How Can I Repair Chipped or Cracked Pottery?

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How Can I Repair Chipped or Cracked Pottery?

It happens; a child bumps a table and the pottery holding the flowers falls and breaks. Sometimes, the damage is devastating, causing the piece to be unsalvageable. Other times, however, the piece just chips or only a small piece or two breaks off. In these cases, the piece of pottery can be saved by affecting a repair process. However, pottery owners need to know when and why to repair a piece at home, or have it sent in for professional repair; professionals are capable of repairs that are not often able to be done at home because of their expertise and practice in the art form.

If the pottery owner deems the repair job a home repair project, then the steps to fixing chips and breaks at home involve only a few simple steps and only a couple simple products, but much patience is involved. The products involved can be found almost anywhere, particularly big box hardware stores, but online retailers like eBay offer a large selection of items at great prices; something one should at least check out before purchasing supplies.

Professional Repair vs. Home Repair

Many broken or chipped pottery items can be fixed at home with relative ease. Basic pottery repair is a somewhat simple process involving a choice of adhesives and some minor tools, but some pottery should not be repaired at home. Most home repairs will leave some evidence behind of the repair work, and initial pieces may not have the best results until more practice is gained. Unless one makes a habit of breaking and repairing pottery, however, practice can be difficult to come by. Therefore, with valuable pieces of pottery, such as antiques, heirloom pieces, and pieces of great sentimental value, it is often better to have the item fixed by a professional.

Capabilities of Home and Professional Repair

Most home pottery repairs typically end up looking like "museum repairs." This is when a piece of pottery is put back together but the repair work is still visible. Museum repairs do not replace chips and missing pieces and instead hold to the integrity of the original piece; other than the adhesive used, no new materials are introduced. Some home repairs can approach the "barely visible" repair mark, where the repair work may only be noticeable upon close inspection. In these cases, chips are filled in and missing pieces are replaced with hand fabricated replacements. When the item is painted with color-matched acrylic paint, the paint colors and designs are matched as closely as possible.

Most home repairs are not capable of producing the "invisible" repair, however; this is typically only accomplished by an experienced professional. A piece of pottery reaching this level of repair will look like it has never been broken, even upon close inspection. All chips and missing pieces are replaced and the cracks are laboriously filled. Painted items are color-matched and the design is carefully repaired by a professional artist.

Repair Type

Relative Cost

Description

Museum

Low

Carefully repaired using all available pieces; no pieces are replaced; cracks and chips remain visible

Barely Visible

Medium

Repair work may be visible upon close inspection; chips filled; missing pieces replaced; painting matched

Invisible

High

The item will look and feel like it was never broken; typically only achieved by an experienced professional

As the chart above shows, each repair type has its visual appeal. Just as important, however, is the impact on the finances of the owner. Some repair types can be done at home, but the "invisible" repair can often only be done by an experienced professional.

Fixing Chips and Breaks at Home

If the owner of a broken piece of pottery is not expecting "invisible" quality repairs, then there is no reason to not do the repairs at home. Some people love the look of broken pottery and "museum" repaired pottery, where the repaired piece displays the chips, cracks, and missing pieces. This can be very artistic in some household settings, especially in "wabi-sabi" decorative styled rooms and homes. The museum repair can give the pottery piece the look of an old relic found from an archeological dig that was carefully repaired and displayed; breaks, flaws, and all. This is certainly the easiest repair process, although the "barely visible" process is somewhat easy as well. The barely visible process takes much more time and skill, especially if painting is necessary.

Choosing an Adhesive

When repairing pottery, two glues stand out as the best, depending on what is being repaired. The first is polyvinyl acetate, better known as white glue. This glue dries slowly, allowing the pieces to be fiddled with and repositioned if necessary to achieve the perfect fit. When allowed to dry, polyvinyl acetate dries clear, thus helping to minimize the appearance of a repair. This glue is best used for ceramics and pottery.

The second glue used for repairs is slow drying two part epoxy glue. This glue starts clear and dries clear. Five minute epoxy glue and so-called instant epoxy glue should not be used, as this does not allow enough time to fiddle with pieces to achieve a perfect fit. The temptation should be resisted to rush the repair process, or the results will not look as good as they could. This glue is best used for ironstone, porcelain, and glass pieces.

Planning the Repair

This is a step that many home pottery repairers forget to do, but it is essential and simple. The broken pieces should be laid out in a pattern that closely resembles the finished piece. If working on a three-dimensional piece, like a vase, the pieces that are broken off should be placed on the table in front of the object and arranged together as if they are going back in. This gives the repairer a good visual of the pieces and allows him or her to decide what order to assemble the pieces in. Clean any surfaces from dust and debris, and practice fitting each piece together, taking care not to cause more damage to the edges.

Preparing the Surface

Each piece should be cleaned using a mild dishwashing soap and warm water to remove any oils and grime from the repair surfaces. An old toothbrush or a soft scrubbing pad can be used gently to loosen any stuck on grime. When clean, rinse thoroughly and allow to dry completely; the drying process can take up to a full day depending on the material being repaired. When in doubt, wait a full day. Many people recommend wearing thick rubber gloves to protect the hands from cuts, but this can make it difficult to handle the pieces with dexterity and without dropping them. However, latex free gloves, such as exam gloves, offer some protection to the fingers while preventing the oils on the hands from rubbing off onto the pieces. From this point until the repair is finished, exam gloves should be worn for this very reason.

Applying Adhesive

The adhesive should be applied as thinly as possible to both sides of the break. This helps to prevent the adhesive from seeping out the edges onto the surface when the two pieces are tightly pressed together. If too much glue is applied and seepage happens, the resulting piece may end up looking like a grade school art project rather than a high quality repair job. To aid the application of adhesive, a small paintbrush or a small disposable brush can be used. The thinner the glue is applied, the better, but the faster the glue dries.

Repairing Missing Chips and Pieces

Repairing chips is a simple process involving epoxy putty and acrylic paint. A small amount of epoxy putty can be cut off and rolled around in the hand until it is pliable, and then pressed into the depression of the chip. Once firmly in place, it can be smoothed out with the fingers and allowed to dry for 24 hours or more. When fully cured, the piece can be sanded smooth until the edges do not show and the surface is level with the rest of the pottery. Then the repair can be painted to the same color as the surrounding pottery.

Repairing a small missing piece is a similar process. More epoxy putty is needed, and once softened it is molded into the shape of the missing piece and applied to the space, pressed firmly against the broken edges to adhere. Once allowed to fully cure for 24 to 48 hours, the piece should be sanded out. There may need to be some depressions filled in with a second coat of putty. Once fully cured and sanded, the repair can be painted.

Finding Pottery Repair Supplies on eBay

eBay makes finding supplies for pottery repair simple and easy. Very little is needed, and all one really needs to do is perform a simple search on eBay using the keyword search tool found on every page. Searches such as "white glue," "epoxy putty," and "acrylic paint" produce numerous results to peruse. In many cases, however, the results displayed are littered with items related to the search term but not anything close to what the buyer is looking for. In this case, the buyer can use eBay’s filter tools to narrow down search results to items more specific to his or her needs.

Asking Questions

Although not likely with pottery repair supplies, sometimes buyers need to ask the seller a question that is not answered in the product’s description, the seller’s return policy, or the shipping information. In these cases, buyers can use the "Ask a question" link found in the products "Questions and answers" section. This allows the buyer to send an email directly to the seller with his or her specific question. Buyers are also given an option to have a copy of the message sent to themselves for records.

Conclusion

Breaking or chipping a piece of pottery is not always the end of the world. In many cases, pottery can be repaired in one of several looks; the museum look, the barely visible look, and the invisible repair. Deciding on when to do a repair at home or when to send the piece in to a professional is not a difficult process; the owner simply needs to determine if the piece is valuable or sentimental, if one thinks the process is doable with his or her skill level, and what quality of repair is needed. If a home repair is indeed the way to go, fixing chips, breaks, and small missing pieces is an easy process once the correct adhesive is determined. The largest investment will definitely be time, as there may be several drying processes that can take up to a day each. Finding the supplies to affect a home pottery repair is easy, with eBay making this process even simpler and possibly less expensive.

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