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How to Make Pottery - How to Make Ceramics – Wedging and Kneading Clay

Updated on March 27, 2011

Clay Preparation

Having covered the different types of clays available on ‘How to Make Pottery and Ceramic’ here, its now time to look at how clay is prepared. If you have prospected your clays and have them in chunks, you will need to dry and pulverize them and then screen them to remove debris and other foreign bodies that may be present. After that you will need to weigh them in the appropriate proportions as covered in the article mentioned above. If you are a beginner in pottery and ceramic, it is advisable you buy your materials from a pottery supplier or mining firm in your area. Things such as silica, feldspar may definitely have to be bought from your pottery supplier and they will come to you when they are crushed into fine particles/powder ready for use. The materials are usually packed in 50 kilogrammes bags. The materials are then mixed using hands to make a clay body. In industry and for well established ceramists, they use a machine called a pug mill to mix the materials. You can also buy ready made clay bodies from the same suppliers and all you need is wedge the clay and then start hand building or wheel throwing.

Types of Clays

In the types of clays available, we had the following combination of materials as examples of clay bodies that one can use to make porcelain, stoneware and earthenware.

Porcelain Clay Body

  1. Kaolin – 25%
  2. Ball clay – 25%
  3. Feldspar – 25%
  4. Silica – 25%

(Fire to 1300 degrees Celsius)

Stoneware Clay Body

  1. Fire Clay – 60%
  2. Ball clay – 20%
  3. Feldspar – 10%
  4. Silica – 10%

(Fire to 1288 degrees Celsius)

Earthenware Clay Body

  1. Ball clay – 30%
  2. Common Surface Clay – 30%
  3. Fireclay – 30%
  4. Silica – 10%

(Fire to 1080 degrees Celsius)

Mixing the Clay Materials

Depending on whether you want to make earthenware, stoneware, or porcelain, mix the materials in the right proportions by hand, and then, either:

  1. Put the powdered mixture on table, on floor, or on a wider container, put a hole in the middle and add water as you knead the clay thoroughly to make a plastic clay body.
  2. Mix the powdered mixture with excess water to make a slurry, screen if you can. Allow the slurry to rest as its excess water evaporates to workable plastic clay body.
  3. For large amounts of clay, use commercial bread-dough mixers, cement mixers, pug mills or other such machines. Add water appropriately until the clay body feels plastic.

Test Batches

Early on the onset, it is important to note that in pottery and ceramic, test batches is a never ending process and test batches need be done in a previous firing before doing things on large scale as loss can be significant from a wrong combination of ingredients or materials..

Storing Clay

When your clay body is plastic and ready, you can store it in plastic wrapping - perhaps inside plastic pails or containers. For storing plastic clay for longer periods, make a huge pile on the ground and store your plastic clay there and you can then retrieve it when needed.

Wedging and Kneading Clay

Before you make a pot or a figurine with the clay you have earlier prepared, you will need to wedge and knead the clay again and again to remove lumps, expel air bubbles that may be within the clay body as well as realign clay particles so that the clay can have even consistency.  Clay with lumps usually moves out of centre during wheel throwing, and air trapped inside the clay can explode during firing.

Wedging and Kneading Clay - wedge and knead the clay again and again to remove lumps, expel air bubbles that may be within the clay body as well as realign clay particles so that the clay can have even consistency
Wedging and Kneading Clay - wedge and knead the clay again and again to remove lumps, expel air bubbles that may be within the clay body as well as realign clay particles so that the clay can have even consistency

A Video on How to Wedge and Knead Clay

Wedging involve getting a ball of plastic clay and slicing it into two halves. Take one half and bash or smack on to the other half. This is repeated for several times until the clay has a smooth uniform consistency. In fact when the clay is ready, you will just feel it in your hands. If in doubt, slice the clay ball so wedged with a piece of wire to see if there are any air bubbles on the surfaces cut. If air bubbles are found, continue wedging until no air bubbles can be found. Below is a video that explains how to wedge and knead clay.

Video on Wedging Clay

Examples of Ceramic and Pottery Suppliers

  1. Laguna Clay Company of Los Angeles
  2. Florida Clay Art Company of Florida
  3. ClayMakers of Durham
  4. Atlantic Pottery Supply in Florida

The above are just a few examples of ceramic and pottery suppliers in US. There are several ceramic and pottery supplies in almost every county and you can check in your Yellow Pages for their addresses and directions.

Pottery and Ceramic Classes

Trying to teach yourself how to make pottery and ceramic is difficult and frustrating. Look around in your area for professionals who offer open enrollment classes for beginners, and perhaps through up to advanced pottery. Enroll for a short period in those classes, or better still, look for a friend who is experienced in ceramic and you can work with him/her for a few weeks and you are ready to start on your own. Good luck.

The next article is on Handbuilding Pottery and Ceramics.

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    • carriethomson profile image

      carriethomson 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi that was neat!! i love pottery thanks for the hub. great one


    • ChristineVianello profile image

      ChristineVianello 7 years ago from Philadelphia

      I am interested in getting into pottery, thank you for the video, never knew air can get into clay.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      It is a wonderful hub and I love reading and watching about any craft. I also wrote a hub about pottery and if you like to link it, you are welcome.