Working with clay that is too wet can really put a damper on things. In fact, wet clay can actually make it harder to model, throw, or work the clay in general. After all, wet clay is mushy and doesn’t set up well. Plus, it makes everything you’re working with a watery clay mess as well.
Wet clay is a problem most potters have at some point. The good news is that it’s a fixable problem that won’t require a lot of effort or materials. If you’re stuck with clay that’s too wet to work with, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’ll show you what you can do to clay that has become too wet. Don’t worry, you won’t have to get rid of the clay, but it will take some time before you can work with it again in a drier state. Follow the steps we’ve included below, and you should be working with workable clay in no time.
Are you ready to turn your wet clay into something you can form? Let’s get started.
What to Do When Clay is Too Wet
Here are the steps you should take when you find that your clay is too wet to work with. They are not necessarily a procedural list, but rather a resource of practices you can try to make your clay more workable.
1. Reclaim, Reuse, Recycle
The sculpting process, whether you throw on the wheel or sculpt by hand, involves a lot of give and take, especially when it comes to clay. Working with clay may result in pieces of clay that you’ve worked with returning to the clay body you pulled it from.
For example, dripping wet clay often comes off of thrown pieces from the pottery wheel. Many potters reuse this clay found in throwing water in order not to waste it. This fresh clay may sit for a few days within a dedicated bucket, which potters then drain and strain a few times before reusing it. It then resembles thick icing.
Even though much of the water is removed from this recycled clay, it could still be too sticky to work with. This is where you’ll need to employ one of the following options to get that sticky clay to a drier place where you can wedge it and use it for your next project.
2. Air Dry Clay Naturally
It’s easy enough to air dry clay naturally. In fact, all it requires is a bit of sun and heat. Many potters will leave their wet clay out in the sun to dry since this is one of the most efficient ways to remove excess water.
As the water evaporates from the clay, you’ll want to manipulate it in such a way that all sides are exposed to the elements. This allows the entire clay body to dry evenly without giving you a hard clay spot to then have to add water to. Pottery dries best when airflow is consistent over the entire piece.
It’s a common practice to leave clay out in the sun in a pillowcase or open plastic bag. You can either leave the container open or close it off if you want to control the drying process with a bit more precision.
Another great way to speed up the drying process is to spread the clay out over a slab such as wood or plaster. A plaster slab will also leach moisture content from the clay, so be aware of this if you plan on attacking the wet clay from both sides. You don’t want the clay to become bone dry, but you do want it to be somewhere between that and liquid form.
Usually, air dry clay can be dried out in a similar way to pottery clay. For example, air dry clay and even polymer clay can become dried out over time or even as you work with them. Air-dry clays typically include a water base, so they’re easy enough to add water to. The same cannot be said for polymer clay.
3. Add In Bone Dry Clay to Wet Clay
Add dried-out clay to clay slip to absorb the excess moisture. As it dries, the clay turns lighter, meaning the moisture has been removed from the clay particles. If you introduce water again, the clay will soak up the moisture. Just be sure that you don’t forget this piece is in there and accidentally mix it with the rest of the clay.
Porcelain clay is a type of clay that has high water content. You can incorporate a bone dry piece of pottery clay to soak up excess moisture from porcelain clay, but be sure to remove it once you achieve the right consistency.
4. Leach Water from Overly Sticky Clay
As we mentioned above, a plaster slab can decrease the moisture level of clay. Since the plaster is absorbent, it will soak up the moisture out of overly sticky clay by wrapping it in old sheets, T-shirts, or even canvas.
Potters will also cover a slab of wood with these absorbent materials as well to create the same effect. Depending on the wood you choose, it could gently wick the moisture away from the clay to a point where it’s more workable.
5. Throw Clay Body on the Pottery Wheel
Depending on how wet the clay is, you may be able to throw the clay onto the wheel and throw it. This really hinges on the clay particles, since they could be surrounded by too much water to stay together well enough for throwing.
6. Wedge Clay
Mixing clay with water to hydrate it a bit more can often result in too much water content. If that’s the case, you can almost always wedge out the excess moisture by using a canvas platform.
The idea here is that you’re working the clay with your hands as well as allowing it to contact the canvas. If the clay sticks at first, that’s okay, but you’ll want to get the clay to the point where it is completely dry to the touch and contains no air bubbles.
Clay that contains too much moisture may take a few wedging sessions to really become workable. It’s more important to achieve the right consistency when wedging than to risk working with clay that’s too wet because it could come back to bite you when it comes time to fire.
Clay should be wedged until it feels warm. When the clay feels room temperature, its plasticity of it is at its highest.
Candling is not a method we typically recommend if you’re new to the pottery scene. Candling requires a bit of technique since you’ve got to get the timing just right to keep a good consistency to your clay.
You should also only perform candling on a greenware piece you’ve created that’s ready for firing. That is, the piece should be leather hard. This is because it’s really an extension of the kiln firing process. It’s a bit like preheating your oven before putting in a pizza.
To candle wet clay, preheat your kiln to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. You can then place the wet clay piece in the kiln for about 3-5 hours. Many potters candle overnight before bisque firing.
However, you should be aware that candling can make a piece even more prone to cracking, as the water content may still be high. This is especially true of soft clay. In this case, candling should be done more as a preventative measure than a way to dry clay out quickly before firing it.
How do you dry air dry clay that’s too wet?
If you added too much water to your air dry clay, that’s okay. If you’ve got the clay wet enough that it’s broken down into very fine particle sizes, you can easily keep it out in the open to air dry naturally. You can even spread it out to speed up the drying process.
While it may be tempting to soak up the excess water with paper towels, take a moment. That wet paper towel contains small components of the modeling clay that allows it to cure properly. If you take those away, it may not allow the clay to dry properly.
Can you rehydrate old clay with water?
Yes, it is possible to add water to old clay to reuse it. However, you should be careful how much water you add, as you could need to use some of the techniques above to reduce the moisture content.
The best way to rehydrate clay is to place it in a small bowl and add water to it in small amounts at a time. You might be wondering, “How long does it take for the water to soak into the clay,” and the answer is that it depends. Clay starts to soak up the water almost immediately, but the type of clay will dictate how fast the process is.
Hopefully, you’ve found this article on wet clay useful in figuring out what you should do if you find yourself with clay too wet to work with. As you can see, there are many things you can do to alleviate the situation, each of them requiring the materials you’ve probably already got laying around. Wet clay will stop you no more!