What Is Stoneware Pottery?

Besides earthenware and porcelain, stoneware is one of the main types of pottery. And if you know what to look for, you can find it all around you in your daily life.

Stoneware refers to a type of pottery that is very strong and non-porous and is fired between 1,100 and 1,300 °C (2,000 ~ 2400 °F). It normally has an opaque look with gray or brown colors. Stoneware can also mean the type of clay that is used to make this type of pottery.

What is stoneware made off?

Stoneware pottery is made from stoneware clay, which is a naturally occurring clay that contains kaolinite. However, several extra ingredients such as ball clay, quartz, feldspar, mica and grog can be mixed in to get a clay with the desired properties.

Stoneware clay may also contain impurities like iron or carbon, which gives stoneware its characteristic rough look and colors.

Stoneware clay is known for being workable, soft, and strong. It keeps its shape once molded and can be bent and shaped without cracking or crumbling.

Several pieces of stoneware pottery such as cups, mugs, and bowls.

Types of stoneware pottery

Stoneware pottery is very versatile and can be used to create a wide range of functional and decorative objects.

Functional stoneware pottery is designed for everyday use in the kitchen and dining room. It includes items such as:

  • Plates
  • Bowls
  • Cups
  • Mugs
  • Pitchers
  • Teapots

Stoneware is an ideal material for functional pottery because of its durability and non-porous nature. Functional stoneware pottery is often designed with a balance of form and function, with an emphasis on ergonomics, usability, and aesthetics.

Decorative stoneware pottery is designed primarily for display purposes, rather than for everyday use. It includes items such as:

  • Vases
  • Sculptures
  • Figurines
  • Wall hangings

Decorative stoneware pottery is often highly detailed, with intricate designs, textures, and patterns.

Characteristics of stoneware

Here are the five most important characteristics of stoneware that you can use to distinguish them from earthenware and porcelain.

  1. Durability: Stoneware is known for being strong and resistant to chipping and cracking, making it ideal for everyday use.
  2. Non-porosity: Stoneware is non-porous, which means it doesn’t easily absorb liquids.
  3. Medium firing temperature: Stoneware is typically fired at a temperature around 1,200°C (2,190°F), which is higher than earthenware but lower than porcelain.
  4. Appearance: Stoneware can have a natural and rustic appearance, and is often used for its aesthetic qualities.
  5. Versatility: Stoneware can be glazed or unglazed and can be used for a wide range of functional objects, including dishes, bowls, and cups.

Additionally, stoneware clay is normally also considerably cheaper than porcelain clay. So it’s a good balance between price and durability.

Glazing stoneware

If stoneware is fired well and at the right temperature, you don’t really need to glaze it because it should be non-porous and pretty durable. You can just use it and wash it like it is.

However, stoneware has a slightly gritty and rough texture, which might trap small bits of food and make cleaning difficult. Over time, this might also cause the stoneware pottery to change in color.

So normally it is recommended to glaze stoneware pottery, especially if you are going to use it for food.

Additionally, you can also a glaze stoneware for a purely decorative purposes. But stoneware glazes are normally not as colorful as earthenware glazes because they are fired at higher temperatures.

A beautiful handmade stoneware mug with a blue ceramic glaze.

Firing stoneware

The firing process is typically divided into two stages: bisque firing and glaze firing.

Bisque firing is the initial firing of the clay at a lower temperature, typically between 1800°F and 2000°F (980°C and 1090°C), which removes any remaining moisture from the clay and makes it hard enough to handle. This process also strengthens the clay body and prepares it for glazing.

Learn more about bisque firing in this article.

Glaze firing is the second stage of firing, where the glazed stoneware is typically fired between 2100°F and 2300°F (1150°C and 1260°C, which causes the clay to become dense and hard as it fuses with the glaze.

The firing process and temperature are crucial factors that determine the quality and durability of stoneware pottery. Stoneware potters must carefully control the temperature and firing schedule to ensure that each piece is fired evenly and at the correct temperature, which can be a time-consuming and challenging process.

It’s not uncommon for some pieces of pottery to crack during the firing process, even among experienced potters.

Is stoneware beginner-friendly?

Stoneware clay is easier to handle than porcelain clay. Porcelain clay is also more challenging for beginners because it requires more skill and experience to handle due to its delicacy and tendency to warp or crack during firing.

However, stoneware clay is not as beginner-friendly as earthenware clay, which is often considered the most beginner-friendly type of clay due to its plasticity and forgiving nature. Stoneware clay has a moderate level of plasticity and can require more attention to detail in terms of handling and firing, making it a bit more challenging for beginners than earthenware, but still manageable with practice and guidance.

I normally recommend beginners to try earthenware clay if it’s their first time working with clay. However, with a little bit of extra time and patience, most beginners can still handle stoneware clay.

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between stoneware and earthenware?

Stoneware clay is fired at higher temperatures, which makes stoneware pottery durable and non-porous. Earthenware is fired at lower temperatures, which makes it more prone to chipping and is porous if it isn’t glazed.

What is the difference between stoneware and porcelain?

Porcelain is fired at even higher temperatures than stoneware, which causes the clay to be completely vitrified and gives porcelain its characteristic translucent appearance. Porcelain clay is also a lot smother than stoneware clay.

Does stoneware break easily?

Stoneware is generally durable and less likely to break compared to earthenware due to its higher firing temperature, but it is not as strong as porcelain. However, stoneware can still break if dropped or subjected to extreme temperature changes. Glazing your stoneware pottery will make them even more durable.

Is stoneware food safe?

Stoneware fired at sufficiently high temperatures should be non-porous and therefore food safe. However, if your stoneware has a very gritty and rough texture, it’s recommended to apply a glaze to prevent food from getting trapped and keeping your pottery clean.

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