Reclaiming Clay

This week in the studio, our Urban Artisans have been going through the process of reclaiming clay. That is the proper term for recycling clay that is unworkable.

Bucket full of saturated clay

Clay is a tricky material to work with. If it is too dry it will crack and crumble, but if it has too much moisture it will be too sticky to mold. That means it has to be just right.


We use clay on a daily basis here at ArtMix. It starts out with the right amount of moisture, but our hands and the air in the room slowly dry it out. Reclaiming the clay begins when the clay becomes unworkable.

For every 50 lbs of clay about 30 lbs of it becomes unworkable. That means if we didn’t recycle our clay 60% of it would be wasted!

Urban Artisans hold their messy hands up after molding wet clay


The reclaiming process begins by collecting dry, unworkable clay. The clay is placed in buckets of water. It takes time for the clay to absorb the moisture, so the clay soaks in the water until the bucket is full. Then the clay-and-water mixture is dumped out, and that is when things get messy (and fun).

The saturated clay is similar to thick mud. The students grab clumps of sticky clay and mold them into arches. This allows for the clay to lose excess moisture more quickly.

Arches of clay in the reclaiming process

Once the aches of clay have lost some moisture, the students take two at a time and “wedge” them together. Have you ever seen someone kneading bread dough? That is what wedging looks like! The students push the clay flat and fold it over on itself and repeat. This step helps determine if the clay has the right moisture content.

An Urban Artisan Intern molding clay into cubes

The final step is shaping the wedged clay into cubes and placing them in plastic. The plastic protects the clay from losing any more moisture. We fill the plastic bags full of clay and then store them until the clay inside is ready to be used. Material that might have been wasted is ready to be made into items you’ll find in the ArtMix Gallery!

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