Reclaiming and Recycling Clay
One of the marvels of clay is its capacity to be worked and reworked intel one is satisfied with the outcome and can proceed to firing. Clay in its raw form can be easily recycled by rehydration and wedging. The easiest way to keep clay workable is to keep in hydrated.
Whenever you are working, keep the moist clay under plastic and have a container, such as a plastic bag or a small plastic bucket, available to collect any trimmings and scraps. When the clay starts to dry out, spray water on it and cover it. If at the end of the work session it feels stiff or not very plastic, wedge it and spray it with water before sorting in plastic overnight.
Keep a larger reclaiming bucket for larger scraps or failed attempts. Not ever piece made needs to go through the firing cycle. If there are flaws or cracks in a piece, or if a piece just isn’t working, break it up and place it into the reclaiming bucket.
Rehydrating Dry Clay
There are a couple of ways to approach the rehydrating process. The best way is to let all the scraps get bone dry and then add water. The bone-dry clay will slake down into the slop in a matter of hours, and you can decant or siphon off the excess water. Alternatively, you can keep a wet reclaiming bucket. This is a bucket that holds moist scraps to which water and wet work are added. It can take a few days for a leather-hard clay to slake down, but it will.
Dehydrating Wet Clay
A plaster slab is very useful for drying clay slurry, as plaster absorbs moisture very quickly. Place the plaster slab on a table, elevate slightly with wooden slats, and scoop the soft clay onto the surface. Keep and eye on it. Depending on the humidity levels, temperature, and amount of clay it might be ready to wedge overnight or in a week. As soon as the clay can be formed into a coil, it is ready for the next phase or recycling.
Roll the clay into fat coils the width of your hand and length of your forearm. Shape them into arches on the table to air dry. Arches allow air to circulate around the clay, evenly drying it.
Check for a soft plastic consistency. As soon as the clay can be wedged without sticking to the plaster or table, it should be wedged and stored or worked with.
If you do not have a plaster slab, line a table with contractor plastic and lay the clay out on that until it sets up. A thin layer will work best since it will dry only from the top surface.
Potters often have several plaster slabs so that they can layer them with clay and dry it from both the top and bottom. They may also designate certain slab to use with specific clays.
Keep in mind that the sooner the clay is wedged the easier it is on your body and the better mixed the clay will be.