In this article I will discuss what is reclaiming clay is and what are the best ways to go about doing it.
According to The Free Dictionary reclaim means To bring into or return to a suitable condition for use. When you are done working with the clay you are often left with dried crumbled bits of clay and clay slope. Basically clay in all sorts of different wet and dry stages. To reclaim this clay you need to give it even moisture and consistency all around so that you can re-use it.
The key to reclaiming clay, is time and patience. Most of which I don’t have. Often I either wait to long to wedge my reclaim, and then it is too hard, or I try to do it early and then I leave my wedging table a sloppy mess. They key is to wait for it to be just right.
The first step to reclaim is to get all your clays to even consistencies. For the hard and dry bits you want to let them completely dry, mash them up into maybe 1 inch max pieces. Place in the dried bits in a bucket or container with water. It is better to add the clay to the water than the water to the clay. The chunks of dried clay will basically melt and absorb the water. Wait 1 day. Next siphon of the remaining water and let more of the water evaporate for a few days.
Remember when working with clays in the powdered form they contain silica which is really bad for your lungs for your protection and the protection of others you should mash up the clay outside in a ventilated area and wear a mask.
For the slop (water with clay or slip water) you will need to let the water settle and evaporate. Once it settles you siphon the top layer of clear water off. And let it rest for another few days. The you repeat. I often keep my slop in large Rubbermaid plastic garbage can outside. Our studio is in Florida, so it stays pretty warm and as the sun bakes the can the water evaporates. Eventually you are left with a mush. Sometimes, if I am impatient I will take pillow cases and pour the slop in them to further dry.
This last section applies to the slop and the dry materials. Once you have mush and not really liquid stuff you can transfer the mush to plaster bats and let the plaster bat absorb the water. This process can take a day or several days. It is faster if you put the plaster bat and mush out in the sun to bake, but you need to watch it because it can rain, or if not, it can dry too quickly and then you have to start all over again. You can tell when it is ready to be flipped like a pancake if you can lift a corner of the mass from the plaster bat without leaving slop behind. You flip the wetside down on the plaster to further dry. At this stage you will need to cover the top part so it doesn’t get to dry. And within a day you will be able to wedge it up and reclaim.
Reclaiming clay is time consuming. I don’t know a single potter who enjoys this process. A lot of people just throw their clay away saying it is cheaper to buy new clay than waste their time wedging. I agree with this to some respect, but the truth is that it isn’t really cheaper in the long run. And by long run I mean in the course of the globes history. In order to make the clay and minerals that go into our 25lbs of perfectly pugged clay they earth has taken hundreds of thousands of years. Even though we pay maybe $17 for that bag of clay, that is the cost of the manufacture to mix it, pug it, and ship it, but who pays back the earth? And what is the million years of time the earth spent making the clay worth? I don’t know and maybe we won’t know in our lifetime, but I don’t like to throw away something that someone or something took a long time to make.
It gives us something to think about as we work with the earth and materials that have been around a lot longer than humans have. Enjoy the process!