What is Earthenware


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One type of pottery people talk a lot about, is earthenware. Earthenware is a very popular pottery use that’s quite important, and it’s definitely something that can help you. This type of pottery is, in essence, nonvitreous pottery, and it typically is fired very low. Usually, this type of pottery fires very low, and it’s a pottery type that’s quite popular. But, what does it entail?  Well, read on to find out just what is earthenware and why it matters.




The basics of this

Earthenware at a very basic level is often something that most pots and such tend to use. Most of the primitive pottery up to about the 1600s in Europe tends to be from this, and it actually is something that dates all the way back to about 29,000 BC. Typically, outside of East Asia, porcelain only became popular in the 18th century, and even then, it was a very expensive luxury.


Typically, earthenware, when it’s fired, has a couple of distinct elements to it, and they are as follows:
  • They’re opaque
  • They’re non-vitreous
  • They’re super soft, even to the point of being able to be scratched with a knife
  • Typically has feldspar and other minerals mixed within it to make it white or lighter colored


Typically, most earthenware bodies are much easier to manipulate, and they tend to have a much higher level of plasticity compared to their counterparts, and often, people use them in different means of manufacturing, and that includes the following:

  • The RAM Press
  • The roller-head
  • The potter’s wheel


This allows for more varieties of different types of uses to be employed. It typically has water absorption of around 5-8% and it needs to be glazed watertight. The pottery also has a much lower strength than other pottery types, and typically they’re thicker in the cross-section.


These tend o be more fragile, in that they get chipped easier. The one that’s dark, the terracotta one, is typically orange due to iron oxide, and you see this a lot in flower pots. You may also see this in ovenware, and decorative ware as well. It’s quite popular, and people love to use it.


History and Facts

When it comes to earthenware, there are some that are found in colonial America, and it’s important to understand that there were a lot of popular types of this kind of pottery to be used. Typically, the trade happened in the following locations:


  • Eastern part of America
  • Holland
  • Spain
  • England
  • East Asia
  • Parts of China


Typically though, most households in the west had imported and local pottery. But, American earthenware tended to suffer when compared to the other types of that nature. From this though, people started to get better in colonial America, since importation was very expensive, so they needed to learn how to create their own pottery in a sense. They had to use various homemade wares that weren’t as good as the rest of them.


American earthenware suffered initially because of different factors, and that included the following:
  • Potters worked multiple jobs
  • They were self-taught
  • This was popular in rural districts


Because of this, functional pottery tended to be needed, since housekeeping was a big part of it, and farmers would use this to supply the neighbors with some pottery during their leisure hours. The farm life was often attributed to this as well since many people didn’t have time to spend on pottery making. Usually, the American potters were nowhere near as good as the European potters.


Typically, earthenware usually has a porosity that’s about 5% when it’s fired up, and it needs to be within this in order to make sure that it’s watertight. Usually, these were fired at lower levels, and often, they couldn’t be made watertight but were fixed with the use of glazes to make them useful.


One of the most popular types of earthenware actually developed in New England, and it’s called Redware, was because of the iron content within this. Typically in the 17th century and then, later on, most of the pottery that was utilitarian was Redware, and it was used many times during the revolutionary ware.






One very popular type of earthenware is actually one that’s called Delift, and it’s a blue and white one. The Delift process is actually quite interesting, and involves a few steps:


  • The clay is covered with a glaze that was opaque and tin
  • Was it fired at a lower temperature? It created a majolica and faience type of look to them


However, this typically wasn’t created in American pottery, but instead was a popular import, since the tin usually wasn’t something that was popular and produced in America at this time.


This type of ware wasn’t that sturdy either, and it chipped with various uses, so it often wasn’t the best kind to use.


But, with the advent of the white salt glaze that was used in Britain to create a stronger type of earthenware, it soon evolved into different types of ware that you could use with this clay, and that included:


  • Creamware
  • Pearlware

From this, modern pottery with earthenware continued, and it was something that many people sought because of how popular it was. It’s a great thing to try, and it’s super popular for a reason, so it’s definitely worth trying.


The Good About Earthenware

So what is so great about earthenware? Well, there are a few key benefits to using earthenware when it compares to stoneware.


They are as follows:
  • It’s got a super low firing temperature, so it won’t have to be fired for hours on end
  • It typically is very easy to manipulate
  • It has a very soft texture to it, making it able to be manipulated into different designs
  • It typically is very common to find, so if you want to make your own clay, you can
  • It fires at an extremely low temperature
  • You can use this in bonfire heat if you want it
  • It does contain different coloring based on what you want to use
  • It doesn’t shrink all that much
  • It is great if you’re going to make oven steamers or planters


These are usually good things about earthenware, and it definitely does have a lot of good benefits to it.


The Bad About earthenware

However, there are a few things that can happen with this, and it definitely is worth mentioning, since it’s why people don’t like to use earthenware.


They are as follows:
  • Because of the low temperature, it typically melts easily
  • The coloring can be a bit hard to manipulate depending on the atmosphere
  • It typically is very porous, meaning certain glazes don’t work well on this
  • It tends to leak very easily, so you can’t use this for dinnerware, even though it has been used before
  • It stains very easily, which is both a good and a bad thing
  • It tends to chip and crack easily as well, meaning you have to be careful
  • It’s nowhere near as strong as both porcelain and stoneware pieces, but it can be strengthened by glazes since they can be used to make it porous once again.


If you touch a piece of earthenware, you’ll notice that it’s very porous. This is both a good yet a bad thing. It can mean that it is easy to manipulate, but it can also mean that it is going to have issues with actually staying together. It’s something that you can use to better your pottery if you’d like, and it’s a good tool to use.


Production of Earthenware

Earthenware has a very interesting formation. Typically, if you break down earthenware, it’s the following makeup:

  • 25% kaolin
  • 35% quartz
  • 15% feldspar
  • 25% ball clay

This does play a factor in how it’s heated up. Most of the time, the temperatures to fire the clay to range anywhere from 1830 to 2100 for the bisque, and 1740-1920 for the glaze fire. But compared to other ones, which fire to about 3000 degrees before it even has a chance to melt, it typically can be a good thing.


Some potters like to use a reverse type of practice with this, and ultimately, this is up to you. This is where the bisque is fired at a low temperature, and the glaze firing is at a higher temperature. You can determine the firing schedule based on the materials that are used and the characteristics of the finished ware. It’s really based on how you use this.


Now, in the past, the temperatures actually never reached this level, since it was hard to keep a fire at this level and all compacted. Chinese ceramics actually was ahead of its time like that. Earthenware is typically able to be fired as low as 1100 degrees if you really want to not have to deal with higher temperatures, and it actually has trouble sometimes with firing above 1830 in some cases. Lots of times, the historical pottery was fired at around 1470 degrees, and the thing about earthenware is that it gives it a much wider margin of error, and there really is no precise way to determine what is the ideal temperature that you get from this.


That’s why earthenware has so many different variables to it. Because typically, it takes a lot to figure out the ideal firing stage. Some do fire it lower, and in modern times you can push the limits of this, and you can try it. But often, some people are a bit worried about firing it too high, so they may stay in the middle. Some like to be on the lower end, but this tends to have the risk of potentially damaging the pottery as a result of the actions at hand.


Now, when you fire this, it typically has some factors that attribute to the color, and they are:
  • How long has it been in the kiln
  • The temperature that’s in there
  • Any blasting that happens

On firing Earthenware

Let’s talk a little bit about firing earthenware. There are a couple of elements that play a big part in this.  There are a few things that can typically happen when you fire them, and they are as follows:


  • They’re porous even when they’re fired to the maturity
  • They tend to have a lower shrinkage
  • They have a low-fire cone to it
  • It’s not very sturdy, so you have to be careful when you fire this.
  • You typically want to use this if you’re using more decorative pottery
  • You should also try to use this if you’re making something that won’t be used a lot
  • If you’re going to be making a planter, you should make sure to change up the porosity of this to make sure that you keep the health of the plant there
  • You can also use this if you want to try out basic color glazes

Earthenware, in my opinion, is the easiest one to work with when compared to stoneware and porcelain. That’s because the glazes are much easier to use when compared to the others, and they tend to keep the color that it originally had, and it stays like this even if you only put in a little bit of effort. It’s definitely something that’s good for the basic potter.


Plus, it’s much easier to throw when compared to stoneware. That’s because it’s very malleable, and it’s something that you certainly will like.


It’s also a great type of pottery to use if you’re working with children. It’s relatively the safest, though you should always make sure that you keep them away from the kiln at all times.


Remember, however, you should always make sure that you get a glaze that matures where the cone of the clay is since this will help to ensure that the food safety and the glaze stick on thee. Since this type of pottery entails low firing, usually there are lots of options, since there are many different low-firing glazes out there for you to try.


Glazing Earthenware

When it comes to earthenware glazing, you typically will brush this on. There are a few important factors that come into play when looking at glazing earthenware, and they are as follows:


  • These glazes shouldn’t ever be fired in an atmosphere that’s reduced unless you’re following explicit instructions to create a different color
  • The average heat on this is about 70-100 degrees Celsius in about an hour, and it takes about 11-16 hours to fire this. Firing slower or faster alters the performance of the glaze
  • Soaking the glaze firings within the top of this is firing at a higher temperature, and this may cause the glazes to overfire, and the performance altered
  • Glazes shouldn’t be combined with any assurance that they will be a proper glaze or even the right color
  • Remember that each glaze has a separate chemical formula, so you need to be careful with this

When it comes to brushing on the glaze, there are a few things that you should know too. You should always make sure that the glaze is brushed per the instructions, and it’s done under bisque-fired clay unless you have the conditions to do raw glazing. Typically, you should make sure that it’s stirred so that any colorants and materials are distributed.



You should make sure that the entire place is free of grease, so make sure you get your sponge out to clean this. You’ll want to apply this with a hake brush, and you’ll want to make sure that you do have an even thickness. If you don’t put enough on, it affects the color. But, too little it’ll cause the pottery to stick to the shelf, or possibly even crack or give it the orange peel look to this.


You should make sure that the glazes for this are known to create different effects.


With this, you should watch for what type of earthenware you apply this to, and make sure it’s not stoneware or porcelain. If the glaze is opaque and colors, it’s better on the earthenware than the transparent ones, since it blacks out the clay coloring.


you should make sure you store the glazes in the correct place and don’t apply glazes to the bottom of the pots unless the firing is less than 1120 degrees. You should get all of the excesses off when you fire since it does stick to the shelf. Remember as well that dried glaze isn’t re-wetted and can’t be done, since it’s permanently stuck, and it will not soften.


On Powder Glazing your earthenware

Some people tend to use powdered glazing on their earthenware. This is typically not as popular one since it often contains a lot more steps. But, we will discuss this here, and it’s important to understand how to make this powdered glaze work.


  • First, make the mix work with water and sprinkle and adjust as needed
  • You should suspend this with an anti-set so you don’t set it
  • You should mix this to milk consistency, and only keep the item dipped for less than 3 seconds
  • You should make sure that you run this through a sieve before applying it to remove lumps. You will also have to stir this in order to ensure that the setting and separation of the glaze happens, usually every couple of minutes
  • You’ll want to keep these sealed out of sunlight and heat, but they do have a shelf life that’s indefinite compared to the brush-on ones since you can dry them and then re-wet them to use them again, however, you should always make sure that you make the containers to show what they are
  • With this, you’ll want to mix this, and then put it through a test firing before you glaze it so that you know what the suitability and performance do for this, and know exactly what you’re getting into
  • You shouldn’t leave the glaze anywhere near the bottom of this, and if that does happen, you should get your sponge with water, and then get it off of there. Keep this about 5 mm from the pot’s bottom so that it doesn’t affect the pot itself, and to reduce the stickiness of it


A powdered glaze is important for many potters, and this is another option that comes from this. You can try it, and you’ll be able to see for yourself just what type of benefits you can get from this. Lots of us use a powdered glaze instead, but with earthenware, it typically is up to you what you want to use. Both tend to work, just follow the instructions, and work as needed in order to ensure that things are done in a rightful manner


And there you have it. Earthenware is another type of pottery that many potters use if they want to get the best results from their work. You can learn how to better use it as well, and it’s ultimately one of the best kinds if you’re thinking about trying to better your pottery skills. It’s good for basic pottery, but also key to use if you want to utilize advanced pottery as well since you can learn how to get better with this over time, and create the most beautiful and intricate designs that you can make.





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