Jan 31 2011

Down by Billie’s

On particularly nice afternoons, its nice to take a break and do a little exploring. The other week, instead of going straight home, we took a little side road that took us down near Billie’s Seafood in Bon Secour. Luckily, I just so happened to have my camera in my bag with me. Here are a few of the pictures.

Brown Pelicans
Black Crested Night Heron on Shrimp Boat rigging
Brown Pelican closeup
Endeavor Shrimp Boat
In front of Swift House

Jan 30 2011

1970s Soldner wheel

As I’ve mentioned previously, the Soldner wheel we have is over 30 years old and was bought way back when Lowell was in art school. Over that period of time, very little has ever gone wrong with it: 15 yrs or so ago, the rectifier was replaced; 2 or 3 yrs ago the bearings on the motor went; and this past year, the Powerstat (transformer) went.

The year before the motor went on the Soldner, the motor went out on the Creative Industries wheel we had. (I think we sent the motor back to them to be tested.) Since there were no markings on that motor (of course) and because the company was not willing to share who the manufacturer was or any other details, we were pretty much forced to buy the motor from them (I hate proprietary parts on machinery. You always wonder if you can get the part cheaper elsewhere). Anyways, so when the motor went out on the Soldner, I was expecting the same kind of thing.

I called Bluebird (who have been manufacturing Soldner wheels and clay mixers for a while now) and while they helped me as much as they could, they couldn’t really tell me much about the wheels made before they took over. So, I called Paul Soldner. Based on the info I gave him, he said he probably built this wheel himself. He said he put them together so you could just buy the parts off the shelf making it easy for a potter to fix the wheel by him/herself. He thought he got those motors from Graingers. So, checked online to see if they still had that Dayton model, and sure enough, they did! Put the new motor on and I was back in business.

Then last year there was something funny with the power flow. I’d be in the middle of throwing and the power would fade in and out for a couple of seconds at a time, intermittently. This went on for about a month, then one day the wheel just stopped altogether.

Soldner PedalSo.. I bravely took the cover off the pedal housing and looked. I had no idea what I was looking at. LOL There was only one little spot I saw on one of the connections that looked a little burnt, where arcing may have occurred, on one of the prongs off of the direction switch. So we replaced the switch, and the connecting wire, ..nothing.

I drew up this wiring diagram (schematic) before I got started then had a few friends with similar wheels from the same time period, go through it with me over the phone to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I hadn’t. Wiring diagram for Soldner wheel

Next, I tested the circuit using a voltmeter and found out the problem was the Powerstat (variable transformer), the big round thing with the copper wire wrapped on it. Looking a little closer, I did notice that some of the copper was discolored black in one section. Replacing it wasn’t any big deal, just a matter of reconnecting all the wires as per my diagram. Put everything back in place, replaced the housing cover, plugged it in, held my breath, pressed the pedal, and … it worked! I am no electrician and I felt victorious that I’d fixed it!

I had heard that if you take a Soldner pedal and put it on any wheel, that you could make it, pretty much run like a Soldner. In fact, I think Paul Soldner even told me that in our phone call. Since I was feeling pretty confident, I thought I would buy all the parts and build a pedal myself (just because I could), optimistic that I could transform the Creative Industries wheel (which died again a year after I replaced the motor). I have most of the parts, but I haven’t quite gotten there though.. heheh

In case you’re looking for parts for your ‘vintage’ Soldner wheel, I found a virtually brand new (I think it was a floor model) Powerstat on eBay at a very good price, a spare rectifier (changes AC to DC) there as well (radio shack doesn’t have the right one), and then the rest of the parts (the 7 amp breaker, the switches, etc) at a marine supply place. None of the parts were very expensive and it is really easy to put them in yourself. There are some variations between wheels made in different years (eg one friend’s of mine I think has a capacitor that mine does not). And the new Bluebird Soldner wheels, while very nice themselves, have a completely different schematic. When I did up my wiring diagram I did send them a copy for their records.. just in case someone else called looking for help.

Thanks to you Paul, wherever you are. RIP Paul Soldner 1921 – 2011

Jan 26 2011

Potter at an Art Fair

I love this video posted by icsthrower on YouTube. With show season approaching, I thought this would be quite a propos. I know, this video may seem a little over the top but if you do shows for any length of time, you’ll hear comments just like these.
Enjoy! :)

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(from icsthrower’s channel: “ICSTHROWER videos are supported by Clay Times Magazine and are written and produced by Ivy Creek Stoneware.”)

Jan 26 2011

Throwing and the Wheel

Most of the pots I make are done on the wheel. I remember taking my first pottery class where we wheelexplored the different ways of working with clay. First we made pinch pots, then moved on to coil and slab construction, all over a period of three or four classes. Then, it was time to put us on the potters wheel. After we had been introduced to the wheel, he let us choose what we wanted to do. Some people preferred hand building and some throwing.

I know why he left the wheel for last. He knew there were people like me who would be hooked and obsessed with getting back on the wheel. I remember 3 hr classes just whizzing by, leaving me hungry for more. It wasn’t long before I was ready for my own wheel, but, unfortunately, the timing wasn’t great as I was living in an apartment in downtown Toronto. So.. I continued to sign up for sessions, just to get on the wheel. Luckily, John gave us quite a bit of freedom with what we made and his classes, and once you reached a certain point, it was more like an open studio time with guidance along the way.

Thomas Stewart kickwheel without motorOnce we moved out of the city, we insulated the garage, and I finally got my first wheel. It was a motorized Thomas Stewart and it had a huge concrete flywheel and a fixed seat. (Here’s a picture of a current Thomas Stewart/Scutt wheel, but mine had a big metal splashpan, which I didn’t much like, instead of the rectangular table pictured here). When the motor pedal was depressed and the rubber ring came in contact with the flywheel, the whole wheel vibrated like it was going to take off, as it built up speed. At first I really liked it, but over time I found myself avoiding throwing, which was totally unlike me. I came to the realization that the problem wasn’t me, but the wheel.

Now when I first got my wheel, I thought every wheel was about the same. I didn’t realize that each type/brand/kind had its own subtleties and that one should probably try a wheel out in advance to see if its the right one for you. Its like any tool: if you’re going to use it more than just occasionally, choose one that works well and makes using it a more pleasant experience. There’s not much point in investing a fair amount of money for a tool that is irritating to use.

Shimpo M400I soon realized that what suited me better, was not a kickwheel at all. I ended up getting a Shimpo Master Series because it had lots of torque, it worked smoothly at lower speeds and with no jerky movements, it was quiet, it had a pedal i could move around and place where I wanted it, and I could move my chair to a position that was most comfortable for me to throw. I don’t think they make that particular model anymore, but it sure served me well.

Now I use primarily an old Soldner wheel, one made back in the 70s by Paul Soldner himself. It has some of the same qualities as my first Shimpo, only moreso! heheh Its really nice to use but what’s really nice about it is when its time to repair it, the parts are ones from off the shelf and it was really simply assembled. In comparison, we had a problem with an old Creative Industries wheel we had and was a pain to fix. There was only so much we could do on our own before the company requested that we send all the parts in to them so they could test them.. what a hassle. I don’t know why equipment manufacturers can’t just keep things simple. Anyone knows, making something more complicated, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work any better. Its not like we’re talking about upgrading what a potter’s wheel will do..

(I’ll post some of the info I gathered about the Soldner in one of my next posts, including the schematic I drew up. Might be useful for someone with the same wheel to have on hand, just in case.)

Jan 22 2011

Back from the great beyond

new roadHere it is, 2011.  I didn’t realize, but (egad!) its been over a year (!) since I’ve posted on my blog or done any maintenance to my web site, short of renewing my domain and making sure the site would still be hosted.  That’s not much of a way to keep a blog alive or peek interest but.. it is what it is. With a fresh year ahead, I’m hoping to make good and have more regular new entries with photos of work and life around the studio.

As I remember saying in one of my previous posts, I discovered Facebook and Twitter 2 yrs ago and, I admit, its been responsible for a good bit of my negligence here.  (For those of you who are on Facebook already, our page is http://www.facebook.com/WebbPottery.)  Let’s face it, some days its a lot easier to microblog than come up with a full post. Despite some reservations, its been a great way to network and I’ve connected and reconnected with  so many people, old and new friends alike.  It seems the world has become an increasingly small place.

So what happened last year.. well, I demonstrated at the Gulf Coast Clay Conference in Pensacola in February, I made it back to Canada this summer for a rejuvenating visit, and started giving lessons again this fall. Those are kind of the highlights of the year.

Now for the not so high points. Last year was actually a particularly rough year for us.  I don’t usually mention much about our home life here, so you are probably not aware that we have a developmentally delayed daughter.  She’s 8 years old but functions more or less on the level of a one year old.  Last year she started to have some serious behavioural and social issues which really put a strain on life at home and school (she’s been in a special ed program since the age of 3).  It was essentially a whole year of her going ballistic, hurting herself (and others, including beating up on her sister, classmates, teachers, and whoever else came in her path), and breaking and destroying things in her tirades.  She could go off in an instant for no apparent reason and needed constant care for her own safety.. exponentially moreso than usual.  It was impossible to find a babysitter or caregiver who felt up to the challenge of dealing with her, and with no family support, the tension was constant and overwhelming. …sigh.. Let me just say, it was pretty rough time on all of us and it really took a tole. Many things were neglected and suffered as a result. Anyways last August there was finally a breakthrough and, with help of her wonderful teachers, doctor, and a consult to a neurologist, she is back on a more even keel again, restoring at least some quality of life for all of us, including her. ..phew! Its not “normal”, but its definitely better. Recently, she has been moved to a smaller class which seems to have helped enormously, as well.

Oily tidal pool at Orange Beach July 4th weekendSo on top of that, then came the BP oil spill last April, taking a further toll on an already waning Gulf Coast economy thanks to the recession.  (Here is a picture I took from the pier in Orange Beach AL on July 4th. As you can see the normally snow white sand is covered with tar balls and disgusting brown sea foam. While you can’t see in this shot, some of the tar still on the beach were about 3 to 4 feet across. I haven’t been to the beach not 20 miles away since.) Key industries this area relies upon are fishing, construction, real estate, and tourism, and everything just trickles down from there.  Most realtors in Baldwin County have had to seek properties elsewhere to deal in order to survive because nothing is moving here. Building had come to a standstill for months.  One land surveying company rep told me that things better turn around by spring, or there will be no surveying companies left in this county.   So here we are left in the aftermath, trying to regroup and figure out how to deal with the mess we’ve been left with… ecologically and economically. ..regardless..

It will be interesting to see how the year unfolds for those working in the arts down here as well..