Ceramics have been a part of everyday life since almost the beginning of civilization. We have pottery and other types of ceramics that have survived from nations and people who lived more than 10,000 years ago. Ceramics from long ago tell us a great deal about the daily habits and culture of the people they belonged to. That is why so much care is taken in archaeological digs to preserve and restore discovered ceramics.
Yet, they were not only a tool of ancient civilizations-we use them even today in the form of bowls, cups, vases, and various artistic statues and figurines. And if any of these happen to be particularly valuable or sentimental to us, we want to do all we can to restore the ceramics to their original state.
Ceramic restoration can take many different forms and different methods are employed depending on the type and age of the ceramic piece. For example, the goal of restoration of centuries old or even millennia-old pottery is to make as few changes to the original construction as possible, to preserve as much information about the ceramic as possible.
Restoration projects have included the use of things like garlic and mulberry juices, tree saps, and insect resins like shellac. Some restorers have also used glues ceramic mug made from fish or animal hides to reconstruct ancient pottery. As far back as the 1500s, the Chinese were devised adhesive recipes to repair porcelain ceramics. Their sticky potions included ingredients like egg white, wheat gluten and line, and bamboo resin.
One of the problems with using adhesives today on ceramic restoration projects is that adhesives will inevitably turn yellow or lose their adhesive properties after many years. If you are trying to repair an object for practicality’s sake, this may not be a problem, but if your object has much more important aesthetic importance, it is not always acceptable to use an adhesive that will become discolored or crystallized after 30 years or so.
In addition to adhesives, mechanical repair techniques can be used in ceramic restoration. One such ancient method is to drill holes on both sides of the crack or break and to feed through some sort of string or strap to bind the pieces together. When the exact look of the piece is not the main focus, but more the functionality of the object, the ceramic restoration can be conducted by adding other materials to fill the role of the missing pieces.
For example, silver tea spouts and pewter handles on teapots and pitchers were often the result of accidental breaks in the every day ceramics. Some mechanical repairs were still very much in vogue up to the last century. Metal riveting, lacing, and doweling were some of the most common methods.
Today, in order to make an ideal ceramic restoration, the first step is to thoroughly clean the pottery surfaces, especially the area at the break or crack. In order to get rid of stains and impurities, the use of lasers, steam wands, mild acids, alkalis, and some specialized detergents can be very useful. You may be surprised how much paying attention to this initial cleaning process can contribute to a successful ceramic restoration and reduce the need for re-restorations in the future.