When you are making pottery there are often times when you need to attach one piece of clay to another. When joining two pieces of clay together you definitely don’t want them to fall apart or develop cracks as they dry. One simple way to prevent these problems is to use Magic Water.
- What is Magic Water?
- Magic Water Recipes
- Why does Magic Water Work?
- How to Use Magic Water
- Alternatives to Magic Water
- A Few Notes to Remember
How do I make magic water? The simple answer is: combine 1 gallon of water, 3 Tablespoons of sodium silicate, and 1.5 teaspoons of soda ash. For more detail, read on.
What is Magic Water?
Magic Water is a liquid that increases the strength of a bond when you join two pieces of clay. Some potters use it in place of slip when scoring and slipping. Sometimes it is used by itself to help two soft pieces of clay stick together. Other ingredients can be added to fit certain situations or techniques.
Magic Water Recipes
There are many slight variations of the Magic Water recipe. What seems to be the original, and most well known is attributed to Lana Wilson.
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Original Magic Water Recipe by Lana Wilson
- 1 gallon water (Amazon)
- 3 Tablespoons liquid sodium silicate (Amazon)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon soda ash (Amazon)
- 1 gallon water
- 9.5 grams sodium silicate
- 3 grams soda ash
Steve Fulmer’s Magic Water
- 1 liter water
- 2 teaspoons sodium silicate
- 1/4 teaspoon soda ash
Cheri Glaser’s Magic Water
- 1 gallon water
- 3 Tbsp sodium silicate
- 5 grams soda ash
Joyce Roger’s Magic Water
- 1/2 gallon water
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons sodium silicate
- 2 1/2 grams soda ash
Why does Magic Water Work?
It’s not magic, it’s science! The soda ash dissolves in the water and is absorbed into the clay as the water is absorbed into the clay. The sodium silicate is like a glue. It is sticky and dries hard. This makes a strong bond as the clay dries. The soda ash and sodium silicate both contain sodium which is a flux which lowers the melting point of what it is mixed with. This helps the clay stay bonded when it is fired.
Magic water is also a deflocculant so it makes the molecules on the surfaces that are being joined to repel each other. Think: thinner, more liquid-y and better for mixing together. Even though the magic water recipe is very simple, it does a lot of helpful things to help join two pieces of clay together.
How to Use Magic Water
There are many ways to use magic water. Any time you want to attach one piece of clay to another is a perfect time to use it. Here are a few ideas:
The best way to avoid cracking where handles are attached is to make sure the pot and the handle are both as wet as possible and both have the same level of moisture content. But handles can be tricky because sometimes the pot or handle is slightly more dry than the other. The part that needs to dry more shrinks more as it dries which can cause cracking or even cause the handle to fall off the pot. Using magic water can help ensure that the bond is strong when attaching handles.
If the handle and the pot are both still soft enough, you can just brush some magic water on each surface and squish them together firmly. If the clay is more firm or even closer to leather hard, you can score each surface, apply some magic water and then press together firmly. Try to make sure the handle doesn’t dry out faster than the body of the pot. Cover the handle with plastic or cloth to slow down the drying of the handle. Or, if you have multiple pots with handles, it may be enough to group the pots together with all the handles turned in toward the middle as they dry.
You can build pots using rolled coils of clay. Usually the clay is very soft and the coils are pressed firmly and blended into each other. But if you want to keep the coils looking like coils instead of blending them together you need a strong bond without pressing the clay too much. Magic water can increase the strength of the bond between these coils.
Brush magic water on at least one surface (preferably both) just before pressing the coils together. To help the magic water absorb into the clay more you can score the surface of the clay before applying the magic water.
Attaching Slabs of Clay
Slabs of clay are notorious for cracking at the seams as they dry or when fired. Using magic water instead of slip should create a stronger bond and prevent these cracks. Score both surfaces where they will be attached. Apply some magic water and then press the slabs of clay together firmly.
You can also make slip by combining dry clay and magic water instead of just regular water. To add extra strength you can brush some magic water along the inside corner of the seam and then add a small coil of clay the entire length of the seam. Press it into the corner and then smooth it with your finger or a tool.
Use it as a Base Recipe
Though magic water is pretty great by itself, you could add a few extra ingredients to your magic water recipe to make it fit specific situations. Read below to see how paper clay can be used to fix bone dry pots or even bisqued pots that have cracked.
Alternatives to Magic Water
There are some situations where you may not want to or can’t use magic water for pottery. Maybe you don’t have all the ingredients in the magic water recipe. Maybe there is a better option for your kind of clay or the techniques that you use. Here are a few alternatives for using magic water.
Score, Slip, Press
Some potters say that proper technique is all that you need to create a strong bond when joining clay.
Roughing, or scoring, both surfaces with a wire brush, toothbrush, or serrated rib allows the slip to absorb into the clay. Just the right amount of slip and adequate pressure should create a solid bond if the two surfaces are not too dry and both are close to the same moisture level. Of course, make sure the piece dries evenly to avoid cracks.
Vinegar is another widely known liquid that can be used to improve the joints when attaching clay. Vineger acts in the opposite way of magic water. It is actually a flocculant which makes the particles in the clay attract to each other but dries slower instead of faster. Some potters add it to their joining slip. Some potters have tried it and haven’t noticed much of a difference compared to water.
Spooze is another concoction that should help make bonds stronger similar to the way magic water is used.
Peggy Heer’s Spooze Recipe
- 1 part dry, crushed clay body you are using
- 1 part white kitchen vinegar (Amazon)
- 1 part corn syrup, white or brown (Amazon)
- Add a drop or 2 of peroxide. (Amazon) This is to keep the spooze from fermenting and smelling bad.
This is only a base to start from. Add more of the liquids to make a thinner consistency, add more clay to make it thicker. The corn syrup is sticky and dries hard. The vinegar makes the clay particles attract to each other.
Paper Clay or Magic Mud
There are many recipes that add paper fibers into the mix. The paper fibers are longer than clay particles and create a bond that is less likely to crack. The paper burns out during the firing. This could leave the area where it is used more porous. Paper clay has been used bone dry pieces that were broken and even bisque fired pieces that were broken or cracked.
Magic Mud Recipe from Lakeside Pottery
- 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup of either shredded paper napkin, toilet paper, or paper towel
- 3/4 to 2/3 of a cup of bone dry clay hammered into small pieces, or powdered
- Soak over night in enough magic water to cover the clay and paper by 1 inch
- Mix with an electric blender
- Pour off the excess water
Other Paper Clay Recipes
There are so many variations of other paper clay recipes that it wouldn’t be worth the time to list them all. Here is a basic aggregate. Adjust to your own techniques, environments, and preferences.
- Dry clay, usually crushed. Preferably the same clay that the piece is made out of (grab some scraps before you recycle your clay)
- Paper, shredded or boiled. Preferably toilet paper, napkins, tissue paper, or paper towels
- Magic water, vinegar, or water
- A few drops of dish soap, peroxide, or bleach to prevent mold and odor
A Few Notes to Remember
- Always use clay that is wedged properly or well prepared.
- It is better to join wetter clay than dryer clay.
- It is also best to join two clay pieces when they are at a similar state of dryness.
There are a lot of options and variations to join pieces of clay together. Your environment, techniques, and clay bodies are unique so you may not be able to use exactly what someone else recommends and get the same result. It is always good to experiment to see what works for you.
So, even though the Magic Water recipe for clay isn’t actually supernatural, it or one of it’s variations can work wonders for any pottery making process.