This device to measure glaze melt fluidity helps you better understand your glazes and materials and solve all sorts of problems.
There are many complex and expensive instruments designed to observe and measure the goings-on in firing kilns. Generally this type of equipment is expensive and measures absolute physical properties that can be quantified easily. However glaze melt flow is like clay plasticity, it is more subjective and not so easy to quantify. It is best measured comparatively, that is, one specimen directly compared with another. That being said, each glaze does have a unique melt flow patterns over a range of temperatures, these can be like a finger print. Melt fluidity testing can be done using inexpensive methods and devices.
I would like to submit a general-purpose testing method for many glaze melt properties that is both inexpensive and easy to use: The GLFL test. So many factors related to the melting, solidification and physical properties and defects of fired glaze surfaces are related to melt viscosity. Thus a test that provides information about this has the potential of being very valuable.
Before going on, I will give credit where credit is due. This is not an original idea. I have seen this device described in industry literature to compare melt properties of nepheline syenite and feldspar. Also, I was sent a very nice dual-flow mold by Hugh Nile at Sterling China (it had the initials IMC embossed on it). I am aware that other industries also use similar devices. However I want to take it to the next level by clearing documenting its advantages and a procedure to use it.
I have made a rubber master mold of the one described herein and can making working molds for others. If you would like one please see the bottom of this article.
Small or steep angle testers: Although I have messed with smaller sizes in the past I have now seen the light. They just do not work as well. You need a large enough reservoir, and long enough flow ramp at a shallow enough angle to get repeatable and sensitive tests.
Inclined tile testers: Some companies prepare a lump of the glaze to be tested and glue it to one end of a tile using a slurry made from the same material. While this will often work it is problematic with compounds that shrink a lot or those lacking dry hardness. The former could crack off and the latter may crumble off. I'll leave it to your imagination what might happen if pieces or the whole sample rolls into contact with a kiln element.
Large and small glaze fluidity flow testers
This is shown in the picture. It is 13.5cm high while standing (5.5 inches). The long runway is at less than a 45 degree angle for extra sensitivity (there are actually two orientations for two different angles). One of the big advantages of the dual tester is that it can be employed for side-by-side testing of two specimens (e.g. one alongside a benchmark). It is amazing how close you can match the melt fluidity of two materials using this method.
This device is cast in a plaster mold using a mix refractory enough to resist warping if walls are cast thin (in production situations flow testers should be made from the same clay that ware is made from but if such is too vitreous you can reduce the feldspar content somewhat. See below for more information on the slip recipe. I usually bisque fire these testers for extra strength. The reservoir accepts a 10-12 gram ball of material that you can just drop right in. These balls are easy to make by dewatering the glaze or material slurry on a plaster surface to the right working consistency and then rolling the ball in your hands, drying it and shaving material off to achieve the right weight. (thus the glaze does need to have enough plastic ingredients to enable this workability or you need to add some bentonite to impart it).
I have defined a procedure for this test in the testing area of this site. As noted in the procedure there, for repeatable results it is important that your testers be the same thickness, made from the same clay, fired at the same rate of rise and to the same temperature, and the ball sample must be the same dry weight each time.
In case you are not yet clear on how this tester is used: Two glazes are compared by dropping dried balls of each into the reservoirs at the top and the whole thing is fired to the desired temperature (with a tile below to catch any glaze that runs right off the end of the runway). During the firing, the glazes flow down the runway according to melt development, melt surface tension (and other factors like bubble development).
What this tester can show you about glazes:
G1215U vs. G1215W glaze flow test
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).
Raw Materials Testing
Most companies can readily test clay materials for use in bodies and glazes using physical testing methods that require a minimum of equipment. But it is not so obvious how to compare and test fluxing materials like feldspar for consistency. One can just trust the particle size and chemistry information provided by the manufacturer for each shipment and compare numbers. But what is the actual relationship between these numbers and the consistency of product on a production line? Can you trust the numbers anyway? The tester is an elegant simple alternative. It accurately shows melting power, color and impurities, you need to see two feldspars side-by-side to see how sensitive it is (see pictures at bottom for an example).
Many ceramic products are tuned to melt to a certain extent to achieve their function. For example, an engobe needs to have a stiffer melt than a glaze, but much more maturity than the underlying body. Likewise, a ceramic printing ink must have a specific degree of melt fluidity, enough to adhere or melt to a smooth hard surface, but not so much as to bleed into the covering or underlying glaze. Melts used for bonding purposes likewise need to develop enough glass to bond, but not so much that fired geometry cannot be maintained. A standard and a test can be evaluated side-by-side using this tester. If the melt is not fluid enough, then it can be fired higher, or a percentage of frit can be added.
Since these fired testers are quite large, storing them for future reference can be a problem. Taking a picture of them and scanning it onto the computer for archival purposes makes more sense. Make them at least twice as large as the ones shown here and they should still take less than 100kb of memory. You may find that making the testers from an off-white, grey or even tan body might be better to prevent washed-out results when taking photos. Also, have plenty of side lighting so that gloss is highlighted.
A good starting recipe is #L2540, it is 50% ball clay, 25% feldspar and 25% silica. This does not cast quickly but the pieces have good green strength and the clay will vitrify around cone 10-11. For a more refractory mix replace some of the feldspar with kyanite, calcined alumina or some other non-plastic high temperature material. You will need to know how to mix and deflocculate a clay slip, search in this library for the word "deflocculation" for an excellent article on understanding the casting slip mixing process.
Getting a Tester
We have provided detail pictures of our mold so you can make your own. We are planning to add 3D geometry to enable printing plastic shell molds for rubber masters (from which you can pour working plastic molds). The GBMF test is an alternative to this one, although not as accurate.
This is important because I am searching for a balance between the degree of melt fluidity of my original crazing glaze but having a thermal expansion to fit my porcelain (this is G3806E and F). With each adjustment to the chemistry to drop the thermal expansion I do a firing to compare the melt fluidity with the previous iteration. On the right I have too much boron, it’s melting more than I want. And bubbling.
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 vast majority of glazes are plastic (but less than clay bodies). They can be dewatered on a plaster surface and formed. Why do this? To make 9-10 gram balls and fire them on flat tiles (or inclined flow testers) to see their melting characteristics. It is surprising how much this can tell you about the glaze. To make the ball, mix the slurry well and pour a little on the plaster. It should dewater in less than 30 seconds. As soon as the water sheen is gone, scrape it up with a rubber rib, hand-knead it and flatten it back down to dry a little more if needed (leave it only for five or ten seconds and rework it. Repeat until it is stiff enough to form balls of about 12 grams. Stamp them with ID numbers and dry them.
Just as Mother Nature is responsible for variations in natural minerals, commercial frit manufacturers can and do release material with variations. Frits are made of recipes that must be dosed, mixed, smelted, quenched and ground - leaving plenty of room for error. Shown here is an example of a combination of improper mixing and inadequate smelting. Frits can be made from soluble and carbonate materials that off-gas during smelting, leaving a glass of zero LOI. But that did not happen here: This melt fluidity test shows a good and faulty batch. The volatiles (as exhibited by the bubbles) were not the only problem, a glaze containing 50% of this had severely inadequate melting. Interestingly, the two-pallet batch showed the best results at the top of the first pallet and the worst at the bottom of the second. Another load of faulty frit received later showed similar bubbling but was alumina-short (turning our production matte glaze glossy).
Albany Slip was a pure mined silty clay that, by itself, melted to a glossy dark brown glaze at cone 10R. By itself it was a tenmoku glaze. Alberta Slip is a recipe of mined clays and refined minerals designed to have the same chemistry, firing behavior and raw physical appearance (but not plasticity). This is a GBMF melt flow test showing them side-by-side.
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 commercial cone 04 clear brushing glaze (on the left) works really well on our clay bodies so I sent it away to be analyzed (about $130). That revealed high Al2O3/SiO2 levels, this explains its resistance to crazing on our clay bodies and, even better, indicates high durability. In my account at insight-live.com I was able source the same chemistry from two Fusion frits (plus a little kaolin and silica). The melt fluidities are almost identical (my G3879 has a little more surface tension). I needed to make a dipping glaze version and chose a method that would produce a thixotropic slurry. One caution: An assay lab cannot analyze the complexities of a colored glaze, instead focus on the base clear and add stains to that. The first two-gallon bucket made saved the development cost plus more! And knowing the recipe made it possible to adjust for even lower thermal expansion. Another plus: I can now make my own low SG or high SG brushing version.
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.
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 GLFL test 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.
We have promoted this device for many years as a way to compare glaze melt fluidity, surface tension, bubble retention, crystal growth, transparency, melting range, etc. If you would like this 3D file in Fusion 360 and STEP format, it is available in the Files manager in your Insight-live.com account.
This melt fluidity comparison demonstrates how similar the substitute L3617 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). This substitute is chemically equivalent to what we feel is the best average for the chemistry of Cornwall Stone.
In ceramics, feldspars are used in glazes and clay bodies. They vitrify stonewares and porcelains. They supply KNaO flux to glazes to help them melt.
Glaze Melt Flow - Runway Test
A method of comparing the melt fluidity of two ceramic materials or glazes by racing them down an inclined runway.
Glaze Melt Fluidity - Ball Test
A test where a 10-gram ball of dried glaze is fired on a porcelain tile to study its melt flow, surface character, bubble retention and surface tension.
Limit Formulas and Target Formulas
Glaze chemistries for each type of glaze have a typical look to them that enables us to spot ones that are non-typical. Limit and target formulas are useful to us if we keep in perspective their proper use.
Reducing the Firing Temperature of a Glaze From Cone 10 to 6
Moving a cone 10 high temperature glaze down to cone 5-6 can require major surgery on the recipe or the transplantation of the color and surface mechanisms into a similar cone 6 base glaze.
Low Budget Testing of the Raw and Fired Properties of a Glaze
There is more to glazes than their visual character, they have other physical properties like hardness, thermal expansion, leachability, chemistry and they exhibit many defects. Here are some simple tests.
A Textbook Cone 6 Matte Glaze With Problems
Glazes must be completely melted to be functional, hard and strong. Many are not. This compares two glazes to make the difference clear.
In ceramic slurries (especially casting slips, but also glazes) the degree of fluidity of the suspension is important to its performance.
Ceramic glazes melt and flow according to their chemistry, particle size and mineralogy. Observing and measuring the nature and amount of flow is important in understanding them.
Ceramic stains are manufactured powders. They are used as an alternative to employing metal oxide powders and have many advantages.
In ceramics, surface tension is discussed in two contexts: The glaze melt and the glaze suspension. In both, the quality of the glaze surface is impacted.
Remove Gerstley Borate and Improve a Popular Cone 6 Clear Glaze
How I found a ceramic glaze recipe on Facebook, substituted a frit for the Gerstley Borate, added the extra SiO2 it needed and got a fabulous more durable cone 6 clear.
|By Tony Hansen
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