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Polymer plates. Great for stamping into clay.

Polymer plates. Great for stamping into clay.

These are samples made by Boxcar Press. They make different depths, you need the 0.047 relief depth. While the others will press a crisp design into the clay, the shallow depth will make it difficult to avoid rubbing out the color from the recesses when you a sponging it off the top. Traditionally polymer plates have had metal backing and were expensive, but these are plastic and inexpensive. When designing them create a border around the outside of the design to contain it. This is needed because when the stamp is pressed hard into the clay, it smears away from all outer edges of the design, that containment-line keeps those edges clean. Also, they do not actually need to be stuck to a piece of wood, it is often better to lay them face down on the clay and use a wooden block and hammer to press them in to stiff clay. Use spray cooking oil as a parting agent if needed. They are flexible and peel off easily.

Thursday 17th August 2017

How to make a ceramic time-bomb

How to make a ceramic time-bomb

This mug is pinging loudly and literally self-destructing in front of my eyes! Why? The glaze is under so much compression (the inside is pushing outward, the outside inward). Spiral cracks are developing all the way up the side. Small razor-sharp flakes are shivering off convex contours. Why? I accidentally fired a low-temperate talc body at cone 6 (the glaze is the Alberta Slip base cone 6 glossy). The clay body is not overly mature, but it just has an extremely high thermal expansion (talc is added to increase the expansion to fit low fire commercial glazes, they would craze without it). Shivering is serious, it is a mismatch of thermal expansion between body and glaze. It can happen at any temperature.

Tuesday 15th August 2017

Dark Umber-Stained Engobes on M340 at cone 6

Dark Umber-Stained Engobes on M340 at cone 6

This is the standard Plainsman L3954D white engobe recipe with the 10% Zircopax switched for Raw Umber. The result is a very dark, rich, ultra-gloss brown (almost black). The engobe is applied inside and half-way down the outside. The mug on the left is glazed inside and out with the base GA6A Alberta Slip cone 6 recipe (but uses Ferro Frit 3195 instead of 3134). The one on the right has the same glaze on the outside but the G2926B clear transparent on the inside (it is micro-bubbling).

Wednesday 9th August 2017

A bubbling glaze having an encapsulated stain fixed. How?

A bubbling glaze having an encapsulated stain fixed. How?

These two pieces are fired at cone 6. The base transparent glaze is the same (G2926B Plainsman transparent). The amount of encapsulated red stain is the same (11% Mason 6021 Dark Red). But two things are different. Number 1: 2% zircon has been added to the upper glaze. The stain manufacturers recommend this, saying that it makes for brighter color. However that is not what we see here. What we do see is the particles of unmelting zircon are acting as seed and collection points for the bubbles (the larger ones produced are escaping). Number 2: The firing schedule. The top one has been fired to approach cone 6 and 100F/hr, held for five minutes at 2200F (cone 6 as verified in our kiln by cones), dropped quickly to 2100F and held for 30 minutes.

Tuesday 8th August 2017

A Cone 6 white engobe works miracles on these dark and buff burning bodies

A Cone 6 white engobe works miracles on these dark and buff burning bodies

Left is Plainsman M340. Right is M390. Each mug has been white engobed inside and half-way down the outside. The insides have been glazed using G2926B clear. The inside surface has more depth and has a richer appearance than you could achieve using a white glaze (especially over the dark burning body). The outside of the left one is Alberta Slip base GA6A using Frit 3249 (it produces a more stable glass of lower thermal expansion). The outside glaze on the right is the clear plus 4% iron oxide. This technique of using the engobe enables porcelain-like functional surfaces on the insides and striking visual contrast and character on the outside of the dark body mug.

Saturday 8th July 2017

Dipping glaze recipes converted to brushing glazes. Easy and inexpensive.

Dipping glaze recipes converted to brushing glazes. Easy and inexpensive.

These are cone 6 Alberta Slip recipes that have been brushed onto the outsides of these mugs (three coats). Recipes are GA6C Rutile Blue on the outside of the left mug, GA6F Alberta Slip Oatmeal on the outside of the center mug, GA6F Oatmeal over G2926B black on the outside of the right mug). One-pint jars were made using 500g of powder, 75g of Laguna CMC gum solution and 280g of water (a good mixer is needed). This produces a specific gravity of 1.6 and a glaze consistency the same as commercial bottled glazes. The presence of the gum made it unnecessary to calcine the Alberta Slip.

Saturday 8th July 2017

Eighteen Plainsman M390 mugs from half a box of clay!

Eighteen Plainsman M390 mugs from half a box of clay!

Boxes are 20kg (22.68 lbs). Plus there are enough trimmings to make about two more. That is about 500g of pugged clay per mug. These have been trimmed and engobed (using our standard cone 6 engobe) and are drying. Notice I have waxed the outers of some of the handles to slow their drying down (to keep it in sync with the mug itself). M390 is likely the most plastic native Plainsman body. Although it was not overly soft I stiffened up the clay for ten minutes on a plaster bat to make it my ideal throwing stiffness.

Saturday 8th July 2017

29 mugs made from one 20kg box of Plainsman H443 clay

29 mugs made from one 20kg box of Plainsman H443 clay

Made by Tony Hansen (one mug is missing from the picture). Total capacity of the mugs (filled to the brim) is 13 liters of water (13.7 US quarts, 11.4 Imperial quarts), or about 450 ml per mug (14.9 US fl oz, 15.5 imperial fl oz). Trimmings were discarded, these would have made a couple more. Thus each mug required about 690 grams of pugged clay. This clay is not ideal for this purpose, if a smoother, more plastic clay had been used more mugs could have been produced. However, to its credit, there was not a single crack and no defects in the fired pieces.

Friday 7th July 2017

Bi-Clay strips test compatibility between engobe and body

Bi-Clay strips test compatibility between engobe and body

Slips and engobes are fool-proof, right? Just mix the recipe you found on the internet, or that someone else recommends, and you are good to go. Wrong! Low fire slips need to be compatible with the body in two principle ways: drying and firing. Terra cotta bodies have low shrinkage at cone 06-04 (but high at cone 02). The percentage of frit in the engobe determines its firing shrinkage at each of those temperatures. Too much and the engobe is stretched on, too little and it is under compression. The lower the frit the less the glass-bonding with the body and the more chance of flaking if they do fit well (either during the firing or after the customer stresses your product). The engobe also needs to shrink with the body during drying. How can you measure compatibility? Bi-body strips. First I prepare a plastic sample of the engobe. Then I roll 4 mm thick slabs of it and the body, lay them face-to-face and roll that down to 4 mm again. I cut 2.5x12 cm bars and dry and fire them. The curling indicates misfit. This engobe needs more plastic clay (so it dry-shrinks more) and less frit (to shrink less on firing).

Friday 23rd June 2017

Glazes of the same chemistry: The fritted one melts better

Glazes of the same chemistry: The fritted one melts better

It seems logical (and convenient) to just say that the kiln does not care what materials source the oxides in a glaze melt. Li2O, CaO, Al2O3, SiO2 are oxides (there are about ten common ones). The kiln just melts everything and constructs the glaze from the ones available. Right? Wrong! Things get more complicated when frits are introduced. Frits are man-made glasses, they melt much more readily than raw materials like feldspar. Raw materials are often crystalline. Crystals put up a fuss when asked to melt, often holding on as long as they can and then suddenly melting. Frits soften over a range and they start melting early. To illustrate: These two glazes have the same chemistry. But the one on the left sources sodium and alumina (Na2O3, Al2O3) from the 48% feldspar present. The other sources these from a frit (only 30% is needed for the same amount of Na2O3). The remainder of the recipe has been juggled to match the other oxides. The frit version is crystallizing on cooling (further testament to how fluid the melt is). What has happened here is great. Why? First, the chemistry has not changed (fewer firing differences). The frit has no Al2O3, it is being sourced from kaolin instead, now the slurry does not settle like a rock. Even better, silica can be added until the melt flow matches (might be up to 20%). That will drop the thermal expansion and reduce crazing. The added SiO2 will add resistance leaching and add durability. Frits are great! But you need to know how to incorporate them into a recipe using a little glaze chemistry.

Friday 23rd June 2017

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