Reclaiming Clay to Use Again

Though clay is a very inexpensive material compared to many other art supplies, it can still add up as a material cost. The good news is that the clay bits, leftovers and other odds and ends that you don’t use can be completely recycled very easily in just a few steps with some basic tools. The first panel below shows the Steps 1-4.

Step 1: Keep a bucket with a lid near your workspace. Whenever you have scraps and bits, toss them in the bucket. You can also add objects you’ve thrown on the wheel or handbuilt that you don’t like, or didn’t turn out the way you imagined. But don’t include any pieces on which you’ve already added underglaze or stains, unless you don’t mind it contaminating the clay. Keeping a lid on the bucket is really important to make sure the clay stays clean of bugs, dust, dirt, etc.This will ensure your reclaimed clay is easily workable and you won’t have foreign objects to remove! ReclaimClayPanels1_4

Step 2: When the bucket is full, and all of the bits and pieces have dried thoroughly (also called bone dry), cover the clay pieces in water, and watch the magic!

Step 3: All the dried clay needs is water to cause it to disintegrate (also called slake).

Step 4: Once the bits are returned to mud and fully disintegrated, it can be remixed.

Step 5: Use a blender of some sort to thoroughly mix the clay. You could do this by hand, but these blenders are cheap (I got this one for under $30 on Amazon), and it does the job quickly and thoroughly.

Step 6: Now you have a bucket of clean and lovely mud! Obviously, it is too wet to use. So we have to dry it out enough so we can handle it again. The best surface to use for this step is plaster. I just recently learned how to make plaster forms, and it is very easy, so don’t let this step intimidate you! Big Ceramic Store has a great tutorial on the subject, and there are videos on YouTube as well that teach you how to mix up plaster. ReclaimClaySteps5_8

Step 7: I made these two forms by mixing the plaster and pouring it into the bottoms of two large plastic bins. Once the plaster cured, I set these two forms on a small table, and with both hands, “spooned” the wet clay onto the surface and smoothed it out like icing. The temperature in your area is the thing that determines how quickly the clay dries — we are having an unusual cool spell here in Texas. It would normally take only a few hours for the clay to dry, but this week it has taken 2 days!

Step 8: When the clay is dry enough to work, it will easily peel off the plaster forms. Then you simply wedge it up into a workable ball, and you are ready to start again!



Endless Curiosity

I have inherited the investigative gene in my family, and while mostly just useful, it can sometimes get out of hand. Basically it means that when I find myself interested in a subject, I am like a dog with a bone, and can’t let it go until I am satisfied that I understand it. Right now, I have an endless curiosity about the natural world and its ability to provide for and sustain humanity—specifically, in two areas–with fiber spun into yarn and made into fabrics, and clay formed into vessels for use.

Cups and a water jug
Cups and a water jug still wet from the wheel

So I thought I’d just take you along with me as I try to satisfy this curiosity in my clay journey, just in case you were wondering about it, too.

This all started with my own increasing amazement of our natural resources. I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I deeply appreciate clean water, available food, antibiotics and other advances that have freed us—at least some of us, looking at the world in its entirety—from ills that have plagued humanity through the ages. But, I am fascinated by the dual nature of the natural world. I say “the dual nature” because the natural world is both beautiful in its simplicity to provide, and amazingly complex within that provision.

Take fibers, for example. Linen, flax, wool, cotton, silk—all of these various fibers grow and reproduce, and did so and would do so without any intervention from us. Because of their natural properties—the way a fiber is constructed so that when it is spun, because of its natural design, the fibers interlock, become stronger, and can be made into the myriads of articles we need.

Clay is much the same—abundant in nature, and of such a specific construction in its nature that it is the perfect material for creating vessels—pots, dishes, water jugs, insulators, and even panels on the space shuttle. Clay is another natural material with astonishing properties.