The Pottery Process in a Nutshell

20 Sep

People think that making pottery is like baking a pie. It isn’t all that hard to do, but there are some things you need to know. Because the pottery process is so mysterious to so many people, I’m going to lay down the basics.

Here’s the process most conventional, electric-fired stoneware pottery goes through in the United States. I’m not talking about the sort of pottery where liquid clay is poured into a mold–that’s a branch I’m not very familiar with. I’m talking about pottery made from clay in its plastic state.

  1. Forming: The pot is formed with any appendages, carving, etc. completed.
  2. Drying: this may be done quickly if the clay will tolerate it and the pot is of one-piece construction. If bits have been joined together to make the pot (such as coils) or if bits have been added on (such as handles or knobs or butterflies or what-not), the pot must be dried slowly under plastic for a few days and then moderately, out of the way of heaters and breezes.
  3. Bisque or Biscuit Firing: This first firing gets its name from the feel of the wares when they are fired. They have a dry, absorbent surface like hard biscuits. The typical temperature to fire bisque ware is called “cone 06” and is around 1860 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Glazing: Glazes may be applied by dipping the pot in a bucket of glaze, by painting glaze on, pouring glaze over the pot, or by spraying.
  5. Glaze firing: For cone 6 pottery, the peak temperature of a glaze firing is approximately 2232 degrees Fahrenheit, or “cone 6.”
  6. Cooling: Some glazes, particularly non-shiny or matte glazes and glazes with large (macro) crystals, require a slow cooling to reach their best presentation.
  7. Finishing: This may include grinding off glaze drips, sanding the bottoms, adding wicker handles, etc.

In the next couple of days, I’ll post articles on each of these steps (except #1, which is pretty much all of my other posts) giving you more exhaustive information.

God bless, and happy potting!


4 Responses to “The Pottery Process in a Nutshell”

  1. Marya Hicks September 23, 2008 at 10:40 pm #

    What type of grinding device and grinding wheel do you find best for grinding glaze drips off of fired pots when finishing?

  2. cindyinsd September 24, 2008 at 1:12 am #

    Hi, Marya

    I use a 4 1/2″ angle grinder with a masonry disk. Obviously, any size angle grinder will do, but 4 1/2″ is a good, all-round size for lots of other tasks. If you need a cheap one, Black & Decker if fine–just don’t get a Harbor Freight or similar. I ended up with a Dewalt, but I use it for lots of other things as well, so I needed a little more powerful model. These are just the tool for grinding glaze off kiln shelves as well.

    In case you’re interested in grinding so that the glaze returns to a shiny finish, this isn’t always possible, but a lapidary shop would be the place to go for that. You’d need the suitable rotary tool and bit as well as some sort of polishing/buffing powder. The shopkeeper there could do you more good on that score than I could.

    Hope this helps, and thanks for stopping by! 🙂


  3. gui September 25, 2008 at 3:47 pm #

    Will the same tool work for grinding glaze drips off kiln shelves?

  4. cindyinsd September 25, 2008 at 4:59 pm #

    Yes, Gui

    An angle grinder works well for grinding glaze off kiln shelves and also for cleaning off old kiln wash. If you’re in an institutional setting and grinding a lot of shelves, you might want a larger one than the 4 1/2″ grinder I use, though.

    You need to be careful when using this kind of tool, as I’m sure you’re aware. Wear safety goggles, leather gloves, ear plugs and a filter mask. This is a powerful tool and can gouge your kiln shelves if you’re overly agressive. Sometimes, you have to gouge them to get off a particularly bad glaze drip, though. If you’re just removing kiln wash, use a light touch.

    God bless,


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