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Help. Where To Start? Clay-Firing

clay wheel firing propane

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#1 CecRR

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Posted 25 February 2014 - 10:20 PM

Hi, Totally new here, and completely over whelmed. I got into throwing pottery back in high school, and have always wanted to do it again. I just bought me a wheel to begin throwing again, but Im at a loss from here. I have no idea what kind of clay to buy. I never knew there were so many options. My husband and I are wanting to build a propane kiln to fire out pieces in, so Im looking for suggestions on what kinds of clays are best to use for this kind of method. Also, anyone with info or experience in building a gas kiln? Any information I can get will help. Thanks so much! 

 



#2 Benzine

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Posted 25 February 2014 - 11:25 PM

Welcome back to the world of clay, and the forum.

For some real good basic info, both this board and the Clay and Glaze board, have both added Frequently Asked Questions threads. They are fountains of information.

As to your specific questions, you're right, there is a lot of clay to choose from. For starters, identifying your location will allow people to make better suggestions, as it relates to the clay available by the regional suppliers. In general, you'll need to determine if you want to fire low or mid to high fire clay, Are you making functional wares? What kind of glaze effects are you going for?

If you are planning on firing in a gas kiln, I would guess you are maybe looking for a high fire clay, like stoneware or porcelain?

Are you planning on single firing the pieces in the gas kiln, as opposed to bisque-firing in an electric kiln, then glaze firing in the gas kiln. Many potters use the latter approach.

I will leave the kiln building suggestions, to the more knowledgeable folks, like John.
"Anything worth believing, is worth questioning"

#3 schmism

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Posted 26 February 2014 - 02:00 AM

Skip building a kiln.  Check out craigslist.  All the big cities within 200 miles of me have 5-10 electric kilns for 300-$700 depending on size and condition.

 

There is 50# cone 10 stoneware that Amazon sells with free shipping for prime.   hard to go wrong with that if your just starting out.



#4 justanassembler

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Posted 26 February 2014 - 02:50 AM

Skip building a kiln.  Check out craigslist.  All the big cities within 200 miles of me have 5-10 electric kilns for 300-$700 depending on size and condition.

 

There is 50# cone 10 stoneware that Amazon sells with free shipping for prime.   hard to go wrong with that if your just starting out.

 

Except that if she takes your advice and buys an electric kiln, firing to cone 10 isn't particularly wise.   Honestly, if you're just getting back into making pots, and you were overwhelmed by the vast variety of clays, jumping into building and firing a reduction kiln is probably jumping the shark a bit.  Perhaps what would help you is to take a refresher course or two--check and see what is offered through local community colleges as they often times go a bit deeper than community studios in terms of firing and glazing work...  Otherwise, there are a myriad of books out there that serve as good references, one of my favorites is The Craft and Art of Clay By Susan Peterson...



#5 CecRR

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Posted 26 February 2014 - 09:26 AM

Problem is, I am in a very small town in the middle of nowhere. I have checked craigs list, and there is nothing near me, nor is what Ive found within my budget. I would like to make functional pieces that I could use in my kitchen, just unsure of the "safety" from different firing methods. 



#6 CecRR

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Posted 26 February 2014 - 09:34 AM

Welcome back to the world of clay, and the forum.

For some real good basic info, both this board and the Clay and Glaze board, have both added Frequently Asked Questions threads. They are fountains of information.

As to your specific questions, you're right, there is a lot of clay to choose from. For starters, identifying your location will allow people to make better suggestions, as it relates to the clay available by the regional suppliers. In general, you'll need to determine if you want to fire low or mid to high fire clay, Are you making functional wares? What kind of glaze effects are you going for?

If you are planning on firing in a gas kiln, I would guess you are maybe looking for a high fire clay, like stoneware or porcelain?

Are you planning on single firing the pieces in the gas kiln, as opposed to bisque-firing in an electric kiln, then glaze firing in the gas kiln. Many potters use the latter approach.

I will leave the kiln building suggestions, to the more knowledgeable folks, like John.

Sorry, forgot to mention that I am in southern UT, northern AZ. and we plan to do an outdoor kiln



#7 neilestrick

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Posted 26 February 2014 - 10:31 AM

Are you close enough to Southern Utah University to take a class?


Neil Estrick
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#8 Benzine

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Posted 26 February 2014 - 10:36 AM

CecRR, I see that Laguna Clay, has some distributers in Coalville, UT and a couple in Arizona. I have no experience with them, but they are a popular supplier, and I know a lot of potters like their clays.

If you are going for functional wares, you are going to want a mid to high fire clay, like stoneware or porcelain.

Low fire clays, don't fully vitrify, so if the glaze has any issues, like crazing, liquids seep into the clay and can grow bacteria and mold. In the opinion of many, low fire wares are also less durable.

I would still suggest getting an electric kiln, for bisque firing. Single firing can cause headaches, and bisque firing in your gas kiln can be pricey.
"Anything worth believing, is worth questioning"

#9 CecRR

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Posted 26 February 2014 - 11:07 AM

Are you close enough to Southern Utah University to take a class?

 No not really. SUU is about 3 hrs away, as is Dixie, and NAU. I was looking at ordering clay online here: http://www.sheffield...re-Clay-s/1.htm  The prices seem to be reasonable, and they say that can ship via usps flat rate. I just dont know where to start. I need a clay to test out that isnt too gritty, and is pretty hardy when it comes to firing. I know after I get into the swing of things I will have more knowledge, and play around with different clay bodies. Im just looking for suggestions on one to start with?



#10 Chantay

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Posted 26 February 2014 - 12:15 PM

Don't assume that because she wants to fire gas that it will be cone 10.  I am wanting to convert to gas someday and plan on staying with cone 6 stone ware.  There are a number of professional potters firing to cone 6 with gas now.

 

I think dicisions need to be made in this order:

 

1. cone

2. gas or electric

3. reduction or oxidation

 

Personally, and now I have only been working in clay for two years, I would start with an electric kiln no matter what.  If you don't have your throwing skills down, or hand building, do you really want to fill up and fire a gas kiln?


- chantay

#11 Dharsi

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Posted 26 February 2014 - 06:36 PM

There are zillions of videos on youtube on how to convert an electric kiln to gas.  You may be able to pick up an old beat up electric kiln from craigslist, convert it to gas, and see if you are going to like it before investing (and we are talking $$ here) in building a kiln.  As far as clays go you do need to decide what cone you plan to fire to and many clays will work for reduction or oxidation.  If you are looking at gas you will be firing in  reduction.  Read down through the clay descriptions and find one that is for wheel work and fires to the cone you are interested.  I would ask your clay supplier for a recommendation.  They will know what their clients like best.

Again, you can watch videos on youtube and get lots of free instruction but remember, often free advice is worth exactly what you pay for it :)  I too first learned to throw in high school and then took weekly private lessons from a potter whose work I admired.  Her technical skills are impeccable.  That may work for you if you cannot find a community college or art center to take lessons at.

You may also want to consider picking up some raku clay and do some pit firings just for the learning.  

Working with clay is a real roller coaster, complete with great highs and low lows with a pretty steep learning curve.  And, considering potters work with "dirt" it isn't cheap to gear up for.  Enjoy the adventure.



#12 Benzine

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Posted 26 February 2014 - 07:44 PM

 If you are looking at gas you will be firing in  reduction.


Usually, but not always. Most people do use gas for the reduction effects it offers, but oxidation is possible in a gas kiln, as long as the air/ fuel mixture is right. The first half of my Raku firing, is oxidation with a gas burner.
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#13 Pres

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Posted 27 February 2014 - 11:16 AM

CecRR,

Personal opinion here.

 

After reading your posts, I would take the simplest route possible.  

  • Contact your nearest local ceramics supplier, and see about purchasing sample clays to work with while you learn to throw.  Ask them about local classes or interest groups of any sort that you could take or join.
  • Handbuild with these, and work on your throwing. This will help you to assess the types of clays you like to work with.
  • Purchase an electric kiln to fire your work in in the beginning. This will help you to understand firing, and if you later build that dream kiln, as Ben says you can use the electric for bisque.
  • Fire your handbuilt pieces to assess the clays further, try commercial glazes or find a few recipes in the Forum or Ceramic Arts Daily section and glaze fire your pieces.
  • Purchase the type of clay you like in a bulk amount and move on.

 

This whole clay thing is not an easy process. There are those of us that are still befuddled on the best of days.  Good luck, and enjoy the journey.

 

Preston


Simply retired teacher, not dead, living the dream. on and on and. . . . on. . . .                                                                                 http://picworkspottery.blogspot.com/


#14 bciskepottery

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Posted 27 February 2014 - 12:29 PM

If you are considering building a kiln, think about getting a copy of Mel Jacobsen's book, 21st Century Kilns -- its a book with a video. Talks about the various types of kilns (gas/propane, wood, electric, raku, etc) and has schematic diagrams of a few, including the Minnesota flat top kiln. http://www.21stcenturykilns.com/ If you like the flat top, Mel will email you a more detailed set of drawings that are in a pdf file.

Here is a link for converting an old electric to propane kiln: http://codyopottery....irth-of-my.html

#15 CecRR

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Posted 28 February 2014 - 09:57 AM

After reading more, the kiln we are looking into building will be a gas raku kiln. That seems to be the most inexpensive solution. Ive seen quite a few youtube videos of people making them with ceramic fiber. Obviously the first things I throw are not going to be great, so I think this is a good starting point. I dont think many of you understand how far out I live. The closest places for buying clays, or taking classes are about 300 miles away. So, I think ive gotten a decent amount of advice through here, and google. It seems Im looking for a stoneware clay that is a cone6-10 roughly? Also one with grog? It seems to be a key element to help the the clay with temp. shock, so its less susceptible to cracking? Correct me if Im wrong.

 

Thanks for all the input! 



#16 Pres

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Posted 28 February 2014 - 10:14 AM

Just a bit of warning here. Starting out with a raku clay could be quite difficult. My own experiences with raku came much after knowing how to throw and while I was teaching HS. I took classes at PSU and did a class with Don Tigny, into raku.  The clay body had 50% grog. I ended up with 3 open sores the entire summer, one on the thumb/hand knuckle, one on pinky, and one on pointer. You will find that the raku clay is not as plastic or as easy to throw, and that it will "sand" you hands.  Other folks here may have different opinions on this, but my own experience tells me I would not want to start out with a raku body.

 

Best,

Pres


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#17 Benzine

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Posted 28 February 2014 - 10:51 AM

As Pres said, I definitely wouldn't start off throwing with a specialized Raku clay. It tends to be "gooey" and has quite a bit of grog. My Father likens it, to throwing peanut butter. Not a bad analogy.

However, a stoneware clay with grog, can work for Raku firings. That is actually what we did, at my second school district. We used the same stoneware for Raku, as we did for our standard firings. But, like Pres said, grog can give you issues, if you are not used to working with it. Starting out on the wheel, you spend more time centering, which means the side of your hand(s) are against the wheel head/ bat more, and that grog acts as a sanding disk. Like Pres, my hands were tore up, in some of my classes, where we used a fairly grogged clay.

I would recommend going with a lightly grogged stoneware.

Also, Raku kilns are cheap to build, mine was probably a couple hundred to make. However, you will still want an electric kiln to bisque. It's possible to bisque fire in a Raku kiln, but not really cost efficient.
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#18 potterbeth

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Posted 28 February 2014 - 12:54 PM

Problem is, I am in a very small town in the middle of nowhere. I have checked craigs list, and there is nothing near me, nor is what Ive found within my budget. I would like to make functional pieces that I could use in my kitchen, just unsure of the "safety" from different firing methods. 

 

If you want to make functional work, I don't think you want to raku fire. Raku work is not watertight and many of the glazes are not food safe. A raku kiln is not designed to achieve mid-range stoneware temperatures in an efficient manner, if at all.

 

After accounting for what you need to construct your work, your kiln is the single most important part of your studio. You need something reliable and easy to learn how to fire to begin. There is no bigger heartache in the studio than to open a ruined kiln load of work. Your kiln is not the item you want to scrimp on.

 

Your best bet to get started is an electric kiln (for most homes that would be a 240volt single phase, but BE SURE you know what you need to buy). I think the average kiln for a home hobbyist has about a 7 cubic foot chamber. It could be as little as 3 cubic feet. Also look at the actual inside dimensions of the kiln. The larger kiln will give you more options for size and shape of work in the long run, but it will take longer to fill with work. I recommend that you look at L&L and Skutt kilns. Use their technicians to ask questions! All kinds of questions! Where you will put the kiln, how the size/location of the space may affect your kiln and your firings and adjacent areas with fumes/heat, whether to use an outlet or to hard wire, how easy/difficult it is to make repairs when needed (such as replacing elements, switches, etc.), and so on. Ask them what they would ask if they were you!

 

If you can afford it, buy a new kiln or a used one that has been refurbished by someone experienced in that kind of work. If your kiln location is suitable, buy a kiln with an electronic controller which will make firing easier. If you buy a used kiln that has not been evaluated by someone knowledgeable, you may end up having to spend hundreds of dollars replacing elements, electrical components, etc. Don't buy a kiln that will be shipped by someone who doesn't do it on a regular basis...damage WILL occur if the kiln is not shipped/transported properly.

 

I'd also recommend that you begin with mid-range stoneware (cone 5 - cone 6), initially buying one bag each of 3 or 4 different clay bodies to find one you like. Note: if you buy a clay that is rated for a firing range that goes from cone 6 - cone 10, it may a little more porous than you would like at cone 5-6.

 

You will much more quickly burn up your elements/electrical components if you fire to cone 10 in an electric kiln, unless you buy a production quality kiln with 3" walls (more money). Some other kilns are rated to cone 10, but they just don't hold up in the long run if fired to cone 10. To be clear, I am not suggesting that the 3" walls are not worth the extra money, even if you are only firing to cone 5-6, but they are not necessary. Note: the same applies to a kiln that is rated at cone 6 AND consistently fired to cone 6; going to the top of a kiln's firing range will wear out the electrical components more quickly.

 

One reason I suggest mid-range is the plethora of commercially available glazes rated for food safety that you can buy in this firing range, both in pre-mixed liquids and in dry powdered form to make up your own glaze buckets. While it is more expensive to purchase glaze this way than it is to make your own glaze from raw chemicals, it also starts you in a more predictable and easily accessible place. But there is no magic bullet. Learning to use any glaze properly takes practice.

 

Once you've started making and firing your work, you can begin to experiment with finding/testing glaze recipes. Spend a little more per pound and buy smaller quantities of chemicals until you find recipes you like so you don't end up with a lot of unwanted material that you must store or properly dispose of. As you move forward, you can decide whether you want to transition to gas firing which is an entirely different adventure!

 

What I've said here is basically echoing what Pres said about taking the simplest route possible, just a little fleshed out. I also would have recommended some refresher courses if they were available to you. It might be worth it to contact the 300 mile away facility to see if they would take time to show you around their studio and give you some time for questions and advice in person sometime when you can coordinate the trip. They may also know of some potters who live closer to you and might serve as a resource for questions and advice. Clay people are generally pretty giving.

 

I've been working in clay for more than 30 years, and it's still a thrill. Good luck on the journey!



#19 PeterH

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Posted 28 February 2014 - 02:00 PM

A question really, if CecRR builds a fibre raku kiln, how suitable would it be for bisque firing?

 

Regards, Peter



#20 Benzine

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Posted 28 February 2014 - 02:40 PM

A question really, if CecRR builds a fibre raku kiln, how suitable would it be for bisque firing?
 
Regards, Peter


It would work, just not optimally at all.

Mine has just enough insulation to get to the temperature needed. It cools fairly quickly after that. It doesn't need to retain heat long, as the whole firing is around an hour.

Also, I can get about a half dozen firings or so, out of my small propane tank. But keep in mind, that it is a quick firing. I do a slight preheat to 200 F, and it's pretty much all out, after that. With a bisque, it's generally a much longer firing, and would burn through a lot of fuel.
"Anything worth believing, is worth questioning"





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