Techniques for Using Wax Resist and Emulsions in Pottery

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  • 01 of 05

    The Most Common Use - Protecting The Bottoms of Pots

    Apply wax resist to the bottom of your pots before glazing.
    Apply wax resist to the bottom of your pots before glazing. Photo © 2009 Beth E Peterson

    Wax resists, wax emulsions, and actual melted wax itself are all used in pottery. The function of the wax resist is to keep liquids, such as raw liquid glazes, from adhering to the clay body of a pot. The most common use for wax resists is also the most practical.

    Any speck of glaze material on the bottom of a pot can cause it to weld to the kiln shelf during firing. Even washing the bottom of a pot off after glazing is not enough to keep pots safe for this fate. Therefore, most potters apply wax...MORE resist to the bottoms of their pots before beginning the glazing process. It is very easy to rush this part of the process in your haste to glaze, but it's incredibly important to make sure you wax your pieces as neatly and thoroughly as possible, so as not to ruin your work or your kiln. 

    To Wax Your Pots' Bottoms

    Use a brush or sponge that you don't care about if it gets ruined. Coat the bottom and up the sides of the pot one quarter of an inch. Again, it is important to take your time, if you wax any less than a quarter of an inch you run the risk of your glaze running down the pot and onto the kiln shelf. After waxing, allow the resist to dry thoroughly. If the coating seems thin, apply a second coat of wax resist. Allow the resist to dry completely before applying glazes to the pot. After glazing, wipe any beads of glaze material off the bottom and bottom edge of your pot. The wax resist will fire off the pot in the kiln.

    Tip: Commercial wax resists and wax emulsions are much easier to use than melted wax. Many can be washed out of brushes or sponges with warm soap and water. Check product directions for further information on how to use specific products.

    Tip: Avoid air bubbles in the wax resist. Air bubbles result in thin areas of resist and can lead to unwanted glaze adherence.

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  • 02 of 05

    Apply Wax Resist Over the Clay Body for Decoration

    Apply wax resist over a clay body for decorative effect.
    Apply wax resist over a clay body for decorative effect. The wax resist will leave an area of the clay body unglazed. Photo © 2009 Beth E Peterson

    One decorative effect you can do with wax resist is to apply it over an area of clay body. Before applying the wax resist, make certain that the pot is clean and dust-free. Have your design idea firmly in mind. (You may want to sketch it out on paper, first.)

    Wax resist is generally clear. The design you create may be very hard to see until the glaze has been applied. A nice idea is use a stencil to carefully wax resist any areas you do not want to be glazed. 

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  • 03 of 05

    Apply Glaze Over Decorative Wax Resist

    As you apply the glaze over the wax resist, the glaze will roll off the waxed areas.
    As you apply the glaze over the wax resist, the glaze will roll off the waxed areas. Photo © 2009 Beth E Peterson

    After the decorative application of wax resist has dried, the pot can be glazed. The glaze will not adhere to the waxed areas, leaving the decorative design as an unglazed area. You can be as creative as you like with this process, from simple spots or stripes to intricate designs. 

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  • 04 of 05

    Completed Pot Decorated with Wax Resist and Glaze

    A completed pot showing the finished decoration using wax resist and glaze.
    A completed pot showing the finished decoration using wax resist and glaze. Photo © 2009 Beth E Peterson

    Here we see a completed pot that has been decorated with a simple wax resist and glaze. It also shows how it can look great with a variety of colors

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  • 05 of 05

    Apply Wax Resist Over Slip for Decoration

    Apply wax resist over slip for another decoration alternative in your pottery.
    Apply wax resist over slip for another decoration alternative in your pottery. Photo © 2009 Beth E Peterson

    You can push the idea of wax resists ever further. For example, you can use wax resists in conjunction with slips and underglazes, as well as glazes. In the example above, the pot was first decorated with a colored slip. After the slip had dried, wax resist was applied on top of it to form a protective barrier against the glaze.

    The result is a "window" through the glaze, revealing the slip and also a rim of unglazed, unaltered clay body. This use of layering adds further dimension to the...MORE decorative motif.

    Enjoy the exploration of wax resists and how they can aid you, both in practical terms but also in terms of pottery decoration and ceramic artistic expression. Wax resists are not only practical but a great way of letting your imagination run wild in decorating.