The pottery wheel is for shaping round ceramic wares. It is very popular for trimming excess from the wares and applying colors and decorations. Pottery Wheel is also called “Potter’s lathe” on various occasions. Even though you see many beautiful art and ceramics made by the pottery wheel, there is more than just sitting and turning the clay.
As a pottery fan, maybe you are more curious about the method of preparing clay on a pottery wheel, or what pottery can you make, but one important thing you should know first before these about pottery is that the clay you use matters a lot. I spent a lot of troubling times when I started pottery; I continued using the wrong clay. When learning pottery or using the potter’s wheel, you need to know the type of clay you want to use. Pottery is very difficult, and using the wrong clay to work on the potter’s wheel makes it more difficult. I have seen potters start working with the wrong clay, and everything was a fiasco at the end.
The following are the types of clays used by potters at the potter’s wheel. You should note that these clays are all good, but they have what they are suitable for. These clays will be listed and explained. The best time these clays can be used would also be defined. As a potter or a beginner potter, you should note these clays when you want to achieve beautiful and quality work. Also, some of you wouldn’t still know which clay would be the best for the piece you want to make. This article would explain what you need to look for in clays that would help you determine which clay would be best for your work.
Four types of clays are perfect for the potter’s wheel. They include Porcelain clay, Earthenware Clay, Ball Clay, and Stoneware Clay. All these four types of clays are the most that the potters use to make pottery.
Four Types of Clays
Porcelain clay is also known as China ceramics. This clay is very renowned for making dinnerware. The clay, a pure mineral kaoline, is derived from China Clay. This clay has a variety of colors. However, the colors are very light and subtle. They show a greyish tone during the green-ware stage. And they turn whitish after firing.
You should know that Porcelain clay is tough to work it. It is the least plastic clay. Because of its high temperature when firing, the porcelain clay is mixed with other minerals to reduce the firing temperature. However, when you use this clay for cast slipping and wheel throwing, you can convert it into various decorative objects such as tableware, vases, and many more.
Also, you should know that there are three types of Porcelain ceramics. They are Soft paste, Bone China, and Hard paste.
- Soft-Paste: This is the rarest type of Porcelain clay. It requires about 1186°C of heat. As the name implies, this type of Porcelain clay is the weakest.
- Bone China: This is the strongest Porcelain clay. It is very strong physically and resistant to chip damage. Most times, it contains Bone Ash, Phosphate, Feldspar, and kaolin.
- Hard-Paste: This is the most common type of Porcelain clay. Firing this type of Porcelain at 2345°F yields steadier and sturdier results.
It is the oldest clay that potters use to make pottery. I also have great regard for this clay when using it on the pottery wheel. It is beginner-friendly and plastic. You should know that this is the most used clay and the most common clay.
This clay is almost always wet. It is as a result of it being warm most times. It has four colors before firing, which are orange, grey, brown, and red. However, after firing the clay, it can become whitish. This clay is very easy to use because of its texture.
When at the pottery wheel, Earthenware Clay has proved to be the best. It is because when fired up, it has the lowest firing temperature of 998 to 1142°C. After firing, this clay is still soft, and it is easy to mold and achieved the desired design.
Ball Clay is another excellent clay that you can use at the pottery wheel. It has the least amount of mineral impurities. This clay is also very well used by potters. The color is greyish during the greenware stage, but after firing, if fired well, it turns completely white.
When mixed with some other clays, Ball Clay is the best clay to use. It is because when firing, the clay shrinks a lot. Ball Clay is heated at a temperature of 2345°F. It makes it a bit disadvantageous to beginners because, without the right skill, you will not be able to use the clay effectively. However, when mixed with other clays, it is best to use at the pottery wheel.
Because of its stone-like qualities, it is called stoneware clay. It is generally popular among potters, and because of its nonporous, plastic, and hard features, it is common among potters. The color of the clay is white or grey, but it becomes brown when it gets wet. This clay is very popular for making tableware due to its sturdy nature.
Firing stoneware clay occurs in two ways: high fire and mid-fire. High fire has a range of 1247 to 1285° C. Mid fire ranges from 1152 to 1239°C. The firing also affects the color of the clay.
What to Look Out for When Picking Clay for the Pottery Wheel
I know that some potters pick any clay and start the process of pottery. However, in the long run, they make a mess out of everything. However, if you want to know the best clay for the potter’s wheel, you must look at certain things. Most potters use any of the four clays mentioned above; however, there are certain peculiarities for all these clays. Before you pick any clay to use for your pottery, the following are what you should look at regarding what you want to make.
- Size of the cone – the firing temperature
- Purchasing Price of the clay
- The color of the clay
- The Clay body type
- Clay Texture
Size of the Cone (Firing Temperature)
It means the firing temperature of the clay. When I first started my pottery classes, someone told me that I should use cone 4. I was so curious about what cone is that I had to ask a classmate. My classmate said cone size has to do with measuring the heat your piece requires to be heated into a kiln. I didn’t fully grasp what that meant, but I went on to start work. At the end of the class, my work was a total disaster.
Before you start using the pottery wheel to make anything, you must first be aware of the cone size of your clay that would make whatever you want to make as good as you have anticipated it. It is because the type of kiln you will get depends on the clay’s firing temperature.
The cone size is significant in choosing the best clay for your pottery wheel because of the size of your glaze. There are three different types of cone sizes, and they include:
- High Fire: The temperature ranges from cone 8 (1248°C) to cone 10 (1285°C). It is the most popular cone size among potters because it makes the clay stronger and more durable than the small cone sizes.
- Lower Fire: The temperature ranges from cone 022 (586°C) to cone C (1142°C). However, you should know that low fire temperature makes the clay less waterproof unless it is glazed.
- Mid Fire: The temperature ranges from cone 3 (1152°C) to cone 7 (1239°C). It is a popular cone size among potters because there are many glazes colors to choose from.
Purchasing Price of the Clay
There are many clays to choose from; however, if you are getting familiar with the pottery wheel, you need to be very frugal when buying clays. It is because you will waste clay when you are doing pottery. I would advise you to go for lesser-priced clays. It would help you learn the basics of molding, and if you are already an expert, it will help you save money until you need the higher-priced clays to do a vital project.
The mid-ranged and the high-ranged clays are also excellent; however, it would be best to go for lower-ranged clays. If you are a novice or an apprentice, there are some high ranged clays that you might not handle very well. The lower ranged clays are very easy to handle and easy to use on the potter’s wheel.
The Color of the Clay
When choosing clay for your pottery wheel, another thing you should note is the color of the clay. There are various colors available. To save your time, here are some easy tips to help you choose the color.
- Color Red: This color has a clear matte, glossy and satin glaze. The color red is lovely to use as well. However, it will stain your clothes.
- Color White: This clay doesn’t stain the clothes. It is also a very vibrant clay. And if you want your glaze color to pop, white is your best choice.
- Color Black: This is another very beau color that stains. However, black clays tend to work very well with white or light underglazes.
- Sand Color: When the clay is thick, it has a good light biff color. Since it looks more like white, it is also vibrant. And when this clay gets wet, it will have a dark coloring to it.
The Clay Body Type
When considering the type of clay body, there are four things you must consider, including the size of the platelets, the firing temperature, the amount of plasticity, and different minerals. When considering these four qualities, the perfect clays to use on the potter’s wheel are Earthenware Clay, Porcelain clay, and Stoneware Clay.
- The Earthenware Clay: The following is why the Earthenware Clay stands out when considering the type of clay body for the pottery wheel.The high content of iron oxide
- It is a low range/ low life clay
- It is suitable for making anything
- It is very permeable, which means you can easily make it into anything
- The Stoneware Clay: The following are why Stoneware Clay is good while looking through the type of clay body.
- It is chip-resistant and durable.
- Depending on the sand added or grog, you can use the clay to make anything.
- You will find the clay easy to use with the wheel.
- The Porcelain Clay: The following are why Porcelain clay is suitable when looking at the type of clay body.
- It is very smooth
- It is very regal
- It absolves water quickly, which makes it very easy to use
The Clay Texture
Knowing if there is sand or grog in the clay is of vital importance. However, your skill level will determine the kind of clay you can work with. If you plan to use your clay on a pottery wheel, you will need very smooth clay. A smooth clay will not collapse the moment you throw it on the wheel. Because Porcelain is the smoothest clay, and it is the best to use with the wheel. You will feel fulfilled as the clay runs through your hands, and it is very easy to throw.
Usage of Air-dry Clay
You should also consider the usage of air-dry clay on the pottery wheel. At first, I never knew that I could use air-dry with the pottery wheel. However, I later found out that I can use it on the wheel. You should, however, know that using air-dry clay is quite different from using regular ceramic clays.
However, you should know that using air-dry clay on the pottery wheel will heavily depend on the kind of clay you use. We have three main air-dry clay types: paper clay, polymer clay, and cold porcelain clay. You can use these air-dry clays on the pottery wheel; they are easy to use, and you don’t have to wedge them before use.
Using air-dry clay is very simple as it centers quickly. You should know that you will need a lot of water because it becomes grabby soon as you use air-dry clay on the pottery wheel. Air-dry clay must be used with caution. They aren’t as soldiers as the ceramic clays, and if you push them past their limits, there is a high probability of a collapse.
If you want to use the pottery wheel, you will have to determine the best clay for whatever you want to do. All the clays mentioned are very good for use with the wheel. However, what you want to make on a pottery wheel will determine which clay you choose.
Also, another thing you should know before buying any clay is the features of the clay and how well it matches with what you want to do. Looking at the texture, type of body, cone size, color, and price will help you dig out the best clay for you.