You have no intentions of piecing together a dinner set based on a mix of pieces from your mother and your local thrift store. No, you are an adult now and have finally chosen to purchase a well-coordinated ceramic dinner set that matches your personality, not just your needs.
Your new dinnerware set should last you many, many years (hence the extra plates your mom gave you), so it’s important to choose a set that will appeal to you – and match your décor – no matter where you are in life. To help you decide, we’ve narrowed down the basic differences in ceramics between two of the most popular types of material: porcelain and stoneware.
Originating in China, porcelain pottery was hailed as a beautiful addition to any dinner table. It is constructed of fine clay materials and fired at extremely high temperatures resulting in a glass-like appearance. Because of the clay’s fine texture, pieces can be made very thin resulting in a translucent appearance, but this process also leaves these dishes especially prone to chips and breakage.
Though porcelain is primarily constructed of fine kaolin clay, it has also been known to be made with ground animal bone coining the term “bone china”. It may be less durable than stoneware but its beauty often outweighs this fact.
The term porcelain is used in conjunction with many kinds of ceramics including some stoneware, though the two are not necessarily the same. The biggest difference, aside from the initial texture of the clay material used for each, is the way in which each of these products is made. Whereas stoneware is fired and vitrified only once, porcelain goes through the process twice thus making it harder and less porous.
Additional advantages of porcelain include its bright white color (as opposed to the gray or tan color of stoneware) which produces brighter colors, and its ability to resist thermal shock, or the tendency of items to break or become brittle when subject to extreme temperature changes.
Stoneware is made of a variety of clay, stone and flint, making the appearance and texture of each piece unique. Often times, it is made with the addition of coarse salt in the kiln which gives it a rough appearance, but can be made to resemble the smooth texture of porcelain, as well.
Stoneware is prized for its durability and simple production. Unlike Porcelain which can be difficult to reproduce based on its original composition, stoneware does not require specific materials to bring out its beauty and increase its strength.
Stoneware also goes through a single firing process – unlike porcelain – resulting in warmer, more natural colors. This makes it easy to distinguish the two despite a similar-looking finished product. Simply turn the piece over to look at the color of the base. If it is bright white, it is porcelain, and if it is darker or murkier in tone, it is stoneware.
Additional benefits of stoneware include its amazing durability and scratch resistance, its inability to stain and its ease of cleaning. Like porcelain, it can resist thermal shock which means that it can go straight from the refrigerator to the oven and back again without cracking.
Choosing the right set of dishes doesn’t have to be difficult, but it should involve a good amount of research. Make sure you choose the best ceramic dishware set for your family by weighing all of your options including the advantages and disadvantages of stoneware versus porcelain.
Jim Emerson is the owner of Emerson Creek Pottery.