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Glaze or Acrylic - The Finish?

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I now offer two methods of finishing for my ocarinas.  You can order a kiln fired glaze, or you can order an acrylic finish.  What's the difference, and what are the pros and cons of each type?  This is information you should know before making that decision.

What do I mean by "Finish"?

The finish is both the cosmetic look of the ocarina, and it also serves the important purpose of sealing and protecting the ocarina.  A well used and often played ocarina must be able to withstand the constant handling, and constant exposure to the moisture from the players mouth and breath, as well as the oils from the players hands.  The finish refers to whatever is done to provide that final look and protective seal. 

Kiln Fired Glaze

Most ceramic objects that we are familiar with have a kiln fired glazed finish.  Think of your favorite ceramic coffee mug, or perhaps a ceramic vase.  The surface may be glossy and slick, like glass, or it maybe rough and natural.  If it has any color or texture at all, it's been glazed.

Glazes are a special kind of paint that have to be melted onto the surface of fired clay.  The clay I use for my ocarinas is a white earthenware that is fired to about 1950 degrees Fahrenheit (1065 Celsius).  Then the glaze is painted on, and the ocarina is fired a second time at 1850 degrees Fahrenheit (1010 Celsius).   At those temperatures, the glaze melts into the surface of the ceramic creating a permanent, and highly durable, protective coating.    

The glazes that I use are all marked as "dinnerware safe", meaning they are suitable for glazing dishes that one could prepare or serve food in or eat from.  That is important for an object that spends most of it's time pressed against your lips the way an ocarina does.  

Glazes come in a wide variety of colors and textures, however, they cost about five times as much as simple acrylic paint.  It is simply not feasible for an independent maker like myself to maintain a large variety of glazes.  Glazes also look much different before firing than they do afterward, so it is often very difficult to know exactly what the glaze will look like until it's fired.  

So I have experimented with and chosen a few that I like and think are suitable for an ocarina.  

Here are examples of some of the kiln fired glazes that I offer.

 

Acrylic Paint and Sealer

The other option for an ocarina finish is a much simpler process, although it takes about three times longer to complete than glazing and firing.  Acrylic paints are very inexpensive, are available in almost every conceivable color at any crafts store, are safe and non-toxic, and easy to apply.

With a little creativity an enormous variety of colors, patterns, and painting techniques can be used to decorate an ocarina.  Unlike glaze, there is no guessing what the final colors will look like, so colors can be mixed and layered, sponged or splattered, to create whatever the customer desires. As long as it is achievable with my limited artistic talent.  I'm afraid if you want the Mona Lisa reproduced on your ocarina, you're out of luck.        

My favorite ocarina decorating technique involves layered patterns of complementary colors, usually three colors in three or four layers, with patterns created by sponging.   

Here are some examples of acrylic painted ocarinas. 

 

Shellac (No longer used on Hamlett ocarinas.)

Unprotected acrylic paint wouldn't last a week by itself.  So to protect the painted surface, and provide that seal against dirt and moisture, the ocarina is coated with a sealant.  Until November of 2013, I used shellac on all of the painted ocarinas I produced.   

Traditionally, ocarina makers have relied on shellac as a sealant.  Many Italian style ocarinas are simply coated with shellac without painting.  Shellac is an all natural product made from the secretions of the lac beetle.  It is non-toxic and food safe, often used as a coating for candy or vitamin pills. 

However, safe as it is, shellac has many downsides.  It is not a very durable sealant.  It is not completely impervious to moisture, and it will wear off with constant handling.  It dissolves in alcohol, so if the ocarina comes it contact with anything that contains alcohol or ammonia, such as glass cleaner, it will be ruined.  Shellac is not very heat resistant, it can soften or even melt off if left in your car on a Summer day.  Shellac will often sag over time, and on an ocarina that means the shellac could sag into the wind-way making the instrument unplayable.  Ocarinas with a shellac finish will require careful attention and will inevitably need to be refinished at some point. 

I have always felt a little apprehensive about selling ocarinas with a shellac sealant despite the fact that it is so widely used for ocarinas by other makers.  For this reason, I stopped offering acrylic painted ocarinas for sale once I was able to produce the kiln fired glazes, except by special request.    

Water Based Acrylic Lacquer

Since November 2013, I have used a non-toxic water based acrylic lacquer that utilizes advanced polymer resins to create a crystal clear, durable gloss coating.  The acrylic lacquer finish resolves most of the problems that occur with shellac.  It is much more durable and will most likely last the lifetime of the ocarina without needing a refinish.  It is not affected by alcohol or glass cleaners, it is impervious to moisture, and heat resistant.  However, it is still susceptible to physical damage such as scratches.    

With this new sealant option, I no longer have any reservations about providing an acrylic finish, and I have reintroduced them as an option on the website. 

Summary

So that's everything you need to know to make an informed decision regarding what ocarina finish to order.  Here are the quick descriptions of each finish, and a little table to help summarize the important points of the kiln fired glaze versus the acrylic and lacquer options.

Acrylic and Lacquer: The ocarina is painted with non-toxic acrylic paints and sealed with a non-toxic, water based, acrylic lacquer that utilizes advanced polymer resins to create a crystal clear, durable gloss coating.

Kiln Fired Glaze: The ocarina is kiln fired to over 1000 degrees Celsius with a dinnerware safe ceramic glaze producing a surface that is permanent and highly durable.

Finish options summary
Finish TypeProsCons
 Kiln Fired Glaze
  • Highly durable, practically indestructible 
  • Will last forever
  • Matte textures available
  • Limited colors available
  • May have slight imperfections
 Acrylic and Lacquer
  • Colors are brighter and more vivid
  • More interesting patterns
  • All colors or color combinations available
  • Only one surface texture - gloss
  • Not as durable - can be scratched or dulled