Plaster Mixing 101: How to Mix Plaster for Ceramic Molds

Guy Michael Davis shows how to pour plaster to make a mold for pottery.

Whether you need a drying bat, a simple hump mold, or you’re making a complex mold for slipcasting, you’ll need to mix plaster. Getting the plaster right can be a little challenging if you are new to it. So today we are hoping to give you all the resources to help you better understand and use this essential pottery studio tool. In this video clip, an excerpt from his video, Fundamentals of Mold Making and Slipcasting, Guy Michael Davis walks us through the steps for mixing plaster and pouring a one piece mold.

We’ve also included what we think are the 10 Steps for Success with Plaster as well as the handy dandy Plaster to Water Mixing Chart below. Having all of these resources in one place, should make your next plaster project a piece of cake. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


For great mold making techniques, be sure to download your free copy of Ceramic Mold Making Techniques: Tips for Making Plaster Molds and Slip Casting Clay, Volume II.


10 Steps for Success with Plaster

1. Prepare your mold. A common mistake of potters is to mix plaster only to realize everything’s not set up for pouring. Before casting, make sure your model is set, the mold boards or cottle are secure, and all the surfaces you’re pouring onto are coated with a parting agent such as mold soap.

2. Prepare your work area. You will need a clean mixing container for the plaster, a scale for weighing the plaster, a measuring cup for the water and a rinse bucket. Note: Plaster cannot be permitted to go down the drain, because it will form a rocklike mass. Even small amounts will accumulate over time. Line a rinse bucket with a plastic garbage bag and fill it with water for rinsing your hands and tools. Allow the plaster to settle for a day, then pour off the water and discard the bag.

3. Use fresh water. The mixing water you use should be at room temperature or 70°F (21°C). If the water is too warm, the plaster will set too fast and vice versa. Use only clean, drinkable tap water or distilled water. Metallic salts, such as aluminum sulfate, can accelerate the setting time, and soluble salts can cause efflorescence on the mold surface.

4. Use fresh plaster. Plaster is calcined, meaning chemically bound water has been driven off through heating. If the plaster has been sitting around in a damp environment, it will have lumps in it, in which case it is no longer usable. Pitch it. Use plaster that has been stored dry and is lump free.

5. Weigh out materials. Do not guess about the amounts of plaster and water you’ll need. Once you start the mixing process, you do not want to go back and adjust quantities. To determine the amount you need, estimate the volume in cubic inches then divide by 231 to give gallons or by 58 to give quarts. Deduct 20% to allow for the volume of plaster, then refer to the table.

6. Add plaster to water. Slowly sift the plaster onto the surface of the water. Do not dump the plaster or toss it in by handfuls. Adding the plaster shouldn’t take more than 3 minutes.

7. Soak the plaster. Allow the plaster to soak for 1-2 minutes maximum. The soaking allows each plaster crystal to be completely surrounded by water and it removes air from the mix. Small batches require less soaking than large batches. If the soaking time is too short, it may contribute to pinholes; and if it is too long, it will contribute to fast set times, early stiffening and gritty mold surfaces.

8. Mix the plaster. Small batches of plaster can be mixed by hand. Use a constant motion with your hand and you will notice a change in consistency from watery to a thick cream. Break down lumps with your fingers as you mix. Mix only for a minute or two being very careful not to agitate the mixture so much that air bubbles are incorporated into the mix. Mixing time affects absorption rates-longer mixing times produce tighter and less-absorptive molds.

9. Pouring the plaster. After mixing, tap the bucket on a hard surface to release trapped air. Pour the plaster carefully. Wherever possible, pour plaster carefuly into the deepest area so the slurry flows evenly across the surface of the mold. Once the mold is poured, tap the table with a rubber mallet to vibrate the mold and release more air bubbles.

10. Drying plaster. When plaster sets, it heats up because of a chemical reaction. When it has cooled, it is safe to remove the cottles or forms-about 45 minutes to an hour after pouring. Molds must be dry before use. Drying molds properly promotes good strength development, uniform absorption and reduced efflorescence. Dry molds evenly. Don’t set them near a kiln where one side is exposed to excessive heat or the relative humidity is near zero. Place them on racks in a relatively dry location away from drafts.

Water to Plaster Mixing Chart

Click to enlarge!

Click to enlarge!

This table is based on USG(r) No. 1 Pottery Plaster mixed to a consistency of 73 (73 parts water to 100 parts plaster) recommended for most studio applications. Excessive water yields a more porous but more brittle mold, and less water means a very dense, hard mold that will not absorb water.

**First published in September 2008
Comments
  • Hi and thank you for posting the video which is a very effective way to demonstrate working with plaster. However, working with plaster without gloves and safety goggles. Perhaps, using a drill with “Jiffy Mixer” will be safer. See safety specs in the link below.

    http://www.freemansupply.com/MSDS/usgMSDS/no1pottery.pdf

    Also, bobbles can be removes easily by using alcohol spray at different stages. Some details are in the next link below.

    http://www.lakesidepottery.com/HTML%20Text/Tips/Making%20Wedging%20Table.htm

    Kindly, Morty and Patty

  • Just wondering what a cottle is – it is mentioned in the notes below. Is it something to do with the outer edge that stops the plaster from leaking out. As an Australian we probably use a different word for the same thing. By the way when I was taught to mix plaster it was using this method to mix plaster as well, with the dry crusts forming on top of the water. What I didnt realise is that you could walk away for a few minutes and let it absorb some more – great to see another person explaining method.

  • Does anyone know of a different product to make molds? We have moved to a humid climate and plaster is impossible to find. Would cement without the sand work? Any ideas anyone?

  • You’ve noted the water-to-plaster ratio backwards. It should be 73 parts water to 100 parts plaster. For example: 1 quart of water ( which weighs 946 grams) is added to 1293 grams of plaster making a 73 parts water to 100 parts plaster ratio.

  • Hi there,

    I found a mould maker 1/5 of the price in Taiwan who does a great work but I need to ship these moulds back to Montrea, Canadal either by air or sea. Do you know if the air pressure and temperature of the plane will affect my mould?

    Thank you,

    Chifen

  • Chifen Cheng – would you mind sharing the name or website or phone number of the mold maker you found in Taiwan? I will be moving there in a few months and would love to work with him. Does he speak any English? Thank you in advance!!

  • Hi,
    I enjoyed your video,it’s very helpful.As I’m a newbie in pottery,I have a question about the quantity of plaster needed to make molds ie; a soup bowl,dinner plate,dessert plate, a coffee tumbler etc. Is there an easy way to measure the amount of plaster required? Thanks.

  • I live in a warm humid climate and don’t have too many issues with setting using these materials. In the heat of summer I have at least once, made a Bain Marie of refrigerated water that I sit my mixing bowl into and this really helps.

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