|Monthly Tech-Tip |
To achieve more even drying. As soon as was practical after throwing (a few hours), I covered the piece with a cloth and then put a garbage bag over it. While that put the upper section a little ahead of the base in drying, over night the base caught up (the plaster sucks the water out of it, even the walls of the piece stiffen). In the morning I remove the plastic and within an hour or two it is ready to lift off the bat and turn over, shortly after that I can trim it. I secure each plaster bat to the wheel-head using a "Batmate", that works extremely well. To stick the clay to the plaster well I apply a thin layer of slip, round off the piece of clay and firmly slam it down onto the plaster (if it is not rounded it will not stick as well or may break the bat). This is quick and effective to achieve the even drying needed to avoid a drying crack. This method is especially important for large plates and bowls, which often suffer s-cracks.
They need ten days to dry in our climate! This 14" plate has been thrown with a 1" thick base. The rim is a quarter of that. During the first few hours, the rim would dry quickly, leaving the base far behind. So as soon as it will support the weight of a cover-cloth I put it under plastic for several days. After that it does not detach from the plaster, it has to be cut off with a wire (there is a lot of clay here, it waterlogs the bat). The rim is stiff enough to support it for trimming but the base will still be quite soft. Thus, it is doubly important to trim it deep enough to create a cross-section of even thickness. Then, to try to even out the water content between base and rim I place it under layers of cloth and under plastic for several more days. Finally, out of the bag, it dries, with cloth still covering. Hopefully, the base will not bow upwards or crack. These are difficult, there is no getting around it!
The cost of plaster bats prevents many from buying them. Using this rubber mold I have just made 8 - 12" bats and I still have 20 lbs of plaster left in the bag! The first rule for a good result: Lay it on a level level table (so the bat does not come out thicker on one side than the other). I just weigh 1600 grams of plaster, dump it in 1120 grams of water, wait 4 minutes, mix 4 minutes and pour. As soon as the water at the top disappears I dump the next batch of plaster in the water and repeat (by the time it is ready to pour I can remove the last bat from the mold). You can buy one of these rubber molds at Plainsman Clays for $75 plus shipping. Or, if you are more flexible on the size, search "round silicone cake pan" at Amazon (some of them even have glass bottoms).
Drying Ceramics Without Cracks
Anything ceramic ware can be dried if it is done slowly and evenly enough. To dry faster optimize the body recipe, ware cross section, drying process and develop a good test to rate drying performance.
Plaster bats are a key tool used by many potters. But their true value is not understood by most: They produce ware with much less cracking problems