Monday, April 14, 2014

The process of making ceramic beads by hand

Making ceramic beads is a complex process.   In short it goes like this:
1.  Wet ceramic clay is hand shaped into little round balls.
2.  The wet balls are left for about an hour to firm up and then the stringing hole is made using a wooden skewer/needle/wire.
3.  If its a sunny day, they'll go outside to speed up the drying process.  Otherwise they're left near the hot kiln while its busy firing a load of beads.
4.  Once the clay is bone dry (which usually takes about two days), they go in to the bisque kiln where they'll be fired to 1 000 degrees Celsius.  The beads are fired slowly to bisque temperature which takes about 8 hours.  Once bisque temperature is reached, the kiln has to cool down gradually and can only be opened after 12 hours.
5.  The beads are cured and can now be painted with underglaze.
6.  Underglazes needs to be hardened on the bisque surface and the beads go into the kiln for a second firing and another long 12 hours before they can be removed from the kiln.
7.  The beads are then painted with transparent glaze (to give it a glass like surface).  Care has to be taken during this step keeping the glaze away from the stringing holes.  If there's glaze in the holes, the beads will fuse to the wire and will stay there forever!
8.  It takes ages to put the beads on special kiln wire and loading the kiln.  Beads shouldn't touch each other and only a few beads can go on to a piece of wire as the wire tends to sags at high temperatures.
9.  The beads are fired to 1 100 degrees Celsius (2 012 Fahrenheit) for 10 hours and another 12 - 14 hours before the kiln is opened.
10.  The last step is the one that often keeps me awake at night - opening of the kiln!  So many things can go wrong in the firing process of which power fluctuations and outages is the worst...

I love opening the kiln although I'm always a little bit nervous but I can happily say that I haven't had that many kiln failures.  It is usually love at first sight when I open the kiln.  I still revel in the beauty of a small handmade bead as each one is unique and has a story to tell of the person who made it.

Sunny yellow beads to brighten up your day!

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