When you’re thinking about getting into pottery, a healthy knowledge of clay and the different types out there can be incredibly beneficial to your project. The type of clay you buy and begin to work with will determine what your end project will look like.
This article will go through the different things you should think about before you buy your clay, and why you should think about them too. Have a read below before you go shopping.
Got no time to read? Here’s a summary of the best clays and why we picked them.
|Why We Picked It
|Bastex Low Fire Clay
|Bastex Low Fire Terracotta Clay
|Beautiful shade once fired.
|Rocky Mountain Mid Fire Pottery Clay
|Very smooth white clay with no iron spots.
|Amaco No. 25 White Art Clay
|It’s soft, sturdy, low firing, and very versatile.
Best Clay For Pottery Wheels
So now that we have some idea of what to look out for when choosing your clay, let’s have a look at some options on the market right now.
Bastex Low Fire Clay
For a beginner, just getting used to kilns and firing, we will always recommend a low-firing clay. This is because you’ll often find them to be the easiest to work with and because they require less heat, there will be minimal shrinking to your completed project.
Bastex low fire clay is white and non-toxic, which is great if you’re looking to make ceramic homeware that you can paint. This clay is sturdy and strong, yet malleable and easy to mold.
Bastex Low Fire Terracotta Clay
The Bastex Terracotta clay is organic, non-toxic, and very easy to work with. Though many reports that they prefer to use this clay for hand-building, it’s still great to use on the pottery wheel. Once this clay is fired, you’ll find that it will become a deep, rich, beautiful red.
If you’re a little nervous about what it will look like before firing, then you can leave the Bastex clay to air-dry first, before firing, to ensure you like the look and feel of your project.
Rocky Mountain Mid Fire Pottery Clay
This clay will fire at medium temperatures, which means that the clay itself is much softer and smoother than the previous clays mentioned. It’s still just as versatile as low-firing clay, however, and will work with a wide variety of glazes.
Rocky Mountain clay also has little to no iron spots in it, so the clay is completely white. If you’re looking to make homeware that will be easy to paint over and accepts most glazes, this is the perfect one for you. Due to how soft this clay it is, it’s made perfectly to be thrown, but it’s not great for hand-building however.
Amaco No. 25 White Art Clay
Amaco No. 25 is a very popular clay, and for good reason. Despite the fact that it’s low firing and is well suited for every kind of project from hand-building to throwing, it’s very soft. It’s very rare to find clay with a plastic body and a low firing point. It also doesn’t just have to be fired at a low point, if you have a glaze that needs to be fired at a slightly higher cone then this clay can be fired at a higher cone too.
With a shrinkage point of 6% at Cone 0.4 (a medium fire), the shrinkage won’t be too much of a problem within the kiln either. With its high versatility, we recommend this clay for all beginners.
Things to Consider Before Buying Clay for Pottery
What is Clay?
Clay is finely grained soil that forms when wet. It’s made from a composition of sands and minerals. The texture and color of the clay vary depending on the percentage of each ingredient and the size of the particles within it.
For example, Clays with high concentrations of iron oxide usually have a rusty or orange color. Clay with this color is often called Terracotta and is great for sturdy decoration e.g. housing tiles, plant pots and so much more.
Whereas clays with zero iron appear grey, like porcelain or earthenware clay. These are often used to make those things you store in your cupboards like mugs, plates, and fine, delicate teacups.
Clay isn’t confined to just those things mentioned though. It can also be employed across many industries with infinite uses. In construction industries, clay is widely used in the building sector to build brick walls and is also widely employed by 3D modeling designers in other industries.
How to Harden Pottery Clay?
Art clay tends to dry in many different ways. Air-dry clay only requires a room temperature space away from direct sunlight, and polymer clay can only be hardened in an at-home oven.
Pottery clay, however, requires something much different, which is what makes it the least accessible clay to use. Pottery clay requires kilns.
Kilns are imperative to your pottery project. You should avoid working with pottery clay if you aren’t sure you have access to a kiln. Kilns are essentially ovens specially made for the use of pottery clay.
Many argue that you could try and use your home ovens for pottery, but you would be severely disappointed. Kiln’s reach temperatures that at home ovens’ couldn’t possibly get to, temperatures that pottery clay needs to properly harden and to become food safe.
What To Consider When Buying Throwing Clay
Throwing clay is a pottery term for using a pottery wheel as opposed to hand-building. This is important to note as there are many different needs for throwing and hand-building. With hand-building, you’ll want your clay to be sturdy and effective, with throwing, you want your clay to have elasticity and plastic.
Before you head to your local craft store to get some clay, you should have some idea of what you want to make. Not only will you have to think about the easiest clay for you to work with, as a beginner potter, but you’ll also need to think about the best clay for your project.
Earthenware clay will always be recommended for beginners, however, it doesn’t suit every project. If you’re thinking of making a mug with earthenware clay, but you don’t want to glaze it, we recommend you look into a different kind instead. Earthenware clays remain porous after being fired, so to make it food safe, you need a good glaze for it.
Read on to discover more things you should think about before you get started on your pottery wheel.
The Four Different Types of Pottery Clays
It’s important to note that there are four different types of clay. You can mix these different clays together and create something new and interesting, but for a beginner potter, we recommend that you just pick one of the four listed below and try them out first.
Most clays tend to have been fired before they sell them, this is called vitrification. Earthenware clays, however, have not been, which means that no matter if you fire them or not, they still won’t be porous enough to be food-safe without a glaze.
For that reason, a lot of people use earthenware clays for things other than eating and drinking. You can use it for bricks, tiles, plant pots, or beautiful ceramic art.
Earthenware clay is made from the earth. You could even make it from the earth in your back garden if you understand the making of pottery well enough.
Stoneware clay is much more durable than earthenware clay, which makes it more popular. It often has to be fired at very high temperatures, making it the less favored clay among beginners and people with low firing kilns.
People often use it for statues, ceramics, mugs, plates, etc… It’s very versatile and more affordable than porcelain and ball clay, making it the more preferred clay among season potters.
This type of clay is mainly used as a mixer for other clays. It can be used on its own, but it best compliments clays like stoneware clay. Its ingredients are incredibly fine-grained with a very high plastic concentrate. Because of its ingredients, it’s incredibly soft and elastic, which makes it incredibly easy to work with on a pottery wheel.
This is why clays like porcelain and stoneware mix so well with it. When ball clay is fired, it appears to take on a whitish color, again, very similar to stoneware and porcelain clay.
Porcelain clay is incredibly revered among experienced potters. It’s completely impenetrable and firm, whilst also being elastic and soft, perfect for the pottery wheel, not so much for hand building, however.
Unlike earthenware clays, porcelain clay is a little harder to get a hold of because you have to mine it. The ingredient within it that makes it so firm and wonderful for ceramics and fine bone china is kaolinite, an ingredient found in rocks and stones.
Once porcelain clay is fired, its body will be a grey or white color
and, depending on the kind you buy, it can even be translucent.
4 Key Things To Think About Before You Begin Your Project
Now you know the four different types of clay you can buy, what are the four key factors that you will need to consider for your project?
It’s important you consider the texture of your clay, the ingredients within it, the color, and the temperature your clay needs to be fired at before you begin. Knowing, and understanding, these factors in relation to the project you want to complete is key to it working out perfectly.
Different clays have different properties, which is important to note because different ingredients will create a unique finish. For an experienced thrower, they will tell you that plastic is a key ingredient when it comes to throwing.
Plastic allows the clay to be more malleable, and it creates a very smooth finish. You’ll also have to use a lot of water when throwing clay, more than you would need for hand-building. For that reason, plastic is great because it won’t absorb too much water.
This is why porcelain and stoneware clay is very popular with experienced potter-heads. However, if you’re new to this and you’ve never fired clay before, a high plastic count can be detrimental to your project.
Plastic can create shrinking when it’s in the kiln and being fired. If you haven’t accounted for this then it might warp your creation, or, in some cases, even break it apart entirely. We recommend that you avoid porcelain and high plastic count clays until you’ve experimented enough with sturdier clay.
As we said before, kilns are essential to your pottery project. There isn’t much point in buying pottery clay if you don’t have access to a kiln. If your project isn’t fired, it’s likely it will fall apart shortly after you make it and it will be completely unusable.
So, once you gain access to a kiln, you then need to consider its firing ranges. What’s the highest temperature that your kiln goes up to? What’s its lowest?
Some kilns can only fire at a low temperature, however, others can only fire at a high temperature. This is why, whether you’re hand-building or throwing, you need to consider the firing range of your kiln.
Clay contains a lot of impurities. They have iron and minerals in them that can give some earthenware clays their colors or their unique capabilities. These minerals are special to the clay, and as such, they require being fired just as uniquely.
This is where you consider your project, the type of clay you’ll need for it, and its firing temperature. Not to forget the temperature of the glaze too.
No matter what you do to your clay before you fire it, the kind of clay you buy will determine what your finished project looks like. Depending on what you want to make, you can either choose a project with a grog in it, or a project with ball clay in it.
Grog is essentially a mixture of silica and alumina. You can either buy it separately and mix it into your clay yourself, it’s available as a powder or as chippings of what looks like crushed-up ceramics, or you can buy your clay with it already in there.
Clay with a lot of grog in it is great for hand-building, and for projects that require stability. For example, plant pots, statues, and general decor would be made with clay that has grog within it.
The texture of your clay mixed with grog, once fired, might be slightly rough and bumpy, and even a glaze or sanding won’t change this texture.
A clay with little to no grog will result in the complete opposite. The texture will be smoothed and polished, and a light layer of glaze will leave it looking almost shiny. This sort of texture is perfect for ceramics such as plates, mugs, and delicate teacups.
Most clays with that texture don’t have grog, but instead, have ball clay mixed into it. Ball clay is great for delicate projects such as porcelain. It causes the fired and finished product to be smooth, white, or almost translucent.
It’s mined from stones and has a high count of kaolinite.
Pottery clay comes in a wide variety of colors. The color of the clay is often because of the ingredients within them, for example, a clay with a large count of iron in it will be a darker, deeper shade than most others. You can even get a black-colored clay if the iron count is high enough.
Terracotta clay is a vibrant red that is often associated with plant pots, tiles, and general architecture use. Porcelain clay is a pleasant grey color when fired, which is why it’s often used for mugs, plates, etc… Due to the fact that not only is it very smooth, but it’s also easy to paint over.
When considering the project you want to make, think about the color of the clay you want to make it with.
If you’re thinking of being adventurous, you should think about your clay body. The body of your clay refers to the four main types of clays that are available to you: Earthenware, stoneware, ball, and porcelain.
When you mix some of these, they no longer fit within one category, instead, they are referred to as a ‘clay body’. We don’t recommend that beginners use mixed clay, or that they attempt to make their own mixed clay body.
It’s best to stick to a simple clay body type. With mixed clay bodies, you need to worry about the temperature ranges, the properties of the clay, and what your finished product will look like. It’s all a little more complicated.
What Type of Clay Should a Beginner Use?
We always recommend stoneware, or earthenware clay with a very fine grog, no matter the project. This is because it’s incredibly versatile, sturdy, and cooperative. Unlike other types of clay that may only be suited to be thrown, earthenware and stoneware are great for either/or.
They’re both also easy to fire and are generally very unproblematic when it comes to glazing them also. Of course, as you become more comfortable with pottery you can go on to use other clays, like porcelain. But if you’re just dipping your toes in the water, then we will recommend you do so with earthenware and stoneware clay.
What Kind of Clay Doesn’t Need To Be Fired?
All pottery clay needs to be fired. If it isn’t fired, you’ll find that your project won’t last for very long. Otherwise, you can use other clays for anything else, such as air-dry clay, polymer clay or even modeling clay.
All pottery clays that you want to use for eating, drinking, or that will come into contact with water regularly, needs to be fired as well. And you’ll find that most air-dry clays need to be glazed as well, so although you can escape firing, you can’t necessarily escape glazing.
Can Clay Expire?
Because clay comes from the earth, it can’t expire. It may grow mold after a certain period due to the liquid within it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some potter-heads prefer it when their clay goes moldy. It means the clay will be much easier to work with due to the added moisture from the mold. If you’re worried about the mold in the clay and how it will affect your finished piece, e.g. if it’s for eating off of, then don’t be at all! The firing process will eliminate any unsafe bacteria and the glaze will protect you from ingesting anything also.
How Do You Choose a Throwing Clay?
Consider the body of the clay and what you’d like to work with, is it earthenware, porcelain, or stoneware that you’re seeking? Think about the kiln you’ll be using as well, what cone does it fire at? Can you use high fire clays within that kiln, or is it for low-firing clay only? What glaze will you be using?
Think about the finished project too, what color would you like that to be? If you want to paint it, stick to clay that will be grey or white once fired.