Knowing how to reclaim your pottery clay is a great way to save good clay. I will go through a few ways you can reclaim or recycle clay.
No, there is no limit to how many times you can reclaim clay if you care for it properly. The quality of your clay depends on the content of water, aging, and the size of the clay particles. If you reclaim your clay often, over time, it can lose its flexibility and become gritty. If that happens, there are several ways you can bring your clay back to life.
Aging your clay helps bring it back to life. A teaspoon of Epsom salt per gallon of water also helps.
Make sure you dissolve the Epsom salt before adding it to your clay. Testing a small amount first is a good idea.
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Why Reclaim or Recycle Your Clay
Why Waste Clay?
Recycling your clay makes sense. The amount of scrap clay you go through is well worth reclaiming it.
When you begin pottery, you go through a lot of clay.
If you mess up a piece on the throwing wheel, it’s best to put the clay on the side in a separate bucket and reclaim it before you use it again. Since the clay has already been played with, it’s too soft to try and throw it back on the wheel.
You can set it on a board with canvas and check on your clay every 20 minutes until the clay dries out enough to wedge it out and reuse it.
Make Cookies With Recycled Clay
Cookies are thin slabs of clay used to place your pottery on to protect the kiln shelf from the glaze that may melt in the kiln and wreck your kiln shelf.
For more information on how to make them check out, How to Make Kiln Cookies in 6 Easy Steps – With a Video
Recycling Clay Saves Money Year After Year
Sure, you could just throw your clay away, but that would be like throwing your money away. Depending on how often you are throwing or handbuilding, you could go through 2 to 4 bags of clay in a month, maybe more.
Bags of clay, on average, are around 20 dollars depending on supplier and shipping costs. Depending on the project, sometimes half of your clay could be scrapped.
Having A Pugmill Would Be Ideal
As the Pugmill Wedges Your Clay, it takes the air out and gives the clay an even consistency throughout. Your clay is ready to use in a matter of minutes. A Pugmill is well worth it if you make a lot of pottery.
Reclaiming By Hand
Slacking is a good way to recycle your clay.
Slacking is when bone-dry clay dissolves in water. All you have to do is dry out your clay and get it wet again. Check out my article on An Easy Way to Recycle Bone Dry Clay.
You can also Check out The YouTube Video below
Why Dry Out Clay Before You Add Water?
Water doesn’t penetrate into damp or wet clay as well. This is why Slacking works best with bone-dry clay. By allowing the clay to dry thoroughly first, the water will absorb more evenly and faster throughout the clay. Bone dry clay breaks down much quicker and more evenly than moist clay.
Drying Your Clay in Smaller Pieces
If you have room to spread your clay out in smaller and thinner pieces, this will help speed up the process. It will dry out faster and break up easier than big chunks of clay.
After Your Clay Is Dry, It’s Time to Slack It.
Is it better to add your clay to water or water to your clay?
It’s better to add the clay to water because you’re not stirring up as much dust, plus it’s kinda cool watching the clay melt in the water.
After you place your clay into the water, you can let it age as long as you want. If you do, make sure you keep the clay covered. Aging creates mold in your clay.
Add Vinegar to Your Clay Instead
Adding a few tablespoons (2 to 4) of vinegar to your water will improve the plasticity (workability) and eliminate odor in the clay.
Pillowcase or Plaster Slab?
When you’re ready to take the extra water out of your clay, you can put it on a slab of plaster or in an old pillowcase and hang up the pillowcase with a bucket underneath.
If you put your clay in a pillowcase, don’t overload it. Remember, smaller batches are easier to work with. To be on the safe side, you should use two pillowcases for extra protection.
Then, find an area where you can hang a strong hook. If there is nowhere you can hang your clay, then the plaster slab may be the better way to go.
Plaster Slab :
Place a layer of clay on a plaster slab or bat. About an inch of clay on the plaster is good. The excess water will soak into the plaster.
Make sure you don’t over-dry your clay. Once the clay is workable, it’s time to wedge.
You will get a feel for which technique works best for you. You may even come up with a unique way to dry your clay that you would like better. If you do, feel free to share.
What You Need to Reclaim Your Clay
Being organized saves time. Here are a few suggestions to help make reclaiming your clay easier.
Placing your Recycled clay in Strong Plastic Bags makes recycling much easier. With less cleanup, you use less water and time cleaning out the buckets.
Clay is heavy; it’s much more manageable to work with when using Smaller Buckets. Try not to have more than 25 pounds of clay in each bucket. Recycling is easier when done in smaller amounts. Large amounts of clay can be daunting, especially if you’re new to pottery.
When your clay has debris like hair, leaves, or any other foreign particles, you will want to slack it down and Strain it. Otherwise, the particles will leave holes in your pottery. Make sure to mark (Strain) on your bucket, so you don’t have to do it twice.
Mark your Buckets:
Labeling takes the guesswork out. You may think you’ll remember, and oops! You forgot. Using tape works the best. It makes relabeling easier, and you’re not marking up your buckets.
The Type of Clays:
You want to mark the cone size on your bucket when you work with different Clay bodies. Especially clays with different cone sizes (firing temperatures). You definitely don’t want to get those mixed up.
Marking the clay that’s ready to play with is also important. You can put your reclaimed clay in a different area if you like, but labeling works best.
Marking Clay Additives:
If you add Epson salt, vinegar, Grog, or anything else. It’s good to know which additive you added to which clay body.
Reclaiming Different Clay Bodies: Can You Mix Them?
Once you mix different clay bodies together, you have now created a new clay body. You should glaze and test fire the new clay body to see how your clay and glazes will react and look after firing.
For more detailed information on mixing Clay, Check out Can Pottery Clay Be Mixed
POTTERY CRAFTERS THOUGHTS… It’s good to reclaim your clay in a world where there is so much waste. Sooner or later, your recycled clay will turn into beautiful pottery or Kiln Cookies.