Remember aaaages back, when I mentioned playing with hazardous materials but never really elaborated on it? I got to do it again. And am too sore and wired to fall asleep right now, so you finally get to hear about it.

I was reclaiming clay. When potters make things, especially on the wheel, there are lots of stray scraps of clay that get generated. Long strips that get trimmed off the bottoms of things, finished items that cracked while drying, mugs that fell off their handles when you absent-mindedly pick them up by the fragile little handle so they fall on the floor and shatter into a million jillion pieces–those sorts of things. These scraps can be collected, allowed to dry out completely, and recycled back into usable, “reclaim” clay.

Step one:
Collect scraps! When they are completely, utterly bone dry, fill some buckets with water and pour the scraps in. (DO NOT STIR YOU WILL SCREW UP THE PARTICLES. Water will not be able to rehydrate the pieces of clay, especially larger ones; you will end up with a thin layer of wet clay over a piece of bone-dry clay. This is not usable.) Let the mix sit overnight. Or longer, for smellier but smoother results.

scraps and buckets such as these

Step two:
You now have buckets of slip! This is basically very watered-down clay. Pour off the watery bit on top, and pour the more solid slip into your handy dandy clay mixer. (Cement mixers work too.)

This is, by the way, is the point at which you really need to put on a smock (to minimize silica contamination of your clothes) and a respirator. Ignore the Darth Vader jokes. They are made by people who clearly know nothing of Star Wars.[1]

Step three:
Add a few pounds of powdered, dry clays (our studio’s recipe calls for mostly Kentucky ball clay and Old Mine #4, with a dash of EPK kaolin), and a couple pounds of silica and feldspar. If you want to get fancy and make coloured clay, add varying amounts of iron for browns or reds, cobalt for blue, or copper for greenish. You can also experiment with stains for other colours, but you’re getting into pretty darn expensive territory there.

Step four:
Keep adding dry materials until your clay is the consistency of clay. Scrape it out of the mixer (this is the hardest, most back-abusing part), wedge it into manageable blocks, and wrap it in plastic.

Ta-da! You have clay! Go make something with it!

[1] Yeah, he wheezes, but his wheeze is all cool and sinister and evil and stuff. A potter in a respirator sounds more like your asthmatic little brother just after you’ve accidentally nailed him in the gut with a hard rubber ball during a game of “no contact” dodgeball.[2]

[2] Sorry, Erik.

Clay review

The Tucker’s clay I picked up is gorgeous… smooth, and lots softer than the PSH clay, which means I need less muscle to wedge and throw it. Just the thing for a tired body after a day’s work in the shop.

Unfortunately, soft clay is wet clay, so it dries pretty slowly. The door to the studio was open all day today thanks to the St. John’s Days open house, and even with the breeze, the pots I made last night still weren’t dry enough for me to trim at the end of the day. Hm. Seems I get quicker turnover (so higher production volume) with PSH or easier throwing with Tucker’s. Can’t have both. (Or I could rent more space for in-process pots to sit in. Which is a step I’d have to take eventually anyways, but not one I have the money for… yet.)

Clay! Precious clay!

So, the studio still has no clay. Heather called up Pottery Supply House to ask where the shipment was, as it’s been well over a month now since the order was put in, and they said, “Oh. Yeah… guess we should have told you… we’ve been really busy here. It should go out next week.”

I spent an hour ranting about it[1], and then started looking at alternative clay-obtention arrangements. This afternoon I drove out to Witless Bay, to visit the inimitable Peter Sobol. He’s got a bulk-ordering scheme on the go for any potter who wants in. Call him up, let him know how much clay you want, and he’ll put your request in the pile. He managed to wrangle some kind of insanely cheap shipping rates out of some company in New Brunswick, so unless you have crazy bulk discounts yourself, it’s cheaper to go in on the group thing with him than it is to get clay on your own. I got three emergency boxes to tide me over until PSH (hopefully) gets their act together, and will hand him three boxes back when that comes in. It’s Tucker’s clay, which will be new for me, but from the first few pokes, I think it’ll actually be easier to work with than the PSH stoneware I usually throw with.

[1] One of my co-workers got me to shut up and talk about something else by asking me about how medieval books were made. And now I want to learn bookbinding.[2]

[2] I can very easily develop the all-consuming fascination of a geek, but have the focus of a butterfly on cocaine.