Let’s face it; recycling clay is not at the top of a potters list. Most potters I know dread having to slop slushy clay on plaster molds or ware boards. It’s a tedious and time-consuming messy task.
I didn’t want to do it, but there was a strong desire not to waste clay. There had to be an easier, more manageable, less messy way not to waste clay. After watching a bunch of videos, asking a few potter friends some questions, and through a lot of trial and error I finally came up with an easy 6 step process of Recycling my Bone Dry Clay.
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The Supplies You Need To Recycle Your Bone Dry Clay
Old Pillowcases. You may also use any type of pouches, just make sure it is a tightly woven breathable fabric for your clay to dry properly. Also, make sure there is no fraying around your fabric because it could get in your clay.
Ties for your pillowcases. You can use any thick, sturdy string or old clothesline.
A Metal Hook to place to suspend your dripping clay. Maybe a Closet or a Tree. Be creative. I use a Plum Tree (see step #4 Picture) in the back yard.
2 Buckets, 1 for water and 1 for your dry clay. 1 or 2-gallon (4 or 7 Liter) buckets work well.
Plastic Bags, new or used are fine, just make sure you have a few with no holes set aside to store your clay in. They should be at least 10 x 14 inches (25 x 35 cm) a small trash bag is also fine.
A Plaster Mold or Ware Board.
If you are not familiar with Ware Boards, they are Drywall or Boards, like plywood.
I eventually made my own, but for the sake of this article, here is where you can get a Canvas Covered Board. These are sturdy wooden boards with canvas. The only complaint is its 10-inch x 10-inch size (25 cm x 25 cm) which is no problem for this task because we are recycling a small batch, so this is a good size for what we are doing.
As you get more advanced or confident you can make your own Ware Board or Plaster Mold to the size you are comfortable with, mine is 12 x 16 inches long (30 x 40 cm).
A Small Dropcloth. Use it only for breaking up your dry clay. You may also use an old clean tightly woven fabric. You don’t want loose pieces of cloth to get into your clay.
A Hammer, for breaking up large chunks of clay.
Safety Glasses, for any small clay particles that may fly up and hit you in the eye.
Dust Mask, if you kick up any dust while working with the bone dry clay.
Magic marker, to label your recycled clay.
1. Dry Your Clay
If you have any wet clay from throwing on the wheel, you will want to dry it out. You want your clay to be bone dry because the water actually goes into the clay a little more evenly when it’s bone dry.
Place a piece of plastic on your ware board, then place your wet clay on the plastic.
Don’t cover the clay with plastic. You only need to place your clay on top of the plastic. Using plastic will protect the ware board over time.
Make sure your clay is not too runny like slip. It needs to be hard enough to stay on your ware board. Flatten down the clay a bit if you need to, then slide the ware board right inside the pillowcase.
Now tie it up.
I do this for two reasons.
- One, so air can get through to dry the clay
- Two, so any debris doesn’t get on the clay
2. Break Down Your Clay
The climate you live in will determine the amount of time it takes to dry; it may take a week or more.
Once your clay is bone dry, you will want to break it down into smaller pieces. This helps the water go into your clay faster and more evenly.
Take your clay off the ware board and place the big chunks on the drop cloth or any old clean tightly woven fabric.
(This is the fun part) Now Hammer down the large pieces.
Don’t forget Safety Glasses in case any bits of clay accidentally pop up and hit you in the eye. You should also use a Dust Mask especially if you are indoors. I love this Dust Mask, it’s very comfortable, lightweight, and comes in handy when I’m working with dry clay or dry glazes.
After all the clay is broken up, place it in your bone dry clay storage bucket.
3. Fill and Soak Your Clay
Once you have collected up at least 2 to 4 pounds (1 to 2 kg) of clay in your storage bucket, take a pillowcase or pouch and fill it with the amount of clay that you want to wedge out.
I found 2 to 4 pounds (1 to 2 kg) of clay is a good amount to recycle at a time. Keep in mind the water will make your clay heavier, around a half a pound (.22kg) depending on how much clay you put in the pillowcase.
If you want to recycle more clay at one time, you can put more in, or you can use another pillowcase.
After you put the clay in your pillowcase or pouch, wrap the pillowcase around the clay and place it into another pillowcase or pouch.
This is done, so the clay dries more evenly. I tried one pillowcase and the clay dried out too fast on the top.
Place the clay-filled pillowcases in your bucket filled with water and let the clay soak up the water.
Make sure there is enough water in your bucket to cover all the clay. If your clay is outside, you want to take another pillowcase and cover your bucket. This is done so you don’t attract any insects or animals that may want to drink from the bucket.
4. Daily Lift and Squeeze
After one day lift your clay out of the water and give it a few good squeezes to make sure there are no lumps. If you feel any lumps place the clay back in the water and wait another day.
The nice part is you can keep the clay in the bucket for a while if you like. Just make sure you have enough water in your bucket to keep the clay covered.
I have left my clay in the bucket for weeks already. That’s what I like about clay; there is no rush at any stage.
When you squeeze your clay, and it feels nice and smooth, lift it out of the bucket and hook it up over the bucket.
I found covering it with a pillowcase works best because the water drips right through the pillowcase into the bucket.
5. Check Your Clay
After hooking up your clay you should check on it daily for the correct consistency by giving it a few squeezes. It can take anywhere from 2 to 5 days to become wedgeable. The rate that your clay will dry depends greatly on the climate you live in and the amount of clay you have. As your clay gets closer to drying make sure you check it more often.
If you won’t be around for a while, you can simply take the pillowcase off the hook and place it in a plastic bag, mark it, and set it aside. Whenever you want to continue drying out your clay, take it out of the plastic bag and hook it up again.
If you wait too long, that’s ok. All you have to do is place the pillowcase back in the water bucket for a little while and hook it back up again.
Take the clay down when it feels pretty malleable (workable).
The clay will peel right off the pillowcase or pouch. If the clay does not easily peel off, your clay is still too wet. Hook it back up for a while longer.
6. Wedging and Storing Your Clay
Wedge your clay a little bit right away, form it into a ball, place it in a plastic bag, and mark it.
Now, all your reclaimed clay is bagged, marked, and ready to use in convent wedgeable sizes.
When you’re ready to use your clay, wedge it really good.
If you treat your clay good, it will be good to you and respond well when you mold it to your liking.
To learn more about the care of your clay. Find out How Many Times Your Clay Can be Recycled.
The benefits of putting a smaller amount of clay in the Pillowcase
- You’re not putting too much weight on whatever you are hooking the pillowcase on.
- Smaller amounts of clay are more manageable, especially for beginners.
- A larger amount of clay can get pretty heavy pretty fast. How much do you want to handle at a time?
- Your pillowcases, pouches, or fabric you use will last longer.
- Your Back will last longer.
An Overview of What We Learned Today
Recycling Clay this way is not as messy, and smaller amounts are much easier to handle.
Now recycling is no longer daunting and keeping on top of your used clay does make the process easier. Your studio can even stay cleaner. After all, we want to spend most of our time playing with our clay and creating something unique. I enjoyed sharing this easier way to recycle your pottery clay.
Watch the Video of me going through each of the 6 steps you just read about.
Keep making that beautiful Pottery and Stay Dirty My Friends.