How To Make Old Clay Pliable Enough To Use- Three Solutions

Running Low Of Clay

When I began my pottery journey, I found two pottery suppliers clay who made clay and glazes. Both were near Toronto, about a 4 to 5 hour drive south from where I lived.  Several years ago, we moved further south and are now only a few hours’ drive away.

Fortunately, one supplier, my favourite, was on route to my hometown where I grew up.

I would visit my parents and extended family several times a year. Once a year, I would order 6 boxes of clay, glazes, and tools.  On the way to my parents, I’d pick up my order.

I’m an artistic potter, not a production one. Therefore, it takes me about a year to use 6 boxes of clay. I had an established rhythm that worked for me.

Until I met a potter who was retiring. She gave me a truckload of bone-dry clay. This threw out my rhythm. I wasn’t able to use up my clay before it became stiff, ans unable to use.

Wheat Design Tray – Waiting to be fired in the kiln and then decorated. 

When clay sits for a year or more, it begins to dry out, and its molecules separate, stiffening the clay. Stiff clay is good for hand-built pottery but makes centring clay on the potter’s wheel hard. When I centre new clay, I pull it up to a cone shape, then push it down to a disk shape. It is ready to open up for cups, bowls, vases, etc. With stiffer clay, I cone up and push down several times, adding water with a sponge each time. Half of the time, I can make an item. The other half, the clay goes back to my wedging slab.

Just made and drying. I can’t wait to see what this looks like with colour.
Some of my pottery waiting to be loaded in the kiln

How To Rework Old Clay

As a result of having too much clay, I learned a few tricks to make clay payable and moist.

If the clay is a bit stiff, that means the molecules are separated.  I drop the bag of clay on the concrete floor several times to shock the molecules back together. 

If this doesn’t work, then I need to add water. If I can make a dent in the clay by pushing my finger into it, then it hasn’t dried out very much. I wrap the clay in a damp towel and put it back in the bag for a month.

If they clay is too dry to dent, I put the clay, still in the bag, in a bucket, and fill up the bucket with water. Moisture seeps through the bag, re-hydrating the clay. This process takes a few months.

None of these methods worked for the bone-dry clay I was given. I took the clay out of the bag and put it in a bucket.  I filled the bucket with water. Several months later, the clay was soaked and slumped into the bucket. I then had to wedge it on a plaster board to remove the excess water and make it pliable for working. This clay was best for hand building.

During the years of using up my given clay, my parents and aunts passed away. Therefore, I am only visiting my siblings a couple of times a year. I would have to organize my family visits around ordering more clay. My clay is running low. I was wondering how this would work.

A solution dropped into my lap. A potter from the town we moved from informed me that a new pottery store opened  up there. They carry my suppliers clay. Too bad I still don’t live there. I could have gotten my clay when grocery shopping. That would be so convenient.

More pottery to put in the kiln

I might not live there anymore, but it is easier to get to the town I used to live in, than my original supplier. A lot less traffic. We are visiting friends there in a couple of weeks. I’ll check them out.

I sell my handmade pottery on my shop here, and Etsy. The blue and orange buttons take you to these shops.

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My pottery journey, my passion, didn’t start until my 40’s. Creating pottery is my happy place, especially decorating, vases, cups, bowls, trays, and creating sculptures. The more I create, the more my imagination is spurred on. I will be sharing how I make pottery here.

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