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In ceramics, the specific gravity of slurries tells us their water-to-solids ratio. That ratio is a key indicator of performance and enabler of consistency.
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Specific gravity is very important in the production of casting slips where low-as-possible (or, more accurately, low-as-practical) water content is needed. Hobbyists and potters typically target around 1.75 wheres in industry 1.8 or higher is needed (especially in sanitaryware). Normal clay-based slurries used in traditional ceramics that are outside this range just do not have good working properties. Achieving a slurry having a specific gravity approaching twice that of water is only possible using the deflocculation process. When slurries are not behaving normally (e.g. settling, gelling, casting too slowly or unevenly, not draining from the mold properly, not releasing, producing a powdery surface) the first step in isolating the reason is a specific gravity measurement. Corrections in water content are always made before assessing whether the amount of deflocculant is correct. A good example of the logic is a slurry having too low a specific gravity: It can exhibit similar casting issues to an over-deflocculated one, the best way to know whether a water or deflocculant change is needed is knowing the specific gravity.
Glazes do not have a universally desirable specific gravity range like casting slips. The same glaze can be used effectively by different people and in different processes having quite different specific gravities. We have seen production glazes with specific gravities approaching 1.75. Some industries even prepare their glazes up to 2.0 (obviously highly deflocculated), something that would be impossible for the average potter. Commercial brushing glazes can have specific gravities ranging from below 1.3 up to 1.55 (some companies emphasize brushability and their products will be on the lower end and require more coats, but remember that you are paying for water with these). Caution is needed here. Some glaze recipes, when mixed to the apparent correct viscosity (having no additives), will have a fairly high specific gravity (e.g. 1.55-1.6). These commonly settle out into a hard layer on the bottom of the container. Raising the water content (thus lowering the specific gravity) and gelling the slurry (using vinegar for example) is a way to deal with this. Notwithstanding this, doing the opposite, deflocculating the slurry, is also a way to prevent sedimentation (provided it is still viscous). Potters who make their own glaze generally do best with them between 1.45 and 1.50.
Dipping glaze slurries that are 'gelled' work best for potters because they apply more evenly, drip less and do not settle. To be gelled the specific gravity has to be lower-than-normal and then a flocculant added to bring it back to a creamy consistency. For many common partially-fritted glaze recipes this occurs around 1.43 to 1.45 specific gravity. The addition of Epsom salts or vinegar to the slurry gels it and imparts the property of thixotropy. The important thing is to determine, by experience with a specific glaze, what specific gravity and flocculation procedure work well, then stick to that for future batches.
Dark-colored, paint-on glazes used for detail work need to have a high specific gravity so they can cover well with a single brush stroke (e.g. 1.55). Clear glazes than need to be applied (by painting) in a thin layer need a lower specific gravity (e.g. 1.25).
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. It 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 skin and drain poorly. If it had too little deflocculant it would gel in the mold and be difficult to pour out. The rheology is just right.
If a glaze has already been mixed and gelled to give it thixotropy these things won't bob up and down to home in on the right level. If the glaze is watery enough there are other issues. The one on the right has a 1.0-1.7 scale. Since most pottery glazes need to be 1.4-1.5 specific gravity (40-50 on this scale) it is difficult to get a very accurate reading. And it is long, you will need a container tall enough to float it and enough glaze to fill it. The small hydrometer appears better, it has a scale of 1.2 to 1.45. But it really bobs up and down (so it is even more important that the slurry be runny and thin to give it the freedom to do so). But glaze slurries are creamy. So it is better to weigh a measured volume of glaze slurry and calculate the SG instead. The easiest is a 100cc graduated cylinder (from Amazon.com), if 100 ccs weighs 140 grams, that is 1.4 specific gravity. You don't even have to pour in 100cc, just pour in any amount and divide the weight by the amount.
Potters sometimes call this a "floating thingy". Maybe, because of the problems it presents, it does not make a big enough impression to remember the name! Because of the length of the hydrometer the only container we have is this graduated cylinder. I have to fill it just the right level so it reads near the top. OK, fine. But the hydrometer needs to bob up and down to find home. However, this glaze has our desired thixotropy, which prevents free movement. OK, I will carefully help it find home by pushing it down a little. But then it doesn’t want to bob back up! Ok, I’ll pull it up ... then is doesn't want to go back down to where it should float. Not great. Next problem: The glaze is opaque, I can’t see the reading. Yikes! A better way would be to throw out the hydrometer and just tare the empty cylinder on a scale, fill it to 100 and read the SG as the weight/100. Or fill it to any mark and divide the weight by that.
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 viscous to enable free movement). Just counterbalance the empty graduated cylinder to zero (you can buy these at amazon.com), fill it to the 100cc mark and the scale reading divided by 100 is the specific gravity. Be careful on cheap plastic graduated cylinders like this, check them with water and mark the true 100cc mark if needed. You could actually use any container, just fill it with water and mark the level, then fill to the same level with slurry and divide the slurry weight by water weight.
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.
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).
These are the same dipping glaze. The slurry of the one on the left had a specific gravity of 1.45, it was creamy and appeared to be good. However, when this bisque porcelain mug was pulled out after the dip it dried so fast that it would not even out around the lip (in spite of my efforts to roll it). To fix this I added water to decrease the specific gravity to 1.43 (making it quite watery). Then I added Epsom salts to induce thixotropy (gel it), bringing it back to a creamy consistency. This time it went on evenly. Notice the darker color, it is still damp. Although the piece dries enough to handle in less than 30 seconds, it does take longer to dry completely because there is more water in the slurry. An alternative way to slow down drying would be the addition of CMC gum, but it would be very tricky to get just the right amount (otherwise dripping could be worse than this).
This is G2926B clear cone 6 glaze deflocculated with Darvan. Because the Darvan is thinning it, 2.5kg of glaze powder is suspended in only 1100g (1100ml) of water (half the normal amount). While the slurry in the bucket flows well and appears like it should work, a one-second dip produces twice the desired thickness. It dries slowly and it is very difficult to prevent runs. The lesson: Make sure the specific gravity (SG) of your glazes is right. What should the SG be? Measure it when your glaze is working well. Or take note of it in instructions that come with the recipes you use. For bisque ware: 1.43-1.45 with a flocculant (like Vinegar or powdered Epsom Salts) added to gel the slurry slightly.
AMACO and Crysanthos. 1.26 (67.5% water) and 1.22 (68% water)! The former is well below their recommended specific gravity of 1.4 (it still paints well but needs more coats and more time to dry and apply them). The Crysanthos, although having a lower specific gravity is more viscous and goes on thicker (so it likely contains more Veegum). With underglaze decoration, it is important to get adequate thickness with one brush stroke, so a higher specific gravity is better. This may be reason enough to consider making your own (by adding stain powders to a base and using Veegum CER to gel the slurry, slow down its drying and harden it well at the dried state).
The freshly opened transparent low fire glaze on the left has a specific gravity of only 1.34 (thus has a high water content). Yet it is viscous and holds in place because they add alot of gum. It needs three coats to go on thick enough and takes quite a bit of time to dry each one. For low SG glazes like this dipping is pretty well impossible. That being said, highly fritted transparent glazes do need to be applied thinner and they actually do not work well at higher specific gravities, AMACO is right to produce it at this low specific gravity. The center Potter's Choice glaze, made by the same company, is 1.52. And thus goes on nice and thick with each coat (and is thus a better deal). That glaze likely contains lots of clay so little or no gelling agent (e.g. Veegum) is needed. The Celadon glaze on the right is in between, 1.46. Glaze manufacturers can produce at a broad range of specific gravities, they adapt the percentage of gum (e.g. Veegum and CMC gum) to the nature of the powdered materials in the recipe to impart the needed rheology and brushing characteristics.
Rheology of a Ceramic Slurry
D-Glaze automatic glaze density controller
Specific Gravity at Wikipedia
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).
Deflocculation is the magic behind the ceramic casting process, it enables slurries having impossibly low water contents and ware having amazingly low drying shrinkage
In hobby ceramics and pottery it is common to layer glazes for visual effects. Using brush-on glazes it is easy. But how to do it with dipping glazes? Or apply brush-ons on to dipped base coats?
In ceramic industry glazes are often sprayed, especially in sanitary ware. The technique is important.
Thixotropy is a property of ceramic slurries. Thixotropic suspensions flow when you want them to and then gel after sitting for a few moments. This phenomenon is helpful in getting even, drip free glaze coverage.
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.
In ceramic slurries (especially casting slips, but also glazes) the degree of fluidity of the suspension is important to its performance.
Powdering, Cracking and Settling Glazes
Powdering and dusting glazes are difficult and a dust hazard. Shrinking and cracking glazes fall off and crawl. The cause is the wrong amount or type of clay.
Uneven Glaze Coverage
The secret to getting event glaze coverage lies in understanding how to make thixotropy, specific gravity and viscosity work for you
Thixotropy and How to Gel a Ceramic Glaze
I will show you why thixotropy is so important. Glazes that you have never been able to suspend or apply evenly will work beautifully.
G2926B - Cone 6 Whiteware/Porcelain transparent glaze
A base transparent glaze recipe created by Tony Hansen for Plainsman Clays, it fires high gloss and ultra clear with low melt mobility.
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.
|By Tony Hansen|
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