|Monthly Tech-Tip |
In ceramics, drying performance is very important to optimizing production. More plastic clays shrink more and crack more, but they are also better to work with.
Refers to the ability of a clay to dry without cracking (excluding process factors). Lab results for drying factor (DFAC test) and drying shrinkage (SHAB test) along with observations of the material's performance in actual use can give a well-rounded picture of its drying performance. Of course, the expected performance is always related to the type of ware being made and the economic and convenience costs associated with drying it the necessary way to avoid cracking.
Clay having a lower drying shrinkage normally dries better (without cracking). However it can also dry poorly if lacking excessively in dry strength. Likewise, clays with higher drying shrinkage normally dry more poorly. But good dry strength can help them dry better than you might expect (also because stronger clays have higher plasticity and thus dry slower). Adding an aggregate or fiber to a plastic body can greatly improve its drying performance (because of shrinkage reduction, greater permeability to water passage and micro-crack termination by the aggregate particles). In fact, bodies that would be very difficult to dry on their own can be superior driers if they contain lots of grog.
Drying performance tests can be done in simple ways. Typical ones normally accelerate the drying of one section of a sample while slowing down water release in another section. This sets up a situation where the rigid section resists the shrinkage of the undried section. Differences in the type of failure provides opportunities to rate one clay against another.
These are made from a 50:50 mix of bentonite and ball clay! The drying shrinkage is 14%, more than double that of normal pottery clay. It should be impossible to dry them, the most bentonite bodies can normally tolerate is 5%. Yet notice that the handle joins with the walls are flawless, not even a hairline crack (but the base has cracked a little). Remember that the better the mixing and wedging, the smaller the piece, the thinner the walls, the better the joins, the more even the water content is throughout the piece during the entire drying cycle and the more damp of a climate you live in the better your drying success will be. What did it take to dry these: 1 month under cloth and plastic! I changed the cloth every couple of days. So by implementing these same principles you will have better drying success.
Then they may need a week to dry! This plate had a one-inch-thick base (while the rim is a quarter of that). During the first few hours a thin rim like this will dry quickly, leaving the base far behind. But as soon as it would support the weight of a cover-cloth I put it into a garbage bag and sealed and left it for several days. Even after that it did not detach easily from the plaster, even though the bat had been dry. When I did get it off the base was still quite soft but the rim was stiff enough to enable turning it over and trimming it (I endeavoured to create a cross section of even thickness). Then I dried it under layers of cloth for several more days. It took at least a week. Had I allowed the rim to dry out during the first few hours it would likely have cracked later on.
The foot ring on these hard mugs has already been trimmed. At the stiff-leather-hard stage an engobe was applied to the inside. This rewet the bodies of the mugs, almost to the same point as freshly-thrown. But the handles did not get rewetted. To re-dry these mugs to the point of being able to turn them over will take 4-6 more hours. But by that time the handles will be bone dry. To prevent that I waxed them after trimming. That slows their drying down enough to keep them even with the body of the mug. To dry ware successfully the key is to keep all parts of a piece of the same water content throughout the process.
Half of these Plainsman Polar Ice mugs cracked. But I know exactly why it happened! After throwing them I put them on a slowly rotating wheelhead in front of a fan to stiffen them enough so I could attach the handles quickly. Of course, I forgot them and they got quite stiff on the lip (while the bottom was still wet). I quickly attached the handles and then covered them with cloth and plastic and let them sit for two days to let them even out. Notwithstanding that, that early gradient sealed their destiny. The lesson: At no time in the drying process should any part of a piece be significantly ahead of another part.
The heat lamp dries the out edge in minutes (this photo makes it appear hotter than it really is). The center section of the disk is protected by the glazed bowl and takes an hour or more to dry. This sets up stresses that cause the disk to crack. The nature and size of the cracks enable establishing a drying factor value for the clay.
This DFAC test for drying performance compares a typical white stoneware body (left) and the same body with 10% added 50-80 mesh molochite grog. The character of the crack changes somewhat, but otherwise there appears to be no improvement. While the grog addition reduces drying shrinkage by 0.5-0.75% it also cuts dry strength (as a result, the crack is jagged, not a clean line). The grog vents water to the surface better, notice the soluble salts do not concentrate as much. Another issue is the jagged edges of the disk, it is more difficult to cut a clean line in the plastic clay.
The lid of my firing kiln seems to be just the right environment for even drying, even of freshly thrown pieces. By the time this mug really got under way here the kiln was at 1000F and the lid was getting pretty hot. The bottom was the warmest and the top coolest, the exact opposite of how drying normally becomes uneven (the top drying first). This principle could be employed to make a heated drying chamber. The interior space could be kept at high humidity and a draft of air through it could remove humid air and the needed rate.
A broken section of dried paper clay (a kaolin-only porcelain). This contains 1% by weight paper fiber. Notice the fibers at the break, these give it great strength in the green state. At 1% there is a significant effect on the working properties of the plastic material. It is much tougher, resistant to tearing. But it is harder to achieve a smooth surface. 1% is likely the most paper you would want to put in a body for common use.
Two mugs have dried. The clay on the left shrinks 7.5% on drying, the one on the right only 6%. Yet it consistently cracks less! Not the slightest hairline crack, not even at the handle joins. Why? Green or dry strength. If the dry clay matrix has the strength it can resist cracking even if there are stresses from uneven drying. The clay on the right is made using Kentucky ball clay, which has good plasticity but fairly low drying strength. The clay on the left is a native terra cotta, very plastic and very strong in the green state (likely double or triple the white clay). To demonstrate further: If paper fiber were added to the white clay, it would not crack. Why? Not because it would shrink less with the added fiber, no, the shrinkage would stay the same. Increased strength imparted by the fiber would give it the power to resist cracking.
Examples of various sized grogs from CE Minerals, Christy Minerals, Plainsman Clays. Grogs are added to clays, especially those used for sculpture, hand building and industrial products like brick and pipe (to improve drying properties). The grog reduces the drying shrinkage and individual particles terminate micro-cracks as they develop (larger grogs are more effective at the latter, smaller at the former). Grogs having a narrower range of particle sizes (vs. ones with a wide range of sizes) are often the most effective additions. Grogs having a thermal expansion close to that of the fired body, a low porosity, lighter color and minimal iron contamination are the most sought after (and the most expensive).
These particles are from a grog that has been milled and separated into its constituent sizes in the lab. As you can see it has a wide range of particle sizes, from 48 to finer than 200 mesh. When fired ceramic (like bricks) is ground the finer sizes often predominate. Because the coarser grades have a lower yield they can be much more expensive and harder to get. But they are the most effective in reducing the drying shrinkage and fired stability of structural and sculptural bodies.
These DFAC test disks (drying performance) show that minor additions of grog do not reduce the fired shrinkage of this medium fire stoneware much. Nor do they improve its drying performance. In this example, a 10% addition has not reduced shrinkage appreciably nor has it improved drying performance. The 20% addition has reduced the shrinkage and narrowed the crack, but it is still there and resembles the zero-grog version.
Drying disks used for the DFAC test are 12cm in diameter and 5mm thick (wet). A crack pattern develops in almost all common pottery clays as they shrink during drying. This happens because the center portion is covered and stays soft while the perimeter dries hard. This sets up a tug-of-war with the later-drying inner section pulling at the outer rigid perimeter and forcing a crack (starting from the center). If the clay has high plasticity and dry strength it can pull so hard from the center that cracks appear at the outer dried edge to relieve the tension. Or, it can create cracks that run parallel to the outer edge but at the boundary between the inner and outer sections. The nature, number and width of the cracks are interpreted to produce a drying factor that can be recorded.
The center portion was covered and so it lagged behind during drying, setting up stresses that caused the disk to crack. This test is such that most pottery clays will exhibit a crack. The severity of the crack becomes a way to compare drying performances. Notice the test also shows soluble salts concentrating around the outer perimeter, they migrated there from the center section because it was not exposed to the air.
The ideal drying chamber is a tunnel. Starter tunnels pass wheeled-ware-carts single file. Hot dry air enters where the ware exits. The moving air touches all surfaces and picks up humidity as it moves toward the ware entrance. The tunnel must be calibrated so that air reaching the entrance, is still very warm, but of high humidity (laden with water it got from ware down the tunnel). When an equal volume of ware is passing constantly, manual calibration of cart movement, air volume and temperature is possible. But if flow is not constant then your "dynamic system" needs multi-location monitoring and intervention. Locating wireless thermometer/hygrometers and actuators is a good early-start to the project. ESP8266 controllers are revolutionizing industrial control. As cheap as $5, they are tiny but completely capable battery-powered WIFI servers. One of these little things can email you! Even display a web page. These communicate with a central dashboard online (in-plant control systems are now obsolete). There are many online dashboard services that talk to these devices and display results graphically. And it is easy to make your own. Hiring a technician on upwork.com to design a system for you is only a matter of a few thousand (even hundreds) of dollars. Shown here is an Amazon listing for a development kit of an 8266, sensor and cables. I included a listing for a ready-made one, but it is expensive, not well described. A similar product line sells under the name "SensorPush".
During drying, clay particles draw together and shrinkage occurs. During firing the matrix densifies and shrinkage continues. More vitreous bodies shrink more.
Drying Ceramics Without Cracks
Anything ceramic ware can be dried if it is done slowly and evenly enough. To dry faster optimize the body recipe, ware cross section, drying process and develop a good test to rate drying performance.
Clay Cracking During Drying
The best way to avoid drying cracks when making ceramics or pottery is to avoid doing the things that cause it. Do not just blame the clay, anything can technically be dried.