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How is Porcelain Made?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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Porcelain is made by blending clay with other substances and firing it at high temperatures so that it achieves vitreous, or glasslike, qualities. True porcelain is slightly translucent, nonporous, and very hard, making it suitable for a range of applications, from plates to electrical insulators. There are three main categories of the material: hard paste or true porcelain, soft paste or china, and bone china. Each is made with different ingredients, resulting in products with varying qualities.

The concept emerged in China around the seventh century CE. The Chinese discovered that a mixture of kaolin clay and a substance called petuntse yielded extremely strong, sturdy pottery. Kaolin clay is a form of feldspar that is a very clear white, and petuntse is another form of feldspar that will turn into glass when fired at high temperatures. The kaolin clay is elastic and strong so that it holds the shape of the object during firing, while the petuntse fuses with the kaolin to finish the piece.

When porcelain was first brought to Europe, it attracted widespread interest. European potters began experimenting with a range of clays in an attempt to replicate the pottery, and after much experimentation, soft paste porcelain was produced. Soft paste was made by mixing a pale clay with glass, although many modern producers use kaolin and silica. When fired, it is a creamy color, and it is much softer than true porcelain.

Bone china is hard paste that has been mixed with bones and ash. It is hard and translucent like true porcelain, and it is closely associated with England and Germany, two major producers of the material. The addition of animal bones is believed to have arisen from confusion about how hard paste was made in China.

In all cases, the first step in making this pottery is grinding the ingredients down to a uniform small size. They are sieved to remove pieces that are too small or too large, and then a large magnet is run over the ground clay and rock to remove any traces or iron. Next, water is added to create a slurry that can be molded, cast on a wheel, or shaped in other ways prior to firing. Porcelain is bisqued first in a low heat kiln to set its shape and prevent shrinkage, and then it is glazed. After glazing, it is fired at extremely high temperatures to fuse the components, and then it is allowed to slowly cool.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Musical Expert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon993916 — On Dec 29, 2015

Cool -- so porcelain is made of the same stuff as some face masks. I have a kaolin clay face mask, is that the same thing? I wonder what makes it act differently in a face mask as opposed to in porcelain. Does anybody know?

I came across it not too long ago when I was cleaning out a closet and was amazed at what good condition it's still in. It's so shiny with no chips or cracks in it at all.

Some of his dolls were valued at over three hundred dollars! And even the damaged ones, or doll parts were selling for more than twenty dollars a piece. I say it was a good find.

By wizup — On Aug 23, 2011

Cool -- so porcelain is made of the same stuff as some face masks. I have a kaolin clay face mask, is that the same thing? I wonder what makes it act differently in a face mask as opposed to in porcelain. Does anybody know?

By ellafarris — On Aug 22, 2011

My parents gave me a miniature blue and white porcelain teapot with two cups and two saucers when I was about ten years old. I don't know if it's Japanese porcelain or Chinese porcelain. I can't tell the difference.

I came across it not too long ago when I was cleaning out a closet and was amazed at what good condition it's still in. It's so shiny with no chips or cracks in it at all.

I am a little curious at what it might be worth, even though I don't plan on ever selling it since it has so much sentimental value to me.

By MsClean — On Aug 22, 2011

I gave my mother in law an antique porcelain doll that I picked up from an estate sell to add to her collection. She's been collecting dolls since she was a little girl and some of them are over sixty years old.

This particular doll was dated nineteen sixty and signed by Gerald La Motte. We did a little research on him and come to find out that he reproduced dolls using German molds from the nineteen fifties to the seventies.

Some of his dolls were valued at over three hundred dollars! And even the damaged ones, or doll parts were selling for more than twenty dollars a piece. I say it was a good find.

Well, after finding out all that information about the doll, I wanted to know how such beautiful things were made -- and now I know! Thanks, wisegeek!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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