If you make pots, then you have clay to recycle. It is just the nature of the beast. I get asked a lot of questions about how I handle recycling. There are a lot of methods – but the best one is the one that you will follow through with. For me, I do a combination of things.
In my multi-tiered system, there are 3 stages of clay that can be recycled: wet, dry, and slurry.
Wet clay: My first approach is to reduce the amount of clay that I must recycle. This means that all wet clay accumulated during throwing is dealt with right away. Wet clay includes any clay that comes from throwing the pot, collapsing a pot, cutting a rim, etc. I put it in a bag or in a margarine tub. (I prefer the margarine tub because the bags get messy.) At the beginning of the next throwing session, this clay is wedged and used. Whether you have your own studio or work in a community studio, anyone can recycle her throwing clay in this way. You will be amazed how much clay you can reclaim.
Dry Clay: In my system, dry clay is any clay that is too hard to be re-wedged immediately. This includes trimmings, hard clay, scrapings, extra mug handles, extra teapot spouts, extra lids, pots damaged prior to firing, etc. There are 2 methods for dealing with dry clay.
1. If the clay is ‘marginally’ dry, I cut it into small pieces, spray with water, store in a bag, and re-spray periodically until the clay is moist enough to re-wedge. Marginally dry clay includes trimmings from a soft-leather hard pot, recently pulled handles, or bagged clay that is too stiff. This is another way to reclaim clay that anyone can do.
2. I collect dry clay in a shallow bin and in a kitty litter container. Any pieces of clay that are larger than a few inches are broken into small pieces. Clay in the shallow bin is allowed to dry until it is bone-dry then it is added to the kitty litter bin. (I don’t worry about drying all the clay completely because it wedges well enough for me. But if you want a very smooth clay, then dry all of the clay until it is bone-dry before re-hydrating because only clay that is completely dried out will dissolve in water.) When the kitty litter bin is full, I add enough water to cover the clay and allow it to hydrate for several days. I stir it occasionally and add additional water as it hydrates.
After the clay is hydrated, I decant the excess water and lay they clay on hardibacker board. Hardibacker board is what is used to install tiles. You can purchase a piece at any home improvement store for under $20. It stashes easily (standing on its side); therefore it is a better choice than plaster for my small studio. It is also easy to cut so you can trim one piece into several manageable sizes.
After the clay is laid on the hardibacker board, it is allowed to dry for a while. It is flipped multiple times until it is dry enough to wedge and store. During the drying process, I flip the clay onto a fresh hardibacker board which helps expedite the drying. Do not allow the surface of the clay to become over-dry because it results in lumpy clay. You can dry the clay to the stiffness of your preference.
This method is the most time and space consuming. If you have limited space, then don’t try to recycle large amounts of clay at one time. Even if your primary studio is a community studio, you can still reclaim your dry claim. However, this method also takes attentiveness. It is such a travesty to over-dry the clay and have to start the process over.
Slurry: Slurry is the clay in the bottom of the throwing bucket. If I need to make slip, I use the slurry because it saves me time. Otherwise, I decant the throwing water and pour the slurry into the kitty litter bin with the dry clay to help hydrate the dry clay. However, if you don’t recycle dry clay, you can collect slurry in a container and lay small amounts of it on hardibacker board to stiffen. There is no need to dry the slurry to a bone-dry state.
I am constantly amazed at how much clay I reclaim; so, of course I had to quantify it. In one throwing session when I threw one 25 lb bag of clay, I collected 3 lbs of wet clay and 4 lbs of trimmings. Although the amount of clay varies with they type of pots thrown, reclaiming clay means I save money and have more clay and can throw more pots.
Note: Not all clay bodies recycle well. Slurry from a groggy clay or porcelain is often not good for re-use.
A final note: In the spirit of transparency, Julie handles about 90% of our recycling, for which I am very grateful!