Recycling Clay Scraps Into Workable Clay for Pottery

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  • Sort and Dry Your Clay Scraps

    Drying clay scraps is the first step to recycling them. It is usually most efficient to do gather the clay scarps and let them dry in the bucket they will be slaked down in. Photo © 2008 Beth E Peterson

    As you work, you are likely to have a number of scrap pieces of clay accumulate. This is true of hand building, and even truer of throwing. In hand building, if the scraps haven’t dried out too much you can re-work them without having to do much more than compress them back together and work the air out. If you are throwing, however, your scraps are likely to be quite wet and will include slurry.
    Don’t throw these scraps away; you can recycle them back into usable clay again.
    The first thing toMORE

    Slake Your Scraps

    Clay made into a heavy slurry the consistency of thick pudding.
    After slaking, the clay slurry is dried to a heavy, thick pudding consistency. Photo © 2008 Beth E Peterson

    Once the scraps are thoroughly dry, fill the bucket with water, covering the clay by several inches. If the clay absorbs too much of the water and re-emerges, add more water to cover the clay completely.
    The clay scraps will slake quickly, giving you a bucket of slurry. Let the now-slaked clay settle, at least for several hours or even a couple of days. If you have a layer of water on top, gently pour as much liquid out as possible. I suggest doing this outside; it’s not as potentially hardMORE

    Dry the Clay to a Working Consistency

    Clay spread out to dry more completely until it is of a consistency that allows it to be worked.
    Two parts to the drying process: the clay is spread out on a plaster bat or towel; next, when it is able to be gathered up without sticking, it is rolled together. It is then ready to be wedged for use. Photo © 2008 Beth E Peterson

    At this point, the trick is to get the clay to dry out, but not dry it too much.
    Optimally, if you are going to do this a lot, you will want to make a big plaster bat, a large plaster surface that you could work the clay on. (Plaster absorbs water, pulling it right out of the clay.) However, if this is a one shot deal, you can use the same idea without the plaster bat. Find some towels that you don’t care about saving; you can hose out the clay and wash them clean again afterwards, but theMORE

    Store Your Clay

    One method of storing clay that is ready to be used, but won't be used for some time.
    Bags of clay need extra protection to keep them damp and ready to use if they are to be stored for a long period of time. Placing the bags in air tight containers is a good way to preserve the clay’s workability. Photo © 2008 Beth E Peterson

    After the clay has dried to the right consistency and compressed or wedged, it is ready to use. If you don’t want to use it right away, store it in heavy-duty plastic bags. Freezer bags are good for small quantities.
    Note: Most plastic is not truly air tight; air does move through the plastic, just slowly. Some plastics are much more air permeable than others.
    If it will be several days before you use the clay, place the plastic bags of clay into an airtight container, such as a plastic tub with a tightly fitting lid. Clay can be kept in a workable state indefinitely if it is kept in an air-tight container with little to no air in the container with it. Clay is not like food. It can’t “spoil”. (It’s actually already decomposed — decomposed rock.) What it can do is dry out.

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