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Cracks In Pottery: Why They Happen And How To Prevent Them


Why Does Pottery Crack?

By its very nature pottery is delicate and is susceptible to cracking. Cracking is mainly caused by uneven drying of the piece, meaning that some parts of the pottery shrink more than others. The key to avoiding these pitfalls is to create a consistent environment for drying the piece and undertaking the necessary preparation to ensure that the entire piece dries at a similar rate.

In this article, we go over some of the most common causes for cracks to appear in your pottery piece and how to prevent them.


Thickness of the Piece

One of the main reasons that cracks form in pottery when it is being dried is often down to the differences in thickness of different parts of the piece. This is why the base of a pot or vase often cracks more frequently than the sides or lips of the piece as it is generally thicker and therefore takes a lot longer to dry. The obvious way around this is to try and ensure that all parts of the piece are of an even thickness, either by judgement or by using a tool of measurement.

Another similar cause for cracks is the intricate nature of the design. Those with intricate designs tend to have varying thickness, especially around handles or lips. The way to negate this effect is to try and make your designs simpler or to ensure that intricate parts of your design have a similar thickness to other areas. Additionally, when firing the clay, you can cover certain elements that you do not wish to dry as quickly by using a material such as wax resist, which helps to prevent moisture loss as quickly.


Inconsistent Drying

There is a lot of water in clay (around 20%). Therefore the evaporation of the water from the clay can be inconsistent. When one part of the piece dries more quickly than another it puts the entire structure under strain and thus causes cracks.

Larger pieces of pottery are more susceptible to cracking, mainly due to the fact that the surface of your ware is likely to dry quicker than the deep layers. One way to prevent this from happening is to try and ensure that the ware is turned when heated so that all surface areas are receiving an even heat. Alternatively, you could place your wares on a rack within the oven so that the airflow is even all around the piece. As long as you run your heat cycle for a sufficient amount of time then you should have a consistent product at the end.

It is essential to ensure consistent drying across your piece. Once the piece has been dried, it is much harder to repair a crack and even though there are solutions, none are truly perfect. As the heating/drying stage is the vital element of this process, it’s crucial that your kiln can achieve the results that you need and makes the job of consistent drying much easier.


Uneven Firing

Uneven firing is another reason that pottery can crack. To remedy this, you need to be able to control the heat, length and drying capacity of your kiln. This can be best achieved with an electric powered kiln, where length of cycle, temperature and even heating can be controlled. Soul Ceramics has an extensive range of electric powered kilns to enable an even heating program.



The Type of Clay

The type of clay you are using can also have an effect on whether the pottery cracks when dried. Clay with a high level of plasticity tends to crack more when drying. Consider using clay that contains ‘grog’ which has been fired and ground before being added to the clay. The grog enables the particles in the clay to space and therefore allow moisture to come to the surface and evaporate more easily.


Clay Preparation

Preparation of the clay is key. If your clay block has not been sufficiently wedged it will have varying amounts of moisture in different parts of the clay. Therefore some parts will be denser and drier and will therefore dry at a faster rate than the wetter parts of the clay. Ensuring that you undertake sufficient wedging of the clay will ensure an even block from which to work from that shares similar properties throughout.



Finally, joints in your pottery piece can cause cracks as these are often areas of weakness and variable thickness. Joining your pieces well by scoring the areas that they are going to meet and using slip painted on the scored areas before joining the two pieces will ensure a well joined piece.


Please contact Soul Ceramics if you would like further advice on your ceramics project and we will be happy to help.


Additional resources on pottery

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