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weird glaze results: now safety, paranoia, and new ceramists (long)

updated thu 29 jul 04


Chris Clyburn on wed 28 jul 04

Well I did originally post privately to Paul to explain my views, but now I
feel after Edouard's post of "Roght on!" I feel should say something.

First, I would like to say that this list is one that is very helpful to new
potters, especially those of us without access to potters who are more
experienced. I have posted a few times before and in previous postings I
have mentioned I have only been making pottery for the past 3-4 years and
only in a college environment. My previous professor retired over a year ago
and was temporarily replaced with a kind of substitute professor with very
limited knowledge in the area of ceramic chemistry.

So for me, clayart is a big help in trying to develop, and I hope to gain
enough knowledge to answer questions more than ask questions someday. I am
an avid researcher and usually ask questions when I've exhausted all other
sources, books, archives, local potters I know (very few) etc.

From everything I've noticed, the clayart community seems to be polarized
into to camps, the everything is dangerous camp, and the quit worrying camp
when it comes to clay and safety. My personal feelings on the issue is
somehwere between these two extremes, as I feel it is for most potters.

One thing I've noticed with both extremes is that they have a tendency to
not fully read a post before they react. Now I made a statement about the
glaze most likely not being food safe due to the lithium and high zinc
content. I also stated my knowledge of glaze chemistry is very limited. Now
the key term to look at is _most likely_ not assuredly or absolutely.

The reason I specifically chose this wording is two fold: 1. I couldn't
absolutely remember if zinc was food safe, and 2. I didn't want to get into
a deep discussion of full hazmat suits, oxide poisoning, etc and have my
original question unanswered (if it was answerable to begin with). This is a
trend I've seen over and over as a lurker, a question is posed by someone
with little knowledge, someone objects to some ingredient due to percieved
or actual health issues, the question is forgotten and unanswered and the
new poster winds up with a "why did I bother?" feeling and never posts here
again, missing out on clayart's wealth of knowledge and networking.

So in trying to avoid all this so I can maybe get a discussion going on a
very weird form of crystalline glaze that could be usefull, considering this
glaze is crystalline and does not flow, I made the apparent mistake of
offending the other camp on clayart. The ironic thing is, I actually feel
like Paul does about Lithium, and zinc I just didn't remember about and
didn't feel like trying to find the info late at night.

That being said, I can deffinately understand why people who want to ere on
the side of caution want to warn everyone about the dangers of this chemical
or that chemical. It is noble and good of them to want to keep people safe.
If a chemical is harmful, new potters need that knowledge, and if it
really isn't, what have the precautions hurt? Personally I disagee with a
lot of the reactionary attitude we tend to have with regards to safety, and
I don't feel, due to my research on glaze chemicals, that some are as
dangerous as we make them out to be, but this is my personal belief. I make
my choices and live my life, and if it harms me well too bad for me, but I
made the choice.

With regards to making anything to be used, I feel it would be irresponsible
of me to allow my personal feelings on the safety of a chemical to make that
choice for my customer. If I'm wrong and the chemical is truly not safe,
I've just bit the hand thhat feeds me when I sold a potentially hazardous
piece to a customer. So if I make something that could be even remotely used
to hold ingestible substances, I only use known safe materials or have the
glaze professionaly tested for leaching.

Okay, I digressed a bit, and this is turning into a small novel. My point
is, if you want new people to stick around long enough to be valid
contributers, read their posts carefully before you get all worked up and
lambast them about being cautious. So what if they are, they don't hurt
anybody by doing so. Even if I don't agree with a chemical being unsafe, I
would rather be sure no one gets hurt than for someone to try a glaze and
misuse it and get sick. I haven't had this glaze tested for leaching, and 22
grams of any oxide, safe or not, at the very least will make food taste off
if it has significant leaching.

Just remember this the next time a new ceramist makes a "dumb" question or
stement. Most likely if someone far more experienced than yourself hadn't
taken the time teach you and patiently answered your questions, no matter
how trivial or ridiculous, you would not know what you know now.

We all have to start somewhere and the great minds of today merely stand on
the shoulders of the giants who came before them. Instead of ridicule and
acusations, a simple calm explanation suffices and goes a long way.

Chris Clyburn