Don’t Make These Mistakes When Using Iron Oxide For Your Pottery

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Whether you are a beginner or an expert pottery artist, iron oxide is used in a range of applications. It can take your pottery skills to the next level with its versatile application. From being used as a surface coloring agent to reduction firing, this material offers artists a wide range of possibilities in terms of decorative effects. It adds some character, depth, as well as visual interest to your ceramic pieces. However, when applying iron oxide to your pottery pieces, there is a chance you might make some mistakes, especially if you are a beginner artist. So, what are these mistakes you should avoid when using iron oxide for your pottery? Let us decode!

What Is Iron Oxide And Its Importance In Pottery?

Before we decode the possible mistakes when using iron oxide for pottery, it is crucial to learn the role it plays in the pottery world. Iron oxide aka ferric oxide comprises iron and oxygen binding together as an inorganic chemical compound. This particular compound is found in abundance in nature. Iron oxide is popular for its ability to introduce beautiful colors and create unique effects on the surface of the pottery piece. While the primary use of iron oxide is as a coloring agent, it can also be a part of slips, clay bodies, engobes, or glazes to get different types of hues.

Depending on the firing conditions and the concentration of the iron oxide used in pottery, it can produce a range of colors that include pale yellows and deep blacks. It is popular for its earthy tones giving it a more natural look. Apart from that, iron oxide is used as a surface decoration which is applied as a stain or wash onto the pottery piece’s surface. Moreover, by selectively spraying or brushing iron oxide onto the clay piece, pottery artists can create some visually striking patterns and designs.

When added to your glaze, it can also create various crystalline textures and structures like iron streaks or specks. In this firing process, iron oxide tends to interact with other types of glaze ingredients that result in effects like mottling, variegation, or crawling. This imparts a complex and striking visual interest to the final pottery piece.

Furthermore, iron oxide is a great material that is popularly used in reduction firing techniques like raku and wood firing. In these types of reducing atmospheres, iron oxide tends to undergo chemical transformations that create iridescent or metallic surfaces on your pottery pieces.

With so many applications, iron oxide is surely an important part of the pottery process. However, it is just as important to pick the best quality iron oxide. A great choice loved by pottery artists is the Alpha Chemicals Red Iron Oxide. This iron oxide comes from a natural source and features an even particle size of 30 microns. So, if you choose to use iron oxide in your clay work, make sure you keep the mistakes mentioned below in mind that might happen during the creation process.

Mistakes That Might Happen When Using Iron Oxide In Pottery

When using iron oxide to decorate your pottery, several issues might happen when used the wrong way. So, let us learn about the possible mistakes and how you can avoid them.

1. Overapplication:

Iron oxide is a powerful coloring agent. However, using a lot of it can lead to your pottery appearing muddy and dark. So, depending on how dark you want your artwork’s color to be, it is advised that you use iron oxide sparingly. This is especially relevant when you wish to use iron oxide as a glaze or wash. Always start with a small amount of iron oxide and then gradually increase it as required. Alternatively, you can try working with sample pieces to determine the amount that works best for you.

2. Improper Mixing:

A glaze is comprised of several ingredients that might settle down when not used for a long time. Similarly, if you mix iron oxide with clay or any other glazing mix, it is important to mix it thoroughly to ensure the color is evenly distributed once the firing process has been completed. If you fail to mix iron oxide properly, it can lead to inconsistent speckling and coloring. To mix things better, you can blend or sieve the iron oxide with the glaze, slip, or clay to ensure things are rightly dispersed in terms of color.

3. Insufficient Testing:

Iron oxide tends to be unpredictable. For example, if iron oxide appears bluish when used as a glaze in a certain amount, it might turn reddish when used as a slip. Moreover, the way you use it can vary from one pottery artist to another. So, it is important to test out iron oxide thoroughly before using it on your primary pottery lot. Factors like clay type, firing temperature, or the glaze composition can influence the outcome of your pottery piece. Testing allows you to figure out how the material tends to react and adjust it according to your needs.

4. No Surface Preparation:

When you apply iron oxide on a surface that isn’t thoroughly prepared, it can lead to uneven results and poor adherence. So, it is important to ensure that your clay work is thoroughly bisque-fired and free of debris/dust before you apply the same on the surface. Additionally, it is recommended that you should apply a thin layer of engobe or slip. This enhances the bond between the clay surface and iron oxide.

5. Failure To Implement Safety Precautions:

In most cases, iron oxide is considered safe for use in pottery making. However, you must implement the required safety precautions and work in a well-ventilated area. This is because the dust from iron oxide can enter your airways and cause allergies. Additionally, you should wear a dust mask, gloves, and similar safety gear to prevent any unfortunate accidents.


By avoiding these mistakes and harnessing the power of iron oxide, you can achieve remarkable results. Its ability to produce various colors and unique surface effects makes it a favorite among artists who seek some uniqueness in their artwork. Whether it creates captivating streaks or intriguing iron specks, the unpredictability of iron oxide makes it a great option to add a sense of individuality to each piece.

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