The people who attend our pottery sessions for the first time, often ask me what the difference between the clays and it was something I was unaware of when I first started creating in clay
The clay we tend to use on the pottery sessions here at the studio in Newton Abbot is stoneware clay, most potters or ceramic artists usually have a preference for a certain type of clay. We use Stoneware clay mainly because that’s my favourite but sometimes, where in our pottery workshops we may use earthenware clay.
Here’s what the difference is: Whether a clay is classed as Earthenware or Stoneware depends on how porous the clay body is after it’s final firing.
Earthenware clay is fired at a lower temperature in the kiln (max 1180ºC) at this temperature the clay is still porous (allowing water in) and would require a glaze coating and further firing to make it waterproof. It is the most common clay found in nature, is used to make tiles bricks as well as pottery and doesn’t shrink much when it dries.
Stoneware clay is fired at a much higher temperature (max 1300ºC) and is named because it looks like stone after firing. It should also be completely leak proof after its final firing. It is tough and workable, it’s often favoured by pot throwers for its plasticity but is also good for hand building, creating pinch-pots and coiling.Although it shrinks up to 10%. After it’s final firing in the kiln, stoneware clay will be buff, light grey, brown or dark grey in colour. This clay is great for creating vases, jugs, cups, teapots, dishes, plates as well as more sculptural forms.Another benefit of using stoneware clay is the bright and richly coloured glazes that can be achieved from the higher firing temperatures.
I’ve worked with both types of clay and love the flexibility and durability of Stoneware, which is perfect for creating pieces of ceramic artwork for the garden. Whilst it’s not advisable to mix both earthenware and stoneware clay and some traditional potters may frown upon the suggestion but if you want to experiment with surfaces and are prepared for unexpected outcomes then I would say give it a go!
Pam Neaves - Ceramic Artist and Gallery owner, Newton Abbot, Devon