search  current discussion  categories  wanted/for sale - wanted 

the search for the perfect clay and those mean, nasty clay suppliers

updated tue 28 sep 99


David Hendley on mon 27 sep 99

I know this will not earn me any popularity points
but, gee, I get tired of people complaining about
their clay and the company that makes it.
And searching for that holy grail of perfect clay.
I know people would like it to be otherwise, but
you can't expect to dial a phone, give out your VISA
number, and have perfect clay appear on your
doorstep in a few days.
The world doesn't work that way.

First of all, everyone has different expectations and
desires for their clay. Everyone uses slightly different
techniques. Even with a variety of claybodies, a clay
company cannot meet every person's expectations.
In other words, the perfect clay does not exist.
Second, things change. Every batch of clay will be
different than the one before.

So, if you want to use prepared ready-to-use clay,
you have the responsibility to test the clay, extensively
the first time you get it, and every you receive a
new shipment. You need to order a new batch soon
enough to test it before you use it for your work.
If you want quality control, it's right there for you to test.

As for clay companies handing out their recipes, well,
there really are not any great secrets. A low-fire whiteware
body will probably be 1/2 talc and 1/2 ball clay in Florida as
well as Washington. There are only a few fireclays offered for
sale, only a handful of kaolins.
It's kinda like a cone 10 glossy glaze; heck, it's no trick
to formulate one.

Well, it really comes down to education and discipline.
If you consider yourself part of an 'industry' and you have
no idea what is in your primary ingredient, educate yourself!
Read books, experiment.
The next time you're at your clay supplier's place, have a look
around. What are there dozens of pallets of in the warehouse?
What clays are offered for sale in dry bags? If you know
anything about clay formulation, you now have a good idea
as to what's in your claybody.
There's no reason for you to feel 'trapped' or 'locked in'
to one clay. Know your stuff and test other options, and
you'll be ready to switch at a moment's notice.

Years ago, I voted against this whole system with my
feet and my money.
Just as I wouldn't blindly buy a pre-made glaze and base
my livelihood on it, I am even more careful with my clay.
It's way too important to me to let someone else take
care of it and just deliver me the ready-to-go product.
Sure, it's more work to develop your own claybody. Yes,
it takes away from so-called 'creative time' (I would contend
that it is the first part of the creative process).
There are many other reasons that I make my own claybody
that I won't go into, but have mentioned on Clayart before.
(BTW, there are plenty of cheap, low-tech ways to make
clay from dry bagged ingredients).

So, if you want a database that lists commercial claybodies,
along with successes, handling characteristics, etc., it can't
hurt anything, and might prove helpful. Let's start it now,
on Clayart - any volunteers?
I would consider such a list maybe interesting, but I certainly
would not change anything I do because of it.
I also don't move to the 'most desirable' city each year.
I don't buy the 'best performing mutual fund' or the hot
new IPO stock.
There's no substitute for the effort of thoughtfully and thoroughly
taking control of the most important material in your work.

Thanks for listening,
David Hendley
Maydelle, Texas

Having spent a couple of years now, on and off, working around the clay
dragon (to borrow a line from Tony Hanson), I've come to a couple of
conclusion.....the only way we will ever start to solve the clay problems we
have, is to do the same thing with clay that is done with
recipes stored in databases.

Right now, the situation is that most people in clay are using "house
blends" from whatever supplier. The supplier is secretive about what's in
the clay.

This is the only "industry" I know of where the producer has essentially NO
IDEA of what's in their primary ingredient! And in this case the producer
does have a level of liability because we warrant the product to perform in
certain ways (oven, microwave, etc.) But we have no control over or even
assurance of quality control in the making of the clay.

The suppliers obviously do this to have control over your buying. Once you
get locked into a clay, get your glazes to work, and all the other bits and
pieces, you are very hesitant to change.

This situation also lets the suppliers focus on the formula rather than the
things that really count like quality control, good service, etc., etc.,

How to change it? Start to build a clay database just like the glaze
database. With formulas, ability for users to input results, successes and
failures. These clay bodies could be tested as we go along for expansion,
firing results, consistency, handling characteristics, etc.

Bigger users (several tons a year) have less of a problem since they can get
custom blends at reasonable prices. The smaller user is stuck, unless we
all got together and started to ask for Clayart Cone 10 Reduction Tall and
Big formula. There is no incentive for the suppliers to do this....they
would no longer have a lock on you. But if enough people started demanding
the standard bodies, the situation could change.

Just dreaming on how it could be.

Tom Wirt

----- Original Message -----
From: goatnose
Sent: Saturday, September 25, 1999 2:03 PM
Subject: Re: great clay search

| ----------------------------Original message----------------------------
| Tom Wirt has expressed a need to change
| a situation which continues to envelope all
| of us, in one way or another. We are faced with a confrontation by
| Organization versus fractonalization; it is ever thus. When people learn
| the effectiveness of concerted action, changes begin to take place; we,
| as individuals, are continually assaulted by the desires of the
| organized. We CAN change the quality of materials
| available to us ONLY if a sufficient number of us resolve that OUR Will
| be done. IF they want OUR money, they will perform in a manner which
| reflects OUR needs, NOT their primary demand for
| profit. This does not mean to imply that a
| decent profit is noisome - it is not. It does
| not imply an attempt to dictate how much
| profit is to be realized from the sale of a
| product.It DOES imply that WE, if organ-
| ized,CAN obtain better materials on a reg-
| ular basis.