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Cracking and Wheel Throwning

Have you ever had trouble with cracks developing in the base of your wheel thrown work? This problem can be avoided by following a few simple guidelines.

Cracks develop for two main reasons: uneven drying and uneven compression in the throwing process.

  • Avoid uneven drying

OK, so you put your wheel thrown work in a drying cupboard. You even additionally cover the work with plastic sheeting, trying to ensure even drying. But if you are throwing on a bat, no air reaches the bottom of a platter, vessel or other thrown object. What happens? The top dries a bit slower. As the top dries, it shrinks and pulls together, cracking the slightly wetter and therefor less shrunk surface towards the bottom. Once a crack has developed, it is near to impossible to get rid of, even by turning (trimming). One way to avoid this might be to turn over the work halfway in between the drying process, but this is not usually feasible. So what to do? How to get that bottom drying at a similar rate? The answer: throw your work on plaster bats. (How to make plaster bats will be the topic of a feature soon to come.)

The bat will need to be moistened, otherwise the clay will pop off too soon and throwing will become an impossibility. After throwing your work, the piece can be lifted off while still on the bat, and the bat, work and all, can be placed in your normal drying area. After a few hours, depending on moisture content of the bat, the work will pop off all by itself, and may even be ready for turning that same day.

  • Avoid uneven compression when wheel throwing

Cracks may not appear until in the firing itself, often even until a second high temperature firing, especially in fine clays like porcelain or porcelaineous stoneware. Rougher clays like raku are generally not so prone to cracking, unless you really treat them badly, as the grog tends to absorb a lot of tension. For finer clays, the best technique to get a consistently compressed clay throughout is to center the clay on the wheelhead, then cut off the clay with a cutting wire. Invert the clay and recenter 'upside down'. This ensures that the clay will be quite compressed at the bottom as well as at the top, thus avoiding 's-cracks'.

  • Avoid uneven kiln firing

Uneven firing can also cause cracking. If one side of a pot gets more heat than another, it may shrink more rapidly, causing tenion, which could lead to cracks developing on cooling.

Combined, these techniques should be able to cure most cracking problems with wheel thrown work.


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