Do You Know What Pottery Truly Is?

As a reply the the question above, you might simply say 'making of pots'. It is but natural for you to be surprised and amazed when you read through this website and discover that there is so much more to pottery.

If you look up the word 'pottery' in a dictionary, you would come across two meanings, one of which would describe it as the craftsmanship of an individual who makes pots and the other would be indicative of a place where such wares are made. While both are correct, the concept of pottery that people carry all over the world pertains to objects that are made of different varieties of clay. Therefore, a product that emerges from a pottery could be earthenware, stoneware or porcelain, depending on the manner of treatment of clay. 

A peek into the past shows that human association with pottery dates all the way back to the Neolithic era. Civilization in that epoch was scattered in pockets around the world and parts of Czech Republic, China, Japan, Africa and South America that were inhabited by Neolithic humans were witness to the emergence and subsequent use of pottery as a field. Objects uncovered from excavation sites in these regions not just speak eloquently of the method and style of pottery that was in vogue but also of its relevance in everyday life of people.

Irrespective of ethnic origins of the maker, there are certain rules pertaining to pottery which are universally accepted and these are - 

  • Clay is molded into the requisite shape after having been kneaded and subjected to high temperature to rid it of the last remnant drops of water.  
  • The oven in which clay models are heated up is known as a kiln and its purpose is to strengthen and harden the clay so that it does not lose its shape.
  • Subsequent to the heat treatment, the clay object is decorated, wedged, dried and fired so that it is ready for being used.   

While there might be a few extra steps or shorter methods, this is the basic pattern followed by pottery artisans the world over to give shape to their imagination. 

Before we continue, I am sure you have questions on the purpose of this website and what you will gain from it. The story begins when I was looking for a suitable domain name for my website. I first brainstormed on the best brand names I could think of and made a list of 50 names. I then went to NameCheap and tried to search for these names, hoping to purchase one. Not a single one was available! 

Frustrated, I spent the next several hours trying to come up with different names. The ones I really liked were never available, while the only ones available seemed either too spammy or did not have enough brand value. This ordeal ended when I finally aquired the domain  from the godaddy auctions using the awesome chrome extension. Luckily I found this domain in a closeout auction and only had to pay an additional 10 dollars for it. In the future, I am just going to buy them off godaddy's closeout auctions instead of wasting hours trying to find the right one. Although NameCheap is my prefered registrar, I am quite happy having some domains over at GoDaddys.

Now back to the main topic, where I tell you about the different types of clays.

Types of Clay 

Have you ever wondered as to why objects that appear not to share any similarities or do not resemble each other even remotely are classified under the label of 'pottery'? The answer to this is quite simple - they have been made from different types of clay and hence are reflective of the traits of the particular variety or varieties. 

Types of clay that are commonly used for the purpose of pottery are - 

  • Kaolin - Credit for having discovered and employed this type for making objects goes to the Chinese and this explains as to why it is also popularly referred to as China Clay. One of its most well known uses pertains to creation of porcelain objects which have earned China renown all over the world.
  • Bentonite - Best known for its plasticity, this variety is mostly used in combination with other less plastic varieties so as to render them more malleable.
  • Fire clay - Somewhat similar to Kaolin but characterized by a lower flux rate, fire clay is known for its resistance to heat despite the name 'fire'. There are two reasons as to why it is combined with other varieties of clay, namely owing to its ability to provide elasticity as also to raise the firing temperature.
  • Shale - Being red in color renders this type a unique member of the clay clan and rather than the usual course, it is best utilized for making bricks. Its red hue is courtesy of a high percentage of ferric oxide and vegetative impurities and this is one variety which is likely to differ in mineral content as per the region in which it is found. 
  • Ball clay - A variety of clay which bears a fine-grained texture, this is formed as a result of sedimentation and is valued most for its high plasticity. 
  • Stoneware - Best described as a mix of ball and fire varieties, stoneware clay is used for creating stoneware products because it is fine-grained like ball clay and resistant to heat like fire clay.

One of the reasons as to why you should be aware of the various types of clay is because based on this knowledge you can decide how you can use it best. For example, plasticity is a characteristic that determines whether the clay is prone to being easily molded. Hence varieties which are more malleable can either be added to stiffer types or used by themselves to create complex shapes. Likewise, the manner in which a given type of clay reacts to heat will determine its behavior when it is baked in the kiln. 

Apart from the common mineral content kaolinite, clay types differ in terms of mineral content which play a crucial role in determining their traits as also their reaction to heat.