A sharing of ideas, techniques, successes and failures in the volatile world of pottery and family life.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Recycle, Recycle, Reclaim

One of the things I love about the pottery process is there is very little waste.  I've often been called cheap but I prefer the word frugal or thrifty.  I just hate waste.  And I do want to do my part to save the planet.  OK!   I ADMIT IT!  I'M CHEAP!  ARE YA HAPPY NOW?  Geesh.

As long as the clay hasn't been fired it can be reclaimed.  I've seen many different processes and have taken bits from here and there to find a way that works in our small studio.  Short of picking up wet clay off of the floor (yes, clay can get dirty/contaminated), I recycle every little crumb a bit obsessively.

Bone dry scraps.
Everything from trimming scraps and failures on the wheel to pots that have cracked during drying or aren't up to snuff end will end up in the bucket.  But only dry clay goes in here.  Any pieces that aren't completely dry are left out to dry on a plaster board.

What we use:
Bone dry clay scraps
A 5 gallon bucket with lid
Hot water
Plaster boards

Clay's funny.  Wet clay submerged in water will retain its shape.  But if it's completely dried out it will "melt' when submerged.

A wet ball of clay just sits in the water.
A bone dry scrap dissolves in minutes.

The melted stuff is what we want.  If you try to reclaim wet clay the texture will be inconsistent and hard to throw no matter how well you wedge it.  The dry clay dissolves completely and will have a uniform consistency.

Adding hot water.
Once we have a significant amount of bone dry scraps we can start reclaiming.  I fill a 5 gallon bucket with the scraps.  It's easier to have the bucket where you'll be storing it during the process because once you start adding clay and water it's gonna get really heavy and sore backs aren't good.  Next start adding hot water.  Hot water dissolves the clay quicker but cold water works as well.  You'll hear the clay hissing and bubbling as it starts to break down.  I often quote the Wicked Witch of the West at this point:  "Look what you've done! I'm melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!".

Clay soup!
When about most of the clay is submerged I jiggle the bucket to help some of the air bubbles escape and settle the clay as it dissolves.  Then I cover the clay completely with water.  As it dissolves it'll absorb the water and turn into mud.  We like mud!

Keep the bucket tightly covered with the lid and let it sit over night.  Over the next few days I'll stir the clay several times a day.  This ensures every scrap gets dissolved completely.  Unfortunately, it's messy.  I use my hands so I can get all the way down to the bottom of the bucket and usually end up with thick mud up to my elbow.  Once I'm happy with the consistency I'll stop stirring and let it sit.  Excess water that hasn't been absorbed will rise to the top.  This I sponge off.   I've left the mud at this stage for weeks.  As long as the lid is on tight it'll be fine.

Probably this weekend I'll have another post with the final stage of the process so check back.  =D


  1. Thanks for sharing Thistle Bee. I too love reclaiming clay (pleasing the thrifter in me :) and getting dirty in clay is always good! x

  2. I reclaim, too! I keep a big 5 gal bucket with all the scraps and throwing water. I don't use my reclaimed clay for throwing, though. That's what I hand build with. What I love about it is the color is always a little different. We call it "sludge" clay.

  3. this is so great, I also recycle scraps : ) I love the sound of clay melting into water :)