How To Guide

How to Recycle Clay: A Comprehensive Guide

Introduction

Recycling clay is an important practice for potters and ceramic artists. Not only does it help reduce waste and save money, but it also allows you to make the most of your materials. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the process of recycling clay, providing tips and tricks to ensure the best results possible.

CONTENTS PAGE
Why Recycle Clay?
The Recycling Process
Tips for Successful Clay Recycling
Alternative Clay Recycling Methods
How to Store Clay

Why Recycle Clay?

Environmental Benefits

Clay mining has a significant environmental impact, including habitat destruction, erosion, and water pollution. By recycling clay, you can help reduce the demand for new clay, minimizing these negative environmental effects.

Economic Benefits of Recycling Clay

Clay can be expensive, especially when purchased in large quantities. Recycling clay helps save money by allowing you to reuse clay scraps, trimmings, and failed projects rather than purchasing new material.

Improved Quality 

Recycling clay can improve its workability and consistency. The process of recycling involves breaking down the clay and removing any impurities, resulting in a more uniform and manageable material.

The Recycling Process

Soaking Clay

Begin the recycling process by soaking the clay scraps in water. Place the scraps in a large container and add enough water to cover them. Allow the clay to soak until it has softened and broken down into a slurry.

Drying Clay

Once the clay has softened, it needs to be dried to a workable consistency. Pour the slurry onto a plaster bat or a large piece of fabric (such as an old bedsheet or canvas) laid over a flat, waterproof surface. The plaster or fabric will absorb the excess water, allowing the clay to dry more evenly. Be sure to keep an eye on the drying process to avoid over-drying the clay.

Wedging Clay

When the clay has reached the desired consistency, it is time to wedge it. Wedging helps to remove any trapped air bubbles and ensures a uniform consistency throughout the clay. Use one of the following wedging techniques:

  • Spiral Wedging: This technique involves rolling and folding the clay in a spiral motion, creating a spiral pattern within the clay.
  • Rams Head Wedging: This method involves folding and compressing the clay repeatedly, creating a “ram’s head” shape with each fold.
  • Cut and Slam Wedging: This technique involves cutting the clay into smaller pieces and slamming them together, repeating the process until the desired consistency is achieved.

    Storing Recycled Clay

After wedging, store the recycled clay in airtight plastic containers or heavy-duty plastic bags. Ensure the containers are labeled with the type of clay and firing temperature. It is a good idea to let the clay rest for a few days before using it, as this allows the moisture content to stabilize and helps improve workability.

Tips for Successful Clay Recycling

Monitor Moisture Content

When drying the clay slurry, be careful not to over-dry it. Check the consistency regularly to ensure it doesn’t become too hard or crumbly. If the clay does become over-dried, you can rehydrate it by adding a small amount of water and kneading it back into the clay until it reaches the desired consistency.

Clean Tools and Equipment

Keeping your tools and equipment clean is essential for successful clay recycling. Dirty tools can introduce contaminants and foreign materials into the recycled clay, compromising its quality and workability. Be sure to clean all tools, surfaces, and containers thoroughly before and after use.

Different types of Clay

When recycling clay, it’s essential to keep different types of clay separate. Mixing different clay types can result in a blend that is difficult to work with and may not fire correctly. Label containers clearly to avoid confusion and ensure that you’re always working with the right type of clay.

Test Fire Recycled Clay

Before using recycled clay for a large project, it’s a good idea to test fire a small sample. This will help ensure the clay is free of impurities and can withstand the firing process without issues. If any problems arise during the test firing, you may need to further refine the recycling process.

Mix Recycled and Fresh Clay

Sometimes, mixing a small amount of fresh clay with your recycled clay can help improve its workability and consistency. This can be especially helpful if you’re working with clay that has been recycled multiple times, as the process can eventually degrade the clay’s quality.

Alternative Clay Recycling Methods

Pugmill

A pugmill is a machine specifically designed for recycling clay. It mixes, de-airs, and compresses the clay, creating a consistent and workable material. Pugmills can be expensive but are an excellent investment for professional potters or studios that recycle large amounts of clay regularly.

Clay Reclaimer

A clay reclaimer is a smaller, more affordable alternative to a pugmill. It works by using a combination of water and pressure to break down and mix the clay. While not as efficient as a pugmill, a clay reclaimer can still save time and effort in the recycling process.

How to store your clay

Proper storage of clay is crucial to maintaining its quality and preventing contamination. Be sure to store clay in airtight containers, away from direct sunlight, and in a cool, dry place. This will help keep the clay at the right moisture level and prevent it from drying out or becoming too wet.

Collecting Scraps

Collect all your clay scraps, including trimmings, dried clay, and failed projects. It is important to separate clay based on its type and firing temperature, as mixing different clays can cause issues during the firing process.

Storing Clay

Store your collected clay scraps in a lidded plastic container or heavy-duty plastic bag. Ensure the container is airtight to prevent the clay from drying out. Label the containers with the type of clay and firing temperature to avoid confusion.

Monitor Moisture Content

When recycling clay, it’s important to monitor its moisture content. Too much water can make the clay difficult to work with and may cause cracking during the drying and firing process. Too little water can result in a dry, crumbly clay that is difficult to shape and manipulate. Adjust the amount of water added during the recycling process to achieve the desired consistency.

Start Small

If you’re new to clay recycling, it’s a good idea to start with small amounts of clay to develop your skills and get a feel for the process. As you become more comfortable with recycling clay, you can gradually work with larger quantities and explore different techniques and tools to streamline the process.

Conclusion

Recycling clay is a sustainable and cost-effective practice for potters and ceramic artists. By following the steps outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can ensure successful clay recycling, reduce waste, and make the most of your materials. With a little patience and practice, recycling clay will become an integral part of your pottery routine.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 

How long should I let the clay rest after recycling?

It's a good idea to let the recycled clay rest for a few days before using it. This allows the moisture content to stabilize and helps improve the clay's workability.

Can I recycle clay with glaze on it?

It is best to avoid recycling clay with glaze on it, as the glaze can contaminate the clay and cause issues during the firing process. If you do need to recycle glazed clay, be sure to remove as much glaze as possible before recycling.

Can I recycle clay that has been fired?

Once clay has been fired, it can no longer be recycled, as the firing process changes its molecular structure and renders it unusable for further pottery work.

How long should I let the clay rest after recycling?

It's a good idea to let the recycled clay rest for a few days before using it. This allows the moisture content to stabilize and helps improve the clay's workability.

Can I recycle clay with glaze on it?

It is best to avoid recycling clay with glaze on it, as the glaze can contaminate the clay and cause issues during the firing process. If you do need to recycle glazed clay, be sure to remove as much glaze as possible before recycling.

Can I recycle clay that has been fired?

Once clay has been fired, it can no longer be recycled, as the firing process changes its molecular structure and renders it unusable for further pottery work.

How long does it take to recycle clay?

The time it takes to recycle clay depends on the method used and the amount of clay being processed. Manual methods like wedging and drying can take several days or even weeks, while using a pugmill or clay reclaimer can significantly speed up the process, taking just a few hours.

Is clay infinitely recyclable?

While clay can be recycled multiple times, its quality may degrade with each recycling cycle. Mixing recycled clay with fresh clay can help maintain its workability and consistency. However, over time, the clay may still lose some of its desirable properties and eventually become less suitable for pottery work.

 

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