“One of the most beautiful things in life is when you have to stop what you are doing and put all your attention on the food”. Luciano Pavarotti thus sentenced the importance of cooking, an art that takes crockery as a canvas. From Labois, we wanted to dedicate this post to this ceramic canvas that has accompanied humanity for thousands of years. Today we analyse the pros and cons of choosing stoneware or porcelain tableware.
Which crockery is best?
We can find a wide range of tableware on the market, with different styles, finishes, shapes and prices. Among this wide range of options, stoneware and porcelain are the highest quality options. Unlike earthenware or earthenware ceramics -traditional and made at low temperatures-, stoneware or porcelain tableware belongs to the exclusive group of high-fired ceramics. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of each one:
In recent years, stoneware has made a strong appearance on the ceramics and handicraft market. Its high-temperature firing, close to that of porcelain, offers first-rate properties: hardness and resistance to chipping, knocks and scratches. It is also more accessible – and affordable – than porcelain since, if you are a ceramist, it is easy to find blocks of high-fired stoneware paste ready to be worked from minute one.
But the great added value of stoneware is its range of finishes. Unlike porcelain, here we find a very diverse range of colours and textures, which can also be glazed. It is also more consistent, which allows it to be worked and moulded by hand or on a lathe. Undoubtedly, it is the most recommended option for artisans looking to make high quality pieces without sacrificing creativity and at a competitive price.
But stoneware also has its limitations. First of all, the pieces are slightly heavier than porcelain and it does not allow for very thin or translucent shapes. This is because stoneware is more fragile in fine shapes. In addition to this, the high temperature firing costs make the price considerably higher, in some cases approaching that of porcelain.
Few materials offer the performance of porcelain. Its firing, at over 1300ºC, allows a higher degree of fusion than other techniques. The result is a very hard piece, lighter and more resistant to knocks and scratches than other ceramics. In addition, its composition and a firing close to vitrification, allows for very fine and semi-transparent tableware to be made. If you are looking for tableware that can withstand intensive use (restaurants, hotels, cafés…) this is one of the most traditional and recommendable options.
But making porcelain is not easy. Its preparation requires specific materials (kaolin, quartz and feldspar) in order to obtain the aqueous mass from which the pieces are made. This mass, which is more liquid than other clays, makes it very difficult to handle. For this reason, moulds – with their corresponding negative – are usually used to make cups, plates, bowls or other objects. Finally, as it is fired at very high temperatures, the time and power required by the kiln is also higher, which translates into higher energy consumption and a greater risk of wastage. All this results in ceramics that are much more expensive to produce.
On the other hand, the colour range of porcelain is very limited. Firing at very high temperatures makes it impossible to glaze with colours (the pigment is calcined), so it is only possible to use ceramic tracings or decorative techniques in a third firing. Although black porcelain is available, the ceramic shades are usually reduced to the usual white.
The textures offered by porcelain are also very limited. The most common finish is smooth, although there are manufacturers who have managed to develop soft finishes with the use of special machinery.
If you make handmade ceramics, is it better to use stoneware or porcelain?
The answer will depend on the mastery you have of each technique, the resources you have available and above all the type of ceramics you are going to make and the public you are targeting. Porcelain seems to be the most recommended option if you want to make top pieces for the hotel and catering and professional sectors. But the truth is that this is a very saturated market, with companies of all kinds (many of them with industrial production and low-skilled labour). In this market, price and delivery times are the main differentiating factors given that at a creative level the options are limited.
On the other hand, stoneware seems to be the fashionable choice. Many young craftswomen have opted for high-fired stoneware because it is a high quality, versatile and much more creative material than porcelain. The cost of producing stoneware is somewhat lower, as well as the type of kiln and its energy consumption are more affordable and can offer attractive prices for the professional and private sector.
However, in this boom in handmade ceramics, it has not taken long for industrial competitors to appear, imitating the work of ceramists. There is also low-temperature stoneware, more fragile and prone to chipping, which is often sold with the ambiguity of the word “stoneware” in the tableware market.
In short, along with the material you choose, stoneware or porcelain, it is important – and necessary – to explain what is behind each plate or cup: the manufacturing process and the craftsman’s know-how. This is an added value that, as well as giving your project an identity, can make the difference between a successful product or just another product on the market.
And for you, what type of ceramic is your favourite? Do you prefer stoneware or porcelain?
Don’t forget to leave your comment. And if you are involved in handmade ceramics, we would love to hear about your project.
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