Ball Clay

Ball clays are kaolinitic sedimentary clays whose minerology is composed of kaolinite (20-80%), mica (10-25%), and quartz (10-65%). Chemically, they are classified as hydrous aluminum silicate. Localized seams in the same deposit may have variations in composition, including the quantity of the major minerals, lesser minerals and carbonaceous/organic materials such as lignite. Modern day references to the clay genre may refer to them as “plastic clay.” They are fine-grained and plastic in nature and unlike most earthenware clays, produce a fine quality white-colored fired body, which is the key to their wide usage in ceramic applications.

Ball Clay in raw material formBall clays are relatively scarce deposits due to the combination of geological factors needed for their formation and preservation. They are commercially mined primarily in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee in the U.S. as well as England, Germany, and the Ukraine. They are commonly used in the construction of many ceramic articles, where their primary role, apart from their white color, is to either to impart plasticity or to aid rheological stability during the shaping processes. They are also utilized in a variety of other applications including coatings, refractories, glazes and engobes, synthetic rubber, building materials, asphalt emulsions, fillers, and adhesives.

Old Hickory Clay Company (OHCC) has the largest ball clay reserve base in the US, comprised of Kentucky clays, Tennessee clays and Mississippi clays. This large clay portfolio makes it possible for OHCC to produce a wide variety of clay blends to meet any customer requirement and to engineer unique clay solutions required in today’s most demanding applications. OHCC currently operates 23 active mines in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi.
OHCC operates two ball clay processing plants located in Hickory (Graves County), KY and Gleason (Weakley County), TN. OHCC is the only ball clay producer with an operation in Kentucky. OHCC ball clay blends are available in shredded form (20-25% moisture), semi-dried form (8-16% moisture), air-floated powder form (2-3% moisture) and slurried form (65% solids). Ball clays are shipped in bulk and in packages via rail and truck to consumers all over North America and Mexico, and in packages to Europe, Central America and South America. OHCC has the experience and expertise with logistics to ship ball clay anywhere in the world.

Technical support is important to successful marketing and sales of ball clays to the consuming industries. OHCC has over 95 years of experience in providing customer support, and the technical team uses the latest technology in characterization, analysis and production control of our high quality clay blends for our clients. OHCC provides ball clay “solutions” to our clients’ toughest problems.

The name “ball clay” is believed to derive from the time when the clay was mined by hand. It was cut into small cubes and during transport the corners of the cubes became rounded off leaving “balls”. The ceramic use of ball clays in Britain dates back to at least the Roman era.