|Monthly Tech-Tip |
Perhaps you are shocked that a material this dark and dirty (the bars are fired from cone 1 to 7 oxidation, bottom to top), would be used in porcelains. Why? Bentonites are very difficult to process. This is just raw bentonite (HPM-20), dry ground to -325 mesh (to guarantee no fired specks). That grinding does not reduce the soluble salts (that melt by cone 4) or the iron (which accounts for the dark-burning color). These undesirable properties must be tolerated (as whiteness loss) to get the plasticity supercharge 3-5% of this can impart. Why not use super-white bentonites or smectites instead? They can cost ten or even twenty times as much!
Bentonite is a super-plastic clay. This block of it took months to dry, the material really holds on to its water! It shrunk to about half the size and, of course, broke up into many pieces in the process (because bentonite has such a high drying shrinkage). That white powder is calcium sulphate, it is soluble and comes to the surface with the water as the clay dries. The finer the manufacturer grinds the material, the more salts are liberated. In most ceramic applications for commercial raw bentonites, these soluble salts are not an issue (but the iron content certainly can be). The reason these salts can be tolerated is that bentonite is normally employed in bodies and glazes in the 1-5% range.
HPM-20 Volclay Bentonite
Bentonite can make a clay body instantly plastic, only 2-3% can have a big effect. It also suspends slurries so they don't settle out and slows down drying.
A common problem with dry and fired ceramic. It is evident by the presence of a light or dark colored scum on the dry or fired surface.