Earthenware, Stoneware, and Porcelain Materials

Earthenware, Stoneware, and Porcelain Materials
Porcelain Teapot - Mondoro

Clearing Up the Confusion on Earthenware, Stoneware, and Porcelain Materials.

Whenever anyone talks about earthenware. stoneware or porcelain pottery or ceramics there can be a lot of confusion about what each product is and how they are used. Each one has some similarities but also some unique differences.

Earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain are all made by various clays and then fired. The kind of clay that is used and the temperature they are fired at can make a difference as to how soft or hard the actual end product is. Though they can all seem to be similar they are in fact all very different materials and products.

Porcelain Bowl
Porcelain Bowl – Mondoro

Earthenware

Earthenware is also a very broad term that is used for different kinds of objects made out of pottery.

The Oxford Dictionary defines earthware as:

“Pottery made of clay fired to a porous state which can be made impervious to liquids by the use of a glaze.”

Oxford Dictionary

Earthenware is a kind of pottery than can usually hold liquids when it has a glaze applied to it. But what can get confusing here is that some earthenware may not have a glaze on it.

Earthenware is usually what basic clay building bricks are made out of. If you ever see a brick that is unglazed and has gotten wet you can see that the water or liquid can soak into the brick. Earthenware is usually quite soft so that you can take a knife and you can scratch it.

Terracotta is a kind of earthenware. It is a clay that can be glazed or unglazed but the fired body is porous. This means it can also crack or break easily.

Because of this earthenware can also be fired at very low temperature and even as low as 600 C or in a very primitive firing pit for some kind of earthenware but is usually fired at 1000 C.

Earthenware has been around for a long time. It has been found in Ancient Greek and Roman pottery and also ancient East Asian and European pottery.

Stoneware

Stoneware is also a very broad term that is used for pottery and other ceramics. It can get confusing as stoneware is generally not a term that is recognized in the traditional East Asian pottery, The Oxford Dictionary defines stoneware as:

“A type of pottery which is impermeable and partly vitrified but opaque.”

oxford dictionary

Stoneware is a kind of pottery that has been fired so that it can hold liquids, but unlike glass, you can not see through it.

The Oxford Dictionary defines vitrified as:

“Convert (something) into glass or a glasslike substance, typically by exposure to heat.”

Oxford dictionary

There are five basic types of stoneware. Each of the stoneware categories is:

  • Traditional Stoneware – This is a dense and usually inexpensive body that is opaque and can be any color. When broken it will break into a conchoidal or stony looking fracture.
  • Fine Stoneware – made from carefully selected, prepared and blended stoneware raw materials. It is usually used to produce tableware and art ware.
  • Chemical Stoneware – This is stoneware that is used specifically in the chemical industry. The stoneware would be resistant to chemicals or other substances.
  • Thermal Shock Resistant Stoneware – This stoneware has certain materials added to it to enhance the thermal shock resistance of the stoneware body.
  • Electrical Stoneware – Stoneware made specifically to use for mainly electrical insulators.

Porcelain

Porcelain like earthenware and stoneware is also a ceramic material made by heating clay at a high temperature. The porcelain material is fired at a higher temperature than the other two clays and techniques.

Kaolin is the main material that porcelain is made from and then mixed with other materials. Those other materials will be according to what kind of porcelain is being produced. Other raw materials used in porcelain can include feldspar, ball clay, glass, bone ash, steatite, quartz, petuntse, and alabaster.

Many factories that have been making porcelain for a long time will have their own recipes for the clay. How much of each of these materials they will put into the clay will depend on their own traditional recipe.

Porcelain is a relatively tough material, but also translucent compared to other kinds of pottery as earthenware or stoneware. There is vitrification that takes place when the clays are fired at these high temperatures.

Porcelain originated in China. That is why the name “china” is also another name for porcelain. Porcelain has a long history in China, as it started production in 196 AD.

There are three kinds of porcelain known as hard-paste porcelain, soft-paste porcelain, and bone china. Here is some information about each of these.

  • Hard-paste porcelain – Hard-paste porcelain is a porcelain clay that is fired at 1400 degrees Celsius. This is used a lot in Japanese porcelain and much of the very fine porcelain around the world.
  • Soft-paste porcelain – Soft-paste porcelain is porcelain that is fired at 1200 degrees Celsius. Soft-paste porcelain is not as tough or hard as hard-paste porcelain.
  • Bone- China – Bone china was originally developed in England to compete with the Chinese imported porcelain. Bone-china is considered soft-paste porcelain that includes bone ash and as one of its ingredients.

Comparison Between Earthenware, Stoneware, and Porcelain

Below is a chart that outlines the difference between earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. As you can see from the chart the porcelain is fired at the highest temperature and earthenware at the lowest.

EarthenwareStonewarePorcelain
Firing Temperatures1000C (1830F) to 1200C (2190F)1000C (2100F) to 1300C (2370C)!200C (2190F) to 1400 C (2550F)
HardnessCan scratch and breakResists ScratchingVery Hard to Scratch
VitrifiedNoPartly VitrifiedVitrification
Clay ColorsUsually darkerUsually grey or brownish colorUsually White or Cream but there is Black Porcelain

Conclusion

Even though many people may use the words earthenware, stoneware and porcelain interchangeably they are really very different kinds of pottery. Each of them has its own unique qualities and uses.

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