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

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.)


Jun 8 2009

Welcome Back, Tried & True: Bisque Tile Bats

dragonfly landingI’m afraid its been another long while since I’ve been able to post here.  The end of school year means a whole lot more demands at home and an adjustment period for everyone until we all settle into the new summer routine.  That compounded by a week of being laid up with an intestinal bug (moms are the last to get these things it seems), I am more than ready to get back to the clay.   Well!  Where shall I start?

When I first learned to pot, I learned to throw right on the wheelhead. I remember struggling after running the cutting wire under freshly thrown pots and trying to slide the pot off the wheelhead without distorting it. I wasn’t always successful, I believe partially because I didn’t seem to have the coordination at the time,  I didn’t know the material (clay) that well,  and my newbie pots were usually full to saturation with throwing water, making them particularly easy to smoosh.

Needless to say, I was very excited when my teacher finally let me try throwing using a bat.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a bat is simply a rigid piece of wood, plastic, plaster, tile, etc., that becomes a throwing surface placed over top of the wheel head.  Once a pot is completed, the bat and pot are removed together and the pot can remain undisturbed on the bat until its leatherhard and ready to trim.

Yes, I know, bats aren’t absolutely necessary.  I find it useful to  throw some things off the hump  and other times, I just pick pots directly off the wheel and put them onto a ware board.  No biggie.  I do still like to use bats for some things.  It just works for me.

For the last 9 or so years, I’ve been using, for the most part, plastic bats made by Creative Industries, as well as some amazingly rigid Plasti-bats from Amaco.  Don’t get me wrong, both are great, but if you look at any of the pricelists out there, you’ll notice they are not cheap  ..nor is any commercially manufactured bat it seems, for that matter.  I was noticing just today that the price of some bats out there on the market were more expensive than a kiln shelf!  Hello.   Is it just me or is there something wrong with this picture?  ..regardless

Tile-Batt pottery throwing bat systemIn my last studio,  however, I used less expensive pressed-wood/MDF bats from my local supplier,  as well as a bat system (which I made out of marine plywood and masonite, modelled after one my teacher had ) , with a recessed area cut out in the center to accomodate a bisque 6×6 commercial tile.  I remember being pleased with both at the time.

Last spring, in an online discussion about pottery bat systems, someone had mentioned they had seen one using bisque tiles.  I was curious, so I followed the link.  Sure enough, there was the one I used years ago, only the price was less than if I were to try to make one myself.

Tile-Batt with 6 inch Dal-tile bisque tile insertI went ahead and called Pottery Supply House and ordered one (they have it listed as a “Tile-Batt“) and am so pleased I did.

It only came with one tile, but I decided I would forego the shipping from Canada, and try and get more tiles locally.  I went online and found a Dal-tile distributor right in Foley, not 10 miles away.  Since the bisque tiles aren’t a stock item, they had to be special ordered and it took about a week to come in, but that was okay.

There are lots of reasons why I like this particular bat system. I think the chuck cost me all of $11 USD plus shipping, and a box of 25 Dal-tile bisque tiles worked out to be around $0.75 a tile or so from my local flooring distributor (vs $1.10 a tile from the ceramics supplier over in Gulfport, which is actually an hour and a half away from here).  I really didn’t think that was such a bad deal, especially considering the CI plastic bats around the same size were about $7+ a piece.

I also like using the bisque tiles because they stay rigid and are porous (whereas the plastic bats can bend and it takes considerably longer for the clay to come away from them).  Using these tiles, I can throw mugs in the afternoon and by evening they detach nicely from the tile and are ready to flip over. The mug is a nice even consistency from top to bottom and ready to trim and handle a lot sooner, which translates in less chance of joins cracking and faster production.  The tiles also take less room on my ware boards, and if they break, they are easy and inexpensive to replace.

Modified PSH Tile-Batt with additional pin holesYou may notice here in this photo  that I made a couple of changes to the chuck when it arrived. I had to drill an additional set holes  to accomodate the bat pins for all our wheels in addition to the Soldner (Bat pins on a Soldner wheel are set a bit wider than on other wheels), plus I added a little additional notch to help remove the tiles a little easier, but that’s about it.

Even Lowell seemed impressed,  so  I just ordered a second Tile Batt, only this time for him, and picked up 2 more boxes of bisque tiles.


Apr 18 2009

Coming up for Spring Air

Red Geranium FlowerpotDo you ever feel like time folds?  I was reminded again yesterday that it was spring when I drove past the usual fields on my way to Fairhope,  and I noticed all the pecan branches finally leafing out (a sure sign here in the South that cold temperatures are past).

May is just around the corner and this winter/spring, I’ve revamped our web site, had 2 shows, had 3 waves of illness blow through here (and been knocked on my ear 2 of those times), finished the taxes, did a major studio clean out and reorg, survived spring break,  and had my wheel die.  I can’t believe its been a month since I’ve posted anything here.

Lowell's test kilnHere’s a picture of a little gas test kiln Lowell is building out of spare bits we had laying about, including some homemade burners.  It will be used mostly to test glazes, but if all goes well, it will be a good size to fire a last small batch for an order or before a show when we don’t have quite enough to fill the other kiln.

I mentioned earlier my wheel died.  Its really frustrating especially considering we replaced the motor and circuit board a little over a year ago. Also frustrating because I finally got my little throwing area just the way I want it.  So now I am flip flopping around the studio, dividing throwing time between an electric kickwheel and that little Shimpo Aspire tabletop wheel I’ve mentioned in other posts.  My friend Marilyn Farrell (from New Brunswick) once said “never get too dependent on one specific tool or piece of equipment”.  Boy those are pretty shrewd words.  I hear her saying them every day lately.  I am having to stand up to throw on the Aspire, then its a different posture altogether working on the kickwheel.  While I appreciate being able to adapt like that, I much prefer a regular electric wheel to work at on regular basis.


Jan 25 2009

Upcycling and A great damp cupboard

Old Refrigerator filled with pugged claySometimes the best tools are right in front of you.

Here’s a picture of an old defunct refrigerator that we use in the studio.  It still had a good seal on the doors, so instead of sending it to the landfill, we upcycled this one to serve as a receptacle for some freshly pugged clay.  Its not pretty, but it works brilliantly.

We also have another old fridge which is used as a “damp cupboard”.  It houses pots that perhaps we can’t get to right away to trim, carve a design into, or add attachments. A little cup with water in it, left in the fridge, does the trick keeping the air inside nice and damp.

You can make the unsightly outside of the fridge zippy painting it as wild as you like, and since its a giant magnet board, its also a handy spot for photos, calendars, etc..


May 28 2008

Well Who knew?

The Shimpo Aspire Tabletop Pottery Wheel.

This little wheel weighs 25 pounds, goes on a tabletop, and is supposed to center 20 lbs. Yeah right. Looks like a toy doesn’t it?

Shimpo's table top wheel for beginner to advanced throwers

Well I tried it out and here it is. No toy.

The proof is in the pudding.I don’t remember how much clay I used, but the pot stands 13 1/4″ tall. Not bad. Like any Shimpo I’ve used, (and despite the fact that this one is belt driven vs direct drive) it handles clay without breaking a sweat. Very quiet as well. I like the fact that despite all that strength, its very light and I can easily pick it up, stick under my arm, and go. I’ve tried a Soldner tabletop model (made by Bluebird) and it was great.. sturdy and strong, but very heavy.

Anyways, I was impressed not only by its ability, but by its exceedingly reasonable price.


May 14 2008

Firing Smarter by Upgrading

When we originally built our kiln in 2000, we used all recycled brick and built it around the size of shelves we already had. It was a flat top, built mainly of stacked arch brick for the walls and a fiber (ceramic blanket) and heavy sheet metal roof. Not fancy, but we had a kiln and didn’t have to spend much money to put it all together.

Cordite shelves beside new flat nitride bonded shelfIt took at least 7 years of painstaking tweaking and firing before I really got to know its ways. About 5 years ago a dog we had knocked over the entire stack of old brick we were using for the kiln door, breaking most of them!! (..sigh) Long story short, it has been a struggle from the get-go to achieve reduction with any reliability, if at all.

As I think I mentioned in my last post, the old kiln as it was is no more. The flat roof – gone. The danger of fiber bits falling down into pots if you accidentally brushed the roof of the kiln with your head when stacking/loading – gone. The flat top was replaced with a retrofitted sprung arch and we finally were able to get new brick for the door. Extra fiber and roofing tin wraps the outer walls now as well.

The other exciting change made was replacing the old severely warped cordite shelves in favor of 6 new nitride bonded silicon carbide shelves. As you can see in the pictures, some of the old shelves were warped an inch and a half to two inches in places (I put one of the new nitride bonded shelves beside the stack of old shelves to show the difference in thickness and flatness). As with a wood or soda fire, loading typically involved painstakingly “wadding” each and every pot for the firing with a mix of 60/40 china clay to alumina hydrate. It was the only solution I could see to prevent warping. I have several potter friends who have those zoomy Advancer shelves that run about $100 a shelf in the size I was looking at. The nitride bonded are a step down from the Advancers, but are a lot less cost prohibitive, costing maybe $20 or so dollars more than a comparably sized cordite shelf.

Thin, flat, and light nitride bonded shelf

These new nitride bonded shelves weigh all of 11 pounds (the old cordite shelves in comparison weighed 44 pounds!), so loading the kiln takes a lot less of a physical toll on me and I can load it independently. I still do wad some – little teeny wads – (vs using kiln wash or sprinkling alumina hydrate on the shelves), especially on those clay bodies I might be firing that might be a bit tighter than our native clay to prevent sticking, Loading takes a fraction of the time as does the preparation of the wadding itself. Now that I have flat shelves, the wads can be glued on in advance as well.

The new arch in combination with the new flat shelves gives me at least, I am guessing an extra foot of stacking space. Not only that but the kiln now reduces and fires more efficiently using about a third less propane per firing. With the rising price of propane ($264 for 75 gallons this last delivery), the upgrades to the kiln and shelves couldn’t have come at any better time. (Better for the environment as well.)

As an aside, we got our new shelves and brick from Larkin Refractory Solutions in Atlanta. Wonderful customer service and knowledgeable staff.


Jul 8 2006

Blogs, Art Blogs, & What’s going on here at Webb Pottery

First of all, my apologies for not updating the blog more often. Some people really have a real knack of updating their blog regularly and seem to always have something interesting to say. I hope to have more news, updates, and reflection, more frequently, now that summer is here.

We’ve just undergone a bit of a down period here at the pottery, what with equipment problems and too many extraneous things going on. The kiln part we have been waiting for has finally come in and has been installed, and the clay mixer (made from parts from a WWII anti-aircraft gun) had some minor repairs made to keep it going, and is once again staggering along.
So we are slowly starting back at getting things fired and moving along again. We should have more raku pots with some different designs up on the web site shortly.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is one of those overuse injuries that plague, among others, potters and surveyors, both of which Lowell has been over the years. So last Tuesday, he surgery for it on his other hand. He had surgery on the first hand some 5 or 6 years ago. Hopefully this latest surgery will be a success as well. The pain that extended from his hand up into his shoulder, as well as some frequent numbness in his fingers, is starting to subside, so hopefully that is a good sign.

Rick Tino ‘s Fine Art & Frames in Gulf Shores, AL, who I have mentioned in some of my previous entries, finally has a web site up: tinosfineart.com. While it is still in its preliminary stages, please feel free to check it out and make a point to drop in if you are in the Gulf Shores area.

We had a sad week this week. We lost 2 good friends: our bloodhound, Rebel, and our dachsund, Winston, both within a day of each other. Then yesterday we had a mishap in the driveway and accidentally ran over my 12 year golden, Riley, who had been, unbeknownst to me, sleeping under the truck at the time. He survived, and miraculously his back wasn’t broken, but he has some problem with his leg/shoulder. Still waiting on news on him from the vet this morning…