If you’re interested in pottery and you want to get started in the world of clay, but you can’t afford a throwing wheel, nor do you know where to get your hands on one, then hand-building is just for you.
With hand-building, you don’t need much. If you’re a novice and you don’t want to spend large amounts of money, then you only need to buy the right clay and find a kiln nearby to use. Make sure to read on to discover the best clay for your hand-building projects.
Got no time to read? Here are our best picks and why we picked them.
|Why We Chose It
|Blick Red Earthenware Clay
|It’s talc-free and low firing.
|Standard Ceramic 104 Red Clay with Grog
|It’s low firing with grog already in it.
|Standard Ceramic 105 White Clay With Grog
|Low firing with grog and very easy to work with.
|Amaco No. 48 Speckled Stoneware Clay with Grog
|Properties within it prevent cracking and it’s great for large projects.
|Amaco No. 46 Buff Stoneware Clay
|Great for ceramics.
Best Clay For Handbuilding
These are a collection of hand-building clays we found online that we highly recommend.
This clay is great for those interested in making terracotta pottery for plants and everyday household decorations. After firing, this clay appears to be a brick red, much like the plant pots you might find in greenhouses.
Like most terracotta clays, it doesn’t need a lot to harden. A low fire goes a long way. This product also already has grog mixed in with it, so you don’t need to worry about finding it. The standard ceramic clay 104 also retains a lot of moisture, making it very easy to work with and incredibly malleable.
This is another terracotta clay. It’s talc-free which is wonderful, considering that it’s the talc in clay that causes shrinkage to happen. This makes it a great choice for beginners who are just getting the hang of firing their clay and are worried about cracks that may occur because of shrinkage in the kiln.
This clay is low-firing, but it can also be fired at medium temperatures without any damage. It also air dries, meaning that if you can’t get to a kiln, you can leave it out to dry and it’ll make transporting it to a kiln much easier.
Dickblick’s standard ceramic clay is great for either hand-building or wheel throwing. It’s incredibly malleable and very flexible where firing is concerned, which is great if you’re unsure about what temperature your clay needs to be fired at. This clay also comes with grog already added to it, meaning that your firing process will be that much easier.
It’s incredibly soft and easy to work with, and it’s one of the most recommended white clays to buy.
If you’re slightly more experienced and you’re looking to make some bigger sculptures, this clay is the one you need to put in your basket.
It’s mixed with many different properties including grog, plastic, and coarse fireclay, all to help create a clay with a strong structure that’s less prone to cracking in the kiln.
Amaco No.46 is great for hand-building ceramics such as cups, bowls, and plates. It can be used for other things too, but its talents lay in creating wonderful home dishware. It’s incredibly smooth and is great for using the coil method.
The danger with this clay, however, is that it can be quite wet, so be cautious when adding water to it while you’re working with it.
What To Consider When Buying Handbuilding Clay
1. The Key Ingredients
There are two very key ingredients that you need to make sure are in your clay before you buy it. The first is siresand and the second is chamotte, when mixed together it would be referred to as ‘grog’.
If you want your ceramic to turn out smooth and beautiful after being fired within the kiln, then you’ll need to make sure your clay has grog. Grog works to reduce shrinking and strengthen your overall piece so you don’t have to worry too much about cracking.
It’ll ensure your peace of mind, as well as a healthy project. If you can’t find any clay with grog in it, then you can buy the grog separately and mix it in yourself. It will often look like fine sand or chippings of dried pottery.
2. What Type of Clay is Best?
Earthenware clay is the top kind of clay you’ll be wanting to buy, especially for newbies. It’s the easiest to use, and it’s good because of its strength and plasticity, there’s also much less of a chance of cracking with it. Stoneware clay is also a good option too. Much like Earthenware, it’s durable, easy to manipulate, and fires well. There are minimal issues when putting it in the kiln, especially as stoneware and earthenware clay often has a low firing temperature.
Porcelain clay, on the other hand, should be avoided. It’s far too stiff to use, and if you’ve never used it before, it might end up being a waste of money.
2. Wire Cutters, Slab Rollers, and Spray Bottles
If you’re new to ceramics, we won’t recommend that you pick up any new and fancy tools. This is mainly because pottery isn’t for everyone, and you might find it a waste to spend a lot of money on tools only to never use them. We recommend that you try it out for a few weeks, using what you have and experimenting before you commit to the hobby. If you’re a seasoned pottery creative though, then these three tools should be in your cupboard: Wire cutters, slab rollers, and spray bottles.
1. Spray Bottles
Though clay is fun to play with it, it isn’t necessarily easy. Clay often dries up as you work, which can create cracking and makes it harder to mold. A spray bottle is a perfect tool to keep it moist and easy to use.
2. Wire Cutters
When you’re using hand-building clay, it often comes in a large mold that can be hard to break apart. A wire cutter helps to create a smooth cut that’ll separate your working piece quickly and seamlessly. Wire cutters are also great for getting a perfectly straight line and for removing your clay piece from sticky surfaces.
3. Slab Roller
Slab rollers are essential in hand-building. You can either get a slab roller that looks like a rolling pin, or you can get an actual slab roller machine, either way, both will help to create a perfect slab. Slabs are completely flat pieces of clay that you can mold into a shape. They are often turned into mugs, plates, or pots.
There is absolutely no point in spending any time or energy on seeking the perfect hand-building clay if you don’t have a kiln nearby that you can use. Handbuilding clay is nothing like air-dry clay or polymer clay, it needs to be fired in a very specific way, often at a particular temperature.
Most shops that teach pottery or allow for pottery painting will have a kiln in there that you can use. Most of the time, you’ll have to pay to use them, but sometimes, if you’re lucky, they may allow you to sneak a project in there for free.
Is Stoneware Clay Good For Handbuilding?
Stoneware clay is excellent for hand-building because it has properties in it that make sure it maintains its structure. Stoneware clay is made out of a collection of strong plastics and also, sometimes, it contains grog. Grog is a mixture of siresand and chamotte, which is essentially silica and alumina, which helps to maintain structure in your clay and prevent shrinkage. If your clay doesn’t come with grog, you can buy it from specialized shops, it should look either like fine powder or chippings of dried clay.
What Kind of Clay Is Used For Mugs?
Stoneware clay is the kind most used for mugs. This is because it has certain ingredients that make it food safe, and keeps chemicals from seeping into your food once it’s been fired. It also doesn’t always need to be glazed either, due to the ingredients within it.
Stoneware clay is also incredibly durable and strong. It’s one of the most malleable clays to use and fire.
Can Air Dry Clay Be Used For Mugs?
Air-dry clay should definitely not be used for mugs. The ingredients within it are not food safe, even glazed, it shouldn’t be used to drink out of. Any mugs or dinnerware made with air-dry clay should be strictly decorative. Air-dry clay also can’t be fired, which is an incredibly important process for creating food-safe pottery.
What is Handbuilding With Clay?
Handbuilding is a technique that’s been around for generations. It’s merely a technique of creating mugs, pots, plates, and more with merely your hands, no throwing wheel involved. There is a myriad of techniques included that can be used in order to sculpt the clay into your desired shape, including rolling your clay out into a snake shape and then coiling it into a ‘mug’ or any other shape.