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Understanding Pottery is a series in production by Washington Street Studios. The video series is a digital textbook that will take you through the entire ceramic process from the raw material through the finished ceramic pieces. There are five sections and twenty-six chapters planned in the series and they are:

Section I: The Pottery Making Sequence

Chapter 1: What is Clay?

Chapter 2: Clay Properties and Drying

Chapter 3: Bisque Firing

Chapter 4: Tips for Successful Glazing

Chapter 5: Pyrometric Cones

Chapter 6: Glaze Firing

Section II: Use of Raw Materials

Chapter 7: Chemistry for Potters

Chapter 8: Glaze Chemistry

Chapter 9: Oxides, Washes, Underglazes and Stains

Chapter 10: Geology for Potters

Chapter 11: Use of Local Materials

Section III: Kilns and Firings

Chapter 12: Atmospheric Firings

Chapter 13: Wood-Fired Kilns

Chapter 14: Gas-Fired Kilns

Chapter 15: Electric Kilns

Chapter 16: Raku Kilns

Section IV: Solving Problems

Chapter 17: Kiln Performance Problems

Chapter 18: Clay Body Defects

Chapter 19: Glaze Defects

Section V: Practical Applications

Chapter 20: Pottery Myths, Errors and Misconceptions

Chapter 21: Thixotropy, Quartz Inversions and Other Pottery Mysteries

Chapter 22: Pottery and Physics

Chapter 23: Pottery Figurin’ (Math)

Chapter 24: Personal Safety with Pottery

Chapter 25: Critiquing Your Own Pottery: Design Principles You Can Use

Chapter 26: Tips for Buying Used Pottery Equipment


This product is an edited transcript of Chapter 1: What is Clay?

Understanding Pottery, Chapter 1: What is Clay - Transcript

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  • This document was created by and is owned by Washington Street Studios. Distribution and reproduction of this document is prohibited without written consent from Washington Street Studios, Inc.

  • What Is Clay?

    We're going to start off with a discussion of clay. Today’s topic is “What is Clay?” By definition, clay is a naturally occurring mixture of very fine-grained minerals. And what is the definition of a mineral? A mineral is a naturally occurring, inorganic, chemical compound. Minerals have very specific chemical compositions. They're not just weird collections of atoms or elements. You can write a formula for a clay mineral.

    Naturally occurring clay, like the kind of clay you'd find in the ground, consists primarily of a mixture of several different kinds of clay minerals that we'll talk about, plus quartz, which is found all over the place. And this (Video 1:40 – visual example) is an example of a piece of quartz. Quartz is a very common mineral, and this is an example of a large chunk. It is very durable, it is persistent in nature, and it's found in all kinds of rocks and sands. This (same visual example) is quartz, only in a very fine-grained form. Quartz is probably the major impurity that you find in clay. So, you have clay minerals, which we'll talk about in a minute, you have quartz, and then you also have other impurities that occur naturally in the clay. Some of them might be organic material like pollen grains or dead vegetable material. You also have sulfur minerals like iron pyrite, or fool's gold, which is a fairly common impurity.

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