Unlocking the Mystery of Pottery Clay: Which One is the Best?

Unlocking the Mystery of Pottery Clay: Which One is the Best?

Hello, aspiring potters! Welcome to the wonderful world of clay. As a professional potter, I've worked with all kinds of clay over the years, and let me tell you, choosing the right type can make a big difference in your pottery journey.

In this article, we'll walk through the different types of clay bodies, their unique characteristics, and how to pick the best one for your needs. So, let's dive in and unlock the mystery of clay!

Understanding the Different Types of Clay Bodies

There are three main types of clay: earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. Each has its own distinct qualities, so it's important to understand what sets them apart.

  • Earthenware: This type of clay is known for its lower firing temperatures and vibrant glazes.
  • Stoneware: Stoneware is known for its durability and versatility.
  • Porcelain: Porcelain is famous for its smooth, fine texture and high translucency.

Let's explore each type a little more closely.

Earthenware Clay

Earthenware is one of the oldest types of clay used in pottery. It's the go-to choice for many beginners because it fires at lower temperatures, making it easy to work with. Plus, earthenware glazes are often more vibrant and colourful due to its low-firing temperature. The higher the temperature goes during firing the less vibrant the glazes get in their colour payoff.

However, earthenware is also more porous and less strong than other types of clay, so it may not be ideal for functional pieces like dinnerware. When I was just starting out, I loved the bright colours and rich glazes of earthenware, but I soon learned the importance of careful glazing and sealing to make my pieces more durable. I began my pottery journey by learning to make pieces with terracotta.

Stoneware Clay

Stoneware is a versatile and durable type of clay that fires at higher temperatures than earthenware. This makes it perfect for creating functional, everyday pieces like mugs and plates.

One of the benefits of stoneware is its ability to withstand different firing environments, such as gas or electric kilns. However, be aware that higher firing temperatures can sometimes cause warping or cracking if the clay isn't handled correctly.

When I transitioned to stoneware, I found the learning curve steeper at first, but once I got the hang of it, I was able to create sturdy, beautiful pieces that have lasted for years.

Porcelain Clay

Porcelain clay is known for its delicate, fine texture and high translucency. It's a favourite among potters globally who want to create intricate, elegant work.

Working with porcelain can be challenging due to its tendency to crack during drying and firing. It requires some getting used to as the stages of trimming are different as compared to stoneware and earthenware clay. Porcelain pieces are trimmed much drier so that the clay trims off better. If you try to trim a leather hard porcelain piece you will experience difficulty as the clay will come off in chunks. Sharp trimming tools are a must for trimming porcelain. Porcelain also requires higher firing temperatures which might not be ideal if you're just starting out.

I remember the first time I tried porcelain—it was like working with butter! But the slightest misstep could lead to walls collapsing. If you’re up for a challenge and want to create refined, almost ethereal pieces, porcelain might be the way to go.

Specialty Clays and Blends

Apart from the main types, there are also specialty clays and blends you can explore. Here are a few examples:

  • Raku clay: Known for its ability to withstand the thermal shock of raku firing.
  • Paper clay: Clay mixed with paper fibres, often toilet paper is mixed with a clay body, offering unique textures and lightweight qualities as the paper fibres burn off during firing. This is ideal if you wish to create big sculptural pieces that weigh light.
  • Grogged clay: Clay mixed with grog (fired clay particles) for added strength and texture. Grogged clay is often used to create sculptural work because of added strength to the clay. Some potters also swear by using grogged clay to create plates as plates have a high tendency of warping during firing.

These specialty clays offer unique characteristics and can open up new possibilities in your pottery practice. Experimenting with different blends can lead to exciting discoveries.

Choosing the Best Clay for Your Projects

So, how do you choose the right clay for your projects? Here are some tips:

  • Consider your project type: Are you making functional dinnerware or decorative pieces? This will guide your clay choice.
  • Evaluate your firing method: Make sure your chosen clay suits your kiln type and firing temperatures.
  • Test different clays: Try out various clays to see how they work for you. You might find a favourite you never expected!

Remember, your level of experience and personal preferences play a big role in your decision. As you grow as a potter, you might find your tastes evolving over time. Keep your mind open about experimenting often. There is no better way to grow with a skill set than to experiment constantly. Experiments with ceramics will be your best teacher.

Sourcing and Storing Pottery Clay

Once you know which clay you want to work with, you’ll need to find a reliable source. Look for local suppliers or online retailers with good reviews. Make sure your supplier can supply the specific clay body you choose over a long period of time so that you do not run out of your material mid project.

When it comes to storing your clay, keep it in a cool, airtight container or plastic bags to maintain its moisture and prevent it from drying out. You can also consider buying clay in bulk for cost savings and convenience, especially if you find a particular type you love.


Take the time to experiment with different types and blends, and don't be afraid to try something new.

I hope this guide helps you navigate the world of clay and find the perfect match for your projects. Enjoy the journey!

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