Friday, June 24, 2011

Ceramic Repair

PLEASE NOTE: I do not offer ceramic repair services. I hope this post gives you information for doing your own repairs. Also, you can search for someone who offers ceramic repair services in your area.

Me, circa 2002

So one of the hundreds of interesting jobs I've done is ceramic repair for a restoration company. It was difficult, painstaking work but somewhat satisfying to put broken things back together again and then hide the evidence of the breakage with paint as best as we could.

When work got slow, I would go to the front office and talk to walk-in customers about what we could do to repair their broken treasures and what that would cost (a LOT). A few weeks later, I would present them with repaired pieces when they came to pick them up.

As optimistic as I had felt in the work room, mending objects and setting things to rights, I became disillusioned in the front office when I came to understand that no matter how brilliant the repair, we couldn't un-break the item. We couldn't take away the anger toward a clumsy family member, or dog, or friend, the sadness of a treasure shattered. It turned out we weren't really setting things to rights at all. Once I learned this, I couldn't un-learn it and repair lost its appeal. I moved on to another job, managing a pottery and dishware store.

But I learned repair skills that stay with me even today. And once in a while I say yes to a project for a friend as a favor. A few summers ago I repaired a yard sale find for a friend and documented it a bit. It was in many pieces and had intact old repairs that needed to be taken apart, cleaned and re-repaired.

It's important to take apart an old repair before trying to put new broken pieces back in because as each piece is fit a little wrong into the puzzle, that bad fit is compounded as more and more pieces get put in a little wrong until you can't even fit the last piece in because everything is so off.

Here is what my friend gave me to repair:

Here I have started taking apart the old repair, which fortunately had been done with something like super glue. With a glue like that, or epoxy, you can use a heat gun to warm the joins and make the glue soft, then you can gently separate the pieces.

NOTE: Silicone glue (like E6000) has no solvent, does not react to heat, therefore cannot be taken apart easily. And if you do manage to get it apart, you can never fully remove the silicone residue from the surface of the break, and therefore can never get a perfect fit again. I don't recommend it for repairs.

Once I got all the pieces apart, I carefully cleaned all the old glue off. I used a lot of X-acto blades and acetone with Q-tips, trying to get every tiny crumb.

When I felt I'd gotten the pieces as clean as possible, I did a dry run, fitting the pieces back together and holding them in place with masking tape. This does two things for me; it lets me see if I have all the pieces, and it helps me figure out the order in which I should glue the pieces. Nothing would be worse than getting to the last piece only to find I've done it out of order and I am "locked out" from inserting it!

I used a two part, 5-minute epoxy. Here are some close ups of the finished repair. I didn't fill and paint the cracks on this piece, it would have taken too long, also, I think the visible repair adds to its character.

Done! My friend was very pleased.


  1. What a spectacular blog post !

    Great photos, interesting and clear explanation.

    I am so glad you wrote this.

  2. Very cool, that turned out great!

    It was really interesting to read about your experience at that job. It really says a lot about people in general that even if a piece was repaired well, they were not able to let go of the anger.

  3. That's quite an impressive repair! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. Liz -- This is so interesting! I always learn something new from your posts. The end result after the repairs was a beautiful piece of art.

  5. I agree with all the others - such an interesting post, Liz!

  6. Wow, you must be a patient person. My husband repairs everything in our house, including broken ceramics. Probably not with the precision and care that you do. When I'm ready to scoop it up and toss it, he's looking for the pieces. That's so interesting how things changed when you learned about the anger.

  7. You did a fantastic job with this repair! I love how you didn't fill in the cracks and let the fact that it broke in pieces be part of its history. Thanks for sharing this!

  8. such an interesting process, and a great skill to have!!

  9. Thanks Mom!

    Ana, thanks. And yeah, that was a big surprise to me too.

    Vicki, thanks for reading!

    Robin, thanks so much!

    Ann, thank you!

    Jane, I know, I didn't see that coming for sure :)

    Swell Papel, thanks!!

    Allison, thanks for reading!

  10. Ohhh, interesting blog!!
    i need an information ... what glue i can use to repair a plate that i have broke in half??

    thank you


  11. Silicone glue 2015 still can't be removed?

    1. You can scrape it off which is tedious & difficult to do thoroughly, but there is no solvent that I know of.