched on, too little and it is under compression. The lower the frit the less the glass-bonding with the body and the more chance of flaking if they do fit well (either during the firing or after the customer stresses your product). The engobe also needs to shrink with the body during drying. How can you measure compatibility? Bi-body strips. First I prepare a plastic sample of the engobe. Then I roll 4 mm thick slabs of it and the body, lay them face-to-face and roll that down to 4 mm again. I cut 2.5x12 cm bars and dry and fire them. The curling indicates misfit. This engobe needs more plastic clay (so it dry-shrinks more) and less frit (to shrink less on firing).

This is an example of a plaster table on wheels (made using angle iron). 150 lbs plaster and 92 lbs water were poured onto the plastic (which was supported by cardboard attached below). This one uses Duramold pottery plaster.

This is one of multiple views of the solid plastic original model of a glaze melt fluidity tester.

Flow tester measurements 2

It is easy to find pictures of spalling bricks at google. This happens because water trapped in the pores of ceramic and concrete expands during freezing and breaks it down. This should be a concern to people making architectural and sculpture pieces for outdoors. How do you know if your ceramic will spall? It needs open and closed pore space if over 1% closed porosity. Measure the percentage gain in weight (of a test tile) after a 24-hour water soak, that is 'open porosity'. Then boil for 5 hours and it will soak up more water, measure that as the % closed porosity. The second number needs to be 20% greater than the first. Why? The closed space provides a place for expansion as the water is freezing.

This demonstrates the difficulty you can encounter when trying to get an engobe working with a clay body. Here the slip/glaze is flaking off the rim of pieces at cone 04 (does not happen at 06). The front bi-clay bar demonstrates the white and red clays dry well together (the slight curve happened on the drying). They also fire well together (the curvature did not change on firing). The back two thin bars seem to demonstrate thermal expansion compatibility: a thick layer of glaze is not under enough compression to curve either bar during firing. While the white clay contains 15% frit and forms a good bond with the red body, that bond is not nearly as good as the one between the glaze and the white slip. Yet it is still flaking off the rim at the slip/body interface. Why? At first it seemed that failure was happening at quartz inversion (because the body had less quartz than the white slip). However now it appears that the combination of compressions of the slip and glaze are sufficient to break the slip-body bond on convex contours. The compression of the slip and glaze likely did not demonstrate well on the bars because at this low a temperature they are not vitreous enough to be easily curled.

A Ford Cup being using to measure the viscosity of a casting clip. These are available at paint supply stores. It drains water in 10 seconds. This casting slip has a specific gravity of 1.79 and we target a 40-second drain. Maintenance of viscosity and specific gravity are vital to an efficient process in slip casting.

This deflocculated slurry of 1.79 specific gravity (only 28% water) has just been poured into a mold. The mold is dry, the wall thickness of the bowl will build quickly and the liquid level will sink only slightly. The mold can be drained in minutes (for a wall thickness of 3-4 mm). The clay is not too plastic (too fine particle sized) so it is permeable enough to enable efficient water migration to the plastic face. If the specific gravity of this slip was too low (too high a percentage of water) the liquid level would sink drastically during the time in the mold, take longer to build up a wall thickness and water-log the mold quickly. If the slip contained too much deflocculant it would cast slower, settle out, form a skiln and drain poorly. If it had too little deflocculant it would gel in the mold and be difficult to pour out.

This is 568cc of water and 1400 grams of Polar Ice porcelain casting clay. Amazingly enough it is possible to get all that powder into that little bit of water and still have a very fluid slurry for casting. The volume will increase to only 1065cc. How is this possible? That water has 13 grams of Darvan 7 deflocculant in it, it causes the clay particles to repel each other such that you can make a liquid with only little more water than is in a throwing clay! All it takes is 15 minutes under a good power propeller mixer (in a bigger container of course).

This is the easiest way to measure the specific gravity of a glaze if it is not in a container deep enough to float a hydrometer (or if it is too thick to float it properly). Just fill to the 100cc mark and the scale reads the specific gravity. Be careful on cheap plastic graduated cylinders like this, check them with water and correct the true 100cc mark if needed (using a felt pen). You could actually use any tall narrow container you have (if you mark the 100cc level).

I used a binder to form 10 gram balls and fired them at cone 08 (1700F). Frits melt really well, they do not gas and they have chemistries we cannot get from raw materials (similar ones to these are sold by other manufacturers). These contain boron (B2O3), it is magic, a low expansion super-melter. Frit 3124 (glossy) and 3195 (silky matte) are balanced-chemistry bases (just add 10-15% kaolin for a cone 04 glaze, or more silica+kaolin to go higher). Consider Frit 3110 a man-made low-Al2O3 super feldspar. Its high-sodium makes it high thermal expansion. It works in bodies and is great to incorporate into glazes that shiver. The high-MgO Frit 3249 has a very-low expansion, it is great for crazing glazes. Frit 3134 is similar to 3124 but without Al2O3. Use it where the glaze does not need more Al2O3 (e.g. it already has enough clay). It is no accident that these are used by potters in North America, they complement each other well. The Gerstley Borate is a natural source of boron (with issues frits do not have).

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).

The ulexite in Gerstley Borate melts first, producing an opaque fired glass having the unmelted (and still gassing) particles of colemanite suspended in it. By 1750F the colemanite is almost melted also. Boron-containing frits, by contrast, begin softening at a much lower temperature and gradually spread and melt gradually. Not surprisingly they produce a more stable glaze (albeit often less interesting visually).

The white slip (applied to a leather hard cup) on the left is dripping downward from the rim (even though it was held upside down for a couple of minutes!). Yet that slurry was viscous with a 1.48 specific gravity, on mixer-off the motion stopped immediately. Why? Because it was not thixotropic (it did not gel). The fix? I watered it down to 1.46 (making it very thin and runny) and did a cycle of adding a pinch of epsom salts (about 0.5 gm) and mixing vigorously watching for it to thicken enough to stop motion in about 1 second on mixer shut-off (bounce backward!). It is extremely difficult not to overdo the epsom salts (gelling it too much) so I keep ungelled slurry aside and pour some back in to dilute to overgelled batch. That works perfect to fine-tune the degree of thixotropy so it gels after about 10-15 seconds of sitting. So to apply it I stir it, wait a couple of seconds and dip the mug. By the time I pull it out it is ready to gel and hold in place.

Wet location sealed switch used on mixer. The electrical-in is sealed using silicone.

Mixer motor specifications label. Show this at an equipment supply store and they will be able to give you this exact motor.

An aluminum C-clamp adjustable-angle motor mount secures the mixer motor and mounts it to the custom-made arm extending from the steel pole. The switch also mounts to it. This may be so easy to find, but if you show a picture at a hardware store they should been able to recommend an alternative mounting strategy.

Rear view of how motor and switch attach to aluminum mount.

The mixer mounted on a steel pole. It is adjusted so the shaft is at an angle (rather than straight up and down) to pull less air bubbles into the slurry. It can mix up to 5 gallons of viscous glaze or body slurry. The motor is very powerful, so amounts of less than about 2 gallons of slurry can splatter quite a bit. The 1/2 inch shaft is 22 inches long.

4 inch propeller mounted on a 1/2 inch stainless stell shaft. It is not mounted right at the bottom, this is done to prevent the blade from contacting the bottom of the bucket during mixing. By googling the identification you see on this prop(Taiwan 4x4 316 propeller) you whould find the site of the manufacturer (http://www.tonson-motor.com/e/p004.htm).

The coupler used to mount the 1/2 inch stainless steel shaft to the motor shaft. It uses 4 Allen set screws to hold it tightly onto the shafts. The two shafts are not the same diameters, so you may have to have this made at a local machine shop.

Three cone 6 commercial bottled glazes have been layered. The mug was filled with lemon juice over night. The white areas on the blue and rust areas on the brown have leached! Why? Glazes need high melt fluidity to produce reactive surfaces like this. While such are normally subject to leaching, the manufacturers were able to tune the chemistry of each to make them resistant. But the overlaps mingle well (because of the fluidity), they are new chemistries, less stable ones. What is leaching? Cobalt! Not good. What else? We do not know, these recipes are secret. It is much better to make your own transparent or white liner glaze. Not only can you pour-apply it and get very even coverage, but you know the recipe, have control, can adjust to fit your body.

Left: Ravenscrag G2928C matte on inside of mug. Right: A clear glossy. The matte needs to be soaked in the kiln long enough to make sure it develops a functional surface, especially on the bottom. Mattes are not always the best choice for food surfaces, but you can do it if you blend in enough glossy glaze to make it smooth enough not to cutlery mark.

Prepared glazes are starting to hurt our control, independence and sense of responsibility regarding the quality of our ware. Many are even losing simple abilities, concepts. Some potters are unaware of even what weighing out a glaze is. Some do not even know how to recalculate the total. Or what the materials are for. Is this a trend we want?

Left: G2934 magnesia cone 6 matte (sold by Plainsman Clays). Right (G2934D): The same glaze, but with 0.4 molar of BaO (from Ferro Frit CC-257) substituted for the 0.4 MgO it had. The MgO is the mechanism of the matte effect. Barium also creates mattes, but only if the chemistry of the host glaze and the temperature are right. In addition, barium mattes are normally made using the raw carbonate form, not a frit. In fritted form, barium can be a powerful flux when well dissolved in the melt and boron is present. This glaze is actually remarkably transparent. However, if this was fired lower it could very well matte.

Fight the glaze dragon! Test. Document. Learn. Repeat. Replace that paper notebook or binder with an account at Insight-live.com. Fix, adjust, formulate your own glaze on your PC using desktop Insight software.

Fight the glaze dragon. Disorganized documentation of your testing? You are playing into his hands. Replace that notebook or binder with pictures, recipes, firing schedules, test results, material and more in your own or a group account at insight-live.com.

There are thousands of ceramic glaze recipes floating around the internet. People dream of finding that perfect one, but they often only think about the visual appearance, not of the usability, function, safety, cost or materials. That resistance to understanding your materials and glazes and learning to take control is what we personify as the dragon. Using the resources on this site you could be fixing, adjusting, testing, formulating your own glaze recipes. Start with your own account at insight-live.com.

Left: G1916Q transparent fired at cone 03 over a black engobe (L3685T plus stain) and a kaolin-based low fire stoneware (L3685T). The micro-bubbles are proliferating when the glaze is too thick. Right: A commercial low fire transparent (two coats lower and 3 coats upper). A crystal clear glaze result is needed and it appears that the body is generating gases that cause this problem. Likely the kaolin is the guilty material, the recipe contains almost 50%. Kaolin has a 12% LOI. To cut this LOI it will be necessary to replace some or all of the kaolin with a low carbon ball clay. This will mean a loss in whiteness. Another solution would be diluting the kaolin with feldspar and adding more bentonite to make up for lost plasticity.

This is an example of how useful a flow tester can be to check new glaze recipes before putting them on ware and into your kiln. This was fired to only cone 4, yet that fritted glaze on the left is completely over-melted. The other one is not doing anything at all. These balls are easy to make, you only need weigh out a 50 gram batch of glaze, screen it, then pour it on a plaster bat until it is dewatered enough to be plastic enough to roll these 10 gram balls.

Replacing the elements in a old test kiln turns it into a new kiln! Relays are also checked. Notice how the elements are bent and pushed well into the corners. If this is not done properly, they will pull out of the corners after it is fired a few times.

A video of the kind of agitation you need from a power mixer to get the best deflocculated slurry properties. This is Plainsman Polar Ice mixing in a 5 gallon pail using my mixer. Although it has a specific gravity of 1.76, it is very fluid and yet casts really well. These properties are a product of, not just the recipe, but the mixer and its ability to put energy into the slurry.

Every potter should have one of these. This one has a separate electronic controller, newer ones have it built-in. Start with one of these and then graduate to having a large, second kiln. Ongoing testing is the key to constant development of product and quality.

An example of what can happen if ware is heated too fast during early stages of firing. This bowl was not quite dry on the base, it is Plainsman M370. Even though the firing proceeded to 220 degrees and soaked for an hour, it was not enough time for the water to escape before the second step in the firing schedule.

On the left is a blue stain, right is a green. Obviously the blue is melting much better, even bleeding at its edges. On the other hand, the green just sits on the surface as a dry, unmelted layer. For this type of work, stains need to be mixed into a glaze-like recipe of compatible chemistry (a melt medium) to create a good, paintable color. The blue is powerful, it would only need to comprise 5-10% of the recipe total. Its medium would need to have a stiffer melt (so the cobalt fluxes it to the desired degree of melt fluidity). The percentage of the green stain would need to be higher (10%-15% or more). It's medium would need to be fluid (over melted), the stain would then stiffen it up to give desired melt fluidity. Of course, only repeated testing would get them just right. The guidelines of the stain manufacturer for chemistry compatibility would need to be consulted also (as certain stains will not develop their color unless the medium they are in has a compatible chemistry). And, to be as paintable as possible, use 1 part of gum solution to each 2 parts of water to create the slurry.

Because they dry and stiffen much faster. When the handles are glued on with slip about an hour later they are about the same stiffness as the mugs. The handled mugs, which are sitting on plaster batts, will then be covered with cloth and plastic over night. The next morning, the bases will have stiffened and all sections of the mugs will be about the same stiffness, ready for trimming. After that they will be decorated, then placed on smooth wooden batts and wrapped with a cloth for drying.

These cone 6 porcelain mugs have glossy liner glazes and matte outers: VC71 (left) crazes, G2934 does not (it is highlighted using a felt marker and solvent). Crazing, while appropriate on non-functional ware, is unsanitary and severely weakens the ware (up to 300%). If your ware develops this your customers will bring it back for replacement. What will you do? The thermal expansion of VC71 is alot higher. It is a product of the chemistry (in this case, high sodium and low alumina). No change in firing will fix this, the body and glaze are not expansion compatible. Period. The fix: Change bodies and start all over. Use another glaze. Or, adjust this recipe to reduce its thermal expansion.

These cone 6 porcelain mugs are hybrid. A commercial glaze inside (Amaco PC-30) and my liner glaze the inside (G2926B, which is googleable). When commercial glazes fit a clay (without crazing) it is by accident. But when you make your own glazes, you can tune them to fit your clay. The inside needs to be food safe and craze free, so I need to know what is in it. Want to start fixing and fitting your glazes? Open an account at Insight-live.com, enter the recipes and upload good pictures and then contact me (I will give you suggestions).

The top fired bar is a translucent porcelain (made from kaolin, silica and feldspar). It has zero porosity and is very hard and strong at room temperature because fibrous mullite crystals have developed around the quartz and kaolinite grains and feldspar silicate glass has flowed within to cement the matrix together securely (that what vitrified means). But it has a high fired shrinkage, very poor thermal shock resistance and little stability at above red-heat temperatures. The bar below is zirconium silicate plus 3% binder, all that cements it together is sintered bonds between closely packed particles. Yet it is surprisingly strong, it cannot be scratched with metal. It has low fired shrinkage, zero thermal expansion and maintain its strength and hardness to very high temperatures.

These clear glazed porcelain mugs are fired at cone 6. The one on the right has 0.2% Mason 6336 stain added to to G2926B base glaze.

The specific gravity of a glaze slurry is simply its weight compared to water. Different glazes optimize to different specific gravities, but 1.4 to 1.5 is typical (highly fritted glaze are higher). To measure, counter-weigh a plastic measuring cup on your scale and fill it with 500 grams of water and note how high the water fills it (hopefully to the 500cc mark!). Fill the container with your glaze to the same place. Divide its weight by the number of ccs (in this case, 500) and you have the specific gravity. The more you weigh the more accurate is the test.

The lid of my firing kiln seems to be just the right environment for even drying, even of freshly thrown pieces. By the time this mug really got under way here the kiln was at 1000F and the lid was getting pretty hot. The bottom was the warmest and the top coolest, the exact opposite of how drying normally becomes uneven (the top drying first). This principle could be employed to make a heated drying chamber. The interior space could be kept at high humidity and a draft of air through it could remove humid air and the needed rate.

The mug on the left was bisque fired and then glazed, the one on the right was glazed in the green (dry) state. The glazes are the same inside and out but the porcelain one the right is based on New Zealand kaolin (vs. American kaolin on the left). Three secrets for success for the one on the right were: It was glazed inside and out in two operations with a drying phase between, it was heated to about 150F before each application and it was fired with a soaking period (at about 1900F) on the way up to top temperature (cone 6).

The mug on the right was bisque fired and then glazed, the one on the left was glazed in the green (dry) state using our standard meet-two-colors-at-the-rim glazing method. This method lends itself well to single fire glazing. Notice the glaze did not go on as thick on the once-fired piece (extra attention is needed to make sure it gets on thick enough without cracking the piece). In addition, there are a few pinholes whereas the bisqued piece is flawless. Single firing ware requires extra attention to firing, climbing to a point just before the glaze begins to melt and soaking there to enable hydrates and carbon to escape.

In reduction firing, where insufficient oxygen is present to oxidize the iron, natural iron pyrite particles in the clay convert to their metallic form and melt. The nature of the decorative speckled effect depends on the size of the particles, the distribution of sizes, their abundance, the color of the clay and the degree to which they melt. The characteristics of the glaze on the ware (e.g. degree of matteness, color, thickness of application, the way it interacts with the iron) also have a big effect on the appearance.

When I fire our two small lab test kilns I always include cones (I fire a dozen temperatures). I want the firing to finish when the cone is around 5-6 oclock. To make that happen I record observations on which to base the temperature I will program for the final step the next time. Where do I record these? In the schedules I maintain in our Insight-live.com group account. I use this every day, it is very important because we need accurate firings.

In industry fast drying and firing are standard, but potters still dry for days and firing cycles are often 24 hours. But it is surprising how much even very plastic clay can be pushed. This porcelain slurry dewatered to plastic in 30 minutes. I threw the mugs and attached handles after 15 minutes fan-drying, then put them into a 240F test kiln immediately (with exhaust fan going). This created a high humidity hot zone that dried them quickly and evenly (trimmable in 15 minutes, ready to green-glaze inside in 30, glaze outside 15 more). Then I fired them to 1-hour-soak at 240F and go full speed to cone 6, soak 10 minutes and shut off. I ice-watered them when they hit 300F on cool-down. I did get a bubble on the outside of one and a weird surface crack traveling about 5 mm below the rim on the other, so a few minutes extra glaze drying time was needed before firing.

G2926B (center and right) is a clear cone 6 glaze created by simply adding 10% silica to Perkins Studio clear, a glaze that had a slight tendency delay-craze on common porcelains we use. Amazingly it tolerated that silica addition very well and continued to fire to an ultra gloss crystal clear. That change eliminated the crazing issues. The cup on the right is a typical porcelain that fits most glazes (because it has 24% silica and near-zero porosity). The center one only has 17% silica and zero porosity (that is why it is crazing this glaze). I added 5% more silica to the glaze, it took that in stride, continuing to produce an ultra smooth glossy. It is on cup on the left. But it is still crazing just as much! That silica addition only reduces the calculated expansion from 6.0 to 5.9, clearly not enough for this more severe thermal expansion mismatch. Substituting low expansion MgO for other fluxes will compromise the gloss, so clearly the solution is to use the porcelain on the right.

I enter (and tune) programs manually and document them in my account at insight-live.com. This controller can hold six, it calls them Users. Whatever program I last entered or edited is the one that runs when I press "Start". When I press the "Enter Program" button it asks which User: I key in "2" (my cone 6 test bar firing program). Then it asks how many segments: I press Enter to accept the 3 (I am editing the program). After that it asks questions about each step (rows 2, 3, 4): the Ramp "rA" (degrees F/hr), the Temperature to go to (°F) to and the Hold time in minutes (HLdx). In this program I am heating at 300F/hr to 240F and holding 60 minutes, then 400/hr to 2095 and holding zero minutes, then at 108/hr to 2195 and holding 10 minutes. The last step is to set a temperature where an alarm should start sounding (I set 9999 so it will never sound). When complete it reads "Idle". Then I press the "Start" button to begin. If I want to change it I press the "Stop" button. Those ten other buttons? Don't use them, automatic firing is not accurate. One more thing: If it is not responding to "Enter Program" press the Stop button first.

When electric kilns, especially large ones are tightly packed with heavy ware, the shady or undersides of the pots simply will never reach the temperature of the element side, no matter how long you soak. In this example, the inside of this clear glazed cone 6 bowl has a flawless surface. The base is pinholed and crawling a little and the surface of one side (the shady side), the remnants of healing disruptions in the melt (from escaping gases) have not smoothed over. The element side is largely flawless like the inside, however it is not as smooth on the area immediately outside the foot (because this is less element-facing). Industrial gas kilns have draft and subject ware to heat-work by convection, so all sides are much more evenly matured.

After rotating in front of a fan these porcelain mugs were ready for trimming and handle attachment in 15 minutes. Then they were turned over, the handles wrapped and in another 45 minutes were dry and ready to fire. It is not how fast you dry something, it is how even. The handles would normally dry faster so this retards them enough to stay in sync with the rest of the cup.

Many of the materials listed are not described well or at all by their manufacturers. This is an example of where we had to do our home work, researching and rationalizing it to determine what information is likely more and less reliable. In many cases we simply do testing in our own lab.

With the proper technique you can make the outside and inside glazes meet in a straight line at the rim rather than just have one spill over the other.

These melt-flow and ball-melt tests compare 6 unconventionally fluxed glazes with a traditional cone 6 moderately boron fluxed (+soda/calcia/magnesia) base (far left Plainsman G2926B). The objective is to achieve higher melt fluidity for a more brilliant surface and for more reactive response with colorant and variegator additions (with awareness of downsides of this). Classified by most active fluxes they are: G3814 - Moderate zinc, no boron G2938 - High-soda+lithia+strontium G3808 - High boron+soda (Gerstley Borate based) G3808A - 3808 chemistry sourced from frits G3813 - Boron+zinc+lithia G3806B - Soda+zinc+strontium+boron (mixed oxide effect) This series of tests was done to choose a recipe, that while more fluid, will have a minimum of the problems associated with such (e.g. crazing, blistering, excessive running, susceptibility to leaching). As a final step the recipe will be adjusted as needed. We eventually chose G3806B and further modified it to reduce the thermal expansion.

Half of these Plaisman Polar Ice mugs cracked. But I know exactly why it happened! After throwing them I put them on a slowly rotating wheelhead in front of a fan to stiffen them enough so I could attach the handles quickly. Of course, I forgot them and they got quite stiff on the lip (while the bottom was still wet). I quickly attached the handles and then covered them with cloth and plastic and let them sit for two days to let them even out. Notwithstanding that, that early gradient sealed their destiny. The lesson: At no time in the drying process should any part of a piece be significantly ahead of another part.

L3685X white slip (left mug) has 5% more frit than Y (right). The frit is a melter, creating more glass bonds to adhere it to the body (it also hardens it and darkens the color a little). But the frit also increases firing shrinkage, 'stretching' the white layer on the body as the kiln cools (the slightly curled bi-clay bar demonstrates that). However the glaze, G2931G, is under some compression (to prevent crazing), it is therefore 'pushing back' on the white slip. This creates a state of equilibrium. The Y slip on the right is outside the equilibrium, it flakes off at the rim because the bond is not good enough. Adding more frit, the other side of the balance, would put the slip under excessive tension, reducing ware strength and increasing failure on exposure to thermal shock (the very curled bi-clay bar in the front, not this clay/slip demonstrates the tension a poorly fitted slip could impose).

It is important that during all stages of drying gradients (sections of different stiffnesses) do not develop in pieces. Thus I like to attach handles as soon after throwing as possible. An unavoidable gradient develops anyway because the rims need to be stiff enough to attach the handles without going out of shape too much. Now how can I stiffen these mugs for trimming and even them out at the same time? The first key is to put them on a plaster bat (as I have done here). Then I cover them with a fabric (arnel fabric works well because it flows). Then I put the whole thing into a large garbage plastic bag folded underneath to seal it. The plaster stiffens the bases and absorbs moisture in the air to stiffen the walls also. The next day every part of the piece is an even leather hard.

It took 2-3 minutes to get this mug to soft leather hard for trimming using a heat-gun (not a blow drier). It took seconds to stiffen the handle for attachment after. I am now taking it to stiff leather hard to prepare for glazing (left). I dry it evenly by judicious technique. Then I pour-glaze the inside and immediately push it lip-down down into the glaze to do the outside. I re-gun it a couple of minutes and then re-dip the outside bottom (up to the previous glaze boundary). Last I gun it another 3 minutes an put it in the kiln. The lesson: The key is not drying speed. It is how even the drying is (I watch the color change and focus on the wettest parts). Finally I fire 400F/hr to cone 6 (with an hour soak at 250F for final water smoking). The clay: Plainsman M370.

The center portion was protected while the perimeter dried and shrank first (reshaping the central section). No cracks. But as the central area hardened it reached a point where it was stiff enough to impose forces that forced two cracks to start from the outer edge (opposite each other), these grew inward and found each other. Then the gap widened to dissipate more of the stresses (the width of this gap relates to the drying shrinkage of the clay). But the accelerated pace in the top disk left more stresses, they were relieved by the other hairline cracks from the outer edge, these happened at the very end.The lesson: The stage was set for cracking on both samples very early in the drying process. But the actual cracks occurred very late. Accelerating the process only created small extra edge cracks (on top disk).

This cup is being force dried with a heat gun. The speed of the drying is not the problem. I can dry this mug in minutes as long as I apply the heat evenly to all surfaces. But in this case I have dried the side walls first and the base is far behind. The first surprise is where the crack starts: It is actually the meeting of two, they each start at the outside edge (that is where the stress encounters clay stiff enough to crack). Another surprise is when: Near the end of the process the cracks suddenly grow (these photos span only about a minute). The way it which the two cracks find each other at the center produces the characteristic S-crack.

This is an exchange I had on Facebook on this topic. Many people believe cracks are caused by high water content, high shrinkage clay, not compressing the base when throwing, throwing off the hump or stretching the clay excessively when throwing. But I break some or all of these rules every time I make mugs and have almost no cracks. Why? Because the reason pieces crack is unevenness in wall thickness and drying. And I make sure both are even.

The key is avoidance of methods that result in one part of the piece being stiffer at any stage of drying (not vinegar in the water, compressing the bottoms, etc.). Throw mugs with walls of even thickness. Put them on a plaster bat (it dewaters the base). Make the handles a while after you have made the mugs (they stiffen quicker). Apply them as soon as the rims are stiff enough to maintain shape (in my climate, two hours). Use a join method that enables application of lots of pressure (better than scoring). Use only enough slip (of thick cream consistency) to make the join (no excessive squirting out at the perimeter). Pack all the mugs closely on bats, rims up, cover with flowing cloth (e.g. arnel). Put them inside big bags or wrap plastic around and tuck it under. Trim the bases the next day (to the same thickness as the walls). Place rims down (with handles at the center) on smooth batts (not plaster) and cover them with large fabrics that can wrap under leaving no holes exposed to the outside air (in our dry climate two days dries them).

If your drying glaze is doing what you see on the left, do not smooth it with your finger and hope for the best. It is going to crawl during firing. Wash it off, dry the ware and change your glaze or process. This is Ravenscrag Slip being used pure as a glaze, it is shrinking too much so I simply add some calcined material to the bucket. That reduces the shrinkage and therefore the cracking (trade some of the kaolin in your glaze for calcined kaolin to do the same thing). Glazes need clay to suspend and harden them, but if your glaze has 20%+ kaolin and also bentonite, drop the bentonite (not needed). Other causes: Double-layering. Putting it on too thick. May be flocculating (high water content). Slow drying (try bisquing lower, heating before dipping; or glaze inside, dry it, then glaze outside).

If you are an artist or sculptor and are thinking about taking on a commission to do an outdoor piece think carefully about its vulnerability to spalling if it will experience freezing temperatures (see linked article below). The construction industry deals with this issue every day, take a cue from their experience.

This glaze consists of micro fine silica, calcined EP kaolin, Ferro Frit 3249 MgO frit, and Ferro Frit 3134. It has been ball milled for 1, 3, and 6 hours with these same results. Notice the crystallization that is occurring. This is likely a product of the MgO in the Frit 3249. This high boron frit introduces it in a far more mobile and fluid state than would talc or dolomite and MgO is a matting agent (by virtue of the micro crystallization it can produce). The fluid melt and the fine silica further enhance the effect.

This designation is an international standard for a general purpose respirator to filter out respirable quartz particles (which cause silicosis). Use one of these when working in a area where ventilation is insufficient to remove all of the dust. Use it also in circumstances where there is temporary generation of large quantities of dust. Do not wear this as a substitute for keeping floors and working areas clean.

B-Mix is a popular high-ball clay very plastic grey cone 10R stoneware in North America. The two mugs on the left have pure Ravenscrag Slip on the inside (the middle on the outside also), it fires almost transparent with a slightly silky surface. Pure Alberta Slip is employed on the outside of the left one and the inside of the right one. The outside of the right one is RavenTalc silky matte. In all cases the Ravenscrag and Alberta Slip are mixed half-and-half calcined and raw. B-Mix fires dark enough and with enough specks that a normal transparent glaze is not very interesting. But these Ravenscrag ones look much better (for liner glazes).

The color is developing despite the fact that very little iron is available from the body. I have glazed the inside of this mug with a durable liner glaze to make it functional. The porcelain contains more than 30% silica but the Shino is still crazing on it.

The outer green glaze on these cone 6 porcelain mugs has a high melt fluidity. The liner glaze on the lower one, G2926B, is high gloss but not highly melt fluid. Notice that it forms a fairly crisp boundary with the outer glaze at the lip of the mug. The upper liner is G3806C, a fluid melt high gloss clear. The outer and inner glazes bleed together completely forming a very fuzzy boundary.

Talc is employed in low fire bodies to raise their thermal expansion (to put the squeeze on glazes to prevent crazing). These dilatometer curves make it very clear just how effective that strategy is! The talc body was fired at cone 04, the stoneware at cone 6. The former is porous and completely non-vitreous, the latter is semi vitreous.

These were the machines that began the computer revolution. Insight was there! It was 12 years before the internet.

Layers of the Whitemud Formation are being mined. The layer being extracted is a silty stoneware (equivalent to Plainsman 3D). Above that is a ball clay (Plainsman A2). Above that is a light burning stoneware (Plainsman A3 and B). A foot-thick layer of hard volcanic ash is visible in the green over burden at the top.

Left is Plainsman M340. Right is M390. Each mug has been white engobed inside and half-way down the outside. The insides have been glazed using G2926B clear. The inside surface has more depth and has a richer appearance than you could achieve using a white glaze (especially over the dark burning body). The outside of the left one is Alberta Slip base GA6A using Frit 3249 (it produces a more stable glass of lower thermal expansion). The outside glaze on the right is the clear plus 4% iron oxide. This technique of using the engobe enables porcelain-like functional surfaces on the insides and striking visual contrast and character on the outside of the dark body mug.

Black burning bodies are popular with many potters. They are normally manufactured by adding around 10% burnt or raw umber to an existing buff-burning cone 6 stoneware. Umbers are powerful colorants, they have high iron and also contain manganese (the latter being the primary source of the color). But these clays can be troublesome. First, good kiln venting is needed to avoid breathing the dangerous manganese metal vapors. Micro-bubble clouding/gloss-loss in the glazes and blistering/bloating of the bodies are common. But this mug fired perfectly. Why? The umber was added to a cone 10 stoneware instead (and it has fluxed the body to mature at cone 6). The mug has been white engobed on the inside and partway down the outside during leather hard stage. After bisque it was clear glazed on the inside giving a flawless surface (using G2926B) and dipped in GA6-A Alberta Slip base amber-clear. The GA6-A over the black clay produces a very deep, rich, almost black ultra-gloss surface.

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