If you’re a potter, you know that there are two main types of clay: high-fire and low-fire. You might also know that each type of clay has its own unique properties and purposes.
Some are better for high-fire pottery, while others are better for low-fire pottery. So how do you choose?
We’re here to help! By reading this article, you’ll have a better understanding of the differences between high-fire and low-fire clays. You’ll also learn about the applications each type of clay is best suited for.
With this information, you’ll be able to choose the right type of clay for your needs and start creating beautiful pieces of art. Let’s get started!
High Fire Vs Low Fire Clay: What And Why It Is Used?
As discussed in the introduction, high-fire and low-fire clays are two different types of clay that serve unique purposes. Both can be used for pottery, but there are also other applications for each type of clay.
It all comes down to what properties each kind of clay has and what you need it for.
High Fire Clay (also called stoneware)
When people think about ceramics or pottery, they usually think about high-fire clay. These kinds of clays typically burn at a cone eight or higher, making them ideal for use in kilns.
Most kinds of stoneware will harden at these temperatures without losing any strength or flexibility.
Low Fire Clay
With low fire clay, you can’t put it in a kiln. Instead, you have to use torches or an open flame to harden pieces of art.
This means that there are fewer applications for low-fire clay. It’s ideal for making sculptures because pieces made with this kind of clay usually don’t break when doing so.
However, high-quality pieces can be made with low-fire clay as well!
So What Are the Applications?
Each type of clay might be used for similar purposes, but they also have their own unique applications.
High Fire Clay (Stoneware) is primarily used for molded items and sculptures. For example, you could make large bowls or vases if you use stoneware clay. You can also make smaller items like cups, jars, and plates.
Low Fire Clay Since low-fire clays is typically unsuitable for use in a kiln. They’re mainly used for sculptures.
However, some kinds of low-fire clay can be used to create decorative items that will hold up when placed outside or near an open flame (i.e., you could make small pieces of art that don’t need to go into a kiln).
Some professional artists even use low-fire clay to create detailed mold portraits!
The Difference between High Fire Vs Low Fire Clay
So far, we’ve been talking about the difference between high fire and low fire clay. But what exactly does this mean?
How Is The Temperature Measured?
When you talk about high fire or low fire clay, you’re talking about how hot the clay gets in a kiln. This temperature is measured through cones.
So what are “cones?”
Cone-shaped items are placed on top of pieces of art.
Then, when that art goes into a kiln, the cones determine how hot the temperature will be based on their color.
For example, if you have black cones, your piece of art will be fired at cone 6 (the lowest possible firing temperature).
If you have white cones, your piece will be fired at cone 9 (the highest firing temperature).
Cones 6 and 9 are considered standard for stoneware and low-fire clay.
However, some cones are numbered higher than 9. And each number signifies a hotter temperature meaning that high-fire clay will be fired at a much higher temperature than low-fire clay!
What Are The Properties of High Fire Clay?
High fire clays typically burn between cones 6 and 9 (for stoneware). When these types of clays heat up in the kiln, they shrink slightly but don’t lose any strength or flexibility.
This means you can create sturdy pieces with them and not worry about breaking them when handled later.
High-fire clay also hardens quickly, which is important for working with pieces that need to be fired in the kiln. There are also two main types of high-fire clay: porcelain and stoneware.
Porcelain is generally white or yellow (even though there are other colors). Most beginners use porcelain because it’s much softer than stoneware. This makes it easier for them to work with since it’s more flexible.
When porcelain is fired in the kiln, it becomes hard and resistant to scratches.
Stoneware is typically brown or gray. This clay comes in different levels of hardness, but most stoneware can be identified by its darker colors. It’s harder than porcelain, which means it has a rougher surface.
When stoneware clay is fired, it becomes even harder and more resistant to scratches.
So this means that high fire clay can be used for both sculptures and items that are meant to hold up well when handled (like plates, cups, etc).
Also, when high fire clay heats in the kiln, it doesn’t change shape and become soft, making it perfect for creating sturdy pieces.
What Are The Properties of Low Fire Clay?
Low fire clays are not suitable for use in a kiln! Instead, you have to use an open flame or torches when working with this kind of clay. This means that they shrink less when heated making them ideal for sculpting.
However, some kinds of low-fire clay can be fired in a kiln without losing any strength or flexibility!
A few examples are Earthenware, Raku Clay, and White Fire Clays. When low fire clays are used for pottery outside of the kiln they absorb water slowly but dry out quickly.
These types of clays typically have similar properties in the kiln as well, including a low level of shrinkage.
One thing to be conscious of is that low-fire clays are generally not as sturdy as high fire clays. If you’re creating something exposed to the elements, like outdoor sculptures or flower pots, this shouldn’t be an issue.
However, if your pieces are meant to hold up well when handled (like plates or cups), it might not be the best choice.
The Advantages of Each Fire Type
Both high fire and low fire clays have various advantages. When deciding between these two types, it’s essential to consider the benefits of each one.
Let’s take a look at some of the most notable differences:
High-Fire Clay Advantages
- It has less shrinkage than low-fire clay when fired.
- One more suitable for kilns
- Can withstand higher temperatures.
- Will does not break down during water firing.
- Can dry slowly when soaked in water
- Is the more durable outside of the kiln.
- Can hold its shape easily during the sculpting
- Easy to paint on (for porcelain, bisque, and earthenware)
Low-Fire Clay Advantages
- It is stronger than high fire clays
- Is less likely to break when handled.
- It does not need to be soaked before firing.
- Easy to sculpt
- It doesn’t need to go through a bisque stage.
- Easier for paint application on sculptures.
- Creates a smoother look upon being glazed
- Requires less sanding.
- Not suitable for kilns without special low-fire clay cones
- Pottery created with low-fire clay will withstand lower temperatures.
- Can save money by using fewer materials during creation Ideal for handmade items Shipping is easier due to lighter weight of objects.
Which Fire Type Should I Use?
Now that you know more about each type of clay, it’s time to decide which one is right for you!
The two major factors that will affect your decision are:
- The kind of art you want to create, and 2) the budget you have.
If you want to focus specifically on sculpting and creating sculptures, then low-fire clay is the obvious choice.
It’s also important to consider that if your budget is limited, then it might be more economical to go with a lower fire type since it takes less time and doesn’t require as much equipment.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to create a functional piece that will hold up well in the home, then high-fire clay is probably your best bet.
You can also save money due to low-fire clay’s shorter firing time and lower use of materials.
So this means that tests with kilns and other ways of heating clays will help you decide which clay type you want to use in your future projects.
What to Consider When Choosing High-Fire Clay and Low-Fire Clay
If you want to create art that’s suitable for kilns, then high fire clay is probably best for you. Some popular examples include porcelain and earthenware (for use in teacups and cookware).
Additionally, people who like sculpting with clay prefer using high fire clays because the end product is stronger and more durable.
Also, if you’re looking to create handmade objects or low-cost artwork, low-fire clay might be a better option. Some popular examples include Raku, White Fire, and Earthenware (for use in handmade vases or candle holders).
These kinds of clay are good for sculptors as well. Low-fire clays create a smoother look upon being glazed, saving you time during the painting process.
Now that you know what factors to consider when choosing between high fire and low fire clay, it’s time to get started!
How Do I Know If Clay Is A High Fire Or Low Fire?
High fire clay is fired at a higher temperature than low fire clay.
What Happens If You Low Fire High Fire Clay?
If you low fire high fire clay, it will crack or break.
Why Does Clay Need To Be Fired In The Kiln?
Clay needs to be fired because there’s water inside of it, and if the water isn’t taken out, the clay would just turn back into the dirt.
What Is Low Fire Clay Good For?
Low-fire clay is good for things like handmade items and candle holders.
How Much Does High Fire Clay Cost Compared To Low Fire?
High Fire Clay costs more than Low Fire Clay!
What Clay Is Best For Hand Building?
Low-fire clay is best for hand building.
What Does Bisque Mean When It Comes To Pottery?
When talking about pottery, bisque is when the pottery has been fired in a kiln once.
Both high fire vs low fire clay have their own unique advantages, so it’s important to consider what you want to make before settling on a type of clay.
If you’re looking for something that can withstand higher temperatures or is more durable, then high fire clay might be the right choice for you.
However, if you’re looking for an easy-to-sculpt material that doesn’t need a bisque firing stage, then low fire clay might be better suited for your needs. Whichever type of clay you choose, we wish you the best of luck in your pottery endeavors!