Stoneware is a term for dense pottery fired at high temperatures to make it resistant to liquids. It is made from clay, but is more durable than other kinds of pottery and earthenware.
Stoneware gets its name from stone-like qualities. You can find it in common household items like beer steins, crocks and coffee mugs. What sets stoneware apart from other items like porcelain or earthenware though? There are several factors that set stoneware apart from other types of pottery.
What is the difference between ceramics and pottery?
Both pottery and ceramics use clay. Clay includes fine minerals that change shape when wet, but harden when dried. People have used clay to create pottery and ceramics all over the world since the Stone Age.
The biggest difference between ceramics and pottery is that pottery uses only clay. In pottery, we form clay into different shapes and heat it to a high temperature, which removes all water and melts the minerals in the clay. The process changes the clay and increases its hardness.
On the other hand, ceramics include clay and other other materials, such as glazes or compounds. Potters fire ceramics at higher temperatures to make it more durable and water resistant.
According to the American Society for Testing and Materials, pottery is “all ceramic wares that contain clay when formed, except technical, structural and refractory products.”
So, all ceramics are pottery, but not all pottery are ceramics.
There are three types of pottery: earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. They vary based on the types of clay used to make them and the temperatures at which they are fired.
How can I make pottery at home?
Most people don’t have a kiln to make their own ceramics, but you can make your pottery at home in a few simple steps.
First, find some clay. Oven-bake clay is found at most craft stores in many colors and brands, including natural and white. This clay has a different composition from what we use for our stoneware, so you’ll be able to work it easily without adding water or needing extreme temperatures.
To get started, knead and warm the clay to make it easier to move. After that, you can shape it into any object you want, including bowls or pots. We recommend using a nonstick surface to make the cleanup easier once you’re done. You can also use tools like sewing needles, knives and toothpicks to add details to your pottery.
Never fire pottery in your oven like it’s ceramic. Trying this in most kitchen ovens can cause fires, since ceramic firing the way Sunset Hill Stoneware does it requires temperatures of over 1000°F. Oven-bake clay temperatures change depending on the brand of clay, but most need between 200-300°F to properly harden. The process takes 30 minutes or less, but baking times may vary.
As a general rule, you should not use your pottery for food or beverages. They’re great for holding keys and office supplies, but food isn’t safe since the pottery has no glaze.
How do Earthenware, Stoneware and Porcelain differ?
Earthenware is the oldest type of pottery, dating as far back as the Stone Age. Potters fire earthenware at lower temperatures than other types of pottery and do not use a kiln.
Earthenware is porous and less durable than stoneware or porcelain, meaning it absorbs some of the liquid it holds and is prone to breaking. In ancient times, merchants couldn’t reuse earthenware that carried olive oil on long trips because the oil would go bad and soak into the clay.
To make earthenware resist liquid, it needs a glaze that hardens and gives it a glassy finish.
Stoneware came after earthenware and requires higher firing temperatures. Potters fire stoneware in kilns at temperatures ranging from 2,010°F to 2,370°F, hotter than lava. The high temperature improves the stoneware’s durability.
Stoneware pottery is strong, hard and nonporous. It does not absorb its contents. Many stoneware pieces from years past were household items like bowls, jugs, jars, crocks and other containers that stored water, oils, food and more.
Potters apply glazes to stoneware before the last firing stage to add color, strength and beauty. The high temperature fuses the glaze to the clay. This surface is like having a layer of tough glass over the clay.
Originating in China, porcelain uses kaolin, a fine-quality white clay, and requires hotter temperatures than other pottery, up to 2600°F. Porcelain is strong, has a nonstick, nonporous surface and is impermeable to liquids.
Unlike earthenware and stoneware, porcelain doesn’t need glazes to be nonporous. However, some porcelain makers use them for decoration and to prevent stains.
Porcelain is delicate and found in plates, food containers, statues and figurines. Some other uses for porcelain include electrical insulation materials and as tiles in construction.
What is the history of stoneware?
The earliest stoneware comes from the Indus Valley Civilization in 1900 BC, in what is now Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. Other early examples come from the Shang dynasty, which ruled China from 1600 BC–1046 BC. They glazed and fired stoneware in kilns and designed it to store food, liquids and spices.
Even earlier examples of stoneware have come from archaeological sites in China dating back to the Paleolithic era, more than 10,000 years ago.
A lot of stoneware came to America from Germany and Great Britain in the late 1600s. The earliest production of stoneware in America was around 1720 in Philadelphia; Yorktown, Virginia; and New York City. These producers used glazes to decorate stoneware, along with designs to mark the contents or manufacturer.
Before refrigerators, people used stoneware to bottle and store beverages and condiments, as well as keep the contents cool and extend its shelf life. Its resistance to liquids was key to storing food during the winter months and all year long.
How do you make stoneware today?
Thousands of years after its earliest examples, people still make stoneware in pottery shops and studios worldwide. A few different methods of creating stoneware exist today, all of which start with natural stoneware clay or other clay varieties.
For stoneware, molding is the act of inserting clay into a mold before firing it. Manufacturers use similar processes to produce goods at scale.
To create mugs, steins and other stoneware products with this process, manufacturers make a mold with hollow portion in the shape of the final product. A liquid slurry of clay and water, called slip, pours into the hole and hardens around the edge of the mold. After the outer edge of the slurry is solid, the liquid interior comes out. Then, the potters remove the mug from the mold. It then dries and goes into the kiln.
Given that the process makes it easy and inexpensive to produce uniform products, molding is a popular way to mass-produce pottery. Manufacturers can print designs on mugs with this method as well, so there are a lot of options for heat pressing or printing as decoration. However, a chief complaint with molded ceramics is that the decoration fades over time.
Similar to molding, slipcasting involves pouring liquid clay into a mold and letting it form a cast inside. Unlike other methods of creating pottery, slipcasting allows for more intricate shapes that potters can’t mass-produce on a pottery wheel.
Once the clay is in the mold, it hardens and forms a hollow cast until it can keep its shape. This can take hours to complete, depending on the weather outside. After the piece is dry, makers can glaze it and fire it in the kiln.
While slipcasting allows for shapes that aren’t easily handmade, this type of pottery is fragile. It breaks easily and doesn’t withstand high temperatures, so it’s not always safe to use in the dishwasher, microwave or oven.
Wheel throwing is often associated with pottery and ceramics. Potters always do the wheel-throwing process with their hands, although the method for moving the wheel can come from humans, machines or both depending on the potter’s preferences.
The term “wheel throwing” comes from the start of the process, when the potter throws a lump of clay onto a pottery wheel. The potter then centers the clay in the middle of the wheel and forms it, using water and wet hands to form the clay into the desired shape.
Once the potter has shaped the clay, they cut it from the pottery wheel with a thin metal wire, such as cheese wire, and smooth the piece along the bottom. Soon after, the mug, stein or bowl gets a handle or decorations.
Stoneware is often fired in a kiln twice in order to make it more durable, but it must air dry so the clay can harden and the water in it can disappear. If too much water is still in the clay body, the stoneware could break in the kiln. Bisque-firing, which is the first round of firing wheel-thrown stoneware, lets the clay fuse and harden and removes any water.
After bisque-firing, potters can coat their stoneware in glazes, which adds a tough, glass-like layer to the product. During the final firing, the glaze hardens and changes color, resulting in the end product.
How is stoneware used today?
Today, stoneware is great for serving foods or beverages, and baking. Stoneware pieces are great for drinks, serving dishes and cookware, because they can handle the temperatures of an oven. It holds heat well and distributes it evenly, which is important in baking.
Unlike other forms of pottery, stoneware does not chip and can last for decades even with daily use. Because of its durability and heat resistance, stoneware can go in the dishwasher and microwave.
Stoneware endures the test of time and is passed down from generation to generation. On our website, there are manytypes and styles of stoneware for every taste, and they are customizable with logos and graphics.