Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Cordierite/Mullite vs. pizza stones or tiles

Description of the materials

Cordierite refractory shelves are generally combined with mullite to achieve low expansion rates.  These are most often manufactured as solid slabs, although there is an extruded version with hollow channels along the length, given the trade name corelite.

Cordierite is magnesium, iron and aluminium in a cyclosilicate form (or rings of tetrahedra).  It is named after its discoverer, Louis Cordier, who identified it in 1813.

cordierite/mullite shelves

Mullite is combined with cordierite in small amounts to increase strength and reduce the amount of expansion. It does this through the formation of needle shapes that interlock and resist thermal shock. It also provides mechanical strength.

Mullite was first described in 1924 and named for an occurrence on the Isle of MullScotland, although it occurs elsewhere, usually in conjunction with volcanic deposits.   

Pizza Stones and Tiles
Pizza stones are a variant of baking stones where the food is placed on (sometimes heated) stones.  Baking stones are a variation on hot stone cooking, one of the oldest cooking techniques. The stones are normally unglazed tiles of varying thicknesses.  What is said of pizza stones also applies to tiles.


Pizza stones  

Ceramic tiles and pizza stones are essentially the same things.  Some tiles may be thinner, especially if they are not large. In both cases, the ceramic is a poor heat conductor and the thermal mass means care needs to be taken in rapid heating and cooling of tiles and of baking stones. These are dry pressed which give a coarser surface texture than cast shelves.  All these ceramics are generally fired at about 1100C, so they can withstand kiln forming temperatures.  They are adequate as small shelves, but will deform over larger areas over time.

Cordierite-Mullite kiln shelves and furniture.

This formulation of materials has an extremely low coefficient of thermal expansion that explains the outstanding thermal shock resistance of these kiln furniture materials. They are also strong although heavy. Cordierite/mullite shelves are sintered, to allow the mullite needles to form, and fired at 1400C+, higher than tiles (which are most often fired at about 1100C).

This material can be cast, dry pressed or extruded. 

Cast shelves are the cheapest of the methods and provides a smooth surface.  These are used for kilnforming glass, and low temperature ceramic firing. 

Dry pressed shelves have a higher temperature resistance than cast. For this reason, these are often marketed as ceramic shelves, even though the cast shelves are fine for smaller areas.  These are more expensive than the cast shelves.

Corelite, a brand name for extruded shelves with hollow channels, is often used where larger shelves are required, as the weight is less than the solid cordierite. Extruded shelves are ground smooth after forming.

pizza stones


Pizza Stones and Tiles
Due to the thermal mass of pizza stones and the material's property as a poor heat conductor, care must be taken when firing.  Firing quickly can break the stone or tile.  The stone or tile should be fired slowly to just under the boiling point and soaked for a couple of hours to eliminate any dampness in the material.  This probably should be done each time kiln wash is applied.  Because it is porous, a baking stone or tile will absorb any liquid applied, including detergent. They should be cleaned with a dry brush and then plain water if further cleaning is necessary.

Pizza stones and tiles should be checked for having straight and level surfaces. It is not a priority for these to have flat surfaces as for glass and ceramics shelves.  If by placing a straight edge on the surface you can see slivers of light, the shelf needs to be smoothed.  You can do this by grinding two of the proposed shelves together with a bit of coarse grit between.  This best done wet to avoid the dust getting into the air.

Cordierite/mullite shelves do not need this level of preparation, unless they have been stored outside.  It is possible to kiln wash and air dry for a few hours before placing glass on the shelf and firing.  This difference is the low rate of expansion (CoLE 19, if you are interested).

corelite shelves

The extruded corelite shelves are made with cordierite/mullite, but are more delicate due to the hollow channels along their length.  They should be fired slowly to just under the boiling point of water to eliminate the moisture.  It should be fired to 540C with a pause before going to the top temperature.  The shelf should be supported at 30cm intervals under the shelf to minimise breakage.  The whole surface of the shelf should be filled rather than having just one heavy piece; again this is to minimise breakage.