Announcing: The Cone Six Clay Throwdown!
I am beginning research into switching over to a bagged, or premixed clay. Which one to choose? Only time will tell. I will put all the clays I can find through a battery of tests, the first of which is the throwdown! Which clay works best for me on the potter’s wheel? Over the next week I will give in-depth reviews of my experience with a number of commercial clay bodies.
Until now, I have always mixed my own. I really don’t mind the labor, and have never had a problem with dust, due to my practice of always ventilating and wearing a good quality NIOSH approved Silica Dust Respirator. I even find the sort of sweaty, heavy, grungy work of mixing clay therapeutic. I take pride and joy in the fact that I am responsible for the formulation and quality control of everything I use. This idea to switch to a commercially made clay body did not come easily. The main thing steering me down this path is that here at the U of L ceramics studio, we do not have a pug mill. Even though I have always spoken highly of pug mill usage, I apparently never really fully appreciated them until I no longer had access to one.
Pugmills are machines that homogenize, compress, and de-air the clay, making it much more plastic, workable, and dense. Comparatively, non-pugged clay is like the sand that makes up a sand castle, while pugged clay is like taffy. The process of compressing and de-airing causes a suction between the tightly packed particles. This difference is night and day. I have been trying a lot of things to alter my clay body to make it more workable, to no avail. No matter what, the clay falls far ‘short’ of my demands without a pugmill.
So the search is on. I started by asking friends who also work in midrange temperatures what cay bodies they like. My requirements are that it needs to be white so my glazes appear nice and bright, it needs to be smooth because I use a sponge to smooth out the edges of parts, and it needs to come at least sort of close to fitting my glazes, meaning that the thermal expansion (and therefore contraction) rate is matched. This will avoid cracks in the glaze that I find for the most part unsightly, not to mention that they can compromise the strength of my pots. I can always alter the glaze a bit, but not too much or it will lose its distinctive characteristics and become a different glaze altogether. I will cover all of these aspects as the testing continues throughout the summer.
I started by acquiring a bag of each candidate. This week, the first round will be Standard Clay’s #213, And Highwater’s Helios and Little Loafer’s. I have a sample bag of Matt and Dave’s Porcelain for the People in the mail, which I am excited to try as well. I will put them through a number of tests before I make any decisions, and also, I would like to find another three to try. Anyone who has a suggestion PLEASE let me know in the comments below.
Anyways, the first test was based on how well the clay throws. Could I see myself throwing pots every day, forever, with this clay? This is a pretty good test to do. For this event, I chose three forms with varying demands. A wide shallow bowl will test the clay’s willingness to stand against gravity, to not sag or slump. A thin-walled tumbler will test the clay’s willingnesss or ability to be formed with subtlety, and to stand tall while eggshell thin. The coffee mug will test the clay’s performance in a handle pulling situation, and yes, I consider pulling handles to be essentially the same thing as throwing.
Each day this week, I will give a review of the throwing experience of each one. I have been told by many people that I could be a great food critic, because of the way I talk about food, analytical, critical, and descriptive, especially in the slight nuances. I intend to do that with theses clays. Bear in mind that these are just my opinions, and that it applies to how I like to work only. The point of my writing this is for my own notes, and to help anyone else in the same position I am in (lost in the woods, sort of scared). I have been reading some reviews of clay that basically say “throws good, looks white, didn’t S-crack. That won’t help me, so I will try to really go into it here.
Check back tomorrow for the first clay body in the throwdown, Highwater Clay’s Little Loafer’s. Also, PLEASE let me know if there is a great clay that’s worth a try, that I haven’t mentioned. Like I said, I’m in the dark here… Thanks!