Three Ways to Recycle & Dry Clay

Video Version:

This week, I will demonstrate and compare three methods  to dry clay that you either made yourself or recycled. The clay I’ll be using is for this is Nile silt which I actually gathered from the Nile- and I’ll be recycling it from a bone dry state as well as from my slop bucket. The smaller the pieces, the quicker that they will slake down.

I have my bone dry clay placed inside this large container and then I will cover them with water- you only really need enough water to submerge all the pieces.

Adding water to the bone dry clay

After covering the dry clay pieces with water, add the contents of you slip bucket into the mix and  let  everything slake down for a while.

Emptying the contents of the slip bucket

After 1 day, its time to mix the clay to make sure its homogenized. Many people recommend using a mixer but i find my that using my hands gets the job done. I just Reach in and crush any lumps of pieces with my fingers and keep swirling till I feel the slurry is soft and doesn’t contain large clumps. Once that you feel its mixed enough - leave it for a few days.

Mixing the clay after one day

I have left this slurry out for 5 days and I think that algae has started to grow in it . I’m going to remove a bit but honestly this is good for the clay. Clay thats mouldy and or has a bunch of bacteria in it is much more plastic and is actually coveted.

Scooping out some of the algae

 Mix the clay again and and be sure to scrape off the bottom.

Mixing the clay after five days

The slip looks ready so now its time to get it to a working consistency!

Method 1 - Pillowcase Method

My favorite method to dry large amounts of slurry is in a pillowcase. Start by finding a long and strong stick. Then an old pillowcase preferably cotton. You can either tie it by rope or what I like to do is to cut holes at the top of it and slide it over a strong stick or pole. I used to hang it in my garbage can but  I found this chair that would suit my needs way more because it had some extra support for the pillow which allows me to pour more slip than usual .

After sliding the pillow over the pole, make sure you have a small open area in which to pour slurry into. Pour the slurry into the hole and leave everything out to dry.

Pouring the slip into the pillowcase

In hotter weather it should probably take 3-6 days but in colder weather it can take over a week. Check on it regularly by poking it- if your finger creates an indent its it’ll be ready to use.

Pillowcase full of slip

When it reaches that stage, bring it in and take the pillowcase off by bulling it away from the large wad of clay.

Pulling the clay away from the pillow

Use a wire to cut the clay mass into manageable pieces.

Clay wad cut into manageable pieces

With this method  the outside will sometimes harden faster than the inside and I’ll show you my way around that in method 3.

Method 2 - Plaster Bat

My second method for drying out slurry is to spread it on a plaster bat. The plaster evenly pulls out moisture from the clay and dries it quickly and uniformly. (Click here for my tutorial on how to make your own plaster bat. )

Plaster bat

Here I have some slip that I’ve let harden a bit to till it had this custard like consistency.

Custard-like slip

 I then like to place some cloth between the clay and plaster because it prevents any contamination and it makes the bat much easier to clean. Spread the slurry over the cloth and bat and check on it every few hours. When the top stops being sticky to the touch pull it off the bat and wedge.

Spreading the slip over the plaster bat

This method isn’t my favorite because it only dries small amounts at a time- but its much much faster than the pillow method.

Method 3 - Worms

This isn’t so much a drying from scratch method but its great for when your clay is pretty dry but still too sticky, wet and mushy. You basically roughly wedge and mix together a small amount of clay and try to roll it into a long cylinder worm shape.

Rolling the clay into a tube/worm shape

After you roll it; stand it up like an arch. This allows for more surface area being exposed to the air. This is a great method to use alongside the pillow method because it makes up for the clay that is in the center of the pillow being too wet.

Clay placed like an arch

Again, check on these regularly and when the clay stops sticking to your fingers then its ready to be wedged and used!

Wedging clay

The final step is to shape the clay into compact pieces and i like to wrap them up in used grocery bags and place them in large bins.

Wedged, compact pieces

Wedged clay wrapped in plastic and placed in bin

I  squeeze a sponge full of water over the top, and put the lid on to keep the insides humid. At this point the clay is totally ready to use however, the longer you leave it to age the more plastic and all together better that it’ll be.

The clay is ready for use!

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