Paper clay- doing the impossible!

I’ve been experimenting with paper clay due to its amazing claims! with paper clay there are less cracks, lighter pieces, stronger bonds! But best of all you have the ability to add wet to dry, wet to wet, wet to bisque!  This is great for me. I do tiny intrigue sculpture in porcelain. It takes a long time, arms and nose dry fast and crack or fall off. Ankles break in the kiln and naked women fall! I’ve had many disasters. So will paper clay be the answer to my prayers? I think so, my dear friends. I think so. Let me explain. In pictures, because that’s how I learn the best so maybe you do to.



How does paper clay do its magic?
Cellulose fiber is a hollow tube like structure which is an main part of all plants and trees.
It has an amazing ability to pull moisture into itself, acting like a sponge. It holds everything together until it burns away during firing. The fiber tubes help distribute the moisture more evenly throughout the clay sculpture.
What is magical about paper clay?
  • You can make paper clay out of any clay body that you are currently using.
  • Paper clay pieces can be broken off and moved as well as repaired.
  •  threat of exploding walls is reduced.
  •  You can add wet-to-wet, wet-to-dry, or wet-to-bisque.  (Yes, you can add wet clay to bisque and re-fire the piece.)
  • Paper clay will withstand multiple re-dampening to make changes in the form.
  • Paper clay will withstand forced drying.
  • Paper clay reduces the weight of the clay body because the paper replaces part of the clay with the lighter paper fibers.
  • Paper clay slip is very good joining glue when handbuilding forms.  The paper fibers in the clay increase the strength of the dry bond.
  • Paper clay can be used a repair material for cracked pots.The clay, along with paper slip can be forced into the crack for a repair.  The paper helps to hold the patch in place and increased the bond of the repair.
Armatures and Paper Clay- really? 
I haven’t tried this yet myself but it sounds interesting.
You can make an armature in clay, allow it to dry completely for added strength, and then add wet clay to the strong armature.
 When one uses a metal armature, like wire,  with regular ceramic clay, the clay shrinks, dries, and falls off the metal before it can be fired. I did this one and the whole figure exploded (it wasn’t paper clay)
With paperclay, the paper fiber creates a weave that holds the clay together as it shrinks. There are cracks, but they are many fine cracks that allow the clay to stay on the armature, and since wet clay can be added to dry clay, you can fill in those cracks before firing.
 How can I store paper clay?
It can smell like a little boys sink socks that he’s wore for 2 weeks.
If you leave paperclay more than two weeks, the structure of the paper (cellulose) begins to rot, turning the clay black. Especially if you use toilet paper, it will smell like it was used ! Once the pulp begins to rot, it loses the quality that makes it paperclay: the tubes are broken down and the paperclay becomes clay that stinks and loses that magical quality! If you want to keep a batch of paperclay wet and usable for about a month, add a spoonful of mild disinfectant similar to that used to disinfect diaper pails when you mix the clay (but do not use bleach). I know you are saying, but you told me to use bleach in the recipe drawing. Every recipe I found said something different, so if you just had a baby – use that disinfectant, if you just wear white clothes and have a lot of bleach- use that. personally, I decided to buy a huge block of cellulose insulation and use that since it has ant-rot stuff built in. A better way is to prevent the disintegration of the paper pulp by rolling the paperclay out into slabs and leaving it to dry out completely. Once dry, the cellular structure doesn’t break down, doesn’t rot and doesn’t develop an odor. When you are ready to use the paperclay, lay a wet towel on the table, lay the dry sheet of paperclay over it, and leave it. The tubular structure in the paperclay will absorb the water slowly and gently. Within five or ten minutes, the clay is perfectly plastic and can be used as it is or wedged and worked as before. Cool, huh?
Alternatives to paper: Super Duper Strong Nylon Clay
To avoid ever getting any cracks AND to get a clay that can self support, do this: take a white nylon rope and cut it into 3/8″ sections. Pull these sections into white fuzz and then knead the fuzz into your clay. If you make your clay then add the fuzz to the dry mix. Add enough clay that when you pull apart a small ball you see a fair amount of white ‘hair’ sticking out. As much as you might see at the edge of the hairline on the back of your hand is right about enough. You can put a lot in but it’s best not to put too little in. Now make your clay object. If it’s a hollow piece you can make the clay extra thin and it will not fall apart as the hairs will hold it together. They do the exact same thing to concrete to strengthen the mix. Now, when the clay object dries the water will run along the nylon as if along capillaries and not make cracks. In fact, like tiny reinforcing steel in concrete the nylon will tie the parts of clay together and prevent cracks, even if the clay dries fast. When fired, the nylon turns into carbon dioxide and water vapor, which goes away at about 212 degrees F.
What about firing paper clay?
 After bisque firing the appearance and texture are normal in every way.
The fired clay looks and acts as clay always does.
The minute spaces formerly occupied by the cellulose fibers cannot be seen by the naked eye and the only noticeable difference will be a lightness in weight, especially when the mix is 50/50 paper to clay.
 Glazing can proceed as it always does because the fibers are gone and play no part in the ceramic process.
What if I’m to lazy to make my own paper clay?
Max’s Clay- Commercially made paper clay
Ian Gregory’s Steps for Creating Paperclay
This easy method results in a 20% paperclay mixture. To decrease the percentage, simply wedge regular clay with the resulting paperclay.
1. Gather four buckets of clay slurry.
2. Fill one more bucket with paper pulp and add enough water to wet the pulp thoroughly. The water breaks down some of the fibers so that the paper can blend more uniformly with the clay.
3. Add the wet paper pulp to the buckets of slurry, squeezing the pulp to drain away excess water.
4. Mix using a drill and paint mixer attachment.
5. Dry the paperclay slurry on plaster until it is a workable consistancy.
6. Paperclay “Superglue” used for joining and repairing green ware or bisque ware – One or two cups of paperclayslip mixed with about half a teaspoon of sodium silicate. “Be careful where you put it, because once it’s on it’s there to stay!”
Paper Clay Workshop
By Jerry Bennett
If you use cellulose insulation as your source of paper fiber (recommended), use a clay formula designed for a higher temperature for firing.  I fire porcelain to cone 6.  I use Standard porcelain #257 which is rated for cone 8-10.  Cellulose contains borax and boron which is used to reduce the fire hazard for the installed cellulose ceiling insulation.  The Borax acts as a flux in the fired clay and has a tendency to reduce the maturity point of the clay.  I have found that this can be a problem in ultra thin porcelain that results in slumping of the clay form.  This is less of a problem if you use stoneware or earthenware clay.
Paper clay is at its best when the paper fibers are equally disbursed into the clay mixture.  Many commercial companies mix pug-milled clay with paper fibers.  I feel this is not the optimum way to make paper clay.  But, clay mixers such as Blue Bird and Soldner clay mixers can be used.  To get a better mix of the fibers within the clay, a wet (slurry) mixture of clay works best.
  1. Add water to moist new coat till like yogurt in a 5 gallon bucket. Only fill half full.
  2. Use spiral paint mixer to get all lumps out.
  3. Add a small amount of bleach (about one tablespoon) into the mixture to retard bacteria and reduce discoloration of the mixture. Adding bleach is not necessary when using cellulose insulation.
  4. Mix the clay and paper fibers together.  The mixture will thicken or gel; this is a normal part of the process.  Let the mixture set for a short time, and mix again.
  5. Remove the mixture from the bucket to a drying bat or rack with your hands.
  6. After drying to the desired consistency, the paper clay can be stored in airtight opaque plastic buckets. Paper clay made from paper will rot in about a week so don’t make too much.   If mold does form on the surface of the clay, spray the surface of the clay with a spray bottle filled with water and a very small amount of bleach.
  7. Cellulose insulation based paper clay can be stored indefinitely without spoilage.
  8. Dry into flat slabs and store like paper sheets. Since I make tiny sculptures I run paper clay through paster maker and make then sheets. You can dry them on racks with good air circulation or plaster slabs.
 Where do I find Cellulose Insulation?
 No you don’t have to go up to the attic and tear some out. I found some in the insulation section of my local Lowes store. It cost $12.00, i think. but its huge. I’ll share some with my friends or put it in my attic. Cellulose is manufactured with boron and borax, which reduces the chance it will spoil  Cellulose, because of its very fine texture is easy to add to the clay slurry because it is already broken down into the fiber state and does not require any water bath or mixing prior to adding to the clay.  Just add the dry fibers to the clay mixture and mix the clay well.   Too much paper and the clay will have problems in the fired state. (I use porcelain; too much paper causes the clay to be very translucent, hard,  glass like, and tends to crack in the glaze firing.)  When using red earthenware, or stoneware clay, you can use much more paper. Porcelain can’t take as much paper and will experiences excessive shrinking and warping, due to the borax, if you use more than needed. You’ll have to experiment.

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