Pottery Making – Forget What Mom Told You About Throwing Things!

The act of working clay on a pottery wheel is called “Throwing”, I learn something new every day! Whether used for plant containers, dinnerware, or just decorative purposes, handmade ceramics are loved by all. Making your own handmade ceramics will help you to love them all the more.

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There are three basic ways of making pottery. These are on the potter’s wheel, slipcasting or just plain hand shaping. Using any of these three methods, wet and malleable clay can be formed into useful or decorative shapes. Once shaped, the article is allowed to air dry after which it is “bisque fired” in a kiln at very high temperatures. These temperatures can range from 1000 to 2500 degrees F depending on the type of clay.

Once the pottery has cooled from firing, it can be painted with one or more glazes to seal the surface or left unglazed for a simple earthy look. Those that are glazed are refired to give the piece a glass like finish.

So that is the process in a nutshell. Now we can learn some of the basics.

Understanding Clay

Clay is an interesting material that will lend itself to whatever skill level you might be at. So what is clay? Clay is the result of decomposing rock that has broken down into extremely small particles. These very small particles take on a property known as plasticity when the water content is right. This means it can be formed into shapes that will hold together.

Generally clay is put into several categories. These include earthenware clays, stoneware clays, ball clays, fire clays and kaolin (porcelain) clays. Each of these have characteristics that make them appropriate for different applications. Here is a quick summary of each:

- Earthenware clays are the most common. They are highly plastic and therefore are easily worked. Due to the high iron and other mineral impurities these clays reach their best hardness at a temperature between 1750 and 2000 degrees F. Typical colors of earthenware clay include red, orange, yellow and light grey.

- Stoneware clays are plastic and most often grey in color and usually remain a shade of grey when fired. Firing temperatures range from 2150 to 2300 degrees F.

- Ball clays are highly plastic and contain very low impurities. When moist they are dark grey in color and once fired will be light grey or a light buff color. Firing temperature is about 2340 degrees F. The serious drawback of ball clay is its high shrinkage rate. As a result, they are usually blended with other clays.

- Fire clays vary widely in characteristics and even though they have relatively low impurities they tend to come out of the kiln with rusty speckles on the surface. Firing temperatures are about 2700 degrees F. They are as a result very strong.

- Kaolin clays are very pure and are used to make porcelain. They are not very plastic and therefore difficult to work with. While moist they are a light grey color but once fired can range from light grey to white. Kaolin clays fire at a very high 3270 degrees F.

Choosing The Right Clay

Clay can be purchased as either a dry powder or premixed with water to the moisture content right for most projects. The big advantage of dry clay is simply cost. Wet clay is heavy and you pay for that extra shipping cost.

So what is the right clay for your project? As a beginner, it is likely that the craft supply store can help you get started right. But, once you have graduated you will likely begin mixing and testing different clays to determine how each mix performs. You will want to keep track of your experiments so you soon will have a recipe book for your projects.

Pottery Making Equipment

There are several pieces of equipment that potters use in their craft. The three most often used include a kiln, a potter’s wheel and dry clay mixing equipment. As you most likely know these can be fairly expensive for a beginner so it pays to see if there are other ways to get started. Usually the pottery craft store will have a kiln and will fire your creations for a price. Initially, you can form your works of art by hand and perhaps look for a used wheel at a much less than new cost. And finally instead of mixing dry clay, you can purchase premixed. This will help you get started without a huge cash outlay.

Take A Pottery Class

If you are just starting out, perhaps the best way to find out if this is a hobby you will like is to take a class. Through the instructor you get access to materials and equipment that will help you get off on the right foot. The basic techniques and process knowledge will be invaluable to you as a beginner.

Potters are true craftsmen working in a craft that dates back to ancient times. In their own way they are chemists and physicists that through practical experimentation have learned what works and what does not. These are skills that are easiest learned from someone that knows how to do it.

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