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Potters and some manufacturers fire ceramic ware twice, once to prepare it for glazing (call bisquit firing) and the second time to melt the glaze onto it.

Key phrases linking here: bisquit firing, bisque firing, bisque fired, bisque-fired, bisque - Learn more


Generally, bisque firing refers to the practice of prefiring ware without glaze to make it impervious to water, resistant to damage during handling and absorbent for glazing. The porosity of the bisque (generally more than 15%) makes it an ideal medium to absorb water from the glaze suspension and hold it in place, it is typical for the glaze to dry sufficiently for handling in just a few seconds. The temperature of the bisque firing can be adjusted to tune the degree of porosity, and therefore the glazing characteristics. Bisquit should be fired as high as possible. Some companies fire high enough to get some glass formation so the ware has extra strength to resist cracking during fast firing. The Bisque also needs to be low enough to provide sufficient absorbency to make glaze application easy. Less porous ware can be successfully glazed by reducing water content of the glaze suspension, heating the ware before immersion in the glaze, additions of binders or flocculants, applying a thinner layer, etc.

Firing bisquit as high is possible is desirable for another reason: Higher temperatures and longer soaks burn off more products of decomposition, which produces more defect-free glaze surfaces in the final firing (since not as many gases need to bubble up through the melting glaze). In many situations, bisque temperature can be increased by 1 or 2 cones with little impact on the production process. In most situations, the bisque can be soaked at the end to provide more time for gas expulsion. Heavier ware needs to be soaked longer, sometimes a lot longer (hours) to fully drive out gases of decomposing organics and carbonates.

'Low' bisque firing is typical for pottery and ceramics while a 'vitrifying bisque' is done for bone china and some types of stoneware.'High' bisque firing is done to mature the body and burn off all the organics. Subsequent firing is usually done to apply a low-fire glaze. Glazing zero-porosity (or very slow porosity vitrified ware) is a challenge, such glazes must have special additives to make them gel and stick to the ware (i.e. calcium chloride, gum) and the production process is able to handle the extended drying time.

At times adjustments to bisque firing are recommended to solve problems like crazing. However crazing is caused by a thermal expansion mismatch between body and glaze, bisque firing is not related to this, it is at best a band-aid fix for marginal crazing situations, the crazing will appear with time anyway.

Some people wash bisque ware to prevent crawling. This actually does work in some circumstances because the less absorbent bisque makes it less likely to get the glaze on too thick (which causes crawling). But it is better to bisque higher (for less absorbency) or examine the glaze recipe and fix that. Glazes that have too little clay or have not been gelled can build a layer much more quickly. Glazes that have too much clay tend to crack during drying, then crawl during firing (calcine some of the clay to fix this). When the glaze has the right rheology and the bisque is the right density glazing will be much better.

Some people go to great efforts to keep dust off bisque ware before glazing. However, remember that glaze is a mixture of mineral dust and water so you are removing a small amount of dust and replacing it with a lot more.

Related Information

A dried terra cotta mug on the left, bisque fired to cone 06 on the right

These were fired to cone 06, about 1800F. Of course, there is normally some shrinkage so the bisque piece would be a little smaller. Even though the matrix is very porous and is under developed, the iron in the body is already beginning to impose its color.

Why would you bisque fire glazed ware? For transport for glaze firing.

These are high temperature stoneware mugs that have been bisque fired, glazed and then bisque fired again to cone 02. This is done so they can be handled without damage (they are being shipped to another location for firing to cone 10R). The glaze is quite durable at this point and would be difficult to damage.

Cone 6 glazes can seal the surface surprisingly early - melt flow balls reveal it

These are 10 gram balls of four different common cone 6 clear glazes fired to 1800F (bisque temperature). How dense are they? I measured the porosity (by weighing, soaking, weighing again): G2934 cone 6 matte - 21%. G2926B cone 6 glossy - 0%. G2916F cone 6 glossy - 8%. G1215U cone 6 low expansion glossy - 2%. The implications: G2926B is already sealing the surface at 1800F. If the gases of decomposing organics in the body have not been fully expelled, how are they going to get through it? Pressure will build and as soon as the glaze is fluid enough, they will enter it en masse. Or, they will concentrate at discontinuities and defects in the surface and create pinholes and blisters. Clearly, ware needs to be bisque fired higher than 1800F.

Lignite can be big trouble

Example of the lignite particles in a fireclay (Pine Lake) that have been exposed on the rim of a vessel after sponging. This is a coarse clay, but if it were incorporated into a recipe of a stoneware, glaze pinholing would be likey.

Oversize particles in a typical manufactured porcelain body

Example of the oversize particles from a 100 gram wet sieve analysis test of a powdered sample of a porcelain body made from North American refined materials. Although these materials are sold as 200 mesh, that designation does not mean that there are no particles coarser than 200 mesh. Here there are significant numbers of particles on the 100 and even 70 mesh screens. These contain some darker particles that could produce fired specks (if they are iron and not lignite); that goodness in this case they do not. Oversize particle is a fact of life in bodies made from refined materials and used by potters and hobbyists. Industrial manufacturers (e.g. tile, tableware, sanitaryware) commonly process the materials further, slurrying them and screening or ball milling; this is done to guarantee defect-free glazed surfaces.

How much does clay shrink when bisque fired?

Not much. These mugs were exactly the same height before a bisque firing to cone 06. The clay is a porcelain made from kaolin, feldspar and silica.

Lignite contamination in manufactured porcelain body

These contaminating particles are exposed on the rim of a bisque-fired mug. The liqnite ones have burned away but the iron particle is still there (and will produce a speck in the glaze). Remnants of the lignite remain inside the matrix and can pinhole glazes. Since ball clays are air floated (a stream of air takes away the lighter particles and the heavier ones recycle for regrinding) it seems that contamination like this would be impossible. But the equipment requires vigilance for correct operation, especially when there is pressure to maximize production. Ores in Tennessee are higher in coal than those in Kentucky. North American clay body manufacturers who confront ball clay suppliers with this contamination find that ceramic applications have become a very small part of the total ball clay market - complaints are not taken with the same seriousness as in the past.

Can you bisque fire at cone 02? Yes. But why? How?

The buff stoneware mug on the right was bisque fired at cone 02, the one on the left at cone 06. The cone 02 mug was immersed in the clear glaze for 1 second and allowed to dry. The other was glazed on the inside first, allowed to dry, then glazed on the outside with a 1 second dip. Of course, the cone 02 one took longer to dry. In spite of this, the glaze is thicker and more even on the one bisque fired to cone 02. How is the possible? The secret is the thixotropy of the glaze. When that is right, a one second dip will give the same thickness and evenness whether dry or bisque, 06 or 02. Why bisque fire to cone 02? To get a glazed surface free of pinholes on some stoneware clays.

Do not glaze bisque ware when it is too wet

These mugs are quite thin walled. A glaze has just been applied to the inside. Notice how it has water logged the bisque (you can see the contrast at the base, where the clay is a little thicker and has not changed color yet). Although there may be enough absorbency that a glaze could be applied now, it would still not be a good idea because it would completely waterlog the piece and result in a very long drying time. This is bad, not only because of process logistics, but also because slow drying glazes almost always crack and lift from the bisque (causing crawling).

Bisque temperature can be lower than you think

These bowls are made from a talc:ball clay mix, they are used for calcining Alberta and Ravenscrag Slips (each holds about one pound of powder). The one on the right was bisque fired to cone 04 (about 1950F). The one on the left was fired to only 1000F (540C, barely red heat), yet it is sintered and is impervious to water (strong enough to use for our calcining operations). That means that there is potential, in many production situations, to bisque a lot lower (and save energy). Primitive cultures made all their ware a very low temperatures. Tin foil melts at 660C (1220F) yet can be used on campfires for cooking (so the temperatures of primitive wares would have been low indeed).

Bisque-fix/kiln-patch made using sodium silicate and kyanite

Traditional kiln patching or bisque fixing products made by mixing refractory grog and sodium silicate can have amazingly low drying and firing shrinkages: We measure ~0.5% from wet to dry and ~1% from dry to cone 6 for a 30:70 sodium silicate: 48 mesh kyanite blend (because the kyanite has a particle size distribution that enables dense packing and it expands when fired). Here I tried filling the large gap in a bisque mug handle that was cracked completely in two. The kyanite stirs easily into the sodium silicate, it wets all particle surfaces rapidly. While the mix is not plastic it does have plenty of cohesion and can be formed and pressed into recesses. It hardens on surfaces (even your hands) quickly. Notice that the non-porous nature of the kyanite gives poor glaze coverage here, I could have alleviated this by applying a thin layer of the clay over the repair (with CMC gum and possibly a little frit for fire bonding to the kyanite below). Given the density at which this compound fires at cone 6 no other additions seem necessary. One user even adds white glue to non-fritted versions of this to aid in adhesion.

This is what happens when a kiln is bisque fired too fast

Fractured ware in a bisque kiln

In bisque kilns ware is being fired for the first time. If pieces are thick and the rate-of-rise is too fast then water (which is turning to steam) cannot escape fast enough. The internal pressure will fracture a piece like this that has not gone through a thermal drier. The schedule to fire this test brick was 150F/hr to 250 and hold 90, 200F/hr to 1640 no hold, 120F/hr to 1888 no hold. The fracture likely happened because the kiln schedule did not allocate enough hold time at 250°F or proceeded too fast to 1000°F. 250°F might sound like too high a temperature to do water smoking at because it is over boiling point, but in practice it does work in industrial kilns and driers with good airflow (which this kiln does not have).

Inbound Photo Links

How much does the size of a piece change when it is bisque fired? Glaze fired?


Typecodes Bisque Firing
Media Manually program your kiln or suffer glaze defects!
To do a drop-and-hold firing you must manually program your kiln controller. It is the secret to surfaces without pinholes and blisters.
Glossary Rheology
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).
By Tony Hansen
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