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Clay dries too fast in hands, dry skin?

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Help needed:  The clay I'm forming by hand gets cracky and splits so fast that even a simple form isn't finished unless I'm rushing.  

Please suggest ideas for longer, less rushed forming time.

I'm using low fire clay, Standard White 105 brand new from the box and pinching and forming animals and small pendants and beads.

I can roll out a snake and then it's too dry.  That fast.

I can roll a bead and pinch a couple times, then cracks start if I continue.

Super dry hands maybe?  

My guess is to use a mist spray, cover, wait, work a few minutes, mist, cover, wait...I do have a lot of patience!

Thank you!


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Main floor in home, and not noticeably dry.  Room temp a little cool. 

I’m curious if others have come across this, where a persons skin chemistry or ? makes clay dry lightning quick. 

I see demos of handbuilding where the clay is dreamy perfect for long time and rarely fingerprints. I get either sticky or dry with almost zero dreamy, haha. 

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Could be the clay is high in talc which would cause it to dry too quickly for your fine or small pieces. If you are working on a wood or canvas surface try misting that down too before you roll out the coils. When I’m working with small pieces of porcelain I rub a few drops of vegetable oil into my hands, it seems to help with the drying issue of my clay when I’m hand-building.

Also, you can make a damp box to keep pieces in while  work is in progress. Simple damp box can be made with a plastic box, with an airtight lid, and plaster. Pour a couple inches of plaster into the box, after the plaster has cured keep it damp then store your pieces in there. In a pinch you can put a wad of damp newspaper in the box.

If all else fails I would try another clay that is either free of or has a lower amount of talc. Your supplier should be able to give you this information.

Welcome to the forum! :)

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I would suggest trying another, more forgiving clay body. Some are better than others for hand building.

If you absolutely love this clay, then wet your work surface so any forming or rolling is being done on a damp surface. This works better than directly wetting the clay ... misting sometimes just makes the clay slippery as it does not sink in.

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Will do!  Damp box, research new clay (talc content) and damp work surface.  Thank you!  I have Gloves in a Bottle that I use when working with metal clays.  Would lotion on my hands end up with compromised clay and separation issues?  I might try a bit as a test.  Also will try Paper clay slip recipe and see how that feels.

Most annoying cracks are when bending a snake roll.

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Coils tend to crack, also clay can seem wet enough starting out but still may not have absorbed enough water. But really it just sounds like you've got a bit of a hateful clay like Min said with too much talc. I'd get different clay when you use up that batch. There are ways to re-wet the whole block easily as well, you can always dry a batch to work with out after re-wetting it. I have dry hands too, it's a lot easier to fix the clay than worry about my hands. 

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I have had good success keep thin slabs of clay from drying too fast with the following:
1. Use large craft foam sheets as a working surface.  The foam does not dry clay as fast as canvas, and it does not stick excessively to wet clay when compressed. 
2. Cover the clay pieces you are not actually handling, such as component parts of an object, with Saran wrap type plastic pressed firmly against the clay on both sides.  This significantly slows drying.
3. Use a fine misting sprayer and routinely apply a mist on the clay at frequent intervals.  Let the piece lose the water shine, and then shape and join the pieces.  On pinch pots, this helps significantly. 
4.  cover parts with an upside down clear plastic box such as the Ziplock storage boxes. With the clay on the craft foam, covered with saran wrap, and covered with a box, you should be able to control drying while making. 
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Just now, Kathy P said:


Most annoying cracks are when bending a snake roll.

This comment alone tells me it is the clay. In pottery speak, a "short" clay translates to a lower level of plasticity. Which also means it has been formulated with materials that release water quickly: ( your hands are not the problem.) as Min pointed out, the talc content is not helping. I would be looking for a new clay, you will be fighting this one all the time. Actually in looking at their Mocha blend, the specs tell me it has much higher plasticity, although the color may not suit you.

it is one thing to moisten clay over a period of time as you work with it. It is another to have to constantly moisten it in short periods.


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2 hours ago, Kathy P said:

hateful clay, haha, right?!?

Is there a place on the forum to just blab when something exciting happens and I just want to tell someone who would understand?  Like finally finding a place that offers kiln sharing!  Or successful firings photos?  I want to follow the rules :D

The Status Updates area (upper right section of the forum’s homepage) is where you can crow when exciting things happen, or vent when frustrating things happen, and where like-minded folks will understand! You can create photo albums in your profile, and when you post photos there they will appear in the Images feed at the bottom of the forum’s homepage.


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Clay right out of the bag, should normally be workable, unless it has been sitting around for a few years. 

As I always tell students, the clay dries out your hands, and your hands dry out the clay.  It's the "Circle of Life"...


I warn my high school students against overworking the clay, which can cause similar cracks.  The middle school students, are REALLY bad at doing this.  They just want to mess with the clay, without having a set goal.  So as they are "Thinking" about what they are going to do, they just smoosh the clay, press on the cement boards, tear it apart, etc.  By the time they starts building, the clay just wants to crack, and fall apart. 

If coils are what you want to work with, perhaps make the clay a bit softer, by adding some additional water.  Poke some holes in the clay block, and add some water to the bag.  Let it sit a couple days, and it should work a bit better.  Unless of course, there is just something with the clay formula, that just makes it less plastic, as others have suggested. 

Best of luck in your journey into the world of clay.

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  • 2 years later...
  • 4 weeks later...
On 7/5/2020 at 4:47 AM, Maraam Pasha said:

This forum has been so helpful!
I have the same cracking problem with my clay. 
I cleaned my clay myself. Can you suggest a way to make my natural clay, more stable, and less talcy?
Thanks! <3

First option is let it age longer, bacteria helps plasticity.

It's "short", you need to reverse that.



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I used to do a lot of pinch and slab little sculpture pieces, with whatever clay was on hand in the high school pottery shop. Nice moist clay out of a newly opened bag was generally already too dry for such fine, detailed sculpture work. If I started with the clay as is, before I knew it, the clay would start cracking and drying and you couldn't do very much with it. The smaller the pinched object, the worst it was.  I quickly learned to prepare the clay first.  I used to spend a decent amount of time kneading additional water into the clay ball to get it really soft and plastic. Really worked it until it was extraordinarily pliable, just a touch above sticky. Then I would pull off a piece and start making impossible things. Things people said you couldn't do with ordinary pottery clay. Yeah, you can. Crazy long, thin rolls of clay that I could bend and twist, and do all kinds of things, with nary a crack. Once the objects were finished, I would put them in tiny plastic tents and mist spray them occasionally  to slow the drying.  I had very little trouble with cracks. Seemed to me that as long as I staved off cracking during the making, the objects would dry and survive the firings just fine. 

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