Digitalfire Corporation is the developer of desktop INSIGHT software for Windows, Mac and Linux and of the next generation online equivalent: Insight-live.com. We are also the author of the Digitalfire Reference Database, an online knowledge base that provides technical information on ceramic materials and processes, it supports the use of our software. These are used by ceramic technicians and engineers to understand and manage the physics and chemistry related to adjusting, formulating and fixing glazes and clay bodies. We have been making Insight for use around the world since 1980.

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Digitalfire Corporation is the developer of desktop INSIGHT software for Windows, Mac and Linux and of the next generation online equivalent: Insight-live.com. We are also the author of the Digitalfire Reference Database, an online knowledge base that provides technical information on ceramic materials and processes, it supports the use of our software. These are used by ceramic technicians and engineers to understand and manage the physics and chemistry related to adjusting, formulating and fixing glazes and clay bodies. We have been making Insight for use around the world since 1980.

Latest Posts

The rutile mechanism in glazes

2,3,4,5% rutile added to a 80:20 mix of Alberta Slip:Frit 3134 at cone 6. This variegating mechanism of rutile is well-known among potters. Rutile can be added to many glazes to variegate existing color and opacification.

Sunday 15th January 2017

Two glazes. One crawls, the other does not. Why?

The glaze on the right is crawling at the inside corner. Multiple factors contribute. The angle between the wall and base is sharper. A thicker layer of glaze has collected there (the thicker it is the more power it has to impose a crack as it shrinks during drying). It also shrinks more during drying because it has a higher water content. But the leading cause: Its high raw clay content increases drying shrinkage. Calcining part of the raw clay is an effective way to deal with this. Or doing a little chemistry to source some Al2O3 from other materials than clay.

Tuesday 3rd January 2017

I have always done it this way. Why is it not working now?

Are you really sure the problem is with the materials? I had been using an 85% Ravenscrag, 15% frit glaze for many years with no crawling problems. But then it started crawling. I tried mixes with new materials and the old ones. Still crawled. The problem? What was I thinking? An 85% clay glaze is going to crawl so the question should have been: How did I get away with it for so long? I actually do not know! But I am now calcining Ravenscrag as appropriate (as documented at ravenscrag.com) and I love the control this gives me in balancing slurry properties with drying hardness.

Tuesday 3rd January 2017

A DFAC drying test disk of a terra cotta pottery clay from St. Ignacio, Sinaloa, Mexico

This clay is used by traditional potters in the Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico area. This DFAC test shows a very wide main crack and number of edge cracks. These indicate very high shrinkage and plasticity. Although the clay has some coarser grains that help channel water out, this is a very poor showing for this test, no large scale manufacturer could tolerate this. Yet they use it with success, having learned how to adapt. Note alsohttps://digitalfire.com/4sight/admin1/area.php?area=9&clearfromrecent=793 that soluble salts are fairly low.

Thursday 22nd December 2016

Slaking. What is that?

A slaking clay (a typlical potters clay). On the left the clay bar has been in the water for around 10 seconds. On the right, after a couple minutes, the rate of slaking has increased dramatically. Within about 5 minutes this bar will disappear into a pile on the bottom. Slaking happens most quickly when the sample is completely dry and the clay has low plasticity. Very high plasticity clays can take hours to slake. Slaking can be reduced and even eliminated by the addition of a hardener (like Xantham gum).

Wednesday 21st December 2016

Example of a data sheet for Copper Carbonate

Notice it does not quote the amount of CuCO3, just Cu metal. It also does not quote LOI percentage (weight loss on ignition, it will be more than 25%). Theoretical copper carbonate is 71.94% CuO (sourced by a mix of copper carbonate and carbonate hydroxide). CuO is 79.9% copper and 20.1% oxygen. Thus, we would expect Cu metal to be 57.5% (in a theoretical material). Since this example has impurities it is a little less, 55.8%.

Saturday 10th December 2016

An extreme extremely runny glaze at cone 6. Is there a cost?

This recipe melts to such a fluid glass because of its high sodium and lithium content coupled with low silica levels. Reactive glazes like this produce interesting visuals but these come at a cost that is more than just the difficulty in firing. Recipes like this often calculate to an extremely high thermal expansion. That means that not only will this form a lake in the bottom of ware when used on the inside, but the food surfaces will craze badly. The low silica will also contribute to leaching of the lithium and any colorants present.

Sunday 4th December 2016

The blue color in this porcelain develops more as maturity increases

These fritted porcelain bars are fired at cone 06, 04, 03 and 02 oxidation (bottom to top). The body contains 0.2% blue stain. Notice that almost no color develops at the lowest temperature. Glass development is needed.

Friday 2nd December 2016

A tiny percentage of blue stain in a porcelain has amazing power

The top porcelain bar has only 0.07% Mason 6336 blue stain added (vs. none in the bottom bar). This is a low fire frit-ware body fired at cone 03 in oxidation. At a slightly lower percentage (e.g. 0.05%) this porcelain will have the same color as a cone 10 reduction one (when covered with a transparent glaze). However adequate glass development is needed before the blue color develops.

Friday 2nd December 2016

Maroon and white mug before and after firing: What a difference!

The outer glaze is Ravenscrag GR6-E Raspberry, the bright maroon color is a product of the surprising interaction between the 0.5% chrome oxide and 7.5% tin oxide present. That small amount of chrome is only enough to give the raw powder a slight greenish hue, hardly different than the clear liner. While this color mechanism appears to be effective, it is delicate. A maroon stain is actually a better choice. It would fire more consistent would be less hazardous to use. And the raw glaze will be the same color as the fired one!

Friday 2nd December 2016

Is Lincoln 60 really a fireclay? Simple physical testing says...

Materials are not always what their name suggests. These are Lincoln Fireclay test bars fired from cone 6-11 oxidation and 10 reduction (top). The clay vitrifies progressively from cone 7 upward (3% porosity at cone 7 to 0.1% by cone 10 oxidation and reduction, bloating by cone 11). Is it a really fireclay? No.

Wednesday 23rd November 2016

Reduction Polar Ice vs. Oxidation Polar Ice

Polar Ice (Plainsman Clays) has been fired to cone 10R (left). This is beyond the recommended cone 6 range, but it worked well in this instance. The result is even more translucency and a translucency of a different character: blue! This looks much more like real blue polar ice.

Monday 14th November 2016

Outside tenmoku glaze meets inside transparent in a straight line at the rim

An example of how a liner glaze can meet another at the rim of a piece. This it quite simple to do. The technique is especially practical where mug walls are thin and cannot absorb enough water to dry the glaze after immerse-dipping. It is essential where the outer glaze is potentially leachable, or it might craze (which tenmokus often do). Thus, that straight line at the rim is not only a decorative element, it is the spot where leaching, crazing, staining and cutlery marking stop.

Saturday 12th November 2016

This leaching mug needs a liner glaze. Seriously!

Three cone 6 commercial bottled glazes have been layered. The mug was filled with lemon juice over night. The white areas on the blue and rust areas on the brown have leached! Why? Glazes need high melt fluidity to produce reactive surfaces like this. While such are normally subject to leaching, the manufacturers were able to tune the chemistry of each to make them resistant. But the overlaps mingle well (because of the fluidity), they are new chemistries, less stable ones. What is leaching? Cobalt! Not good. What else? We do not know, these recipes are secret. It is much better to make your own transparent or white liner glaze. Not only can you pour-apply it and get very even coverage, but you know the recipe, have control, can adjust to fit your body.

Saturday 12th November 2016

A fluid melt glaze bleeds much more into adjoining ones

The outer green glaze on these cone 6 porcelain mugs has a high melt fluidity. The liner glaze on the lower one, G2926B, is high gloss but not highly melt fluid. Notice that it forms a fairly crisp boundary with the outer glaze at the lip of the mug. The upper liner is G3806C, a fluid melt high gloss clear. The outer and inner glazes bleed together completely forming a very fuzzy boundary.

Saturday 12th November 2016

Can a cone 6 functional glaze having only whiting and feldspar melt enough?

This flow test compares the base and base-plus-iron version of a popular CM recipe called "Tenmoku Cone 6" (20% whiting, 35% Custer feldspar, 15% Ball Clay and 30% silica, 10% iron oxide). Although iron is not a flux in oxidation, it appears to be doing exactly that here (that flow is just bubbling its way down the runway, the white one also fires to a glassy surface on ware). It looks melted in the tray on the right but notice how easily it is scratching on the tile (lower left). This demonstrates that looks can be deceiving. Cone 6 functional glazes always have some percentage of a power flux (like boron, lithia, zinc), otherwise they just do not melt into a hard glass. Maybe a glaze looks melted, but it has poor durability.

Saturday 12th November 2016

What really is Barnard Slip?

These are fired bars of Barnard Slip going from cone 04 (bottom) to cone 6 (top). It is melting at cone 6. Porosity is under 3% and the fired shrinkage above 15% from cone 1 upward. Drying shrinkage is 4% at 25% water (it is very non-plastic). The darkness of the fired color suggests higher MnO than our published chemistry shows.

Saturday 12th November 2016

Laguna Barnard Slip substitute fired bars

These are fired bars of Laguna SG758 Barnard Slip substitute going from cone 04 (bottom) to cone 6 (top). It is melting at cone 6. The bars are expanded above cone 6 and becoming quite porous. The drying shrinkage is around 7%, it is quite plastic.

Saturday 12th November 2016

What to do when glazes dry-drip like this on the rims of ware

These are the same glazes. The one on the left had a specific gravity of 1.45 and the slurry was creamy and appeared to be good. However when this bisque porcelain mug was pulled out of the slurry (after the dip) the glaze dried so fast that it would not even out around the lip (even though I rolled it). To fix this I added water to take it to 1.43 specific gravity, they I added epsom salts to gel it back to the same creamy consistency it was. This time it went on evenly, dried more slowly and stayed even. Notice the darker color, is it still damp. Although the piece dries enough to handle in less than 30 seconds, it does take longer to dry completely.

Monday 7th November 2016

Feldspar applied as a glaze? Yes! The way I did it will change how you glaze.

Custer feldspar and Nepheline Syenite. The coverage is perfectly even on both. No drips. Yet no clay is present. The secret? Epsom salts. I slurried the two powders in water until the flow was like heavy cream. I added more water to thin and started adding the epsom salts. After only a pinch or two they both gelled. Then I added more water and more epsom salts until they thickened again and gelled even better. They both applied beautifully to these porcelains. The gelled consistency prevented them settling in seconds to a hard layer on the bucket bottom. Could you do this with pure silica? Yes! The lesson: If these will suspend by gelling with epsom salts then any glaze will. You never need to tolerate settling or uneven coverage again! Read the page "Thixotropy", it will change your life as a potter.

Monday 7th November 2016

Glossy blacks are best made adding a black stain to a quality base transparent

The glaze on the left is called Tenmoku Cone 6 (a popular, and old, CM recipe). It is 20% calcium carbonate, 35% Custer feldspar, 15% OM4 Ball Clay and 30% silica, 10% iron oxide. If you have any experience with glaze you will note two things that a fishy here: There is no boron, lithia or zinc sourcing material. How can this melt enough at cone 6? It looks melted, but the ease of scratching it shows it is not. So, it appears that if we saturate an incompletely melted glaze with a lot of refractory brown colorant on a dark body the effect can be black. A better idea is the glaze on the right. We start with a stable, reliable base transparent, G2926B. Then we add 5% Mason 6666 black stain (stains are smelted at high temperatures, quenched and ground, they are inert and relatively safe). A bonus is we end up with a slurry that is not nearly as messy to use and does not turn into a bucket of jelly.

Saturday 29th October 2016

G2931F Ulexite-based transparent bubbles, G2931K frit-based version does not

I melted these two 9 gram balls on tiles to compare their melting (the chemistry of these is identical, the recipes are different). The Ulexite in the G2931F (left) drives the LOI to more than 14%. That means the while the ulexite is decomposing during melting it is creating gases that are creating bubbles in the glass. Notice the size of the F is greater (because it is full of bubbles). While this seems like a serious problem, in practice the F fires crystal-clear on most ware.

Friday 28th October 2016

Glaze melt fluidity comparison between G2931F and fritted G2931K show the effect of LOI

These two glazes have the same chemistry but different recipes. The F gets its boron from Ulexite, and Ulexite has a high LOI (it generates gases during firing, notice that these gases have affected the downward flow during melting). The frit-based version on the right flows cleanly and contains almost no bubbles. At high and medium temperatures potters seldom have bubble issues with glazes. This is not because they do not occur, it is because the appearance of typical glaze types are not affected by bubbles (and infact are often enhanced by them). But at low temperatures potters usually want to achieve good clarity in transparents and brilliance in a colors, so they find themselves in the same territory as the ceramic industry. An important way to do this is by using more frits (and the right firing schedules).

Friday 28th October 2016

A clay that has negative shrinkage during the glaze firing

It seems impossible but that is what happens with this one at cone 03. This is a native material that was found on the banks of the South Saskatchewan river near Hayes, Alberta (and brought to me for testing). Even when fired to maturity (around cone 2) it still has 10% porosity! This specific sample has even been ball milled for hours and it still does not shrink. And it still feels sandy on the potters wheel. It also has incredible dry strength, the highest I have ever seen. Yet its drying shrinkage is still less than 7% (that of a typical plastic pottery clay). Plus it has very high plasticity. This behavior defies logic, I have found a good explanation.

Friday 28th October 2016

G1947U cone 10R transparent vs. G2931F cone 03 transparent

The mug on the left is Plainsman P600 (a #6 Tile kaolin based porcelain). The other is Zero3 Porcelain, fired at cone 03 (New Zealand kaolin plus frit). Alone the P600 mug looks good, but beside the Zero3 it looks drab. It is grey and not clearing the bubble clouds over the underglaze. The Zero3 withstands thermal shock better and it is as strong or stronger. It seems incredible that this could be when it is fired 13 cones lower! Grolleg kaolin based reduction porcelains compare better with the Zero3 body.

Friday 28th October 2016

G2931K Zero3 transparent glaze on Zero3 Fritware Porcelain

This is an all-fritted version of G2931F Zero3 transparent glaze. I formulated this glaze by calculating what mix of frits must be employed to supply the same chemistry of the G2931F recipe. The mug is made from the Zero3 porcelain body (fired at cone 03) with this glaze. This glaze fits both the porcelain and the Zero3 terra cotta stoneware. The clarity, gloss, fit and durability of this glaze are outstanding.

Friday 28th October 2016

How can you test if an engobe fits your clay body?

This is part of a project to fit a fritted vitreous engobe (slip) onto a terra cotta at cone 02 (it fires harder there). Left: On drying the red body curls the bi-clay strip toward itself, but on firing it goes the other way! Right: Test bars of the white slip and red body compare their drying and firing shrinkages. Center back: A mug with the white slip and a transparent overglaze. Notice the slip is going translucent under the glaze. Why? It is too vitreous. That explains how it can curl the bi-clay bars toward itself (it has a higher fired shrinkage). So rather than add zircon to opacify the slip, it is better to reduce its frit content (thereby reducing its firing shrinkage). Reducing the frit in the slip will also make it more opaque (because it will melt less). Front: A different, more vitreous red body (having a frit addition) fits the slip better (the strips dry and fire straight).

Thursday 27th October 2016

Low fire nirvana: Use commercial underglazes but make your own clear over glaze

Decorate ware with the underglazes at the leather hard stage, dry and bisque fire it and then dip-glaze in a transparent that you make yourself (and thus control). These mugs are fired at cone 03. All have the same transparent glaze (G2931F), all were decorated with the same underglazes. Notice how bright the colors are compared to middle or high temperature. On the left is a porous talc/stoneware blend (Plainsman L212), rear is a fritted terra cotta (Plainsman Zero3 experimental) and right is a fritted porcelain. When mixed properly you can dip ware in this glaze and it covers evenly, does not drip and dries enough to handle in seconds! Follow the Zero3 firing schedule and you will have ware of amazing quality.

Wednesday 26th October 2016

Are frits partially soluble? Yes, many are.

These 1 mm-sized crystals were found precipitated in a couple of gallons of glaze containing 85% Ferro Frit 3195. They are hard and insoluble. Why and how to do they form? Many frits are slightly partially soluble and the degree to which they are are related to the length of time the glaze is in storage, the temperature, the electrolytes and solubles in the water and interactions with other material particles present. The solute then interacts with other materials particles to form insoluble species that crystallize and precipitate out as you see here. These crystals can be a wide range of shapes and size and come from leaded and unleaded frits.

Wednesday 26th October 2016

With porcelains, poor plasticity gets worse at the leather hard stage

This porcelain becomes quite brittle as it gets stiffer making it difficult to make these cuts in the foot ring. This creates extra sponging work when it is dry. It also means that dry strength will be low. Porcelains do not need to be this way, plenty of white burning bentonites are available (although they increase cost).

Tuesday 25th October 2016

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