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How to Transform Your Clay Body into a Casting Slip
Posted By Paul Andrew Wandless On March 15, 2010 @ 7:00 am In Ceramic Molds,Daily,Features,Pottery Clay,Pottery Making Illustrated | 23 Comments
Ready-made casting slip is commercially available in all firing ranges, making it super convenient. But if you like to combine handbuilt or thrown elements in your slipcast pieces, it can be very difficult to find a casting slip with exact same shrinkage and absorption characteristics as your regular throwing or handbuilding body.
In today’s post, an excerpt from our new free download Ceramic Mold Making Techniques: Tips for Making Plaster Molds and Slip Casting Clay, Paul Wandless shows you how to make casting slip from your regular clay body. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
A common studio challenge is trying to keep the number of different clay bodies you have on hand to a minimum. Throwing, handbuilding, casting, and surface design techniques often require different clay bodies to suit the demands of how your work is created. Sometimes the clay bodies also need to be in different forms such as regular moist clay, slip or casting slip. If I’m handbuilding with a cone 6 clay body and want to add a slip-cast element to it, I’d be hard pressed to find a commercial cone 6 casting slip with the exact same shrinkage and absorption characteristics. A singular work made of multiple clay bodies can cause several problems. Disparate shrinkage rates, maturation points, iron content, etc., can all have a negative effect on the final outcome of the work when using different bodies. When possible, it’s always best to stick with the same body. My sculptural work combines moist clay for general construction and casting slip for volumetric elements or for use with various image transfer techniques to address the surface. My solution is to use the clay body I’m working with and turn it into the different types of casting slips I need. This assures that all the parts and surface treatments shrink the same, fire to the same cone, and all the glazes work the same on all the different parts. The great thing about this approach is its simplicity. All you need is a 5-gallon bucket, a drill with a paint mixer attachment, a deflocculant, and the clay body you want to use as a casting slip.
|Preparing the Slip
The process of slaking clay to make it into slip is a simple one. Step one is to have a 5-gallon bucket filled 60-75% with your bone-dry clay then add water until it’s a few inches below the rim (figure 1). Let it slake for 24 hours then mix it by hand a little with a stick (figure 2). Once you’ve mixed the slip for about 5 minutes, use a drill with a paint mixer attachment to mix it into a smooth slurry, which should be the consistency of thick cream. Use the stirring stick to check the consistency and find any lumps of clay that didn’t slake down (figure 3). Keep mixing until the lumps are gone.
Measuring Specific Gravity
In general, a specific gravity of 1.80 to 1.85 provides good balance of fluidity and strength for most casting purposes. This number can vary, though, depending on exactly what is being cast. I’ve used it as low as 1.74 for volumetric casting and as high as 1.90 for casting flat slabs. Different clay bodies have different optimal specific gravities that are determined by good old-fashioned trial and error. Specific gravity is simply a tool for you to adjust your slip to meet the needs of your particular casting project. Once you find a number that works, write it down and stick with it for that clay body. If you have a specific gravity that is higher than 1.85 and you want to bring it down, add a little water (only a few drops at a time), to your slip, mix and re-test. If the specific gravity is lower than 1.80, let the slip sit 24 hours, skim the water off the top, remix, and measure the specific gravity again.
Deflocculating the Slip
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