Pottery Making Technique

Pottery is made by forming the clay body into objects of a required shape and heating them to high temperatures in a kiln to induce reactions that lead to permanent changes including increasing their strength and hardening and setting their shape.



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There are wide regional variations in the properties of raw materials used for the production of pottery, and this can lead to wares that are unique in character to a locality. It is common for clays and other materials to be mixed to produce clay bodies suited to specific purposes.

Prior to some shaping processes, air trapped within the clay body needs to be removed. This is called de-airing and can be accomplished by a machine called a vacuum pug or manually by wedging. Wedging can also help to ensure an even moisture content throughout the body.

Once a clay body has been de-aired or wedged, it is shaped by a variety of techniques. After shaping it is dried before firing. There are a number of stages in the drying process. Leather-hard refers to the stage when the clay object is approximately 15% moisture content. Clay bodies at this stage are very firm and only slightly pliable. Trimming and handle attachment often occurs at the leather-hard state. Clay bodies are said to be "bone-dry" when they reach a moisture content at or near 0%. Unfired objects are often termed greenware. Clay bodies at this stage are very fragile and hence can be easily broken.

Methods of shaping

Pottery can be shaped by a range of methods that include:

1) Hand building. Wares can be constructed by hand from coils of clay, flat slabs of clay, solid balls of clay or some combination of these. Parts of hand-built vessels are often joined together with the aid of slip, an aqueous suspension of clay body and water. Hand-building is slower than wheel-throwing, but it offers the potter a high degree of control over the size and shape of wares. The speed and repetitiveness of other techniques is more suitable for making precisely matched sets of wares such as tablewares although some studio potters find hand-building more conducive to create one-of-a-kind works of art.

2) The potter's wheel. In a process called "throwing" (coming from the Old English word thrawan which means to twist or turn, a ball of clay is placed in the center of a turntable, called the wheel-head, which the potter rotates with a stick, with foot power or with a variable-speed electric motor.

During the process of throwing, the wheel rotates rapidly while the solid ball of soft clay is pressed, squeezed and pulled gently upwards and outwards into a hollow shape. The first step of pressing the rough ball of clay downward and inward into perfect rotational symmetry is called centering the clay--a most important skill to master before the next steps: opening (making a centered hollow into the solid ball of clay), flooring (making the flat or rounded bottom inside the pot), throwing or pulling (drawing up and shaping the walls to an even thickness), and trimming or turning (removing excess clay to refine the shape or to create a foot).

 3) Granulate pressing: This is the operation of shaping pottery by pressing clay in a semi-dry and granulated condition in a mould. The clay is pressed into the mould by a porous die through which water is pumped at high pressure. The granulated clay is prepared by spray-drying to produce a fine and free-flowing material having a moisture content of between about 5 and 6 per cent. Granulate pressing, also known as dust pressing, is widely used in the manufacture of ceramic tiles and, increasingly, of plates.

4) Injection Moulding: is a shape-forming process adapted for the tableware industry from the method long established for the forming of thermoplastic and some metal components. It has been called Porcelain Injection Moulding, or PIM. Suited to the mass production of complex-shaped articles, one significant advantage of the technique is that it allows the production of a cup, including the handle, in a single process, and thereby eliminates the handle-fixing operation and produces a stronger bond between cup and handle.  

5) Jiggering and jolleying: These operations are carried out on the potter's wheel and allow the time taken to bring wares to a standardized form to be reduced. Jiggering is the operation of bringing a shaped tool into contact with the plastic clay of a piece under construction, the piece itself being set on a rotating plaster mould on the wheel. The jigger tool shapes one face while the mould shapes the other. Jiggering is used only in the production of flat wares, such as plates, but a similar operation, jolleying, is used in the production of hollow-wares such as cups. Jiggering and jolleying have been used in the production of pottery since at least the 18th century. In large-scale factory production, jiggering and jolleying are usually automated, which allows the operations to be carried out by semi-skilled labor.

6) Roller-head machine:This machine is for shaping wares on a rotating mould, as in jiggering and jolleying, but with a rotary shaping tool replacing the fixed profile. The rotary shaping tool is a shallow cone having the same diameter as the ware being formed and shaped to the desired form of the back of the article being made. They remain the dominant method for producing flatware.

7) Pressure casting– specially developed polymeric materials allow a mould to be subject to application external pressures of up to 4.0 MPa–so much higher than slip casting in plaster moulds where the capillary forces correspond to a pressure of around 0.1 - 0.2 MPa. The high pressure leads to much faster casting rates and, hence, faster production cycles. Furthermore, the application of high pressure air through the polymeric moulds upon demoulding the cast means a new casting cycle can be started immediately in the same mould, unlike plaster moulds which require lengthy drying times. The polymeric materials have much greater durability than plaster and, therefore, it is possible to achieve shaped products with better dimensional tolerances and much longer mould life.

8) RAM pressing: A factory process for shaping table wares and decorative ware by pressing a bat of prepared clay body into a required shape between two porous molding plates. After pressing, compressed air is blown through the porous mould plates to release the shaped wares.

9) Slip casting: A slip, made by mixing clay body with water, is poured into a highly absorbent plaster mold. Water from the slip is absorbed into the mould leaving a layer of clay body covering its internal surfaces and taking its internal shape. Excess slip is poured out of the mold, which is then split open and the molded object removed.


Decorating and glazing

Pottery may be decorated in a number of ways including:

·  In the clay body, for example, by incising patterns on its surface.

·  Underglaze decoration (in the manner of many blue and white wares).

·  In-glaze decoration

·  On-glaze decoration

·  Enamel


Glaze is a glassy coating on pottery, the primary purposes of which are decoration and protection. One important use of glaze is to render porous pottery vessels impermeable to water and other liquids. 


Firing produces irreversible changes in the body. It is only after firing that the article or material is pottery. In the case of porcelain, where different materials and higher firing-temperatures are used, the physical, chemical and mineralogical properties of the constituents in the body are greatly altered.

As a rough guide, earthenwares are normally fired at temperatures in the range of about 1000 to 1200 °C; stonewares at between about 1100 to 1300 °C; and porcelains at between about 1200 to 1400 °C. 

The duration of the period of firing and the atmosphere within a kiln during firing can affect the appearance of the finished wares.

Extracted from en-wikipedia.org.


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