Find Your Perfect Pottery Clay: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners

One of the most crucial decisions for a potter is choosing the right type of clay. With so many options available, it can be an overwhelming task, especially for beginners. But don’t let the confusion get in the way of starting out.

Whether you’re handbuilding or throwing on the wheel, it’s essential to understand the different types of clay and how they impact your project.

From the silky smooth texture of Porcelain to the rugged durability of Stoneware, each type of clay body has its own unique properties and characteristics.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of pottery clay and guide you through the process of selecting the right one for your next project.

What to look for in pottery clay

Each type of clay is unique in its properties, such as color, texture, workability, and firing temperature. It is important to choose the right type of clay for your project and skill level, taking into account the grog, sand, and other ingredients present in the clay.

Earthenware is great for handbuilding and is versatile, while Stoneware is popular for dinnerware and mugs due to its durability and affordability. Porcelain is known for its smooth and silky feel, but is less forgiving than other clays.

1. Type of clay body

There are 3 main types of clay to choose from – Earthenware, Stoneware, and Porcelain.

Each type is unique in its own way, thanks to the different minerals it contains, the level of stickiness and workability (also known as plasticity), the size of the clay particles, and the temperature it needs to be fired at.


Earthenware is a fun and versatile clay that’s perfect for those who love throwing on a wheel or handbuilding. It’s easy to work with and shape, making it a great option for beginners. Plus, its porous nature makes it great for outdoor projects like flowerpots and bricks. Just keep in mind that it’s not ideal for holding liquids as it’s not watertight, but you can make it food-safe by glazing it and handwashing only.

Earthenware is known for its reddish-orange color (Terra Cotta) due to its high iron oxide content, but you can also find it in white. It’s a low-fire clay and typically bisque fired at Cone 04 1945°F (1063°C) and glaze fired at Cone 05 1888°F (1031°C) or Cone 06 1828°F (998°C). Just be careful not to over-fire it, as it can start to melt.


Stoneware is a great choice for those who want a durable and chip-resistant clay. That’s why it’s so popular for dinnerware and mugs. Plus, there are many variations of stoneware available, depending on how much sand or grog is added, so you can make almost anything with it. Stoneware comes in a range of colors, including white, buff, brown, and different shades of gray.

While it’s not as high quality as porcelain, stoneware is still a great option because of its durability and affordability. It’s also a great clay to throw on the wheel, especially for beginners. Stoneware has two firing temperatures, mid-fire (typically Cone 5 2167°F (1186°C) to Cone 6 2232°F (1222°C)) and high-fire (usually Cone 10 2345°F (1285°C)).


Porcelain is a special type of clay that’s known for its regal and smooth texture. However, it’s also known to be less forgiving than other clays and absorbs water quickly, which can change its workability. If you’re up for a challenge, porcelain is definitely worth trying. I’ve thrown with several types of porcelain and I’ve found them to be nice clays to work with.

When it comes to firing temperatures, you can also find mid-fire (Cone 5 2167°F (1186°C) to Cone 6 2232°F (1222°C)) and high-fire (Cone 10 2345°F (1285°C)) porcelain. Just be aware that when porcelain starts to collapse, it can be difficult to get it back to its original form. But the smooth and silky feel of working with porcelain on the wheel makes it all worth it. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll get to try throwing with a true porcelain clay.

Read this article for more information on the different types of clay.

2. Texture

When selecting your clay, it’s always a good idea to know if it contains grog (ground up fired clay), sand, both, or none. This information is important because it affects the workability and strength of your clay, and can help you determine which type is best for your project and skill level.

For example, if you’re a beginner or working on a project that requires a lot of shaping and detail, you may want to choose a clay with grog or sand, as these ingredients help prevent cracking and chipping. However, if you’re an experienced potter looking to create fine, delicate pieces, you may prefer a smoother, grog-free clay.

Also read this article on what grog is in pottery.

Handbuilding clay

When you’re handbuilding, it’s great to have a clay that is supportive and stable, allowing you to focus on creating your unique and beautiful design. Earthenware and stoneware are great options for handbuilding as they have the right balance of strength and malleability.

It’s important to choose a clay with a good amount of grog or sand as it helps keep your work from slumping or collapsing as you work on it. This also helps lower the shrinkage rate of your clay, reducing the chances of cracking as your creation dries and hardens. So, when in doubt, go for a clay with a little extra grit – it’ll make the handbuilding process much smoother and enjoyable.

Clay for pottery wheels

When it comes to throwing on the wheel, you want a clay that’s smooth, pliable, and doesn’t collapse. I remember my first time throwing stoneware with grog, it was like throwing with fine sandpaper, but the right clay should be a nice balance between smooth and textured for hours of playtime without hurting your hands.

And for those who want the ultimate experience, porcelain is definitely the way to go. It has a smooth, buttery feel that’s a dream to work with, although it’s not as forgiving as stoneware or earthenware.

So, always check the label when selecting your clay, it’ll tell you if it has grog, sand, or a heavy grog mix, giving you the information you need to make the perfect choice for your next wheel throwing session

3. Firing temperature

It’s important to know the cone size when choosing clay, as the different firing temperatures of each clay type can determine the type of kiln you need.

Moreover, the cone size of your clay needs to match the cone size of your glazes. This ensures that the clay and glaze will expand and contract together, resulting in a secure and safe food-friendly fix.

There are three main temperature ranges to consider when buying your clay. Be sure to know the firing temperature of your kiln and the cone size of both your clay body and glaze.

Starting with low fire, this temperature range can go anywhere from Cone 022 to Cone 2, with the most popular firing range being Cone 04 to 06.

Moving on to mid fire, it ranges between Cone 3 to Cone 7 and is a favorite among potters due to the vast selection of glaze colors to choose from. Plus, it’s dinnerware safe! Just make sure the clay you choose doesn’t have a zero in front of the number, or it may melt in the kiln.

Finally, high fire ranges from Cone 8 to Cone 10, with the most popular being Cone 10. This clay is stronger and more durable than the lower fired clays, so it’s great for creating pieces that need to withstand the test of time. Just make sure to not use mid-fire or low-fire clay as it may bubble, deform, or even melt in the kiln.

It’s always good to check the label or description for the cone size. If it’s missing, it’s best to avoid buying it, as you don’t know what temperature it can be fired to.

Also read this article for more information on what cones are.

4. Color

The great thing about clay is that there are so many amazing colors to choose from! Whether you’re looking for a bright and vibrant look, or a rich and deep color, there’s something for everyone. Here are some of the color options you might consider:

  • White clay is a fantastic choice if you want your glazes to really stand out. The color is crisp and clean, and it won’t stain your clothes or anything else.
  • Sand clay is similar to white clay in that it allows glaze colors to shine. When wet, it looks dark, but after being bisque fired, it has a light buff color that doesn’t interfere with the glaze.
  • Red clay is a beautiful option if you like a deep, rich color. It looks amazing with a clear matte, satin, or glossy glaze. Just be aware that darker clays can stain your clothes because of their iron content.
  • Black clay is a stunning color that looks great by itself with a clear glaze or paired with light or white underglazes.
  • Make your own color. Another fun aspect of clay is that you can mix in powdered colorants to create a variety of different colored clays. You can even combine strips of white and colored clay to get a marbled effect.

Each color is beautiful in its own way, and it’s all about finding the one that best suits the look you’re going for.

5. Price

As a beginner, it might be a good idea to start with a lower-priced clay, since you’ll likely be using a lot of clay for practice.

There are also some amazing mid-range clays that offer great quality, and there are high-end clays like true porcelains that are incredibly beautiful, but can be a bit challenging for beginners.

In my experience, the lower to mid-range clays have been great for starting out.

Another tip is to check if there’s a local store in your area, which can save you on shipping costs. And, if you’re really into pottery, buying in bulk can also be a great option as you never know how much clay you need.

Also read this article for a more in-depth view on how much pottery clay costs.

Dry clay vs moist clay

When it comes to buying clay, there are two options to choose from – moist clay in a bag and dry clay. For the beginner potter, I would highly recommend going with moist clay in a bag as it is more convenient and ready to use right away. No need to worry about mixing and adding the right amount of sand, grog, or other minerals.

However, if you are an experienced potter or looking for more control over the ingredients in your clay, dry clay may be a great option for you. It is often more affordable and offers more flexibility in terms of storage, but there is definitely a learning curve involved in mixing and wedging the clay.

Mixing different clay

As a beginner, it’s best to stick to one clay body at a time to avoid any potential complications that may arise from mixing different clays. Experienced potters may mix different clays together, but it’s important to test-fire them first to make sure their shrinkage rates are similar.

If the shrinkage rates are different, the clay particles will shrink at different rates, which could lead to cracking as it dries. To avoid any confusion or mishaps, it’s always a good idea to keep different clays separate and clearly label your bags and containers.


Choosing the right clay is important in bringing your pottery vision to life. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different clays until you find the one that works best for you. Having a clear idea of what you need and want in your clay will make the selection process easier. Happy clay exploring!

Frequently asked questions

What is the best pottery clay that doesn’t need to be fired?

When it comes to pottery, it’s important to keep in mind that firing is a crucial step for longevity. If you’re creating pieces for practical use, like for eating or drinking, firing is especially important. While there are alternatives like air-dry or polymer clay, they may still require glazing to be food-safe and long-lasting. So, keep this in mind as you choose your clay and work on your projects.

What is the best throwing clay?

For a comfortable throwing experience on the pottery wheel, try using a smooth stoneware or earthenware clay with just the right amount of texture. Porcelain is also a good option, but it’s less forgiving than stoneware and earthenware clays. Check the instruction label to see if the clay contains sand or grog.

What clay to use for pottery at home?

For home pottery, a popular and versatile clay is earthenware, which fires to a light color at low temperatures (cone 04 to cone 6) and is relatively cheap. Stoneware, which fires to a harder body at higher temperatures (cone 5 to cone 10) and is ideal for functional pottery, is another option. It’s important to use clay labeled for pottery.

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