Stoneware, Earthenware and Porcelain. They all start with ceramic clay.
Have you ever wondered how ceramic dishes were made, or what the difference is? Why is it that I can use one in the oven and microwave and the other only in the oven, then one that can’t be heated? The three types of ceramic, stoneware, earthenware and porcelain are all products derived from ceramic clay.
How each one gets to its final state has to do with the texture of the raw product, temperature, moisture and how it is fired or baked.
What is ceramic clay you ask
Clay is a by-product of nature. It comes from the ground in areas that once had streams or rivers flow over them. It is composed of minerals from rock, plant life and animals. As the water flows from the plants, trees and wears down the rocks and dirt the water creates very fine particles that mix with syllabicate-bearing remnants. Over many, many, many years’ clay is formed.
Definition from Merriam-Webster Dictionary of clay
: a soil that contains a high percentage of fine particles and colloidal substance and becomes sticky when wet: an earthy material that is plastic when moist but hard when fired, that is composed mainly of fine particles of hydrous aluminum silicates and other minerals, and that is used for brick, tile, and pottery.
Most of the clay used in ceramic products range from white, buff, terra cotta reds, browns and even yellow.
The colour is determined by the minerals found in the composition of the clay. For example, iron will give a red colouring. Minerals can also determine the best use of the clay, based on the texture when wet and when dried. Some are very fine such as that used for porcelain or very granular as that used in earthenware.
History of stoneware, earthenware and porcelain
Ceramics or Pottery has been around for at least 13,000 to 20,000 years BC. Paleolithic pottery has been found in East Asia as well as China and Japan. Containers have been found that are made from coils and made into smooth walls. Variations of how to make these ceramic pots and containers and more elaborate methods progressed over time and regions. Ceramics become not just useful items but wall decorations too. Many figurines, pottery and vase/containers have been found around the world covering the time from Paleolithic times until now. These timelines provide an actual way to see the development of ceramics right up to how it is made in today’s world.
The differences between stoneware, earthenware and porcelain
Each of these types of clay, stoneware, earthenware and porcelain have these three things that make them different. These are 1) the maximum firing temperature 2) the texture of the clay 3) becoming porous after firing. The uniqueness of each type of clay is what makes ceramics so marvellous because one does not need any other type of pots, pans, dishes, jugs, vases and decor except for using one of these three types of clay to create these items. We see that proof back to paleolithic times.
All about earthenware
Earthenware is the most fragile of the clay types and can be very coarse. It is usually terra cotta reds and yellows in colour sometimes white. It is porous and more fragile but offers brighter colour ranges in the clay and glaze used on the item due to being fired at lower temperatures than stoneware and porcelain. Earthenware will melt at high temperatures during the firing process. This type of clay also tends to be smooth to rough once fired. Earthenware Is used for terra cotta pots and planters bricks and some dishes. Earthenware is fired in the range of 1700 to2100 F (926 to 1150 C).
All about stoneware
Stoneware is the strong version of earthenware. It is white or light grey to tan or dark grey and light brown to darker almost chocolate brown colour. This type of clay creates a hard durable and if glazed waterproof stoneware item. Stoneware is fired in the range of 2100 to 2300 F (1205 to 1260 C). Due to the high temperature of the firing, the clay and glaze will have a more subtle colouring in the finished product. Stoneware has been and still is the most popular used for crocks, jugs, vases, mugs and dinnerware, bowls and platters.
All about porcelain
Porcelain clay is also known as Kaolin, or china clay. This clay usually comes very near to the main source of the clay deposit. The clay is usually grey to white in colour. Porcelain creates a hard thin product. It is fired in the range of 2381 to 2455 F (1305 to 1346 C). You will find dishes, figurines, vases and fine china as well as everyday china made from this type of clay. It is about as close to glass as you can get.
Each ceramic type has its purpose
When you go through your home, apartment, office even, you quickly realize just how prevalent ceramic-type products we use every day. The fascination with ceramic products is widespread. Your bathroom may have a soap dish and toothbrush holder made of ceramic, or the vase at the front door or the light in your bedroom or office and ALL the dishes in the cupboards in the kitchen.
Most stores we shop in or buy from online offer us ceramic products. We use ceramic every day for eating, drinking, cooking, providing light, enjoying our plants in pots on the deck, and entertaining.
Whether it is bathroom items or kitchen or dining room /living room items and whether it is earthenware, stoneware or porcelain, we are consumed by it.
All thanks to mother nature recycling stone, rocks, plants, leaves and trees with water and many other things to give “clay glorious clay” to us to use to make ceramic products.