I’ll admit it. I love soft clay. Granted, firm clay is great for hand-building. But when I throw, I like my clay soft. Really soft. So soft that when you wedge it, it wants to stick to the board. Lovely, creamy, soft clay. Easy to wedge, easy to center and a pleasure to throw.
While I’ve been overall very happy with my clay (Axner’s version of Cone 5/6 B-Mix), I’ve struggled with how hard it is (8 times out of 10) straight out of the bag. I’m not sure if this is common with many clay bodies (and I’d love to hear from potters about how usable THEIR clay is straight out of the bag) but a quick search on clayart revealed that this is a common complaint about B-Mix. However, as my water absorbency tests for this clay have been superb, it fits my glazes nicely AND Axner have been great about rapidly getting the clay to me in USPS flat rate boxes whenever I need it (we’re talking clay in 3 days!), I’m sticking with it. At least for now.
As I don’t have a pug-mill (nor plans to get one), I’ve been trying various tricks of the trade for softening clay. All methods involve introducing water into the clay. The trick is getting enough water into the clay without turning it into mush… So far I’ve tried spraying the clay with water (not quick enough) and punching holes into blocks of clay and pouring in water (messy, and a major pain to wedge away the holes). What has worked best for me so far has been wedging very soft clay (e.g., from throwing) into hard clay. This, however, is a very messy process. And, it obviously requires having some very soft clay.
The other day I tried a new method for softening clay I had read about on clayart. Basically, you pour some water into the bag of clay (how much water depends on how dry it is), close it up and then put the bag in a bucket, which is then filled with water. The idea is that the water in the bucket forces the water in the bag evenly into the clay. Sounded like sound physics to me, and not the least bit messy. So, I decided to experiment on the last bag of clay I have. Did it work? Well, unfortunately, I’m not sure! My bag of clay had a small split in the plastic so when I pulled it out of the bucket, I had a bit of a mess to contend with…Oh well. Gave me plenty of mushy clay to mix into my hard clay, which promptly and easily turned into a bunch of large bowls and mugs. The quest for easy soft clay continues…