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Part of changing your viewpoint of glazes, from a collection of materials to a collection of oxides, is learning what a formula and analysis are, how conversion between the two is done and how unity and LOI impact this.
When an electrical contractor arrives at a job site, he asks for the electrical blueprints. While exterior drawings and overall site plans may be of interest, he needs specific detailed schematics. A similar situation exists with glazes. Most of us have traditionally thought of glazes exclusively in terms of their batch recipes and many have developed expertise on this level, having learned many "dos and don'ts". But let us dig deeper and look at "the blueprints". Besides, there must be a better way to handle problems than a blind an endless quest for that perfect textbook recipe.
Let's review this new viewpoint again. The glaze batch recipe you mix is made from powdered ceramic minerals. However, the kiln fires decompose these materials down to their basic building blocks (called oxides). On cooling in the kiln, a new form of matter is created: a glass. It is built from a structure of oxide molecules contributed by the materials (and is returned to these when remelted). However, the glass can never again be returned to the recipe materials used to mix the raw batch. this suggests that fired properties of the glass should be controlled and evaluated by "understanding" the oxide makeup of the glass, not the material makeup of the batch recipe. Typically, no direct relationship exists between fired glass properties and individual batch materials because most materials source two or more oxide types. This means there are two viewpoints, the oxide and the recipe, and you can choose between them or use both as appropriate. The oxide viewpoint is the primary tool to analyze fired problems, both are needed to evaluate problems with the physical properties of the glaze slurry.
Fired properties (e.g. expansion and melting temperature) can be predicted from an oxide formula. By contrast, they are normally only indirectly related to the batch recipe, and even then within a limited system. Formulas routinely draw from ten or less oxides, each of which has well documented fired property contributions. Recipes by comparison are complex because they draw on hundreds of materials, each of which can source many oxides.
Sometimes it is clear whether a problem should be analyzed at the recipe or formula level, other times it is not. For example, the oxide formula of a fired body has little to do with its plasticity, texture or even its maturity and color. Therefore analyzing an isolated body formula using glaze chemistry software to predict fired behavior would not be nearly as common as relating physical properties to its recipe.
Adjusting the firing temperature of a glaze is an ideal problem to approach at the formula level. Using an account at insightlive.com you can employ the oxide viewpoint to add, subtract or diversify fluxing oxides while maintaining the SiO_{2}:Al_{2}O_{3} relationship. This retains the overall Seger balance, and stands the best chance of maintaining fired character (no more line blending of fluxes that introduce unwanted oxides and upset glaze balance).
Adjusting expansion to stop crazing is another problem which is best handled at the formula level. The oxides have clearly defined expansion values and it is normally obvious how to change a formula to reduce expansion. This is just about impossible to do on the recipe level without affecting the fired glaze appearance. For example, you could add silica, but that would make the glaze more glossy. You could add talc, substitute potash spar for soda spar, add a boron frit or kaolin, but all of these upset glaze balance and produce undesired fired effects.
There are many times when a mixed viewpoint is necessary. Consider converting a glaze to a slip. Your experience will determine the amount of ball clay, kaolin or other clays to use to achieve the desired drying shrinkage, but the oxide viewpoint will allow you to introduce these materials without changing the chemistry of the glaze. By doing it this way, you won't have to do blind recipe substitutions (e.g. ball clay for kaolin or one flux for another) that run roughshod over the glaze's chemical balance, changing its fine properties.
There comes a point when recipe level adjustments to a body or glaze will significantly influence the oxide formula. Conversely, there comes a point where oxide level adjustments alter the physical properties of a body or glaze recipe. Therefore, you almost always need to consider both viewpoints.
The oxide viewpoint has long been available, but now the computer puts it within reach, removing the tedium of the calculations. Once you 'score a few points' with it, you will find this new viewpoint a practical addition to our traditional recipe view.
For practical purposes, we can consider atoms to be the most basic building blocks of matter. There are more than one hundred kinds (each is an element). Atoms insist on bonding with others to form molecules. The 15 or so types useful in ceramics like to combine with oxygen to form oxides (e.g. SiO_{2}, CaO). It takes a nuclear reaction to tear an atom apart, but molecules can be dissected and rearranged with the kinds of chemical reactions that occur as a result of melting in a kiln. However, the kiln doesn't normally decompose complex molecules (e.g. feldspar K_{2}O · Al_{2}O_{3} · 6SiO_{2} ) any further than the basic oxides which make them up (e.g. K_{2}O).
The kiln fires work their magic by juggling oxide molecules around to combine with each other in infinite ways. The time and temperature provided determine the extent to which the break down (decomposition) and subsequent reconstruction occurs. During this decomposition, some components are given off as gases (e.g. CO_{2}, SO_{4} , CO, etc.).
We can compare the firing process of decomposition and glaze building to a task many kids attempt, using LEGO blocks. They find all the scattered blocks and items made from blocks and disassemble everything into one big pile. From this pile, the child will make one large wall or box structure utilizing every block. Think of the initial disassembly as the kiln's melting action to liberate all available oxides. The reassembly is analogous to the cooling of the kiln and associated freezing of the melt into a structure of oxides we call a glass.
Much scientific effort has been applied to predicting what kiln fires will do with given mixtures of oxide molecules. A basis for understanding this has been the classification of oxides into a threegroup model. Each group contributes definite properties. Each group exists in certain proportions for each glaze type and firing temperature. Individual oxides also impart special properties when they predominate in their group or when they exist in critical proportions with other selected oxides.
Another important factor in the development of understanding what oxide mixtures will do in the kiln has been standardization in the way a mix of oxide molecules is expressed. Two primary standards are important.
A formula expresses an oxide mix according to the relative numbers of molecule types. A formula is ideal for analyzing and predicting properties of a fired glaze or glass. This is because it gives us an idea about the molecular structure which is responsible for the fired behavior. Since the kiln fires build these oxide molecules one by one into a structure, it follows that one will never really "understand" a glaze till seeing its oxide formula.
A formula is flexible. We can arbitrarily retotal it without affecting the relative numbers of oxide molecules. In fact, this retotaling of a formula is standard procedure to produce a "unity formula" (which we will discuss in a minute). With a formula, you need not worry whether there is 1 gram, 1 ton, or one billion molecules, only relative numbers matter. This is why it is allowable to express a formula showing molecule parts (e.g. 0.4 MgO). In reality this would not occur, but on paper a formula helps us compare relative numbers of oxide molecules in a ratio.
Fluxes  Intermediates  Glass Formers  

RO  R2O_{3}  RO_{2}  
K_{2}O  0.6  Al_{2}O_{3}  0.9  SiO_{2}  9.0 
CaO  1.3  
MgO  0.2  
ZnO  0.1 
Again, notice in the above that oxides are grouped into three columns: the bases, acids, and amphoterics or simply as the RO, R_{2}O_{3}, and RO_{2} oxides (where "R" is the element combining with oxygen). Actually, the ratio of R to O is significant. The right column has the greatest oxygen component, the left has the least. Simplistically, we can view these three groups as the silica:alumina:fluxes system. This latter convention is not really correct because there are more glass builders than SiO_{2}, other intermediates besides Al_{2}O_{3}, and the RO's do more than just flux. But because this method evokes immediate recognition, let's use it anyway. Ancient potters referred to these three as the blood, flesh, and bones of a glaze (not a bad way to think of it).
All formulas have a formula weight, that is, the total calculated weight for that mix of molecules. Atomic weights are known (the appendix in many ceramic texts list them); so deriving the weight of one molecule of an oxide is a matter of simple addition.
The following chart shows how oxide weights are derived and how a formula weight is calculated from an existing formula.
Calculating the Formula Weight  Atoms Num *wt Formula to in of of Total Oxide Calculate Oxide Oxide Each Atom Wt Wt Weight For  K_{2}O K 2 x 39.1 = 78.2 O 1 x 16 = 16 = 94.2 x 0.60 = 56.5 CaO Ca 1 x 40.1 = 40.1 O 1 x 16 = 16 = 56.1 x 1.30 = 72.9 MgO Mg 1 x 24.3 = 24.3 O 1 x 16 = 16 = 40.3 x 0.20 = 8.1 ZnO Zn 1 x 65.4 = 65.4 O 1 x 16 = 16 = 81.4 x 0.10 = 8.1 Al_{2}O_{3} Al 2 x 26.9 = 53.8 O 3 x 16 = 48 =101.8 x 0.90 = 91.6 SiO_{2} Si 1 x 28.1 = 28.1 O 2 x 16 = 32 = 60.1 x 9.00 = 540.9  *Data from Appendix of many textbooks Formula Wt 778.2
These weights are not grams; they are atomic weight units. They compare the weight of a molecule of the oxide with an atom of hydrogen. CaO weighs 56.1 because Ca (calcium) weighs 40.1 and O (oxygen) weighs 16. This means only that CaO is 56.1 times heavier than a single atom of benchmark hydrogen. Al_{2}O_{3} (alumina oxide) is 102 times heavier; so for each weight unit it will yield fewer molecules than CaO.
The three column format of expressing a formula was first used by Hermann Seger and today it is still called the "Seger Formula". Such formulas are normally 'unified', that is, all the numbers are scaled so that the RO column totals one (if RO oxides are lacking the R2O_{3} column is unified). A formula thus said to be "unified on the fluxes" or "set to RO unity". Unity formulas are 'standard' and can be compared.
The following chart takes the above formula (which had Al_{2}O_{3} unity) and recalculates to 'flux unity'. The expression "bring the fluxes to unity" means "make the fluxes add up to one".
 Raw Unity Oxides Formula Formula  K_{2}O 0.6 / 2.20 = 0.3 CaO 1.3 / 2.20 = 0.6 MgO 0.2 / 2.20 = 0.1 ZnO 0.1 / 2.20 = 0.0   Flux total 2.2 1.0 Al_{2}O_{3} 0.9 / 2.20 = 0.4 SiO_{2} 9 / 2.20 = 4.1 
As you can see, adjusting unity is rather like calculating percentages.
This format is suitable for expressing all glazes and many materials. However, refractory clays expressed as a formula will, by necessity, be shown with unity on the R_{2}O_{3} column because they may have little or no flux. Other materials may have nothing but fluxing oxides so one or all can be unified.
The Mole Percent (Mole%) calculation type has become popular because it provides room to rationalize oxide identity, interplay, concentration, and firing temperature. Here are some reasons why:
Mole% is a calculation of the percentage of oxide molecules by number (an analysis compares their weights). Here is the method used to convert a raw formula to a Mole% formula.
Raw Mole Oxides Formula Percent  K_{2}O 0.6 / 12.1 x 100 = 5.0% CaO 1.3 / 12.1 x 100 = 10.7 MgO 0.2 / 12.1 x 100 = 1.7 ZnO 0.1 / 12.1 x 100 = 0.8 Al_{2}O_{3} 0.9 / 12.1 x 100 = 7.4 SiO_{2} 9.0 / 12.1 x 100 = 74.3   Total 12.1 100.0 
Mole% ignores LOI as do formulas, it just looks at the oxides that makeup the fired glass.
An "analysis" compares oxides by the weights of their molecules, not the numbers of molecules. It is important to note that an analysis comparison between two glazes can look quite different from a Mole% comparison since oxide molecule weights differ greatly.
Consider this example:
Formula  Analysis  
CaO  0.04  0.1% 
MgO  0.03  0.1% 
K_{2}O  0.61  2.9% 
Na_{2}O  0.29  0.9% 
Fe_{2}O_{3}  0.03  0.3% 
TiO_{2}  0.10  0.4% 
Al_{2}O_{3}  4.52  23.7% 
SiO_{2}  23.27  71.6% 
The analysis format is best suited to showing how much of each individual oxide is in a mix. For example, feldspars are used as a source of flux, although they also provide SiO_{2} and Al_{2}O_{3} , so a buyer wants to know how much flux each brand has. A percentage analysis figure shows this, whereas a formula figure does not. An individual item can be extracted from an analysis (e.g. 10% K_{2}O) and it is meaningful. However, an individual item in a formula is only significant in the context of other amounts in that formula.
An analysis provides flexibility in allowing the inclusion of organics, water, and additives which are burned away during firing. For example, if a material loses 10% weight on firing, we can just say LOI (Loss on Ignition) is 10%. However, it would be difficult to express this 10% loss in a formula. Strictly speaking a formula cannot have an LOI because it expresses the mix of oxides in a fired ceramic. It is no surprise then that the analysis has become a standard used to express the makeup of raw glaze and clay materials on manufacturers data sheets.
You might have noticed that many, in fact most published analyses do not total exactly 100. There are a variety of reasons for this. It is common for the LOI to be wrong because it does not include all of the volatile materials (even moisture in the sample). Also, labs typically measure the amount of a specific group of oxides, others that are not checked for are not included in the total (most raw materials, especially clays, contain trace amounts of dozens of elements). The amounts of some oxide types are more difficult to quantify and their numbers are thus not as accurate. The fact that companies do not attempt to account for every last half percent of material is generally an admission that the science of practical inexpensive chemical analysis is not exact.
Some people are critical of the use of the formula because it can be very misleading in comparing amounts of a specific oxide in different formulations. To illustrate, consider comparing a pure feldspar with a typical cone 6 transparent glaze recipe.
Desktop INSIGHT showing formula and analysis sidebyside
Desktop Insight was the first to enable users to compare two recipes and their formulas sidebyside and interactively update when recipe changes were made. It also enabled users to show formulas and analyses sidebyside.
The formula on the lower right makes it appear that there is more than twice as much silica and three times as much alumina in the feldspar. However in the analysis on the left there is only a little more silica and much less than twice as much alumina. This all relates to the difference in weight of various oxide molecules (refer back to the mixed nut analog used above to rationalize this). Another criticism of formulas in favor of the analysis is that having 1% iron in a body or glaze makes more sense than, for example, 0.05 in the formula. There is a lot of merit in this observation, and most technicians rationalize the effects of coloring and opacifying oxides in terms of their percentage in the analysis, often not even considering them in formula comparisons. However these observations are in no way an indication that formulas are useless. Formulas are very useful as long as you are comparing two similar mixtures (e.g. two cone 6 glazes using similar materials).
The primary purpose of recipe calculations is to derive the formula for the glass that comes out of the kiln, from the mix of recipe materials that go into the kiln. A fired glass has no organics or carbonates; so it always has zero LOI. This means that LOI is never shown for a glaze formula and you will never need to worry about it for any batchtoformula or analysis calculations.
However, many raw materials that go into the kiln do lose weight during firing; so they are not sourcing as many oxide molecules as a calculation might suggest. If a raw material loses weight on firing, it must be accounted for in calculations. This weight loss could be illustrated with the child and his LEGO blocks already considered. While disassembling existing structures to free up all blocks, he may discard a number that do not lend themselves to inclusion in the intended project. You can think of LOI as being like the shells we throw away from a bag of nuts.
We compensate for anything lost during firing by increasing the formula weight. For example, 100 grams of kaolin going into a kiln produces only 88 grams of oxides for glass making. By increasing the formula weight of the kaolin by the correct amount, a full calculated oxide yield will result. By increasing the formula weight of the kaolin by the correct amount, a full calculated oxide yield will result. Insightlive.com stores a material's analysis in its materials database exactly as you enter it. Of course you need to enter the LOI as part of the analysis. Since it knows the LOI for each material in a recipe, it can calculate the LOI of the raw recipe as a whole. This can be very useful
If you have an analysis lacking an LOI figure or suspect the accuracy of the analysis delivered by a lab, then you can weigh, fire, and weigh again to derive the LOI and compensate the analysis.
Following is a method of applying a 5% measured LOI to an existing analysis. This is called "LOI Compensating an Analysis".
100  95 = 5 / 100 = 0.95  K_{2}O 7.3% x 0.95 = 6.9% CaO 9.4% x 0.95 = 8.9% MgO 1.0% x 0.95 = 1.0% ZnO 1.0% x 0.95 = 1.0% Al_{2}O_{3} 11.8% x 0.95 = 11.2% SiO_{2} 69.5% x 0.95 = 66.0% LOI 0.05 5.0%  100.0% 100.0%
In a formula the number of and weight of each oxide molecule are known; so it is just a matter of multiplying these amounts and adding the results to get the total weight. Next, the analysis can be derived by dividing each product by the total weight and multiplying by 100 as shown in the following spreadsheet fragment.
Oxides Formula Weights  K_{2}O 0.27 x 94.2 = 25.43 / 353.78 = 7.19% CaO 0.59 x 56.1 = 33.10 / 353.78 = 9.36% MgO 0.09 x 40.3 = 3.63 / 353.78 = 1.03% ZnO 0.05 x 81.4 = 4.07 / 353.78 = 1.15% Al_{2}O_{3} 0.41 x 101.8 = 41.74 / 353.78 = 11.80% SiO_{2} 4.09 x 60.1 = 245.81 / 353.78 = 69.48%  Formula Weight 353.78
In an analysis the percentage of each oxide type is known; so dividing these by the molecule weights will produce a raw formula. This can then be unity adjusted. The following spreadsheet fragment demonstrates this.
Unity Oxides Analysis Weights Formula  K_{2}O 7.19% / 94.2 = 0.0763 / .2827 = 0.27 CaO 9.36% / 56.1 = 0.1668 / .2827 = 0.59 MgO 1.03% / 40.3 = 0.0254 / .2827 = 0.09 znO 1.15% / 81.4 = 0.0141 / .2827 = 0.05  0.2827 Al_{2}O_{3} 11.80% / 101.8 = 0.1159 / .2827 = 0.41 SiO_{2} 69.48% / 60.1 = 1.1561 / .2827 = 4.09 
If a totally pure source of kaolin could be found, it would have a formula of Al_{2}O_{3} · 2SiO_{2} . No real deposit in the world has this, but most are close. It has, therefore, been the custom to use a theoretical formula when using kaolin in calculations (since the error introduced is small). this principal applies to most standard materials such as feldspar, whiting, dolomite, talc, etc.)."
However, the error involved with some theoretical formulas can border on unacceptable if the type of material used is not as pure as the formula suggests. this is more serious if different mixtures being compared are using different types or brand names of a material like feldspar, or if a calculation is being done in order to substitute a similar but not identical material into a recipe. It becomes necessary to use a more precise formula, which although more complicated will yield a better calculation. The manufacturer's data sheet is the best source of information on a material's formula.
Notice the differences in the following generic and namebrand feldspars.
G200 FELDSPAR  GENERIC POTSPAR  CUSTER FELDSPAR  
CaO  0.81%  0.08  0.30%  [ 0.03]  
K_{2}O  10.75%  0.63  16.92%  1.00  10.28%  [ 0.68] 
MgO  0.05%  0.01  
Na_{2}O  3.04%  0.27  2.91%  [ 0.29]  
Al_{2}O_{3}  18.50%  [ 1.00]  18.32%  [ 1.00]  17.35%  [ 1.05] 
SiO_{2}  66.30%  6.08  64.76%  6.00  69.00%  7.11 
Fe_{2}O_{3}  0.08%  0.00  0.12%  0.01  
LOI  0.16%  0.04% 
All common traditional ceramic base glazes are made from only a dozen elements (plus oxygen). Materials decompose when glazes melt, sourcing these elements in oxide form. The kiln builds the glaze from these, it does not care what material sources what oxide (assuming, of course, that all materials do melt or dissolve completely into the melt to release those oxides). Each of these oxides contributes specific properties to the glass. So, you can look at a formula and make a good prediction of the properties of the fired glaze. And know what specific oxide to increase or decrease to move a property in a given direction (e.g. melting behavior, hardness, durability, thermal expansion, color, gloss, crystallization). And know about how they interact (affecting each other). This is powerful. And it is simpler than looking at glazes as recipes of hundreds of different materials (each sources multiple oxides so adjusting it affects multiple properties).
Projects 
Oxides


URLs 
https://digitalfire.com/services/database.php?list=labs
Laboratories who can can do a chemical analysis on a material 
Glossary 
LOI
Loss on Ignition is a number that appears on the data sheets of ceramic materials. It refers to the amount of weight the material loses as it decomposes to release water vapor and various gases during firing. 
Glossary 
Oxide Formula
In ceramics, the chemistry of fired glazes is expressed as an oxide formula. There are direct links between the oxide chemistry and the fired physical properties. 
Glossary 
Glaze Chemistry
Glaze chemistry is the study of how the oxide chemistry of glazes relates to the way they fire. It accounts for color, surface, hardness, texturem, melting temperature, thermal expansion, etc. 
Glossary 
Unity Formula
The chemistry of ceramic glazes are normally expressed as formulas. A unity formula has been retotaled to make the numbers of flux oxides total one. 