Recycling clay can be such a nightmare. No-one likes doing it. Popular methods include gradually building a huge stack of bags of hard clay against the shed until they are covered in slime, bugs and budleas and then moving house. Or the dreaded dust-bin filled to the brim with clay scraps and left for years, then you end up being the sucker who gets clay caked on top of their head as they lean in to scoop out the endless goo, until they reach the bottom that has weirdly gone rock hard dreaming all the while of the fantasy pug-mill that never needs cleaning out as opposed to real ones that always do.
Serious Potters using the Wheel need to treat their clays in certain ways. Everyone else, like Hand-builders, Sculptors, schools and community studios can use this less harrowing method.
– 1/2 fill clay-bags with scrap clay, no matter how wet/dry (pref small pieces), close firmly w/ twisty, cover w/ water( so bags fill up ) in Bin outside. Leave ’till lumps have broken down. A clay plenty of grog (gritty bits) may only take a few days. In Japan they let their clay soak for a generation but here a week should do it.
– Have separate bin for white/ red clays.(I don’t, TBH)
– Lift bags out and stack facing open end down to drain. Frost is your ally here. Avoid raw ground so worms are less likely to crawl in the bags, die(tragic) and stink (also upsetting)…..I once found a Newt alive in a wet bag that had not been closed, true story.
Drag drained (firmer-feeling) bag off pile to ground and step back/close eyes while spiders run away. Pick/hose off Slugs etc
– Stack bags in warm ( only so it’s not cold on your poor hands), unavoidable spot and turn small quantities at a time onto plaster blocks* (or wood up on bricks), turn regularly through the day(s), return to bag and close tightly w/ a twisty. If it gets too hard return to step 1.
I sometimes use it v. soft or deliberately harden bags to act as ‘armature’ supports.This is a great time to blend odd bags of different clays to make your own ‘Crank’
! Whole bag gone rock-hard; remove from bag, dry completely, drop on hard floor to break into bits, recycle.
! Whole bag too hard to use; remove from bag, knock holes all over w/ screw-driver and hammer (oddly satisfying), return to bag, recycle.
* make your own plaster blocks; line a cardboard box w/ new garbage bag + pour in Plaster of Paris. Leave top set. Trim off edges w/ a sur-form blade (looks like a small cheese-grater). If chips of plaster get in your clay they will turn to lime in the firing and cause ‘lime-spots’; they absorb atmospheric water, expand and spit off a chip of ceramic, invariably from the most noticeable place like the end of a nose, sometimes months after a firing, usually after you have delivered a piece to a Gallery you are desperately trying to impress.
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