|Monthly Tech-Tip |
Here the melt fluidity of Gerstley Borate (GB) is being compared to Ferro Frit 3134 (using a GLFL test). Clearly, these are two very different materials. GB is a clay, Frit 3134 is a man made powdered glass. Notice the GB shrinks to about half its original size by 1600F and then suddenly by 1650 it has exploded out of the starting gate and crossed the finish line! The frit, conversely, slowly softens through the entire 1350-1650 range and then starts down the runway between 1650 and 1700F. While it is clear that frit 3134 is not a direct substitute for the Gerstley Borate (GB) it's more gradual melting make it a better source as a source of B2O3 (boron).
Gerstley Borate has just become Costly Borate. The supplier, LagunaClay.com, likely raised the pice to wake us all up to take action in substituting it before supplies run out. It is a ceramic glaze flux, sourcing boron to melt far better than any other common raw material. It has been a foundation material in low and middle temperature pottery glaze recipes for many decades. Potters have a love/hate relationship with it: Enjoying its low melting point but enduring its problems (inconsistency, gelling of the slurry, crawling, micro-bubbles, boron-blue discoloration). Strangely most people have used it without knowing what it really was. And few realize how easy it is to replace. Yes, existing substitutes work sometimes - but it is better to adjust each glaze recipe to source boron from a frit (fixing other issues also). Please read that last statement carefully. It did not say that there is any frit that can substitute. It said that frits can source boron.
This frit, or any of similar chemistry (e.g. Fusion F-12) IS NOT A 1:1 SUBSTITUTE for Gerstley Borate, their chemistries are too different. That being said, the frit sources lots of B2O3, that makes it a candidate to weave into recipes as the source of boron. To show the difference I have put 100 parts of each in side-by-side recipes in my Insight-live.com account, set the calculation type to non-unity formula and increased the frit until the B2O3 in the two match. Notice it takes 118g of the frit to source the same amount of B2O3 as 100 GB. Notice also that the frit sources almost triple the amount of Na2O per weight unit (that is a big deal because it means the recipe containing the Gerstley Borate to be substituted needs an Na2O-sourcing material that can be reduced to compensate). And the frit sources 3.5 times the SiO2 (other SiO2-sourcing materials in the recipe will need to be cut to compensate). And the Gerstley Borate has significant MgO while the frit has none (so an MgO-sourcing material like talc will be needed). Minor tweaks will also be needed to reduce other sources of CaO (since the frit has quite a bit more). The recipe will also need enough flexibility to do the final matching of Al2O3 and SiO2. The GBMF test confirms the difference at 1700F, these 10-gram balls melted down onto the tiles very differently.
The ulexite in Gerstley Borate melts first, producing an opaque fired glass having the unmelted (and still gassing) particles of colemanite suspended in it. By 1750F the colemanite is almost melted also. Boron-containing frits, by contrast, soften slowly over a wide temperature range and gradually spread and melt. Not surprisingly they produce a more stable glaze (albeit often less interesting visually without additives e.g. titanium, rutile).
G2931 Worthington Clear is a popular low to medium-fire transparent glaze recipe. It contains 55% Gerstley Borate (GB) plus 30% kaolin (GB melts at a very low temperature). GB is also very plastic, like a clay. I have thrown a pot from this glaze recipe! This explains why high Gerstley Borate glazes often dry so slowly and shrink and crack during drying. When recipes also contain a plastic clay the shrinkage is even worse. GB is also slightly soluble, over time it gels glaze slurries even in smaller percentages. Countless potters struggle with Gerstley Borate recipes.
Ferro Frit 3134
A frit with 23% B2O3. The most common of frits used in pottery in North America. Around the world, other companies make frits of equivalent chemistry.
Gerstley Borate was a natural source of boron for ceramic glazes. It was plastic and melted clear at 1750F. Now we need to replace it. How?
GerstleyBorate.com - The best place for info on Gerstley Borate