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Advice wanted: How best to store clay long term without it drying out?


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I find that boxes of clay I purchase may hang around my studio for quite a while before being used.  Does anyone have tips about the best way to store clay long term without it drying out?  (I know all the methods for moistening a block if needed.  What I'm looking for is a way to store clay that avoids the drying out in the first place.)

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Mark hasn't chimed in yet, but he's said in the past he just orders half of his yearly clay mixed wetter than the half he intends to use first. But it would depend a bit on how much you're ordering. 

Personally, I have the luxury of being in the same city as my supplier, so I tend to get only what I'll use in a quarter.

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Since I'm a larger user of clay I tend to want it in different states meaning I like our handle clay stiffer and my throwing clay softer(especially sinse wrist surgery)

My clay order that came in  last month was 4 tons of laguna daves Porcelain pugged to penta #6-the usual is #6 1/4 s with most Laguna bodies so #6 is softer.

I'm now ordering clay twice a year

I'm now working with clay from a year ago that was #6 and has hardened some for handles.I have about 60 boxes of that firmer clay

Since I'm asuming you are a smaller clay user the tips are to store it in a cool shaded low air movement location. My space is facing north so no sun on a three sided walk in shed with a canvas  front hang down cover.

Now if you want to wet clay I use a small sponge and dip into a water container (it holds the same amount of water each dip and squeeze into the bag and retie the bags . Then I flip the pug for 4 days than rebox it and lest sit 1 week the clay is uniform  wet by then (porcelain )which is ahrder to do than easy stoneware.

Since to buy soft clay you need a minimum order of 1 ton the other trick is to specify the newest clay on the floor-which I do when I ordere less than a ton as I did last month with 750#s of Babu Porcelain .When you buy clay ask for the newer stock. The numbers on the box (for laguna at least) are in orders 59000 is newer than 59001 and so on. They numbers are in 40 box lots or 1 ton amounts

I have zero experience with other clay makers and thier number systems.

hope this helps you understand  the ins and outs of clay softness 

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If I know the bag will be stored a long time, I set the bag on a brick inside a 5 gallon plastic bucket with a half-a-brick high layer of water and seal the bucket.  The moisture from the puddle and the seal will reach an equilibrium that stops drying.  Had one bag survived three years (poor pilot memory ) under work table.  

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@Rick WiseSeems like you and I are in the same boat - hobby potter.

First thing I do is take the clay out of the box. If the bag has a rubber band, I tie it up really tight - if no band I put a rubber band on the bag. Next is to put the bags in a big plastic garbage can that has a garbage can bag in  it. I cover the top with 2 pieces of plastic before putting the garbage can lid on. This has worked out for several years. I usually buy about 500 pounds that may last nearly a year. Don't forget to slam the bag on the concrete, on all sides, before using the bag of clay. If I don't use the whole bag in a session I double bag the clay till I get back to it and slam it again before using.

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I learned a while ago, don't put boxes or bags of clay on concrete.  I buy 3 months of clay at a time (1 ton) and I used to store it all on a covered concrete pad, but I noticed by month 3 the clay on the bottom was pretty much hosed.  I switched to putting it on a pallet and it seems to keep it fine for all 3 months.

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55 minutes ago, liambesaw said:

I learned a while ago, don't put boxes or bags of clay on concrete.  I buy 3 months of clay at a time (1 ton) and I used to store it all on a covered concrete pad, but I noticed by month 3 the clay on the bottom was pretty much hosed.  I switched to putting it on a pallet and it seems to keep it fine for all 3 months.

why is this?

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15 hours ago, dhPotter said:

@Rick WiseSeems like you and I are in the same boat - hobby potter.

First thing I do is take the clay out of the box. If the bag has a rubber band, I tie it up really tight - if no band I put a rubber band on the bag. Next is to put the bags in a big plastic garbage can that has a garbage can bag in  it. I cover the top with 2 pieces of plastic before putting the garbage can lid on. This has worked out for several years. I usually buy about 500 pounds that may last nearly a year. Don't forget to slam the bag on the concrete, on all sides, before using the bag of clay. If I don't use the whole bag in a session I double bag the clay till I get back to it and slam it again before using.

Yeah.  The slamming thing I find interesting.  Being the lazy potter that I am,  I often slam a wad of clay repeatedly instead of wedging it.  What is the physics phenom?  Kinetic energy "warming" the clay?

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I never wedge. Never. Don't know about the science behind the slamming. I just know the results of slamming is softer clay to work with. I slam the clay, cut off what I want then cone wedge on the wheel.

Laziness is not part of a potter's make up. You will find out if you keep at it. There are no short cuts in pottery.

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I usually order a ton at a time, and leave it setting on a wooden rack outside under the kayaks. Tarp over the whole thing. The boxes do not dry too quickly, even at the end of 2 years. Freezes in the Winter, thaws in the Spring. If doing any pottery in the Winter, very infrequent, I leave a box or two in the shop heated to just above freezing for 12 hrs, and it is fine. As for wedging, I wedge all the time, but do as Marcia says to slam the clay on sides to "wake it up". 

 

best,

Pres

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I slam all clay pugs on the 4 sides before cutting pugs into sizes for throwing. It always softens the clay to some slight degree.I do this on my 5 inch think wedging table so I'm not bent over(better on back). I do not wedge as well

Slamming clay works one can debate why but it works.

keep your caly is cool dark place with no air movement and it will keep a long time

 

The one elephant in the room is this.

Modern clay is made basically by adding dry materials with water and mixed and pugged then bagged. This clay making does not-(DOES NOT) wet all the super fine particles . Over time these do get wet but the clay firms up in this long process. Unless the clay is filter pressed which wets more of the fines before the bagging process. Thats why filter pressed clay is superior than regular mixed clay . Only a few makers do filter pressing as its much more labor intensive. Quyle Clay filter presses all thier clay.

So your clay is taking the moisture and wetting teh fines in the bags after you buy it and that makes it harder even though its say in a sealed container.

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For long term storage,  I leave the clay in the bag and then jam as many bags in a 5 gal bucket.   Marcia's brick method  would be good  for stiffer clay,  the clay I get locally is always too wet.   I recently opened a bucket that had been sealed up 5 years ago,  the clay was at a perfect throwing consistency.   Denice

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2 hours ago, Mark C. said:

Modern clay is made basically by adding dry materials with water and mixed and pugged then bagged. This clay making does not-(DOES NOT) wet all the super fine particles . Over time these do get wet but the clay firms up in this long process. Unless the clay is filter pressed which wets more of the fines before the bagging process. Thats why filter pressed clay is superior than regular mixed clay . Only a few makers do filter pressing as its much more labor intensive. Quyle Clay filter presses all thier clay.

I thought this was standard practice.  

If anyone wants to be a clay manufacturer SPS has an old used filter press for sale on Craigslist.  I hope that doesn't mean the new owners aren't filter pressing their clay anymore...  Their newest cost saving idea is to get rid of boxes, an idea I'm not thrilled about.  I talked to the warehouse guy and he is also not thrilled.  He told me if I like the boxes I need to email and call them to let them know.  It's worth the extra half penny a pound.

I do know that the box helps keep the clay moist though, unboxed clay in my studio dries out faster than the boxed.

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Some have explained what the shock of dropping a bag of clay does - not finding it here in the archives...

Bill Van Gilder video demonstrates; aaah, the plasticizing gel, that rings the bell.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H7mv4meVjo

The drop shock doesn't cure clay that's stiff on account o' it's a bit dry, however. My last two orders of clay - the first one is a bit too dry, the second one a bit too damp; the latter I find easier to remedy, for a bit of wedging (err, kneading) cures that, whilst the prior requires more manipulation.

Bill points out here that what we/most call wedging is kneading, and demonstrates actual wedging - forcing one block of clay into another, huh, makes sense

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAOPlz3Bkgs

...semantics; I like words, hence, likely will retain the distinction for eeever, but will mostly keep it to myself (after this post).

Bill suggests throwing the clay in opposite direction of kneading, to unwind it and therefore avoid s cracks. Huh. Missed that the first time. I'm believing that continuing with the orientation established in the kneading makes throwing easier an' better.

As for to knead or not to knead, if there's even a small bit o' inconsistency in the clay right on the wheel head, particularly in the middle of the clay ball near the wheel head (I don't believe coning up/down gets that) then the resultant wobble that even (some) experienced and accomplished potters get in some pieces. As much as I like the idea of accepting and even embracing the asymmetric, am not goin' there on purpose, heh. I like when the walls to come up even and true, hence, I need to knead. I'll be kneading before dividing up into clay balls, then kneading them up individually as well.

Which doesn't address the question posed by OP! Leaving the blocks in the boxes, up off the floor and under a tarp in a place that doesn't change temp (much) seems to help. Temp changes makes the clay breathe.

Dorian Beaulieu (thanks for posting that link - in some other thread - Pres) turns his rams head such that the direction imparted by kneading unwinds, hrmmm.

https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/daily/ceramic-supplies/pottery-clay/clay-wedging-101-a-great-way-to-teach-and-learn-to-wedge-clay-properly/

Bill Van Gilder went to UK to learn the trade, perhaps that's where he picked up kneading vs wedging.

Edited by Hulk
need knead we edge wedge wind unwind, hrmmm...
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