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Should you expect to vitrify terra cotta?

These were cast by Anna Lisovskaya, they are fired at cone 03. They are supposed to fit into hexagonal welded frames, but during firing many of them warp enough to fit poorly. Why? The color differences are most obvious here. With that color associates a firing shrinkage difference, the darker ones shrink significantly more. Something less obvious: the sides against the elements receive direct radiant heat, so they shrink more, turning a perfect hexagon into an imperfect one. Terra cotta clays are volatile, that means their approach to maximum density during heat-up, accompanied by shrinkage, happens across a narrow temperature range. Accurate and even firing are paramount. In a radiant-heat electric kiln this can be very difficult. Two approaches could work here: Fire at a lower temperature, perhaps cone 04. Or, greatly slow rate-of-rise for the last 100F, perhaps over several hours.

Hexagonal terra cotta planters in an electric kiln

Related Pictures

The best firing temperature for this middle range body?

This cone 6 brown functional stoneware has been fired across a range of temperatures. Cone 4 is too porous. From cone 7 it is expanding and density is not improving, it will likely warp or bloat. Cone 7 is losing the red color, there is no room for over-firing (by accident). The porosity at cone 6 is so much better than cone 5 and color is still stable. Therefore, cone 6 is the one we want.

How do you decide what temperature to fire this terra cotta at?

Test bars of a terra cotta clay fired from cone 06-8

Let's suppose you need strength and density for utilitarian ware.This is a terra cotta body, L4170B, it has a much wider firing range than most terra cottas. Still, it is not like white-burning bodies, its "practical firing window" is much narrower than what looking at these fired bars and graph suggest. On paper, cone 5 hits zero porosity. And, in-hand, the bar feels like a porcelain. But ware will warp during firing and transparent glazes will be completely clouded with bubbles (when pieces are glazed inside and out). What about cone 3? Its numbers put it in stoneware territory, water tight. But decomposition gases still bubble glazes! Cone 2? Much better, it has below 4% porosity (any fitted glaze will make it water-tight), below 6% fired shrinkage, still very strong. But there are still issues: Accidental overfiring drastically darkens the color. Low fire commercial glazes may not work at cone 2. How about cone 02? This is a sweet-spot. This body has only 6% porosity (compared to the 11% of cone 04). Most low fire cone 06-04 glazes are still fine at cone 02. And glaze bubble-clouding is minimal. What if you must fire this at cone 04? Pieces will be "sponges" with 11% porosity, shrinking only 2% (for low density, poor strength). There is another advantage of firing as high as possible: Glazes and engobes bond better. As an example of a low fire transparent base that works fine on this up to cone 2: G1916Q.


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