How Do You Find Clay in The Wild? (Quick Facts)

Have you ever crossed your mind about how it is to work with your own clay? There is something special in local clay and its impurity. Clays that you dig from nature can make wonderful slips and slip glazes if you experiment with firing temperature and fire them at a bit higher temperature than usual. But where can we find raw clay in nature? Does it need some special treatment? We will answer those questions in this article plus many more tips.

Clay can be found in places like river banks, streams, construction sites and to identify it from other soil we can use a simple technique of modeling with our fingers. If it is sticky, great chances are that we found clay.

Clay freshly dug from nature can have an interesting texture and would be a good choice for some spectacular pottery. But can we make pottery straight after digging our material? The answer is no because we need to process it first, and we also need to know at what temperature can be fired/ We will talk about processing clay a bit later, but first let’s find out how to find local clay.

Where Is Clay Found And How To Find Local Clay?

Ancient people made their pottery wherever they moved and lived. That means the material must be very well spread around the world. Actually, 80 percent of the world’s land contains clay and there could be a good chance you will have some at your “doorstep” but you just need to know where to look and what to look.

Some of the best places to look for clay include:

  • River banks
  • Streams
  • Construction sites
  • Beaches

Where Is Clay Found And How To Find Local Clay?

Ancient people made their pottery wherever they moved and lived. That means the material must be very well spread around the world. Actually, 80 percent of the world’s land contains clay and there could be a good chance you will have some at your “doorstep” but you just need to know where to look and what to look.

The reason why we found it in these places is that clay is the finest and smallest particle size in most common sediments. That means it is only deposited in the calmest, barely moving of depositional environments or completely still water.

As a result of this, the best places to find clay are along floodplains of rivers and streams or on the bottoms of ponds, lakes, and seas. Even if these features existed millions of years ago, long after the water is gone the clay will remain where it was left behind. 

Rivers migrate laterally over time, and sometimes even disappear, so we can find clay deposits in flat areas where rivers used to be back in the past and also in the banks of a currently flowing river. 

The clay could have been deposited thousands of years ago when the river was located a mile away, and the clay got cut into when it migrated into its current location.

For all of you who like spending the day outdoors, searching for clay could be a nice activity that includes some physical activity like hiking and exploring.

If you are entering something that may be private land or maybe a construction area, make sure that you have written permission from the owner before you step on the land and start digging.

Of course, you have to stay away from digging in National parks because it is often forbidden to interfere with the natural process of the plants and disturbing animals. 

Some basic tools for clay digging would be a shovel and a bucket to take your clay home with you. 

>> Related: Where is Pottery Found?

What Does Clay Look Like In Nature?

There are several indicators, and they are all pretty much unique, from crackled texture and hard chunks when dry, to soft plastic texture when wet. Also, the color of the clay can be different from area to area, and it goes from light gray, dark gray, brown, orange, olive to red cream and ocher.

Red Dirt Clay

Going to clay searching right after rain will give you the best results because that way you can try material with your fingers if it is  Soft, plastic texture when wet just like it needs to be. 

Wet clay is much easier to recognize in nature, and you can make a simple test for plasticity when you are out there.

Grab some soil in your hand and try rolling a little coil in U shape in your hands then see if you can bend that coil around your finger. If your shape cracks easily, it is not plastic enough but if it bends easily around your finger, that sounds like good material for future use.

A plastic clay is a very good material to take home and try making some nice craft out of it.

Do not confuse too dry with not plastic, if the soil is dry you need to pour some water to make this test. Otherwise, both of them will crack. 

When hunting clay on a dry day you need to pay attention to surface cracks because in this dry form the upper surface cracks will be very clear and distinctive cracks. If you crush this dry clay in hand it breaks into particles that have sharp edges and flat surfaces, it is highly likely that you found clay.

Another test you can do is scratch those dry chunks with your fingernail and if you can see marks, that is your clay.

In warmer climates’ clay would be red in the ground because the iron has oxidized. When firing such clay, you will have to experiment a little with temperatures because if you fire it at a very high temperature, clay could end as a molten mass.

>> Related: Wet Clay: 15 Things You Need to Know About It

How Deep Do You Have To Dig To Find Clay?

In nature clay can be found exposed – without vegetation cover, or soil can be covered with leaves, roots, branches etc.

Look at the ground and observe how the humus and the soil look like, usually vegetation cover is 10-30 cm deep. After that, we can find rocks, sand, or clay. 

Can You Find Clay At The Beach?

Clay can be found on the beach even though  it might look like sand is covering everything. But if you do a bit of digging, clay could be underneath. 

beach

After we dig clay straight from the ground, we need to remove unwanted material such as rocks and roots .

Sieving is the best choice and can be done in 2 ways:

  • pulverized when dry and then sieved
  • dried, slaked down in water, then sieved

For the best result and fine working clay, we can use a 50-mesh screen. Everything above 80 will turn our clay into the dust which is not great for modeling. Once the clay has been cleaned and slaked down, you will want to bring it back to a working consistency.

Almost any clay you find at the surface will be earthenware because most other clays must be mined using machinery.

You will need to run tests on your clay to find out what temperature range you can fire your pieces so keep the record for all results to avoid any unnecessary cracks in the future and start experimenting.

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