Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Should I make my own Pottery Glazes?

Coloured glazes used by Tinkling toadstools
This question has caused a lot of debate among potters. It is a similar question to "should I make my own bread, cakes or pastry?" Clearly there is no right and wrong answer. People who bake their own bread and cakes do so for numerous reasons. Whether it is to reduce costs or make it fresh or make it taste better; all are valid reasons. However most do it because they like it and the self satisfaction it gives them to create something of value.

 Similarly, the potter will often claim that making glazes gives him the same type of satisfaction, is cheaper and gives him more scope for creativity! But lets look at the issues involved in making glazes in detail to see if his claims are true:-


Glaze materials
There is little debate that buying the glaze materials to make the glaze can reduce costs significantly. Common materials such as clays, felspars, silica, frits and pigments are all readily available from a number of suppliers. However, often they are not in the ideal form to produce a glaze without additional processing. Most need at least a number of processing steps to make a satisfactory glaze. These steps include, preparing a recipe, grinding or mixing with water, sieving, magneting, testing, and controlling the glaze slip consistency using additives. The time and knowledge to correctly process and test the glaze are mostly overlooked when cost comparisons are made. For those with time to learn about glaze materials and the process this is not an issue. However for many hobbyists who are time poor it clearly does not make sense economically.They are better using reliable commercial glazes.


Unique copper ruby glaze
Without doubt making your own glazes is a creative exercise. Again using the same cake making analogy as before, you have complete control of the make up of the glaze and how it will look after firing. Just like cake recipes there are thousands of recipes for glazes each giving its unique colour, texture and appearance depending on how its fired. This uniqueness is what many studio potters strive for.  By varying the pigments and make up of the glaze in theory you can innovate to your hearts desire! Therefore creativity can surely be improved by making your own glazes!

Technical restrictions

In practice, however,  there is considerable science behind making acceptable glazes:
  • The glaze needs to technically match the body or the glaze may just peel off like old paint. 
  • There is a limit to the range of compositions that can be made- for example some recipes will just never make glossy glazes.
  • The firing cycle and atmosphere have as great an affect on the glaze appearance as the recipe.
The fired glaze surface of functional tableware needs to pass the requirements of legislation e.g. toxic metal release into foodstuffs.

So if you want to be creative with glazes you also need to have some technical knowledge. Potters without a scientific background may struggle to understand these technical parameters and hence making glazes could ultimately become more trouble than its worth.

Health and Safety

Unleaded Glaze
In recent years this issue has grown in importance for potters making their own glazes. Lead, for example, is being phased out in commercial glazes and its use and safety has been severely questioned especially in the USA. Other materials such as Barium compounds need to be used within strict guidelines for safe use. Even pigments such as cobalt and nickel oxide have been questioned over their safety. Clearly there is a lot to learn technically to comply with health and safety during the making of glazes. These issues are understood by commercial glaze manufacturers who can provide up to date data sheets on the glazes they manufacture and supply.

Equally important is an understanding of the legislation that applies to the fired product to meet the demands of the end market. Functional tableware has to meet much more legislation than ornamental ware in the various countries around the world.


In summary making your own glazes safely and successfully is much more difficult than at first appreciated. Technical and health and safety issues are not easy to overcome. However for a potter or hobbyist with a scientific understanding he can indeed be more creative and lower some material costs by making his own glazes. For the uninitiated it will be a long road of trial and error and frustrations. For those determined to try I recommend you do some reading and preparation online or in the wealth of books available before you begin. 

Good Luck and Happy Potting
The Potters Friend

More information and other technical articles on pottery and ceramics can be found at my website The Potters Friend.

Go now to sign up for my free newsletter.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave me a message and I will reply asap
Happpy Potting
The Potters Friend