How To Make Raku Pottery: A Step-by-Step Beginner Guide
Making raku pottery is a fun and creative way to express yourself through art. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or an experienced potter looking for new ways to create unique pieces of pottery. I will cover all you need to get started making beautiful raku pottery.
This step-by-step beginner guide covers how to make raku pottery with all the materials you will need to form the pottery, and how to do the bisque firing, glazing, raku firing, removal, and cleaning of the pottery.
I will also cover safety tips so you will be able to make your own amazing raku pottery in no time safely!
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Supplies Needed to Make the Pottery
Before you get started, it’s important to have the right Supplies to make Raku pottery. This checklist has everything you need to make Raku Pottery.
- Kiln or Kilns
- Extra Long Metal Tongs
- Heat Resistant Gloves
- UV protection Safety glasses
- Reduction Chamber (can with lid)
- Combustible material
- A sponge with an abrasive cleaning pad
Clay Used for Raku Firing
The first thing you will need is clay. There are several essential things to look for when choosing the clay for Raku.
First, it must contain enough grog or sand to withstand the thermal shock of being raku fired and cooled rapidly. A good amount of grog or sand will reduce the shrinkage rate and thermal shock during the raku firing process.
Although mid to high-fire clay bodies are recommended, I have found over the years that many potters will use low, mid, and high-fire clays for Raku. The key is to use clay with a good amount of grog or sand.
It doesn’t have to be course grog. If you prefer to throw on the wheel, then a clay body with finer grog or sand may be preferable. Both fine grog and or sand work well. There is also specially made Raku Clay which can yield the most favorable results.
My Choice of clay for Raku is Laguna Soldate 60, which is a light high-fire clay that my teacher recommended to use. I also use Laguna B-Mix with Grog. You can try different clay bodies to find the best one for you.
Color of your Clay
The color of your clay determines how it will respond to the compostable materials, reduction chamber, and glazes. Darker clays produce more muted tones, whereas lighter clays yield brighter colors.
For pieces that you want brighter colors on, lighter clay is often preferable. Ultimately it comes down to the desired artistic effect you’re trying to achieve and what kind of reaction you’d like your raku glaze surface to have.
Raku Glaze Used for Firing Methods
While there are other methods for decorating your Raku pot, most beginners start with glaze.
The glazes used for the raku method must be a Low-Temperature Glaze or Raku Glaze. Low-temperature glaze has a low melting point.
Raku glazes also need to remain stable at lower temperatures while still providing color and texture variations when cooled quickly after removal from the kiln. Mid and High-fire glazes are NOT recommended to use for raku glaze because the temperature that raku is fired to is too low. However, this still leaves you with many other glazes to choose from.
You will get a nice crackle effect if you use a Low Fire Clear Glaze on a white clay body. You can also add stains to Low Fire Clear Glaze to create a unique look. That is the wonderful part of creating raku pottery.
Keep in mind that none of the glazes used in Raku firing are food safe because the kiln is only heated to 1,800°F (982°C). That is why Raku pottery is used for decorative purposes because the glaze does not vitrify.
Kiln or Kilns Used for Raku Firing
In most raku processes, two kilns are used. The first Kiln is used to bisque fire the clay, turning it into ceramic ware. Either Gas Kilns or Electric Kilns are used for this process.
The second is a raku kiln used for firing the bisque ware. There are big differences between the Raku kiln process and the Electric kiln process. To learn more, check out All The differences between a Raku and Electric Kiln.
Now with pottery, there are exceptions to many rules. For example, gas kilns can work for both bisque and raku firing because the fuel source is the same and has the ability to reach higher temperatures to bisque fire and heats up fast for raku firing. There still are a few Differences Between a Gas and Raku Kiln.
The same goes for an Electric Kiln. You can use one, but there are a few things you should be aware of if you use an Electric KIln for a Raku Kiln.
You could also fire in the raku kiln but keep in mind that you would have to fire very slow, and the bisque ware will be more fragile if the temperature doesn’t reach at least cone 06.
Raku Firing Materials Needed
A Raku Firing needs more materials to complete the raku process than a traditional kiln firing.
Very Long Metal Tongs:
Long tongs are needed to remove the red-hot pottery from the kiln. You will want the Metal Tongs to be at least 36 inches long.
A pair of Heat Resistant Gloves are needed for the firing process.
A pair of UV protection Safety glasses. With all of these materials in hand, you can start creating stunning works of art with unique designs that distinguish them from regular fired pottery ware.
Heat Resistant Sleeves. Some potters will use these for an added layer of protection.
For longer hair, you will need a hair tie or clip.
Trash Can or another type of fireproof container. Small Trash Cans or metal containers are more popular for more control over the pots. Your container MUST have a fireproof cover.
Sand is needed for the bottom of your reduction chamber to protect the bottom from burning out.
Newspaper is a popular combustible material, especially for beginners, because it is easy to work with. If you choose to use newspaper, make sure it’s NOT shiny newspaper.
You can get creative and use organic combustibles like sawdust, dry leaves, thin branches, hay, wood chips, dried fruit, or vegetable peelings.
Now that you have everything you need to make raku pottery. Let’s get started.
Creating Your Design and Shaping the Clay
Once you’ve chosen your clay, Wedge it until it’s soft and pliable before forming it.
You have many choices as to how you want to form your clay. You can throw it on the Pottery Wheel.
You can also hand build with a Slab Roller, or hand build using coils. Depending on what shape you want to achieve with your piece, you can even use slip-casting molds to create a pot.
How Thick Should You Make Raku Pottery
Because the clay will be subjected to extreme temperature changes, and being moved around, you will want the thickness of your piece to be as even throughout as possible.
So the heat-up will be even throughout the piece putting less pressure on the clay as it is being fired quickly.
A quarter of an inch is a good thickness. As a beginner you don’t want the pottery to be too thin because it may become too fragile when removing it from the kiln. Or too thick because it can be too heavy when removing the pot from the kiln with the tongs.
Bisque Firing The Raku Pottery
Once your raku pottery is bone dry, it must be Bisque-Fired. This involves firing clay in a gas or electric kiln to cone 06, 05, or 04 at a slow to medium rate of speed.
You will want to use a gas or Electric Kiln because they can fire slower and reach higher temperatures, which is recommended for a proper bisque firing.
Glazing the Bisqueware Before Raku Fired
Apply low-fire glazes to the ceramic pieces for an interesting and unique look.
When applying glaze to raku ceramics, you want to apply 2 to 3 layers of glaze. You don’t want the raku glaze to be too thin because that will affect the end result. That goes with applying it too thick, also. I apply three coats to my ceramic ware. Check the thickness of the glaze with your fingernail. The glaze should be the thickness of a t-shirt.
The glaze techniques vary depending on personal preference. You can choose different ways to apply your raku glaze.
Brush, spray, dip or pour the glaze on. You can even use the sponge dabbing method until the desired coverage has been achieved – remember not to overdo it.
Other Raku Decorating Techniques to Consider
As a beginner in the Raku process, you want to start out with more basic glaze techniques. But there are still fun ways to decorate your ceramics.
Stains and oxides
You can get creative and add oxides like Red Iron Oxide. Stains, and other additives in combination with your glaze or alone in order to create unique effects on finished pieces. For example, copper oxide can produce vibrant blues when combined with an iron-rich base glaze, while cobalt oxide yields deep purples when applied over lighter-colored slips.
Wax and film resist
After your pot has been bisque fired, you can apply wax resist, or film resist to your pot.
Make a pattern any way you want with Wax Resist, then glaze your ceramics. Wipe away the glaze from the wax resist and fire. After the firing, The area where the wax was applied will burn off and leave a black matted surface to create a unique look.
The same with Film Resist. Make a pattern any way you want, then glaze your ceramics. Peel off the film resist, and fire. After the firing, the area where the film resist was will leave a black matted surface to create a unique look.
I prefer to use film resist because if I don’t like the spot I put it on, I can remove the film resist and glaze over it. Unfortunately, you can’t do that with wax resist. You would have to bisque fire it again and start over.
This is another way you can leave unglazed lines on your pottery. Apply Washi Tape where you don’t want the glaze. Glaze your pot and remove the tape, creating more symmetrical lines.
Both ways are fun and easy to do. Before we get into the firing process, I would like to go over a few safety tips with you.
When making Raku pottery, safety should always be your top priority. As a beginner, you need to be extra careful. Besides having your protective gear like gloves and eyewear, you should also make sure your arms, legs, and feet are protected.
If it’s warm outside, don’t wear shorts and flip-flops. You should wear long pants and shoes that cover your feet. You should also wear a long sleeve shirt or arm protectors.
No clothing hanging or long hair hanging down. You don’t want anything to catch fire.
Make sure you are at a safe distance from the kiln when it is opened. If you are opening the kiln, Do not lean into it because a gust of hot air will be released from the kiln opening. That is why having a raku kiln lift up like a top hat or open from the front is so important.
Make sure you use extra-long tongs, and caution should be taken when lifting the fired pots out of the kiln, as the red-hot pots can cause serious burns if not handled properly. It is a good idea to practice lifting your pottery with the long metal tongs before doing the real thing.
With that said, let’s get into the firing process.
Raku Firing Process
The firing process is a crucial step in making raku pottery and requires careful attention to detail. While seasoned potters may not use witness cones in Raku Kilns, they are recommended for beginner potters until they get a feel for how the pottery should look before removing it from the kiln.
Place your glazed bisqueware in the raku kiln with the taller items in the middle of the kiln shelf.
This low-fire method used with a Raku Kiln is much faster than a traditional gas and electric kiln, but the raku Kiln also heats up in increments. Therefore, the Thermocouple must be watched throughout the firing. Continue to do this throughout the firing cycle until the fuel is full blast.
The maximum recommended temperature to heat the raku kiln is 1,800°F (982°C). This will take about an hour to an hour and a half. While most potters prefer to heat the Kiln to the temperature of 1,800°F (982°C), some will fire lower or higher for different effects.
Raku Kiln Firing Time Example:
These times are subjective because of the amount of propane or gas flowing into the kiln. It is not an exact science. It also depends on how much pottery you are firing and the size of the kiln.
- Start the propane flow on low. Don’t give it too much at once.
- The fuel Plateaued or stalled at 490°F (254°C) 7 minutes into the firing and turned it up a bit.
- The fuel Plateaued again at 979 °F (526°C) 13 minutes later and gave it more fuel.
- Plateaued again at 1254 °F (678°C) 8 minutes later and turned the fuel up.
- Temperature stalled at 1480°F (804°C) 12 minutes later and turned up the fuel.
- Then again, at 1653°F (900°C) degrees 15 minutes later and turned the fuel up one more time full blast.
You can look into the kiln if you wear your safety glasses, and you will see the pottery glowing red-hot.
- 14 minutes later, the thermocouple hit 1800°F (982°C), and the pottery was glowing red-hot. It was time to turn off the fuel supply for the pottery to be removed from the kiln and cooled quickly.
Your kiln time will vary depending on how much fuel you give it. Just make sure not to give the kiln too much fuel at once. This firing took 1 hour and 9 minutes.
Removing Raku Pottery From the Kiln
This process creates unique patterns on the surface of the pottery due to its interaction with oxygen and the reduction chamber during cooling. The results are often unpredictable and can range from vibrant colors to crackled textures depending on how long it is left in the combustibles.
Before removing the pottery from the raku kiln, your container should have sand on the bottom to extend its life of the container. Then it should be lined with newspapers or an organic combustible material such as the ones listed in the checklist above to create the smoke and flames.
Lift the top or open the door of the kiln. Use caution when opening the kiln. Remember not to lean into the kiln chamber.
Carefully lift the pottery piece out of the kiln with the Long Metal Tongs. It is essential to keep a safe distance when taking raku pottery out of the kiln.
Place the red-hot pottery in a reduction chamber. The reduction chamber will usually be a small trash can because it is not as deep as a larger one.
Once the pottery is in the container, cover it with another piece of newspaper or organic material.
Allow it to burn for at least 5 seconds or more, depending on the effect you want to create with the pottery.
I allow the combustibles to burn for at least 10 seconds. I found I don’t get the effect I want if I cover it too soon.
Cover the Raku Pottery
Now it’s time to cover the container with the lid. This cuts off the oxygen and creates a reduction atmosphere.
It’s essential to make sure the cover is securely on the container because pressure can build up, and the cover can pop off. You can place a brick on the cover to prevent that from happening.
The lack of oxygen and smoke gives the glaze a unique look. Some glazes, like low-fire clear glazes, create a crackle effect on the surface due to thermal shock.
Allow the raku ware to cool for at least 20 minutes before removing it from the container.
Make sure you wear protective gloves because the pottery will still be hot to the touch.
Alternative Ways to Remove the Pottery From the Kiln
You can skip placing your red-hot ware in a reduction container. Once the pottery is removed from the kiln, set it on a fire-resistant surface like cement or bricks and let the air cool down the pottery.
Another technique is to plunge the red-hot ware into a bucket of water. Submerging the pottery into a bucket of water is another exciting way to cool your pottery and leaves you with another unique look.
Horsehair pottery removal
While this raku method is not as common for beginners to use right away, it’s still worth mentioning.
You can burnish the clay at the Leather Hard Stage. Burnishing involves rubbing a hard object, like a smooth stone or spoon, over the surface of your pot until it has a smooth sheen. Or you can burnish it more quickly on your Pottery Wheel with a smooth stone or metal rib.
Then you can apply terra sigillata at the Bone Dry Stage. Terra sigillata is a very fine clay slip. I make mine with Darvan 811. Polish the pot and let it dry. You can also polish it on the pottery wheel.
Bisque fire the pot, then fire it in the raku kiln. The pottery is removed from the kiln and set in the air to cool down to 1000℉ (537℃). Now you can add horse hair or feathers. Adding horse hair or feathers directly onto the piece while still hot creates an eye-catching pattern.
Cleaning the Raku Pottery
Cleaning the Raku ware is an important part of the process. It makes your pottery pieces look their best and free from any dust or debris.
Remove any ashes, dirt, or marks from the fired glaze using dish soap or Comet cleanser. Gently scrub away any dirt or grime. This can be done with a sponge with an abrasive surface on one side.
Be sure not to scrub too hard, as this could damage the glaze on the piece. Once the glaze surface appears shiny, and the dirt is gone, rinse it off with fresh water and let it dry.
Waxing Is an Optional Step
You can apply wax to your Pottery if it is dull. I like to use beeswax and buff it lightly until I achieve the desired results. Your raku pottery is now ready for display.
Finally, because Raku pottery is fired at a lower temperature, it is more fragile. Handle them carefully when moving around because they can easily chip if dropped due to improper handling.
The term the Raku technique is used to describe the unique characteristics of this style of pottery. To learn more about the Raku pottery technique, you also can read my article. What Is Raku Pottery: Facts and Tips for Beginner Potters
Making Raku pottery is a rewarding and enjoyable experience that can be achieved with the right materials, techniques, and safety precautions. With patience and practice, you will soon have beautiful pieces of art to show off.
As you gain more experience working with different types of clays and experimenting with various kinds of specialty and raku glazes and other glazes throughout, you will find yourself creating truly unique pottery that captures both the beauty and excitement every time.