A method of forming ceramics where a deflocculated (low water content) slurry is poured into absorbent plaster molds, forming a layer against mold walls, then poured out.
Forming pottery by pouring deflocculated (water reduced) clay slurry into plaster molds. In the process the absorbent plaster pulls water from the slurry and over a period (e.g. 20 minutes) a layer builds up against the mold surface. The slurry is then poured out and within a short time the item shrinks slightly and can be removed from the mold.
The sanitary ware industry produces the largest tonnage of products using this process. Water closets and sinks are made by casting porcelains in very complex many-part molds. Molds are heavy, cast sections are thick and take considerable time to release and extract from the molds. By contrast, fine delicate porcelain items can be cast very thin and quickly.
But almost any type of powdered ceramic can be made into a slurry and cast. If the slurry can be suspended and deflocculated, it shrinks enough on drying and has enough strength to hold itself together as it pulls away from the mold, it can be cast. Clays that are high in soluble sulphates do not deflocculate well (they gel). Even non-plastics like calcined alumina and silicon carbide can be cast by incorporating small additions of plasticizers and binders (to impart leather hard and dry strength and some shrinkage). Since the whitest burning clays have low plasticity, casting lends itself to producing white burning ware.
In industry, casting rate is important. Items need to cast quickly (build up a layer against the mold) and extract from the mold quickly (shrink away and hold together as extracted). Molds need to be dried rapidly. Much automation has been devised to speed these processes. In addition, much can be done to fine-tune the balance of permeability and plastic strength of a body. It is important to understand the role of each material in the body recipe. Compared to a plastic body a typical industrial casting body has much more kaolin, less ball clay and usually no bentonite. Ball clays and kaolins of the largest ultimate particle size are preferred (since these are more permeable to water and therefore cast faster).
Because casting bodies are relatively non-plastic they have low drying shrinkages and ware can be dried quickly with much less likelihood of cracking. Pieces do not even need to be covered during drying.
3D printing technology has many applications to casting, it is useful for mold making and tooling.
This bowl is 13cm across yet has a wall thickness of less than 2mm and weighs only 101g! It released from the mold with no problems and dried perfectly round. But it has a key advantage over stonewares and porcelains: When this is fired at cone 04-06 it will stay round!
20% 20-40 mesh grog was added to a Pyrax/Kaolin thermal shock body. While the insides of the pieces have a very rough surface, the outsides are smooth! Grogged casting slips have issues with the particle settling during storage and casting, however in this body the grog suspends long enough for a 15 minute casting time (and it easily mixes back in after storage). Pieces can be put into the kiln wet-out-of-the-mold and fast-heated to 250F and they do not crack.
This is 1100cc of water and 3000 grams of M370-2 casting. Amazingly, it is possible to get all that powder into that little bit of water. And still fit in the container (2250cc) and still produce a very fluid slurry for casting. How is this possible? That water has 11 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 a little more water than is in a throwing clay! This is a test mix of M370-2 casting (it uses a large-particle kaolin), my pieces cast in 7 minutes (less than half the normal time). Using a good propeller mixer (in a bigger container of course) the slurry can be mixed silky smooth in a couple of minutes.
The slip on the right has way too much Darvan deflocculant. Because the new recipe substitutes a large-particle kaolin for the original fine-particled material, it only requires about half the amount of Darvan. Underestimating that fact, I put in three-quarters of the amount. The over-deflocculated slurry cast too thin, is not releasing from the mold (therefore cracking) and the surface is dusty and grainy even though the clay is still very damp. On my second attempt I under-supplied the Darvan. That slurry gelled, did not drain well at all and it cast too thick. On the third attempt I hit the jackpot! Not only does it have 1.8 specific gravity (SG), but the slurry flowed really well, cast quickly, drained perfectly and the piece released from the mold in five minutes. Interestingly, on a fourth mix I made an error, putting in too much water, getting 1.6SG. The casting behavior was similar to the over-deflocculated slip (even though the Darvan content was much lower). A good casting slip is a combination of a good recipe, the right SG and the correct level of deflocculation.
It was glued down using the casting slip itself (it stuck in seconds). About ten minutes after draining a fettling knife was run around the inside, then it detached easily. The overhung lip produced imparts structural strength, for drying and firing, to the thin walled piece. This spout has advantages over the traditional "spare" built in to the upper part of a mold. It enables a one-piece mold. The lip can be more overhung. Draining is cleaner and easier. Molds are lighter. Extraction can be done sooner and it is easier. The spout does not absorb so there is less scrap. The degree of overhang is adjustable by simply printing new spouts.
To-the-brim the bucket holds 8.8 liters (2.43 Canadian gal, 1.9 US gal). The slip itself weighs 14 kg (30 lb). It has a specific gravity of between 1.75 and 1.8. The slurry was power-mixed in a larger bucket.
These molds are 3D-printed from PLA filament. They are part of my 2019 year-long casting-jiggering project. A quick soaping, 164g water, 236g plaster and a fifteen minute set produced this plaster mold. It takes time to learn how to soap the masters properly to get optimum quality, but these molds seem to work well regardless. The two halves mate with a tiny amount of play, but it is easy to line them up perfectly (the play actually enables lateral movement that aids in releasing the handle). It is actually easier to cast handles solid rather than pour the slip out, they can be ready to apply in an hour after pouring. The ease of making these molds puts slip casting within much easier reach for potters and small companies.
These are cone 6 commercial glazes made by a popular US manufacturer. The body is a cone 6 casting porcelain made by another popular manufacturer. Zoom the photo, they are all crazing! Which company is at fault? Neither has the responsibility (or is able, especially with stonewares and porcelains) to match their product to that of every other company. The pattern we see here points-the-finger at the body. Mid-fire porcelains craze glazes much more if they lack sufficient silica (20% is minimum). It is difficult for manufacturers to achieve this since much more feldspar is needed to vitrify the body. And the potter does not know the recipe of the porcelain. What to do then? One option is to get a porcelain from another supplier, with assurances from them about glaze fit. Better yet, mix your own. Casters need a mixer anyway, so why not? We can help you with a recipe if you need it. Actually, mixing your own glaze also would get rid of those micro-bubbles and give a glassier surface.
The very whitest porcelains are made from New Zealand kaolin. However, while Grolleg kaolin does not fire quite as white, it requires up to 10% less feldspar to produce a vitreous porcelain (it contains natural feldspar). That 10% less spar can be made up in kaolin, imparting better workability and dry strength to the body (and Grolleg is known for its dry strength). Assuming that 25% silica is needed for glaze fit, one only needs to discover what blend of feldspar and kaolin in the remaining 75% achieves the desired degree of vitrification (e.g. we like zero porosity just-reached at cone 6). We found 25% nepheline was too vitreous (pieces warped) and at 20% porosity was not yet zero. While the Grolleg version fires a little darker, the better workability imparted by the extra kaolin makes up for that. The plasticity needed for good throwing requires the addition of bentonite (4% for NZK and 3% for Grolleg). Both of these can be made into casting bodies by reducing the amount of bentonite (~ 1% for NZK, 0.5% for Grolleg). Do your testing to discover the % of bentonite needed for the leather hard to pull away from a mold without cracking but not take too long to cast.
This cone 6 white glaze is crawling on the inside and outside of a thin-walled cast piece. This happened because the thick glaze application took a long time to dry, this extended period, coupled with the ability of the thicker glaze layer to assert its shrinkage, compromised the fragile bond between dried glaze and fairly smooth body. To solve this problem the ware could be heated before glazing, the glaze applied thinner, or glazing the inside and outside could be done as separate operations with a drying period between.
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.
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).
With a simple open shape like this a thin wall (2-3mm) bowl can be cast in minutes and removed from the mold in minutes more. No other method can produce such thin and even ware with this kind of ease.
These are part of the procedure for the SHAB test. The length of the bars is entered into a recipe record in your account at insight-live.com. When Insight-live has these numbers it can calculate the drying and fired shrinkages.
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.
The slurry contained insufficient Davan deflocculant. During casting it gelled excessively in the mold. Even shaking the piece while pouring out the slip was not enough to loosen it up and get a good drain. If slurry rheology is not right the quality of ware produced is affected.
In ceramics, this term refers to the flow and gel properties of a glaze or body suspension (made from water and mineral powders, with possible additives, deflocculants, modifiers).
The deflocculation process is the magic behind the ceramic casting process. It enables you to make a slurry of far lower water content and thus lower shrinkage.
The term Slip can have various meanings in traditional ceramics.
Water in Ceramics
Water is the most important ceramic material, it is present every body, glaze or engobe and either the enabler or a participant in almost every ceramic process and phenomena.
In ceramics, the specific gravity of casting slurries and glazes tells us their water-to-solids. Body slurries especially require tight control of this property for performance reasons.
Understanding the Deflocculation Process in Slip Casting
Understanding the magic of deflocculation and how to measure specific gravity and viscosity, and how to interpret the results of these tests to adjust the slip, these are the key to controlling a casting process.