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Specific gravity

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.

Key phrases linking here: specific gravity - Learn more


A comparison of the weights of equal volumes of a given liquid and water. Water has a specific gravity of 1.0. A ceramic slurry with a specific gravity of 1.8 is thus 1.8 times heavier than water. The specific gravity of ceramic slurries rises as the percentage water content drops. In ceramics the specific gravity of clay, engobe, underglaze and glaze slurries must be monitored.

Measuring Specific Gravity:

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 whereas 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 1.8. 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 1.25 up to 1.55 (some companies emphasize brushability and their products are on the lower end). 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 works 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 that need to be applied (by painting) in a thin layer need a lower specific gravity (e.g. 1.25).

It may be that measuring the water content is easier and more appropriate for what you are doing. It can also be easier to measure if you have an automated device or a heat lamp.

Related Information

Slip having proper rheology is so much better

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.

When to use a hydrometer and when not to

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, 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.

More problems measuring glaze specific gravity using a hydrometer

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.

Measuring glaze slurry specific gravity

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, 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.

Specific gravity using a scale and measuring cup

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.

Simpler way to quickly measure slurry specific gravity

Slurry in graduated cylinder

Counterbalance the graduated cylinder and pour in some slurry (being careful not to exceed the total weight the scale can handle). Then divide the weight by the volume. In this case it weighs 60.6g and the volume is 41. That calculates to about 1.47 specific gravity.

A casting slip of 1.9 specific gravity. Should we use it?

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).

What to do when glazes drain and drip like this

Two mugs, one with glaze drips

These are the same dipping glaze, it is variegated and drips look ugly on fired ware. 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 and rolled it did this (this is ugly in the firing). Why fix the slurry instead of just rubbing this out? Keep reading. To fix this I added water to decrease the specific gravity to 1.43. Then I added Epsom salts to induce thixotropy and gel it back to a creamy consistency. This time it went on evenly. 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 addition of CMC gum would also slow down drying but it would be very tricky to get just the right amount (otherwise dripping could be worse than this). Consider a few of the advantages of thixotropic dipping glazes: They don't settle like a rock in the bucket, they don't go on too thick or in multiple thicknesses, they don't drip and they don't dry too fast.

Glaze at 1.7 specific gravity on green-ware. Way too thick!

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.

Specific gravities on three commercial glazes might surprise you

The freshly opened transparent low-fire glaze on the left has a specific gravity of only 1.34 (a high water content compared to dipping glazes). Yet it is viscous and holds in place because they add a lot of gum. It needs three coats to go on thick enough and requires quite a bit of time to dry each one. Highly fritted transparent glazes need to be applied thin enough to be clear, thick enough to be glassy smooth but not too thick (to avoid clouding). Amaco likely targets the low specific gravity to enable good control of thickness. The center Potter's Choice glaze, is 1.52. And thus goes on nice and thick with each coat. 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 impart the needed rheology and brushing characteristics.

Very low specific gravities on two commercial underglazes

Commercial underglazes with low specific gravities

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 gelling agent). When doing underglaze decorative brushwork it is important to get adequate thickness with each 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).

Inbound Photo Links

Terra cotta underglaze problem
The glaze firing reveals that the specific gravity of this V-303 terra cotta under glaze is too low


Tests Rheology of a Ceramic Slurry
Specific Gravity at Wikipedia
D-Glaze automatic glaze density controller
Glossary Slip Casting
A method of forming ceramics. A deflocculated (low water content) slurry is poured into absorbent plaster molds. As it sits in the mold, usually 10+ minutes, a layer builds against the mold walls. When thick enough the mold is drained.
Glossary Viscosity
In ceramic slurries (especially casting slips, but also glazes) the degree of fluidity of the suspension is important to its performance.
Glossary Thixotropy
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.
Glossary Spray Glazing
In ceramic industry glazes are often sprayed, especially in sanitary ware. The technique is important.
Glossary Glaze Layering
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?
Glossary Deflocculation
Deflocculation is the magic behind the ceramic casting process, it enables slurries having impossibly low water contents and ware having amazingly low drying shrinkage
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).
Recipes 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.
Troubles Uneven Glaze Coverage
The secret to getting event glaze coverage lies in understanding how to make thixotropy, specific gravity and viscosity work for you
Troubles 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.
Media 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.
Articles 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.
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