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Terra cotta vs. low fire red stoneware

These terra cotta mugs are fired at cone 03. Although the glaze on the left one is melted well the terra cotta itself has a porosity of more than 10%. The mug on the right is a finer grained terra cotta with added frit to make it vitrify. It is thus dramatically stronger and more durable, rivalling high temperature stoneware. Neither of the glazes are crazed, but the glaze on the right is much more firmly attached and resistant to future crazing. Does the mug on the left have an advantage? Yes. Although both can withstand hot coffee being poured in, the one on the left can withstand more dramatic thermal shocks without the piece itself cracking.

Context: Terra cotta

Thursday 15th October 2020

Knowing about recipe limits would save you the work of testing this glaze

A recipe accompanied by fancy pictures that make it look credible

This is an example of a recipe being trafficked online that raises red flags just looking at it. The first red flag: There is no silica! That means this is a low fire glaze masquerading as middle temperature, so it is going to run during firing (run a lot). It will also mean poor durability. There is a ton of feldspar, that means a high level of sodium. Without low-expansion MgO to counterbalance it's high thermal expansion the glaze is likely going to craze badly. The mechanism of the crystallization is titanium over-supply, this has triple the maximum I would ever put in a glaze. The crystallization happens during cooling in the kiln (producing the visual effect being sought). But the the surface produced will cutlery mark and stain, probably very badly. Given the unbalanced chemistry this has, any colorant added will likely be leachable! I tested it and all my fears were realized. My slow-cool firing made the surface so dry it was very unpleasant to touch. Maybe this needs fast cooling. But who knows, there are no notes. This does not appear to belong on any functional ware, inside or outside. Someone noted that people use this to produce layering effects (see links). That begs documentation on how that wold work. Without gum would it lift and crawl as layers are added over it. Would you have to overlay every square inch? Would it still craze? All the how-to information needed to make it work are more important that the recipe itself.

Context: Trafficking in Glaze Recipes, Crystal Magic at cone6pots.com, Stephen Hill Pottery, Limit Recipe

Thursday 15th October 2020

A novel way to test glaze compression and fit

Two coffee mugs, one cracked, the other shattered

These are made from L4005D red cone 6 stoneware (M390 casting). Both are cast and a thin-walled (half of what a thrown piece would be). They are glazed only on the inside to encourage cracking/splitting if the glaze is under compression (the thermal expansion of the glaze is significantly less than that of the body). And that is what happened here. The piece on the left cracked after a tap with a hammer. Notice how the crack has opened. The piece is "spring-loaded" (press the crack together and it reopens on release). The glaze is GA6-B. The piece on the right is glazed with G1214Z. It spontaneously exploded in half about 5 hours after exit from the kiln. On further taps with a hammer pieces fractured with equal enthusiasm! The white glaze is under too much compression. But the other is closer to acceptable. It is obviously under no danger of crazing. Is the compression too great? Another thick-walled piece exiting the same kiln was glazed inside and out. It was very strong.

Context: Glaze Compression

Thursday 15th October 2020

G1916Q transparent on terra cotta body at cone 06, 05, 03

Three clear-glaze terra cotta mugs with rich red color

The body is Plainsman L215. We used the 04DSDH firing schedule. The glaze is inexpensive to make so we have a 2 gallon bucket. It has good dipping much like a stoneware glaze so it is easy to apply quickly and evenly. For most terra cottas, body strength increases dramatically by cone 03. However the most transparent and glassy glaze surface happens at cone 06. Terra cotta bodies need to be bisque fired fairly low (e.g. cone 06) to have enough porosity to work well with dipping glazes. After cone 06 they generate increasing amounts of gases (as various particle species decompose within), for this reason the glazes can have more micro-bubble clouding or tiny dimples in the surface. This glaze has 2% iron oxide added as a fining agent to remove the bubbles. That iron also reddens the color and variegates the surface somewhat. Even though the surface character at cone 03 is not a smooth, it has a natural charm, and the color is very rich. And that piece has stoneware durability and strength.

Context: G1916Q, Terra cotta

Thursday 15th October 2020

The magic of a small barium carbonate addition to a clay body

Two bisqued terracotta mugs. The clay on the right has 0.35% added barium carbonate (it precipitated the natural soluble salts dissolved in the clay and prevented them coming to the surface with the water and being left there during drying). The process is called efflorescence and is the bane of the brick industry. The one on the left is the natural clay. The unsightly appearance is fingerprints from handling the piece in the leather-hard state, the salts have concentrated in these areas (the other piece was also handled, but has very little marking).

Context: Barium Carbonate, The Use of Barium in Clay Bodies, Efflorescence

Saturday 10th October 2020

What if you just cannot solve a pinhole problem?

Pinholing on the inside of a cone 6 whiteware bowl. This is glaze G2926B. The cause is likely a combination of thick glaze layer and gas-producing particles in the body. Bodies containing ball clays and bentonites often have particles in the +150 and even +100 mesh sizes. The presence of such particles is often sporadic, thus it is possible to produce defect-free ware for a time. But at some point problems will be encountered. Companies in large production need to have fast firing schedules, so they either have to filter press or wet process these bodies to remove the particles. Or, they need to switch to more expensive bodies containing only kaolins and highly processed plasticizers. But potters have the freedom to use drop-and-hold or slow-cool firing schedules, that single factor can solve even serious pinholing issues.

Context: Ball Clay, Bentonite, Carbon Burnout, Drop-and-Soak Firing, Pinholing

Wednesday 7th October 2020

The incredible plasticity of bentonite. And a lesson it teaches.

Two dissected vases, side-by-side, showing the comparison in wall thickness

The 20cm vase on the left is thrown from what I thought was a very plastic body, I achieved close to the same thickness top-to-bottom (5mm). The one on the right was the same original height, 20cm. But it has dried down to only 18cm high, it shrinks 14% (vs. 6% for the other). The thinnest part of the wall is near the bottom, only 2mm thick! How is it possible to throw that thin? The body is 50% ball clay and 50% bentonite. Bentonite, by itself, cannot be mixed with water, but dry-blended with fine-particled ball clay it can. That bentonite is what produces this magic plasticity. But that comes at a cost. It took about 4 days to dewater the slurry on my plaster table. And, this is the poorest drying body one could possibly use. Yet, even this can be dried crack-free. How? One month under cloth and plastic to assure even distribution of water content throughout! This means that pretty well any other body can be dried without cracks if done sufficiently evenly.

Context: Bentonite, Drying Ceramics Without Cracks, Plasticity

Wednesday 30th September 2020

The first of 15 "Fool-Proof Recipes" wrecked my kiln shelf!

A melt flow tester showing how a normal glazes runs when melting compared to this one

This is recommended in the booklet "15 Tried and True Cone 6 Glaze Recipes". This melt flow tester compares it with a typical cone 6 glossy, G2926B. This recipe is 90% Frit 3110 and 10% kaolin and their booklet recommends adding stains to it. But anyone knowing a little about this frit knows it would run off this flow tester even before bisque temperatures. It is crazy to recommend this. Even as a crackle. For cone 6 it needs to be diluted much more, not just with kaolin but also silica. I knew this would run but I underestimated its melt fluidity. I put a large tile below the tester to catch overrun, yet the melt ran off that and a big three-cm-wide blob melted through the kiln wash and so far into my zircon shelf I cannot chip it off! I cannot imagine how many people have tried this on vertical surfaces and had the same thing happen. The lesson: Use common sense when looking at recipes, then you don't even need waste time testing them. Even if their authors did not!

Context: Ferro Frit 3110, Trafficking in Glaze Recipes, Tried and True recipes. Really?, Trafficked online recipes waiting for a victim to try them!, Melt Fluidity, Limit Recipe

Wednesday 30th September 2020

Over deflocculated vs. under deflocculated ceramic slurry

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.

Context: Slip Casting, Deflocculation, Casting Slip is Not Working

Thursday 17th September 2020

How plastic is a pure kaolin? Could one use it pure for pottery?

A small bowl thrown from pure kaolin

Pure kaolins are clay. It seems logical that "pure clay" is plastic. However most kaolins are not plastic (compared to a typical clay for throwing or modelling). This is because they have a comparatively large particle size (compared to ball clays, bentonites, etc). This small bowl was thrown from #6 Tile kaolin. It is, by far, the most plastic kaolin available in North America. It's throwing properties are so good that one might be misled into thinking it should be possible to make pottery from it. Unfortunately, if it was survive drying without cracks, it would not make it through firing without this happening. This was fired, unglazed, to cone 6. Pure kaolin particles are flat and the throwing process lines them up concentric to centre. So shrinkage is greater across than along them. A filler is needed to separate the kaolin particles. All pure kaolins are also refractory, so even if this bowl had not cracked, the porosity of this piece is very high, completely impractical for functional ware (it needs a flux like feldspar to develop fired maturity).

Context: Kaolin, Plasticity

Tuesday 15th September 2020

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