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Clay fever- Recycling tips

November 2, 2012

Three standard clays are recycled within the Northern Beaches Ceramics section

  1. A Fine white porcelain/ stoneware
  2. A sandy iron bearing body
  3. A course hand forming body

All the other clays available should be recycled individually

Danni  -Making it look easy 2011

The quality of the recycled clay is heavily influenced by the steps between clay that  hasn’t quite made the firsts board and the pug mill. We all love plastic pliable clay and the steps that follow will help maintain the plasticity of your recycled clay.

The Easy Way

Purchase a 10 litre bucket with a good lid that seals well. Fill the bucket with a few litres of water. Buckets larger than 10 litres become difficult to lift when ¾ full.

If one is throwing at the wheel simply add any slip and slops directly to the bucket. The slip consists of fine particle clay which provides the plasticity. One should try and keep the fine slip rather than pour it down the sink.

If one is turning at the potters’ wheel  then simply add the turnings to the bucket. No need to wait for the turnings to dry out, toss them in. If the clay is not completely covered with water then add some more water. Don’t fill past ¾ full.

Coo chi style Vietnam 2004

Cu Chi style Vietnam 2004

If one is attempting to recycle pots that are leather hard it is generally best to allow the pots to dry out completely. This allows the water to penetrate more easily and the clay breaks up within an hour or two. The following depends on the clay however  if a pot is tossed into the water when leather hard rather than dry a pot can hold its shape for weeks.

When the turnings slake down (break up) pour off any excess water. One can then stir the slop by hand, watch out for that missing stainless steel rib. I prefer to use a paint stirrer mounted on a drill, it’s so much more efficient. Blend the clay until a thick yoghurt consistency is achieved. Some lumps are ok however the more one mixes at this stage the less work  is required with kneading  later. Yes, less kneading. Is that the petter patter of feet I  hear heading out to the shed for the paint mixer and drill?

 Prepare a plaster slab by sponge wiping any other clay off it and pour the new slurry onto the slab. A thick bisque fired bowl can be good for dewatering clay also.

The whole process is similar if you exclusively hand build however its best to dry the clay before adding it to the water to slake since the wall thickness is often higher.

 Once the clay has dewatered to a consistency a little softer than one would normally work with start kneading and wedging. When one has achieved the physique of the “Cu Chi style” professionals in the image above the clay is ready. Bag it “air tight” and it will improve with time.

From → Technical posts

  1. HI Chris

    Thanks for the de-mystification. Some of us have been a little…shall we say…cosseted in the recycling department and need this information. There’s one thing I’d still like to know – those rock hard lumps of clay which were once discarded pots and are now roughly the size and density of cricket balls: do we set to them with hammers before adding to the water or will they dissolve over time?


    • Pamela.

      A “rock hard cricket ball” will dissolve in time however you can speed the process up by enjoying a little hammer style deconstruction.


  2. Bruce permalink

    The demystification of clay recycling and preparation will add more depth to the creative process by putting you more in touch with the material and the various stages of the clay drying cycle. What clay does and what and when you do something with it is fundamental to the process.

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