Pottery Making Techniques


Learn the definitions to these Pottery Making Techniques

Learning how to make pottery first requires that you understand the language of pottery techniques. Not understanding important words and terms like hand throwing pottery, pit fired pottery and hand built pottery can lead to confusion and make it much harder to learn pottery making techniques as well as important aspects of reading pottery marks for collectors.

Below you will find a short definition of many common pottery words and phrases.

BAT - A slab or platform on which clay is handled; a circular device attached to the wheel-head.

BISQUE - Unglazed clay, fired once at a low temperature.

BISQUE FIRING - The process of firing unglazed clay to a low temperature to harden the clay and drive the physical water from it. The approximate temperature of this firing is 1815 F.

BONE DRY - Refers to clay which is ready to be fired. All the moisture is gone from the clay. Clay is VERY FRAGILE at this stage.

CENTERING - The act of aligning the clay on the potter's wheel in order to proceed with forming and shaping.

CERAMICS - The art of making things of clay using pottery making techniques. Clay is an ancient tradition.

CLAY – A decomposed granite-type rock. To be classified as clay the decomposed rock must have fine particles so that it will be plastic (see definition below). Clays contain impurities which affect color and firing temperatures.

COILS - Clay that has been formed into rope like lengths.

COIL POTTERY CONSTRUCTION –Clay that has been rolled to form ropes and then stacked to form a wall and build the object. Learn more about Coil Pottery.

FIRE – Refers to “cooking” the clay to the desired hardness in a kiln.

FORM - Three-dimensional shape and structure of an object.

GLAZE - A glassy coating that has been melted onto a ceramic surface. It is used to decorate the piece and to seal the clay surfaces. Often considered a type of “paint.”

GLAZE FIRE - Much hotter than a bisque fire. Firing to temperature at which glaze melts to form a glasslike surface.

GLAZE FIRING - Typically the second firing of a piece pottery which has been coated with glass forming materials. The approximate temperature of this firing 2300. Learn more about Glazing Pottery.

GLOSS - A shiny surface.

GREENWARE - Unfired pottery that is bone-dry, a state in which clay forms are the most fragile.

HANDBUILDING - One of the oldest pottery making techniques in which objects are constructed entirely by hand.

INCISING - Indenting a line into a flat surface.

POTTERY KILNS - Enclosed containers of various sizes- built of refractor brick and heated by electricity, gas, oil, or wood to temperatures from 1500 F. to 2340 F. in which ceramic ware is fired.

LEATHER HARD - Refers to clay that is dry enough but still damp enough to be joined to other pieces or carved without distortion. Clay at this state resembles leather. Hard to bend and soft enough to be carved.

MATTE - Not shiny.

PLASTICITY - Quality of clay that allows it to be manipulated and still maintain its shape without cracking or sagging.

POTS - Have a function (use) like a pot or a bowl.

PRESS MOLD - A form which clay is compressed into, resulting in a repeatable shape or texture. These are usually made of plaster. We used plastic bowls lined with cheesecloth as press molds.

PYROMETRIC CONES - Pyrometric Cones are designed to melt or bend after reaching a specific temperature (depending on the rate of rise). The original large sized pyrometric cones are used in a cone holder on the kiln shelf for visual firing, testing or monitoring of the temperature in the kiln. Small Cones are used where space is at a premium.

RAWWARE – Unfired clay.

SCORING – Roughing up of the surface of clay for joining.

SLAB - Clay which has been made flat by rolling.

SLAB POTTERY CONSTRUCTION - One of several pottery making techniques in which flat pieces of clay are joined (clay is flattened and thinned with rolling pin or slab roller) Learn more about Slap Pottery.

SLIP – A liquid form of clay used as a glue or as decoration.

SLUMP MOLD - A form which is used to support wet clay in the early stages of construction. They are typically made of plaster. We used canvas covered styrofoam shapes as slump molds.

STONEWARE – A type of clay which is usually grey in color. It is good for hand-building and throwing pottery because of its high plasticity.

THROWING POTTERY – Forming clay on a potters wheel. Learn more about Throwing Pottery.

UNDERGLAZE - Colored decoration applied to bisqued clay, then coated with a clear glaze. Typically made of clay slip and raw pigment.

WEDGING - Method of kneading clay to make it homogenous; ridding the clay of all air pockets.

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