In this article, we will explore the stages of clay - from raw clay to finished ceramic. Without getting technical (yet), the process works like this. There's gathering the clay, shaping it, drying, firing, glazing and more. We'll examine what happens during each stage and how you can make sure your project comes out beautifully in the end!
What are the 7 stages of clay?
- Dry. The dry clay stage is when you have the raw materials in lump/slab/brick form or dry powder. At this stage, moisture has been removed and it's up to you to add it to start the modeling process. Also, shipping and storage is best at this stage. Unlike unused Playdoh, you can let the remnants of previous projects dry out and reuse them for future endeavors.
- Slip. Slip stage is where you first apply water to the raw clay. If you want improve your skill in shaping and molding clay, you're going to have to practice at the Slip Stage quite a bit, as it requires experience and patience to perfect. Slip Stage is also the stage where you can start to add complexity, attaching functional grips and handles, adding ornamentation, and extruding into the third dimension. Remember to find the balance between wetness and hardness in this stage.
- Plastic. Now it's time to get to work. The plastic stage, also known as the workable stage, is where you start to transform the material into the form it will take forever (or until it gets knocked off the shelf in the future). Your creativity is the only limit to the plastic stage, so long as you maintain a moisture equilibrium in the clay. At the workable stage, you may find yourself at a pottery wheel, or, you may find yourself rolling free form at a covered workbench. The choice in method is all up to you.
- Leather. At the leather stage, the clay is hardening up for sure. But, you still have a chance to add ornamentation and configuration to your build. The clay should start to feel like a soft leather, hence the name of the stage. If it's still a bit malleable, give it a little more time to dry before trimming it down to size. Keep in mind that alterations will not be possible if you let it dry too much. So, get that handle in there while you still can.
- Bone Dry. The Bone Dry stage is exactly what you think it is: the stage where the clay is bone dry and unable to be reshaped. You will notice that color of your clay is now visibly lighter than it was in the first four stages. This is a good thing, as it means that the clay is dry. A word of advice though, always tack on a day or four before tossing the piece into a kiln. You'll thank us later. (If you're a seasoned pro modeler, do as you see fit)
- Bisqueware. Now that's a hilarious word. What we're after in the Bisque stage is the process of the clay taking on its final form through a chemical reaction provided by the extreme temperatures. The fired up kiln will help remove any last traces of water from the raw materials, thus locking in the shape forever.
- Glazing/Glaze Firing. Low, medium and high fire are your options. Here at the glazing stage is where you can start to see the results of all of the hard work you've put in. Be sure to match the glaze to the appropriate cone, as low fire and high fire requires different glazes. Anyway, seeing the glaze melt and the vitrification should give you the sense of completion and satisfaction of a job well done.
- Using/Gifting/Selling. This is our personal favorite stage of clay. We love using our handmade bowls almost as much as we love giving them out as holiday gifts. Ok, sometimes people get a little tired of our generosity, but they do tell us that they appreciate eating a bowl of their favorite ice cream from our handcrafted work. So, we'll consider that a victory in our books.