|Monthly Tech-Tip |
Slips and engobes are fool-proof, right? Just mix the recipe you found on the internet, or that someone else recommends, and you are good to go. Wrong! Low fire slips need to be compatible with the body in two principle ways: drying and firing. Terra cotta bodies have low shrinkage at cone 06-04 (but high at cone 02). The percentage of frit in the engobe determines its firing shrinkage at each of those temperatures. Too much and the engobe is stretched on, too little and it is under compression. The lower the frit the less the glass-bonding with the body and the more chance of flaking if they do fit well (either during the firing or after the customer stresses your product). The engobe also needs to shrink with the body during drying. How can you measure compatibility? Bi-body strips. First I prepare a plastic sample of the engobe. Then I roll 4 mm thick slabs of it and the body, lay them face-to-face and roll that down to 4 mm again. I cut 2.5x12 cm bars and dry and fire them. The curling indicates misfit. This engobe needs more plastic clay (so it dry-shrinks more) and less frit (to shrink less on firing).
This demonstrates the difficulty you can encounter when trying to get an engobe working with a clay body. Here the slip/glaze is flaking off the rim of pieces at cone 04 (does not happen at 06). The front bi-clay bar demonstrates the white and red clays dry well together (the slight curve happened on the drying). They also fire well together (the curvature did not change on firing). The back two thin bars seem to demonstrate thermal expansion compatibility: a thick layer of glaze is not under enough compression to curve either bar during firing. While the white clay contains 15% frit and forms a good bond with the red body, that bond is not nearly as good as the one between the glaze and the white slip. Yet it is still flaking off the rim at the slip/body interface. Why? At first it seemed that failure was happening at quartz inversion (because the body had less quartz than the white slip). However now it appears that the combination of compressions of the slip and glaze are sufficient to break the slip-body bond on concave contours. The compression of the slip and glaze likely did not demonstrate well on the bars because at this low a temperature they are not vitreous enough to be easily curled.
The white slip on the left is an adjustment to the popular Fish Sauce slip (L3685A: 8% Frit 3110 replaces 8% Pyrax to make it harder and fire-bond to the body better). The one on the right (L3685C with 15% frit) is becoming translucent, obviously it will have a higher firing shrinkage than the body (a common cause of shivering at lips and contour changes). The slip is basically a very plastic white body. Since these are not nearly as vitreous as red ones at low fire they need help to mature and a frit is the natural answer. With the right amount the fired shrinkage of body and slip can be matched and the slip will be opaque. This underscores the need to tune the maturity of an engobe to the body and temperature. Although zircon could be added to the one on the right to opacify and whiten it, that would not fix the mismatch in fired shrinkage between it and the body.
This is part of a project to fit an engobe (slip) onto a terra cotta at cone 02 using the EBCT test.
Left: On drying the red body curls the bi-clay strip toward itself, but on firing it goes the other way!
Right: SHAB test bars of the white slip and red body enable comparing their drying and firing shrinkages.
Center back: A mug with the white engobe and a transparent overglaze. The slip is going translucent under the glaze because it is too vitreous. Its higher fired shrinkage curls the bi-clay bars toward itself. Reducing the frit will reduce the firing shrinkage and make it more opaque (because it will melt less).
Front: A different, more vitreous red body (Zero3 stoneware) fits the slip better (the strips dry and fire straight).
Classic terra cotta bodies are not vitreous, so engobes used on them need to have similar low fired shrinkage. But when terra cottas are fired above cone 04 they start to mature and fired shrinkage increases quickly, flaking off engobes that do not have sufficient added frit (to increase their shrinkage). Even if an under-compression engobe can hang on, the extra stresses of an overglaze of lower thermal expansion can compromise the engobe:body bond. That has happened on the center mug. That engobe has less frit (10% vs. 15% for the others). The clear glaze on the left has high thermal expansion and is crazing, while the engobe:body bond can tolerate that it, is obviously not desirable.
Creating a Non-Glaze Ceramic Slip or Engobe
It can be difficult to find an engobe that is drying and firing compatible with your body. It is better to understand, formulate and tune your own slip to your own body, glaze and process.
Majolica is white opaque glazed red earthenware clay having colored overglaze decoration. But if you know more about what it is technically you will have more control of your product.
In ceramics, the zone of adherence between glaze to the underlying body is called the clay-glaze interface. The integrity of this interface is important to strength and functionality.
Engobes are high-clay slurries that are applied to leather hard or dry ceramics. They fire opaque and are used for functional or decorative purposes. They are formulated to match the firing shrinkage and thermal expansion of the body.
During drying, clay particles draw together and shrinkage occurs. During firing the matrix densifies and shrinkage continues. More vitreous bodies shrink more.
Engobe Body Compatibility Test
A bi-clay test strip curls to demonstrate the drying and fired compatibility or fit of an engobe (or slip) on a ceramic body or of two bodies for marbling.