Monday, March 21, 2011

Clay Damp Boxes - My new best friend

Anyone who has worked with clay knows there is a lot of process involved. Certain things need to be done at certain times. But what do you do if your time and the clay’s time aren’t in sync?

Well, I’ve used Damp Boxes and kept clay wet for up to a year in these babies. And I’m finding this method is perfect for the brief intervals of time I’m able to sneak out to the studio. It’s a cheep and easy solution.

In a nutshell, it works because of the way plaster absorbs water. If plaster is dryer than clay, it will draw moisture from the clay. If the plaster has been soaked I water, then it keeps the clay from drying out and maintains a humid atmosphere within the box.

I cut these circles out in early October before Cooper was born. When I finally got around to turning them into Minis, it was the end of January but the clay was still perfect to work with!

Here’s how to make a Damp Box:

  1. Fill bottom of plastic tubs with 1 -1 ½” of mixed plaster. Plaster mixing guidelines here.
  1. Allow plaster to set/dry.
  1. Add water. How much?? Depends on the size of the box. I add water till there is 1/8” of water and then wait till that is absorbed. With a new damp box, it could take several rounds of adding water and letting it absorb. My damp boxes are 7 years old, so I occasionally add more water to “recharge” them. Basically, you want it to be wet without having pools of water on top.
I've also heard of people using styrofoam coolers or old refrigerators to help control the drying process. What about you?



Growin' Granny said...

I'm a snowbird, home in Oregon most of the year and then 3-4 months in the desert in winter. At home in Oregon, drying is not an issue but rather getting stuff to dry often takes a fan. Here in the desert, I work in an outdoor studio where the heat as well as the wind sucks the moisture out of the clay. This happens so fast that even pieces of a slab-built pot that I'm working on get overly dry and warp before I can finish assembling them. Our studio has 7 dead refrigerators that we use to store in-process work as well as to slow down drying on finished pots. Even with that, we put soaking wet towels in the fridges to slow the drying down.

Vicki Wenderlich said...

Awesome idea, thanks! I have had some amount of luck just putting wet work in plastic containers but never tried to keep them going longer than a week.

Meagan Chaney said...

Ahh, I do also have the Florida humidity on my side. I remember what it was like having to work quickly in non-humid Montana this summer though. Sounds like you've come up with great solutions for both locations. Clay people are great problem solvers!

And good luck Vicki! hope this helps!


Michael Kline said...

Great ideas. I was just talking about putting pots that I wanted to "even" out in a damp room or box situation! Thia is timely and inspiring. The plaster completes the solution to this problem.

The refrigerator idea is interesting too, but I'm afraid I don't have that kind of space!


Michael Kline said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meagan Chaney said...

Hey Michael! I'm with you on the refrigerator. I'd love to have one, but there is definitely no where to put it in my studio.

Barbara Cashman said...

Hey Meagan. Glad you're getting more work done. I just started taking a clay class & have a newby question. Does keeping the clay moist so long create any mold issues?

Meagan Chaney said...

Hey Barbara,
Yay! Welcome to the world of clay!

Great question! I do get some mold from the boxes, but probably not as much as you would think. It's really no more than I find sometimes when opening a new bag of clay. I just consider it "seasoning". And any mold I have found hasn't effected the work during construction, firing, or glazing.

-Rob, Simple Circle Studios said...

I am with Mr. Kline on this. I have long been wanting to get an old refrigerator to use as a damp box, but lack the space in my small garage studio. This looks like a good solution, especially since I just got a new 50 lb bag of plaster!

Emily Dyer said...

Thanks for this great tip! I've been struggling with keeping things workable longer since the birth of my second child has made keeping a consistent studio schedule harder. Had found things drying out even wrapped in plastic or in plastic tubs. Will give it a try :)