How to fix a broken china plate


Meissen dinner plate - Blue Onion Pattern

Breaking a precious china or ceramic plate can be a traumatic event causing great sadness and remorse. Fortunately, a plate, broken into 2 or 3 pieces, can be repaired by a competent non-professional following these steps:-

  1. Examine the pieces to make sure they are perfectly clean with no dirt or old glue.
  2. Support the lower piece in a sandbox so the upper piece balances ready for gluing.
  3. Apply a very thin coat of 2-part epoxy adhesive to one broken edge.
  4. Bring the two pieces together tightly to squeeze out excess glue.
  5. Balance the two halves and wait for the glue to set up.
  6. Clean off excess adhesive.
Sandbox method for balancing repair
Essential trick for successful gluing – balance in a sandbox or similar support device (use any loose material – rice, salt, kitty litter, dry dog food.

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Important steps in the repair of a china plate

A large number of factors are involved in the repair of a broken china or ceramic plate. But first, it’s very important to understand that restored china cannot be used for serving food – the piece becomes a display item for the china cabinet.

This post will explain which types of repair can be tackled by the competent amateur, which repairs are best left to the professional, and, finally which repairs are uneconomical and not worth attempting.

Follow the steps below to repair your china plate.

Step 1: Identify the material

It is important to identify the type of ceramic (china, bone china, stoneware, earthenware, terracotta, or common pottery) in order to choose the best ways to clean and glue the broken plate.

Is the plate china, stoneware, earthenware or terracotta?
Identify the material China or porcelain Stoneware Earthenware Terracotta

Identify the material

It is very important to identify the type of pottery because the nature of the material determines the type of adhesive that should be used.

China or porcelain

Hard-paste or bone china (called porcelain in Europe) is hard, vitreous (glassy), and non-porous.  It is fired at the high temperatures (1200-1400 degrees C). Bone china is made with 50% bone ash and is translucent.

Stoneware

Stoneware is durable vitreous material with low porosity, made from common clays, and often colored as in jasper-ware or black basalt-ware. Fired at around 1000 - 1200 degrees C.

Earthenware

Earthenware has a white or off-white porous body often decorated with lead glaze,  as in varieties such as Majolica, Delft, or Staffordshire. It is fired at around 1000 to 1050 degrees C.

Terracotta

Terracotta (from the Italian for "fired earth") is a low-fired, porous pottery with a buff color, firing to red.  Commonly used for garden containers in the USA. Clay fired under even lower temperatures includes unglazed primitive wares like Native American pottery.

This post will describe the repair of plates made of china or bone china – that is, made of non-porous, vitreous ceramic – commonly referred to as porcelain in Europe. Other posts on this website will cover other types of repair offered by Artistry in Glass

To figure out if the plate can be repaired, first examine and count the pieces.

Step 2: Carefully examine the pieces

Before attempting a repair, make sure that all the pieces fit together and check that there are no pieces missing (check under the sofa or refrigerator!) Our experience has shown that 2 or 3 pieces can successfully be glued together by an amateur but more experience and skill is required when there are a large number of pieces.

Gluing order in plate with multiple breaks
Plate with multiple breaks showing order of gluing pieces
Count the pieces
Check the pieces Two to four pieces Five or more pieces Pieces missing Pieces don't fit

Check the pieces

Take a careful look at the pieces: and make sure they all fit together. Also, see if any pieces are missing (if so, look carefully under the sofa or refrigerator).

Two to four pieces

If the plate is broken in a small number (say 2 to 4) of pieces, then the repair is fairly straightforward and can be tackled by a reasonably handy, non professional.

Five or more pieces

With a large number of pieces, the project becomes more challenging and is best left to a professional.  Always remember that repaired china cannot be used for serving food - so restoration is only recommended for items of sentimental value.

Pieces missing

If pieces are missing, an expert restorer can recreate them - but don't forget that the plate will become a collector's item - for the china cabinet, and cannot be used.

Pieces don't fit

Sprung crack in china plate

In high-fired porcelain or bone china, the broken pieces sometimes do not fit back together. This is called "springing" and is due to stresses frozen into the china during firing that are released upon cracking.  Repair is not normally possible and the best solution is to look for a replacement.

A plate with multiple breaks is only worth fixing if it is of significant sentimental value. The number of pieces complicates the repair process – in detail, a carefully designed gluing order has to be determined to avoid “locking out” (getting to a piece that cannot be inserted). The process requires a degree of experience and expertise only possessed by professionals – contact Artistry in Glass.

Is the plate worth repairing?

Remembering that the repaired plate cannot be used for food the two questions that must be asked are:

1) is the item sufficiently important from a sentimental point of view to justify repair. In other words, was it brought over on the Titanic by your great-grandmother?

2) if the broken plate is part of your favorite dinner service – the best solution is to search for the pattern on a service like Replacements


Step 3: Examine the broken edges

It is very important that the broken edges are all perfectly clean before gluing. Even the tiniest impurity, a molecule of dirt, or a trace of old adhesive will prevent a perfect join.

Examine edges for dirt or glue
Examine the edges Perfectly clean Dirty or stained Glue from old repair

Examine the edges

If there is even a speck of foreign material (dirt or old glue) on the edges, then the join will not be perfect.

Perfectly clean

If the china is freshly broken, the edges may be perfectly clean. It is still necessary to handle with care so that oil from your fingers does not get onto the edges. It is very small amounts of dirt that will make the completed join visible - especially on white china.

Dirty or stained

If the china is dirty, it will need to be carefully cleaned.  Recent soiling can be removed by hand-washing in warm water but study this post for important precautions. Staining (commonly seen in antique earthenware) is more difficult to deal with.

Glue from old repair

China plates often break along the line of a previous repair - leaving old adhesive that needs to be completely removed. Depending on the type of glue, the best procedure may be hot water and a toothbrush, or the use of a solvent like acetone. Read this post for important details.


Step 4: Clean the china

Importance of removing grease and dirt

There is no more important step than making sure the plate is perfectly clean. The main reason is that grease attracts dirt, and dirt creates the unsightly black line on the join – a tell-tale sign that the repair was done by an amateur. Remember that even if you clean the pieces carefully, they can easily pick up dust from your fingers and the atmosphere. Then when you complete the repair and see the dreaded black line, you will be tempted to blame the glue whereas, in reality, it is grease and dust from your own hands that has caused the problem.

Clean the plate before gluing
Clean the plate Wash off dirt Remove stains Remove old adhesive

Clean the plate

It is vitally important that china is perfectly clean before gluing.  Consider the material before washing - on no account soak Native American pottery in water!

Wash off dirt

High-fired, non-porous ceramics like china or stoneware can be safely submerged in warm water with a few drops of detergent and washed gently with a soft brush. Low-fired, porous pottery should never be immersed in water.

Remove stains

Stained antique pottery

Staining is very common in antique earthenware with dirt and organic material entering cracks and crazed glazing.  Stains can be removed using a 12% solution of hydrogen peroxide but is best left to professionals.

Remove old adhesive

Removal of old glue is best done by a combination of dissolving and cutting with a scalpel or similar sharp tool. Acetone will remove superglue but epoxy is more difficult to dissolve - see details below.

Cleaning the china plate

If you are uncertain, always test a small area on the plate with water or any solvent, to make sure the design will not be affected. If you have correctly identified the plate as non-porous china, most grease and dirt is easily removed by washing the plate in warm water with a few drops of detergent. Make sure you do not submerge valuable and porous Indian Pottery in water – it will dissolve!

In the case of stubborn grease and dirt, submerge the plate in warm water with biological laundry detergent (like Ecos, or Tide Pureclean), if necessary with water softener. Leave it to soak for 2-4 hours, periodically brushing the edges gently with a soft-bristle brush. Repeat and, if necessary, make another solution and leave overnight. Once all the dirt is removed, rinse off the edges with rubbing alcohol to remove soap scum and cover the cleaned pieces with a clean cloth or paper towels until they are ready to be glued.

Glue from a previous repair

Different adhesives need different solvents for removal. In practice, a combination of dissolving and picking or cutting away the old glue with a scalpel or Exacto-knife is the best approach. Superglue (cyanoacrylates) dissolve in acetone and rubber cement needs a commercial paint-stripper. Epoxies will loosen with heat but need a strong product like Attack Epoxy Adhesive remover for dissolving although Goof off of Goo Gone can sometimes be effective. In all cases, be sure to test an inconspicuous small area before proceeding and take care to read instructions and follow safety precautions when using strong chemicals.


Step 5: Balance the plate

One of the most underestimated and yet important steps in the gluing process is to design a support system to hold the pieces in place while the glue sets up. Even a teetotaller with the steadiest hand will find it hard to hold two pieces of china perfectly still for 3 or 4 minutes and the slightest micro-movement will ruin the glue bond and mean that you will have to start all over, cleaning the edges (acetone will clean off uncured epoxy).

Balance the place using a sandbox or similar system
Before gluing Balance the plate

Before gluing

It is not possible to hold two broken pieces together for the 3-5 minutes that it takes for epoxy adhesive to setup.  It is therefore very important to support the pieces so that gravity will hold them in place.

Balance the plate

Balancing chinese platter with retort stands

Find a way to support the plate ready for gluing. Professionals often use a system of clamps combined with "plasticine" modeling clay. Other simple ways are to use a drawer or a box filled with loose material like sand, salt, or even cat litter.


Step 6: Apply the adhesive

A large number of adhesives will work on china and every restorer seems to have his or her favorite. There is unanimous agreement that 2-part epoxies have the best combination of high strength and enough setup time to adjust the broken pieces to the correct positions. A future post will give more information on epoxies but two types can be distinguished: extra slow curing like “Araldite” which has a 90 minute working time and is suitable for complicated gluing jobs that require lots of time for adjustment. The best choice for our simple 2- or 3-piece gluing job is any number of fast-curing clear epoxies that setup in 3 to 5 minutes.

Apply thin layer of glue to one surface only
Apply adhesive Use 2-part epoxy Glue one side only

Apply adhesive

For china, bone china and stoneware - that is for non-porous, vitreous porcelain, the strongest and best adhesive is 2-part epoxy

Use 2-part epoxy

There are numerous brands of epoxy adhesive and every repairer seems to have her personal favorite.  With numerous pieces, a slow-setting epoxy like Araldite, is preferred because this gives move time for adjustment.  For simple, 2-piece, gluing most brands are strong enough and a 3-5 minute drying time is ample. See this post for recommendations.

Glue one side only

2-part epoxy adhesive

Mix the two parts thoroughly and, using a toothpick, carefully apply a thin layer of adhesive to one side of the break. Make sure to cover every part of the broken surface thoroughly but do not use too much.

Because china is vitreous (non porous) no glue soaks into the body of the plate. For this reason, the best bond is achieved with a thin layer of glue on one surface only. Most amateurs use far too much glue. Mix the 2-part adhesive thoroughly and apply to one surface only using a toothpick. Apply the glue to the center of the edge using just enough to ensure the resin will spread over the whole area without oozing out when the pieces are joined.

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Step 7: Join the pieces

Align the two fragments as best you can and ease them together searching, by feel, for the exact alignment – a “clicking” into position. Press firmly together making sure you do not misdirect the pressure causing the pieces to jump or hinge apart, possibly resulting in chipping or damage of the edges.

Check the alignment by stroking your fingernail or a toothpick over the join-line to make sure there is no step or mismatch. When you are happy with the positioning, stretch several strips of adhesive tape across the join to increase the pressure and further stabilize the join, then balance the plate in the sandbox.

Join broken pieces together
Join the pieces Press together Balance plate while glue sets up Tape if necessary

Join the pieces

Joining the pieces is the culmination of the careful preparatory steps that you have taken to ensure a successful outcome. It is similar to Tiger Woods on the 18th hole, after years of preparation:  ready to use the big driver off the tee!

Press together

Taking great care not to use too much force (so that the pieces separate and hinge over each other) press the two pieces firmly together to expel any excess glue from the join. Use a toothpick or your fingernail to investigate the contact to make sure the sides line up without a step or a "high-low".

Balance plate while glue sets up

Balancing chinese platter with retort stands

Carefully rest the joined-up plate in the support position that you have prepared. Make a final "fingernail" test to ensure the two halves are exactly lined-up.

Tape if necessary

Do not use tape on a gilded plate

If there is any chance of the pieces moving, pressure-sensitive tape (masking tape or scotch tape) can be used to further secure the pieces. Do not stick tape to gilded (gold-painted) areas because the gilding may come off with the tape.

Some careful restorers place a little cling film under the plate to prevent sand from contaminating the work.


Step 8: Clean off the excess adhesive

Epoxies increase in strength over time, becoming fully cured in 12 hours or so leave the plate to setup overnight before removing it for final cleaning.

Final clean remove glue
Final cleaning Leave to setup Remove excess glue

Final cleaning

The culmination of your skillful achievement is to clean off excess glue.  Although your mended plate is strong enough to survive handling, and could theoretically be used to serve dry food,  the glue is not fired on and so fluids will eventually stain and weaken the join. Remember that epoxy adhesive is not food-safe. 

Leave to setup

Most epoxies, even fast-setting ones, take 12 hours to achieve full strength so leave the repair overnight to fully cure. It is sometimes possible for a skillful gluer to wipe off some of the excess glue before it dries. but some glue normally remains and must be removed in the final step.

Remove excess glue

Convex razor blade for cleaning glue

When the adhesive has set up, carefully remove the excess glue using a suitable sharp tool. (Wearing safety glasses (be careful!) it is easy to bend a single-edged razor blade into a convex shape ideal for removing glue.)

If glued correctly, the resulting join will be as strong, or even stronger, than the china and your precious plate can be safely displayed for many more years. Providing you have followed the cleaning procedures, the join will also be barely visible.

There is one further, advanced gluing, technique that takes advantage of capillary action and is described below.

A Sprung Crack or Break Cannot be Repaired!

It occasionally happens that a stress crack will form in china that was not correctly annealed in the kiln during the manufacturing process. An impact, or excessive temperature change may result in crack as energy is released and where the two sides do not line up. This type of “sprung” crack may be partial, as in the image below, or complete. By doing a careful dry-run, a sprung crack can be identified if the two halves will not join together perfectly. This type of damage is very difficult or impossible to fix.

Sprung crack in china plate

Stresses, frozen into the ceramic during inadequate annealing in the kiln, are released by subsequent stresses – causing what is known as a sprung crack. Even with specialized clamps, these cracks are very hard to repair.


Advanced gluing techniques

It is sometimes possible to use the capillary gluing method to simplify the whole gluing process. The method uses a very low viscosity (very runny) and expensive epoxy called HXTAL NYL-1 that is widely used by professional conservators because it is guaranteed not to yellow with age and is very strong. (It was famously used by the British Museum to restore the legendary Roman, “Portland Vase“). The broken pieces are taped together firmly and the HXTAL resin is introduced into the break by capillary action. The benefit is that numerous small pieces can be “jigsawed” together and taped in place so that there are no gaps and mismatches during gluing.

This capillary system also works with a very runny superglue where the resulting bond is not as strong as epoxy but is sufficient for a display piece. However, superglue is not recommended generally for china repair because it is not as strong as epoxy and it sets almost instantly – leaving no time for positioning. Obviously, if you glue a piece incorrectly you will waste a considerable amount of time (and risk potential damage) in ungluing and cleaning.

superglue for a quick fix
Capilliary action gluing method

If you have followed the instructions in this post, you will have made a strong and almost invisible repair to your precious china plate. While not available for serving food, it should be an excellent addition to your china cabinet and your precious memories will have been restored.


Only one possible problem remains – filling and painting small chips, micro-fractures and dings.

Filling and painting chips

When china breaks there is nearly always a chip at the point of impact. The small chip fragments are often either lost or too small to glue back – so the chip has to be filled and painted.

Chip at impact point in china plate
A chip is almost always present at the point of impact

Filling and painting is a time-consuming job and will be explained in a future Artistry in Glass blog post.

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Tucson residents – trust Artistry in Glass for all your repair needs

Artistry in Glass has been restoring precious antiques in Tucson since 1986 under our repair division “Tucson Crystal and China Repair” – check out this video to get an idea of the things we can fix:

Look at the enormous range of products restored by Artistry in Glass

Take a look at what are customers are saying about Artistry in Glass


Conclusions

China plates that are treasured family heirlooms can be successfully repaired by the amateur following the steps in this post.

However, the repaired plate cannot be used for serving food and so if you need to replace part of your dinner service – follow the link below to purchase a “like new” plate from Replacements Inc:

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Can a broken china plate be repaired with milk?

An urban legend promoted on numerous YouTube videos claims that broken china can be fixed by being immersed in warm milk for two days. Highly dubious videos show cracked plates being taped together and coming out as good as new: is this true?

There is no evidence that broken china plates can be satisfactorily repaired with milk. Numerous YouTube videos have debunked this urban legend. It is possible that fine cracks can be filled with the casein component of milk to stop or mitigate leaks in ceramics vessels like bowls and teapots.

The pseudo-scientific justification links the gooey component of milk called casein (formerly used as the basis for a type of wood glue) to the purported adhesive effects, but the majority of videos show that the method is ineffective. We conclude that the YouTube videos showing positive results have been made with camera tricks.


See our other informative repair guides!


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John

I was an exploration geologist and University Professor working in Botswana, Zambia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, and other countries before opening Artistry in Glass in 1986. In my more than 30 years of experience, I have brought my technical abilities as a scientist to the trade of glasswork. In this time I have become an industry expert in glass and glass-related skills. Watch out for special insider tips developed from my detailed knowledge of the glass business.

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