Friday, January 9, 2009

Pottery glazes; shino, and chun, what are they?

Pottery glazes are in fact a type of glass, quite similar to the glass that makes a window.Glazes are formulated in a way that will help them stick on a pot without crazing too much or running off.

Earthenware glazes are often borax based. Some earthenware glazes are lead based, but most potters using them these days would make them from a lead frit, which is lead that has been made safe to use by combining it with silica to form a glass, much like lead crystal used to make high quality wine glasses. This glass is then powdered, and is usually mixed with some clay and some water to make a glaze that can be applied to the pot.

Stoneware glazes are mostly made from powdered rock and clay. At 1300 degrees Centigrade the kiln is hot enough to melt rocks, such as basalt or feldspar, on their own; and some clays such as estuarine mud, and garden clay, need very little done to them to turn them into a high temperature glaze, usually all that is needed is an addition of calcium carbonate or ordinary wood ash.

Various metals can be used to colour glazes, copper and iron, being my personal favourites.

Glaze materials are first crushed into a fine powder, then are added to water to form a thin creamy consistency. This is sieved repeatedly to remove lumps. The glaze is applied to the pot by pouring, dipping, brushing, or spraying. In my case I usually dip the pot into the glaze or brush glaze over it.

Shino glaze is a Japanese style of glaze

Shino glaze suits wood firing very well, in fact it probably needs a wood fired kiln to be at its best (Shino glaze fired in an electric kiln looks rather like half dry PVA glue!). The passage of the flame around the pot, the variations in atmosphere in the kiln, the fall of wood ash, all leave their signature on the glaze. Variations in the thickness of the glaze have a major effect on the colour. In general the thicker the glaze is, the paler the colour, as most of colour is from traces of iron that are in the clay that the pot is made of working through the glaze, so if the glaze is thin, you tend to see more of that iron.

I am currently exploiting the colour variations of Shino by trailing lines of Shino glaze over Shino glaze. Trailing glazes is similar to decorating a cake. The glaze is squeezed from a hand held container of some kind through a thin tube.

Copper glaze

In a wood fired kiln a glaze that has a small amount of copper in it can turn out to be green or red or both at the same time, depending on how much oxygen was present in the kiln as it was being fired. When I am firing copper glazes in my wood fired kiln and I want the glazes to be red, I have to starve the kiln of oxygen as I fire from when the kiln is at around 800 degrees Centigrade, until the top temperature is reached. This is called, firing in reduction. To do this I carefully add more wood each time I stoke until the flame is long, hazy and turbulent. This hazy flame is starved of oxygen and will look for oxygen from anywhere it can find it, including the glaze and the pot. When the flame takes oxygen from the metal oxides in the glaze, it dramatically changes the colour. If all the oxygen is taken from the copper oxide, the result is a thin, lustrous layer of copper metal on the glaze surface, this is often found on Raku fired pots.

Chün Glaze

Often a cloudy blue, chün glazes get their colour by scattering the light within the glaze. The colour is often more pronounced if it is over a dark background. I usually put chün glaze over a dark brown iron rich glaze, but have found them to work over copper red.

Chün glazes are very sensitive to thickness and to temperature. If they are put on too thinly they will not produce a colour, if they are not fired high enough, they will be an opaque white, if they are over fired, chün glazes can simply become clear and shiny.

What Sort Of Wood?

People often ask, “What sort of wood do I use to fire my pots to 1300 degrees Centigrade?”. I use almost any dry wood that I can get my hands on. Dry pine is thought to be the best. Most people find this odd, but pine burns with a very long flame, and releases its energy quickly, this is usually more effective in heating the whole kiln, than a heavy dense hardwood that burns with a short hot flame.


Ren said...

Thank you for sharing your experiances, i'm a new potter and find your info great, glazing is something i have a lot to learn, chun glaze looks fun, i will give it a go, thank you once again

Peter said...

Hi Ren,

Thank you for your comment, it is nice to hear from you, and I am glad that you find the information helpful. I do hope that the chun glaze works for you, it can be a most beautiful glaze. Do keep in touch.
Best Wishes, P.

Anonymous said...

Hello Peter,
I am trying to get started in Shino glaze. Is Shino glazes food safe? I work with an electric kiln. Read that electric isn't good for shino. I fire at a cone 6 which is 39.44 degrees Centigrade lower than the melting point of feldspar. What should I do?


Peter said...

Hi Kilian,
Good to hear from you. Electric kilns are not suitable for shino. Shino glazes need a kiln that is capable of a reduction atmosphere, and electric kilns are not normally good for that! Probably the very best shino glazes would come from a wood fired kiln, but gas firers might think otherwise!! If you only have access to an electric kiln, than you should explore glazes that are more suited to it, these are glazes that are designed to fire in oxidation. There is a great deal of good information on the web about cone 6 glazes as this is a popular temperature and many potters are firing with electric kilns. It is worth looking at for lots of technical help.
Regarding Shino and food safety. I would think that most shino recipes that I have seen would be food safe. Some may not be the easiest to keep clean as some crawl or craze, but if that is not a concern, than they should be fine.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,
I love your pots and I'm particularly interested in your use of estuarine mud and also wood ash in your glazes.

I live by a very muddy estuary and I would love to use the mud and ash from drift wood in my glazes - please can you give me an idea of the proportions?

Many thanks for sharing your expertise!

Peter said...

Hi Anne,
Thank you for your encouragement!

Mud and ash from drift wood would make a very good combination. Be careful when working with wood ash, it is a very caustic material and can burn your hands. It is a good idea to wear rubber gloves when working with it, and a mask if working with wood ash as a dry powder. Wood ash should be sieved through a very course sieve to remove lumps of charcoal and other impurities, then progressively through finer sieves until 60 mesh is reached (I have sometimes used 40 mesh). Wood ash can be used unwashed or washed. Washing wood ash removes soluble fluxes from it and makes the made up glaze easier to store. Some potters prefer to keep the soluble fluxes in the ash, so don't wash it, but these glazes should really be used right away.

You can almost certainly make a glaze that is purely from your estuarine mud and wood ash.

I would start by weighing equal measures of dry ash and dry mud. Combine the mud and ash with water to make a glaze, make sure this is well sieved. Then apply the glaze to a test tile or small bowl. You may get something like that to work as low as Cone 6, but it is more likely to be successful if you fire between cone 7 and cone 10.

Another worthwhile approach would be to add some feldspar. As a starting point you could try equal thirds of feldspar, wood ash and estuarine mud. If you have a quarry nearby it may be worth investigating to see if you can obtain some quarry dust. We live fairly near a basalt quarry, and I did some interesting experiments years ago with basalt dust in glazes. The basalt could be used instead of feldspar in a simple glaze recipe.

Phil Rogers wrote a really good book called "Ash Glazes", this would be a very helpful and inspirational one for you. It has lots of practical information about preparing ash glazes, and some lovely examples of pots. I see that it is still available on for less than $40.

Best Wishes,


Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,
How exciting!
Thank you very much for your advice - I haven't found anyone who has the knowledge and understanding that you have of using locally sourced natural materials. I can't wait to experiment with your suggestions and produce pots which truly embody the beautiful environment here in southwest England.
Thank you so much,

Peter said...

Hi Anne,

SW England is a lovely part of the UK. I have an Aunt in Tintagel, and I have happy memories of a family holiday to Charmouth when I was very young. I do hope you have success with your glazing experiments, it is a very special thing to use materials from your own area. You are most welcome to get in touch again and ask any questions.

Best Wishes,