Can you use air dry clay on a potters wheel

Can You Use Air Dry Clay on a Potter’s Wheel? – My Review

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I have a 3-year-old and she likes to get busy on my potter’s wheel.  Most of what she makes looks like a chunky donut, and would likely explode in the kiln.  So, I found myself wondering, can you use air dry clay on a potter’s wheel.  I looked into it and this is what I found out…

Some air dry clays are made largely out of plastic and can’t be used on a potters wheel.  However, others are made by adding cellulose fiber to natural clays.  These air dry clays can be used on a pottery wheel.  Though they may behave a bit differently to ceramic clay.

There are lots of different kinds of air dry clay.  What they have in common is that they don’t require firing in a kiln.

Can You Use Air Dry Clay on a Potter's wheel?

Whether you can use air dry clay on a potter’s wheel, depends upon the kind of clay in question.  Here is a brief overview of the different types of air dry clay available.    

Polymer Clay

Air dry clay is different from polymer clay, which needs to be hardened in the oven.  Polymer clay is often made from bright primary colors and feels like plastic when it’s hardened in the oven.  

Cold Porcelain Clay

There is also another kind of air dry clay called ‘cold porcelain’.  Its ingredients include, amongst other things, corn starch and glue. 

In spite of its name, it does not contain porcelain.  However, when it is hard, it can have a white, delicate appearance.  Which is, I imagine how it got its name.  Like other air dry clay, it does not need to be fired to harden.  Hence being called ‘cold porcelain’.  

Paper Clay

Paper clay can be made from any kind of natural clay body.  It differs from ceramic clay in that fiber has been added to it.  The fiber gives it additional strength when it is dry so that it does not have to be fired.

The reason it’s called paper clay is that the most common kind of fiber used is paper fiber.  Clay made with added paper fiber is often white and has a pulpy, papery look.  It is very lightweight and when it dries it is not very strong.  It is often used for scrapbooking. 

However, fiber can be added to stoneware, earthenware, and porcelain to make them into air drying clays.  Often these are reinforced with nylon fiber.  Some clay body paper clays can either be fired or left to air dry.

Which kind of Air Dry Clay Can You Use on a Potter's Wheel?

I couldn’t find any evidence of polymer or cold porcelain clay being used on the potter’s wheel.  I suspect this is because these substances are best used for modeling 

However, some manufacturers of clay body paper clays do state that they can be used like ceramic clay.  Including wheel throwing.

Again, I couldn’t find any customer reviews about which air dry clay can be used on the potter’s wheel.  So, I took a gamble and tried out a stone colored clay by Scola.  There was not much information available about it, other than it being ‘stone’ colored, and reinforced with nylon fiber. 

The description also stated that it could be air dried and painted with acrylic paint.  I thought it was worth a go

However, it’s a little difficult to get hold of Scola in larger quanities.  So on reflection, I think I would have been better off choosing something like Craftsmart Natural Air Dry Clay

You can buy this in 10lb bags, which makes a bit more sense in the long run.  The makers describe it as being suitable for lots of purposes, including wheel throwing.  And it has good reviews. 

First Impressions of Air Dry Clay....

I bought 12.5kg and it came in a bag much like any other ceramic clay.  It looked and felt like pottery clay and was a charcoal grey color.

The first difference that I noticed was that when I sliced it, I spotted small fibers on the wire cutter.  However, I wedged it and patted it into a ball like normal. 

Perhaps I didn’t really need to wedge it as I wasn’t going to fire it.  But I thought it would be good to get the feel of it and to even out the consistency. 

What is it like to Use Air Dry Clay on the Potter's Wheel

I had read that air dry clay was awkward to use, so I was surprised when it centered very quickly.  I was expecting to have a battle on my hands but centered easily.

Having heard quite a few unflattering things about air dry clay from potters, I was expecting it to perform poorly.  However, it was actually quite nice to use.  It did become a bit grabby quickly, so it did need quite a bit of water.  But it was taking shape quite nicely.

However!  At a certain point, it all went a bit wrong.  The clay seemed to be coping fine as I was pulling it up, and then all of a sudden it simply collapsed.  It buckled on one side.  I was able to pull it back together, but the resulting pot is pretty wonky.

So, my first experience of using air dry clay on the potter’s wheel is mixed.  It seems to respond well at first, but I’m not sure how forgiving or resilient it is. 

None the less, all clays are different, so I had another go….

Second Impressions of Air Dry Clay....

The second time I used it, I decided to proceed with more caution.  And the results were better.  I didn’t push the clay beyond its limits and it didn’t collapse.  In fact I found it quite easy to use.  The consistency is quite even.  

Often with ceramic clay you will get harder patches in a bag of clay.  This is why it is important to wedge it.  The wedging evens out the clay and makes it a lot easier to throw.  

However, I found the air dry clay was quite homogenous straight out of the bag.  I wondered if this was to do with the way that the fiber is added.  Whatever the reason, it was quite cooperative on the wheel.  

I had read that air dry clay behaves a little like porcelain on the potter’s wheel.  I can see why this comparison would be drawn.  Porcelain likes a lot of water and can collapse if it gets too wet as well.

Check out this video, to see how it went….

The overall look of the finished pottery is fine I think.  When it is still wet, this air dry clay was dark and glossy and looks a little waxy.

It takes longer than ceramic clay to become touch dry.  And when it dries it is matt.

Can You Use Air Dry Clay on a Potter’s Wheel? – My Verdict

In, short, I would say, yes, you can use air dry clay on a potter’s wheel.  Air dry clay has a bit of a bad reputation amongst some experienced ceramic potters.  But my experience has been that although it responds a little differently, it has some benefits. 

The Benefits of Air Dry Clay...

  1. It is good for beginners who may not have access to a kiln

  2. Also, it feels quite a bit like throwing ceramic pottery clay.  Although it does behave a little differently.

  3. You can paint it with different mediums once it is dry.

  4. There are some sculptors doing very beautiful work using air dry clay.  An example I found is Suzie Benes, who makes delicate and dynamic horse sculptures.

    She points out that one advantage of air dry clay is that you can support very fine work with armatures.  Because the sculpture is not being fired, you don’t have to worry about metal supports in your work.  

The Downside of Air Dry Clay....

  1. It doesn’t feel exactly like throwing ceramic clay.  You can learn how to throw using air dry clay on a potter’s wheel.  However, if you do switch to ceramic clay, you may have to unlearn some habits and change your technique.

  2. You don’t get the experience of learning how to fire and glaze, which is half the fun of pottery.

  3. When it is dry, and without any kind of finish or sealant it is porous.  It can be coated with a finish that will give it some degree of seal.  However, regardless of the finish applied it would not be food-safe, or fully waterproof. 

Final Thoughts

My 3-year-old daughter loved it!  I told her it was her own special clay and she was delighted.

I was also was pleasantly surprised.  In short, I would say you can throw air dry clay on a potter’s wheel, with the above caveats.

Bear in mind that I only tested one brand, and some air dry clay might work better than others on the wheel. 

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Pottery Tips from the Pottery Wheel

Lesley

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Pottery Tips from the Pottery Wheel

I’m Lesley Milne, the creator of The Pottery Wheel.  Like many people, I used the potter’s wheel at school.  But then I began to focus on clay sculpture and I left the wheel behind.  However, more recently, I found myself being drawn back to pottery and the potters wheel.  And so, I have tried to pick up where I left off all those years ago at school. This blog is a chronicle of what I have learned as I got back into the potters saddle!

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