Making Clay

On Utica Road there is a new sewer line going in. The kids in these photos are working to turn clay from this local construction site into clay we can fire in our kiln.

We slaked the clay in buckets and dish pans overnight. To slake clay, you fill a container half way with water, and then add dry clay chunks to it. The chunks break down and the resulting slurry is the consistency of thick pudding. The kids then have to squeeze the clay to smooth out any big lumps. This is by far their favorite part. They all love the way it feels.

For some reason the kids who squished the clay in the dishpans did a better job than those working in buckets. Maybe the shallower pans make it easier to do a thorough job. So the next time, it will be all dishpans, no buckets.

After the kids have squeezed the clay with their hands into a fairly smooth mixture, they pour it through a household screen strainer. As the clay passes through the strainer, rocks are removed from it. Rocks in the clay would lead to firing problems.

Sometimes kids accidently miss the strainer and unstrained clay goes into the bucket, that's why I created the second stage screening system with the red collar pictured below.

This second screen is simply a piece of plywood painted red with a circle cut from it resting over the top of a twenty gallon garbage can. Inside the hole there is a sieve that has a mesh screen in its center. The kids are pushing the clay through through this screen with spatulas. Because there is no way for the clay to get around the sieve, it has to go through the screen to make it into the garbage can. This guarantees that there will be no rocks in our finished clay.

At the end of each class, kids rinsed the big chunks off their hands into some buckets, then lined up for a quick spray off with the hose. Once they were room-worthy, they could go back inside the school.

The cut off legs from old jeans show how we are drying the clay. Legs are cut from the blue jeans, one end is tied off with a string and then clay is poured into it. Once the leg is full we tie off the other end. When I am at home, I just lay these clay pants sausages on my driveway to dry the clay out. At school I left these on a counter under an air vent. In the left tray, you can see how much water seeped out overnight. I just pour this water off and place the clay pants back on a dry tray to repeat the process. It is easy to feel the clay stiffen up in the pants. Once it seems workable and not squishy, it's time to untie the pants and use the clay.