Barbecued Clay – It Actually Works (Sort Of)

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I did do one experiment this month while I taking a break from putting books in boxes. I wanted to find out if you can really fire clay in a barbecue grill. And yes, it looks like you really can.

I started out turning some of my Wonder White low-fire clay from Georgies into paper clay. (This is completely different from paper mache clay, of course. Totally different thing. No paper mache was harmed during the course of this experiment…) I’m not suggesting that this particular clay body is the right one for this experiment – it just happened to be what I had on hand. To make the paper clay, I followed these instructions.

Why add paper, you ask? Because it’s supposed to reduce cracking during the drying and firing process, and I needed all the help I could get.

I rolled out a bit of the paper clay and smooshed and pushed and pinched it into a silly face. (I kind of like him). Then I set it aside to dry all the way through.

Then came the fun part. I followed the instructions for firing clay in a barbecue grill that I found here. I didn’t follow the instructions to the letter, though – after all, I was just playing around, and I had to make do with the materials and equipment at hand. I made my guy thicker than the author recommended, just because I don’t have much experience with working with real clay. And I used a smaller barbecue, since it’s what I happen to have. Both of these changes probably altered the outcome of the experiment.

The result? The clay did change during the firing process. If you let it sit in water, it won’t turn back into mud like unfired clay would do. However, it didn’t get hot enough to harden it as much as I would like. A fingernail can scratch the surface. The smoke from the charcoal darkened the white clay, but I don’t mind that. I think fired pieces could be painted, but the barbecue doesn’t get hot enough for a glaze, I think.

After I move into my next house, I hope to play with this some more. I have another 40 pounds of clay, after all, so I should do something with it. I’ll scrounge up a larger barbecue, because I think it needs to be large enough to hold more charcoal. And I’ll use a fan to get more oxygen to the burning charcoal to make it even hotter, as the author suggested. I think those two changes would bring the temperature up enough to fire the clay more completely. And maybe I’ll try making some hand-built pots for my houseplants. I’ll keep you posted.

7 thoughts on “Barbecued Clay – It Actually Works (Sort Of)”

  1. We have a gas barby, which appears to reach high temperatures. What temperature is required and for how long ????

    • Gosh, I’m not sure. I only tried it once, and this post was written a long time ago. I did it with briquettes, and I completely covered the clay, the way they do in Africa when they fire their pots under a pile of burning wood. It did not fire completely, though – not like a real kiln, but it was a fun project, anyway. Sorry I can’t give you more help.

  2. I am a fan of “ceramic paper clay” which is similar to your” paper machete clay ”
    The big difference is a much higher percent of clay,

    I am part of a ceramics club that tolerates the paper clay in the kilns
    It is amazing that the paper makes the clay so much more forgiving

  3. Wonderful idea…I went away from fired clay to polymer because it was easier to use my oven. but know maybe I’ll take it up again…

    I love needle felting animal sculptures and are just getting started with paper mache…

  4. Hi Joni,
    The African way is to dig a hole, put in your pieces, cover and fill with any material that will burn, light and leave, let is smolder away for a day or so till its cool. It’s easy and uncomplicated, the different woods and grasses will give a different colour effect, and they fire hard!
    how are your felting endeavors progressing?
    have fun
    lovell

    • I like easy and uncomplicated. One of these days I’ll try the pit firing method – it’s always looked like fun.

      The felting was not my craft. I couldn’t get to a point of competency that I was comfortable with, even after months of very expensive practice, so I gave it up. I did like the moccasins made with traditional patterns and wool batting, though. I just didn’t like them well enough to spend any more money. 😉

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