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Salt and Soda-glazing

Salt-glazed vessel by John DixSalt-glazing is a once-fire technique whereby common salt is introduced into the kiln chamber at the clay’s maturing temperature. Sodium combines with silica on the ware’s surface, creating a glaze. Depending on the clay used, a more or less strong orange-peel effect is produced. The technique was developed in 15th-16th century Germany and Rhineland or Rhenish stoneware was made with that method. The term refers not so much to the fuel used to fire the kiln, but to the introduction of salt towards the end of a firing to get a so-called 'salt peel' effect.

Usually done in large wood or gas kilns, salt is introduced into the mature kiln chamber by the pound at the end of a firing. Due to the intense heat, the salt volatilizes and the sodium combines with aluminum oxide and silica oxide in the clay, forming a glaze on any exposed surface of the work. Often a typical 'orange peel' effect occurs. As the salt creates the glaze, pre-application of glazes is unnecessary, although underglaze decoration may be applied to great effect. Sufficient space should be left between individual pieces, so the salt vapor can circulate freely, reaching as much of the work as possible.

The salt kiln should be made from dense, high alumina bricks to resist deterioration from the salt as long as possible. After many uses, a thick layer of salt glaze will form on the surface, virtually fusing the inside of the kiln. This is the natural course of the salt kiln.

Salt-glazed vessel by Jane HamlynA typical salt firing may start in the afternoon or early evening. If in a secure environment, the kiln can then be left on overnight to get to mid range temperature, then fired to stoneware temperature the next day. When the kiln reaches the maturation temperature of the clay (usually in the stoneware range), salt is introduced into the kiln in increments of about half a pound (quarter kilo) into each available port, while the firing continues. Typically a salt-kiln will have two or more salt ports, where the salt, packed in small paper sachets, can be thrown in. Alternatively a long piece of angle iron serves well to dip the salt deep into the ports. Caution! The salt may splatter out from the port. Thick leather gloves, goggles and possibly a good gas mask should be worn. If the kiln doesn't have special salting ports, the burner ports will have to do. White smoke will billow out from the flue. This smoke may contain small amounts of acid. The amount of salt thrown into the kiln will depend on the kiln's size, but about 10-14 pounds fine salt should be enough for a medium sized kiln. Less is required if it is an older salt kiln, as salt residue will help to get the desired effect. Moisture added to the salt will also help the conversion, but also increases the amount of smoke.

Soda-glazed vessel by Gail Nichols - 'Dimpled Jar' 2002, H25 cmSoda-glazing was developed in the 1970's as a chloride-free alternative to salt-glazing, soda-glazing involves introducing sodium carbonate or bicarbonate into the kiln at a high temperature to create soda-vapor. Various soda introduction techniques are used, including spraying a water and soda solution, dropping small amounts of sodium carbonate into the kiln, or introducing a solid plaster-like mixture made from sodium carbonate and bicarbonate, whiting and water. As with salt-glazing, the soda (Na2O) reacts with the alumina-silicate surface of the clay, creating a glaze. Despite the similarities with salt-glazing, the surface effects of soda-glazing can be quite different.

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