Wednesday, December 12, 2012

From Raw Clay to Finished Ceramics

Happy Hump Day!!

I get a lot of questions as to why it takes so long to get a custom order done.  People don't understand that turning raw clay into a finished ceramic piece takes a lot of time.  The more intricate a piece, obviously the more time has been spent.  So, I figured I would give you a run down on what it takes from start to finish.  :)

I get my clay from a supplier - I do NOT dig and process my own!  haha  Though I do know of some potters and ceramic artists who do.  The clay comes in a WIDE variety of types.  You have earthen ware, stoneware, porcelain; which are some of the more common types.  Then there's raku specific, low fire, mid fire, high fire (cone 10), terra cotta; clay with grog, or without; red, white, or brown clay...  The type of clay you use can affect the final outcome.  The same glaze can look VERY different just based on the type of clay that is used.  With all that said, I tend to use white and brown mid fire stoneware with a small amount of grog.  This is the best type of clay for what I am making right now.

Now that I've got my clay selected,  it's time to figure out what to make.  Ornaments, garden stakes, pendants or earrings, little bowls or plates, mugs, sculpture...  Depending on what I've chosen to make, will depend on how long it takes.  The first stage of ornament say.. takes 5-10 minutes.  Once it's all cut out, formed, and any details added, it's time to let it dry.  ALL the moisture has to be out of the clay before I can fire it in the kiln.  This first firing is called a "bisque" firing.  Depending how how thick the clay is (thankfully not too thick for an ornament, right around 1/8"), the drying time will vary.  I like to allow at least 1-2 days for items that are thin.  If there is water in the clay before it gets loaded into the first kiln, you run the risk of the steam vapor that is created within the clay and then having the clay explode.  Explosion = BAD.  It can ruin the other pieces, the kiln furniture, the elements, and the bricks inside.

Now that the clay is what is called "bone dry", it is safe to load it into the kiln for the bisque firing.  I bisque my clay to cone 04 (also denoted as ^04).  A "cone" is merely how temperature is denoted for ceramics.  I'll get more into that in a later post. :)  ^04 is 1945 degrees Fahrenheit.  For my size kiln, depending on how heavy I load it (how much stuff I am able to fit in the kiln and on how many shelves), it can take 8-10 hours just to get up to temperature.  It takes just as long to cool back down enough to be able to take the stuff out.  So there's one whole day gone.

We are now up to 3 days.  Once I can pull the item from the kiln, I can glaze them.  There are small quartz particulates in glaze which is what helps transform the clay into what we consider "ceramics".  In the case of an ornament, I use several different glazes in order to paint the various designs on it them.  Just to paint a single ornament with these various designs takes 15-30 minutes (depending on which one I'm working on).  Once it's fully glazed, it's time to go back in the kiln for the "glaze firing".  I use stilts for my ornaments.  Since I glaze the ornaments front and back, I can't just set them on the kiln shelf.  It will cement itself to the shelf, which is a BAD get the ornament off, I have to chisel it off if this happens!  I'll write another post with photos of my kiln and all I'm referencing.  :)  So now that I've got stuff ready and loaded into the glaze kiln, I fire it to ^6, which is considered mid-fire range.  ^6 reaches 2262 degree Fahrenheit in most kilns.  This takes 6-8 hours to reach temperature and takes 10-12 hours to cool down.  Add 1 more day.

SO, boding all goes according to plan, and I have no health hiccups (which has been happening a lot lately), the MINIMUM time lapse from creation to finished product is 4-5 days.  And that is just for an ornament or similarly simple item.  It is 5-7 days for items that are more intricate or have a thicker width.

So that's it in a nutshell.  There's a lot more that goes into it, and I shall continue to write more posts on the process as I am able.  I hope this helps to answer some questions people have had!

Let me know if you have any ceramics questions you'd like answered!!


  1. Also, if you have a large kiln like I do, you don't run it for one or two things. It takes a few days/weeks to fill it up depending on how busy I am.

    Good post!

  2. great pieces and great blog! visiting you from the etsy blogging buddies team!