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One question we get a lot over at Big Ceramic Store is “how do I know if my piece is dry enough to bisque fire?”
Well, it's easier than you think.
Touch your greenware to the inside of your wrist. If it feels warm it is usually dry. If it feels cool then let it dry longer. Greenware feels cool due to moisture evaporating.
Remember, don’t rush drying your pieces as uneven shrinkage can cause cracks to form. If that happens, try using Marx Magic Mender.
We sometimes get questions from people who are having trouble getting their red, orange and yellow glazes to turn out brightly colored. Here are some tips for achieving these bright colors.
- Oxygen: Most commercial glazes are designed for use in an oxidizing environment (usually in an electric kiln). Red, orange and yellow are particularly sensitive to the amount of oxygen in the air. All clay has carbon in it, much of which burns out in the early stages of firing. This creates carbon monoxide, which will affect the glaze if it hangs around. So you want plenty of air flow, to remove this carbon monoxide as quickly as possible.
If you fire with a vent, you should be getting enough oxygen in the kiln. If not, make sure the top lid is propped and peephole plugs are out.With manual venting it is also best to put colors such as red on the top shelf where they will get more oxygen.Do not crowd the kiln, leave the pieces room to breathe.
- Always wedge your clay. When throwing, you should wedge it into a cone and throw your cone down onto the wheel-head with the point down. This will ensure that the clay platelets are organized when you start throwing (this will help with centering)
- Use plenty of water. Start by getting your hands and the clay wet.Then use both hands to smooth out the lump of clay.
- Once the shape is fairly even, and you're sure the clay is stuck to the wheel-head, push your left elbow (if you are throwing with the wheel spinning counter-clockwise) tight into your hip. Many beginner potters are told to put it on their knee, don’t. Take your foot off the pedal and plant both feet flat on the ground. Put your left hand on the side of the clay and your right hand on top. Lean in using the weight of your body to push the clay into center with your left hand, and use the edge of your right hand to put pressure on top.
- Cone the clay up. With both hands on the side of the clay, squeeze in and lift up until your clay is a tall cone or cylinder then push it back down. Try to lift it to the height of your final piece. If you can’t get it that tall, think about using more clay. This step is similar to wedging, it can move some air bubbles out and it orients your clay platelets for throwing.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 once.
- Open, but not with your thumbs. Opening clay is a tricky business; even a perfectly centered lump of clay can be taken off center when you open, so we will open with a technique that will center at the same time. Leave your left hand on the clay as it was in step 3, then use your middle (and ring) finger(s) on your right hand to drill down into the clay. Now use your right hand to squeeze the clay into your left hand. This will open compress and center all at the same time.
Now you're ready to start throwing!
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