Jun 17 2013

Hot enough to boil a monkey’s…

The weather here has finally changed.  Summer is officially here. The Heat index the other day was a grim 100 degrees F.

We redid my workspace this past year and one of the genius additions, besides windows and doors that actually close properly, is an air conditioner. I finally caved and put it on 2 days ago and, oh my goodness, its pure luxury.  Its so much easier to concentrate without sweat dripping down and stinging my eyes.  I truly love it and am thrilled at the fact that I will be able to work comfortably all summer. So here I sit in coolness sipping hot coffee!

Now the bad thing about a/c. Artificial cooling and heating plays havoc on the drying process of clay. I’m working on a custom mug order using a high fire white clay (somewhat more finicky than native clay) and, despite draping plastic over the pots at the usual stage, I  had handles and sprigs pulling off the pots. Oddly enough, the attachment was fine and strong, but where they didn’t dry evenly, and clay shrinkage was happening at different rates, cracks occurred in the area around the attachment, not the attachment itself.   This is pretty rare. While I do have some loss, its not usually because of this.

Upcycled Refrigerator used as Pottery Damp ClosetGenerally when I have pots with attachments I use an old delapidated refrigerator as a damp closet (turned off and unplugged, of course). I’ve mentioned this previously. Not only is it a great tool for keeping pots damp and for clay storage, its a great way to recycle an old fridge or freezer instead of sending it to the landfill.

So keeping pots damp isn’t too difficult. While some people put a small cup or container of water in the ‘fridge’, I usually just mist or spray the interior of its compartments to raise the humidity, then its ready to use. So when I am doing mugs, for example, I put them in the old fridge and keep them there for at least 24 hours or until the pot and attachments are all the same consistency, then I can take them out and let them dry.  Has worked great so far.  Maybe I need to inspect the door seals and see if they’re toast.  Another possible option I may have to consider doing to prevent this cracking is to work in smaller batches. Well we’ll see.

As you may be able to see in the picture, these old fridges make for a convenient dry erase board (I use it, for example, to keep track of how many pots I’ve made for orders on the go, and at what stage they are at, how much clay I currently have on hand, or a list of glaze ingredients that are out and/or need to order ).  I have these fridges in the same part of the workspace where we I glaze, mix glazes, store ingredients and clay, and keep the electric kilns. Since they’re right by the kilns, they’re also a handy place to keep a cone chart, quick reference info re how to program the kiln controller and a list of custom programs I use, as well as a firing record. While I’m fine with just using magnets or tape for this stuff, I suppose you could paint the door or sides with chalkboard paint. Lots of possibilities!

The workspace, fortunately, is large enough to accommodate these fridges under cover. I used to have to keep one outside just because it was too cramped inside. It still worked for what I needed it for, though.  Pots never froze if the temps dropped outside (it actually does get below freezing here in late December and January) and they never dried out even in the most sweltering heat, but it wasn’t the most pleasant thing having to add and remove pots from it  particularly when it was raining, or having to navigate stairs and a doorway in/out of the building. Not exactly ideal.

I know lots of people for whom an upcycled fridge damp closet just isn’t an option, for a number of reasons.  To get around that, they’ve been forced to be a little more creative, wrapping shelf units in plastic for makeshift damp closets. I’ve known other people who take Rubbermaid containers and set an inch or so of potters plaster or hydrocal in the bottom, dampen it and use that to keep pieces or attachments damp. I was recently at a workshop where the presenter used a plastic container as well, only instead of plaster (which he said was really heavy and harder to transport), he took a piece of canvas or towel, spritzed it with water to get the humidity up in the container, put his pots in and tightly closed the lid.  I tried this while there to keep pots in a working consistency, using a container I brought and it worked great. My only complaint is the dampened fabric developed a serious hum and over a period of just a few days, smelled pretty rank. The pots still smelled fine though ūüėČ

 

 

 

 


Mar 21 2011

Ups and downs of firing

Just catching up here. Didn’t I just finish talking about things that can go wrong just as one’s getting ready for a show…? Perhaps I jinxed myself.

From 2 weeks ago:

Woke up this morning ..well I didn’t actually wake up, I was still up.. I wasn’t feeling too good about how the day ahead was shaping up to be. Thanks to the mega storm system blowing in from the west yesterday (tornadoes actually touched down not 15 miles north of us), the kiln didn’t get lit until mid afternoon, much later than I had planned or anticipated.

Propane tank freezing upThis firing cycle, the multimeter I’ve been using as a pyrometer for the last 9 years finally decided to bite the dust just as the kiln temp hit around 1200 degrees Celcius and it started to stall. Great. Felt like I was firing blind. Not only that but I was running out of propane..just 7% left in the tank and it was starting to freeze up. (You can see the 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick layer of ice toward the bottom of the tank in this picture). Its at times like this I get envious of people who fire electric…

Bleary eyed, I dragged the hose around and started a water trickle on the tank to hopefully gain back some of the gas pressure I was starting to lose. Took a breather, made coffee, headed for the phone, sat down and waited for the Amerigas office to open.

Amerigas manThank goodness.. By some miracle, the gas company informed me that they could come out and bring me more propane that morning. Not too happy that the same amount of propane was going to cost $70 more than it was last year, but under the circumstances, now was not the time to quibble. I was just happy to know I’d be able to finish this firing.

Went back out to check on the kiln and cone 8 was starting to bend on both top and bottom. Phew! An hour later, I hear a familiar beeping sound of the propane truck coming down the drive. Total relief.

Porcelain Curio case with dogwood relief design in celadonYou just never know for sure what you are going to get until you unbrick that kiln door. Despite my misgivings and struggle to keep the kiln lit, the firing turned out better than I had anticipated and I actually did get some decent reduction. Here is one of the porcelain pieces you saw in my last post, now glazed in celadon and fired. I love the way this kind of glaze feels and pools, giving a carved design more depth.

Ah yes.. my pyrometer. As an aside, picked up this new multimeter at Lowe’s for $21. It measures both in both Celcius and Fahrenheit and is a good alternative to more expensive pyrometers, like Fluke, out on the market. Thermocouples are available at most pottery suppliers, but I managed to find a group lot on eBay at a really good price a few years ago. I like this one better than my last, actually, as the screen is bigger and easier to read. pyrometer2.


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.


Mar 13 2009

A New Workspace!

For the last 2 yrs or so, the studio has been in a state of absolute chaos. It has been part construction zone and part dumping ground for all sorts of non-clay related stuff… well, yes,, there was some clay in there somewhere too.

Eventually I got to the point where I threw up my hands, moved my wheel into the house, and set up a little work area in there. Not the ideal situation either, what with clay dust, etc, not to mention the challenges of proximity and navigation to the kiln with pots (doors, stairs, etc). After a while I would only venture to the studio when it was time to glaze a kiln load.¬† Each and every time, I had to spend valuable time reorganizing, clearing surfaces, finding tools, etc., which was frustrating, before I could even get started. It kind of takes a toll on you after a while and doesn’t do a thing for your productivity or state of mind.

work spaceWell this week I have finally moved my wheel back into the studio. I now have my own dedicated¬† section of the studio to throw, where all my tools are within reach and laid out so they’re easy to see and find. The addition of shelving and some pegboard makes it so much easier to keep organized and my work surfaces clear and instantly usable.

Behind my chair I have a bookshelf that holds bats as well as other small tools that I occasionally use.

work table and slab roller

Here in another section of the studio, is a waist high handbuilding station/table, right beside the slab roller.¬† Again a pegboard mounted above gives a place to hang related tools instead of cluttering up the surface .¬† (I haven’t tried it yet, but the table is¬† also the perfect height for throwing on that little tabletop Aspire wheel as well.)¬† Buckets of glaze sit under the table and out of the way.

I was surprised at how much more productive I have been this week and how much calmer I feel overall.¬† Its so much nicer to walk in in the morning and cuz I know I can start working right away and I’ll be able to find what I’m looking for.


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.


Oct 29 2007

Favourite tools to have at the wheel

When you first start learning how to make pottery, you follow your teacher’s lead. You follow the same techniques, use the same tools, and emulate your teacher as best as you can. You take what you learn with you throughout your potting career. Lowell’s favourite thing to say to students as they start out is “First you learn the rules, then you learn there are no rules”. Sure, there are other ways to do the same thing, but as with learning a language, getting a good foundation in the fundamentals is important.

Over time and with experience, we all come to find techniques, tricks, or tools that work better for each of us. Its always fun visiting other peoples’ studios. I’ve noticed over the years that no 2 potters work in exactly the same manner. And potters, while for the most part a kind and friendly lot, are pretty quirky. The longer they work alone in their studio, it seems, the quirkier they get too. …but that’s another post for another day!

Right now I am throwing on an old Creative Industries wheel. I had been throwing on an even older Soldner wheel, up until August when, unfortunately, the 35 yr old motor finally bit the dust (hoping to repair it after this next show).

The chair I use to sit at it is actually an old stool from a yard sale, cut to height. The front legs are cut 2 or so inches shorter than the back legs which makes it less of a strain on my back when leaning over to throw. A low-tech and inexpensive way to work smarter and save your back.

There are a few things I like to have around the wheel:
– A straight sided 2 or 3 gallon water bucket – rim ideal for scraping excess slip off of my hands; clay particles settle nicely in bottom and don’t get stirred up each time I moisten my sponge.
– an old cup to hold my main throwing tools – pin tool, sponge, wooden knife
– a plastic rectangular container for ribs – not pictured, but is an recycled old baby wipes container . The size and shape is just right as was the price
bats – on the left side of the wheel table there is usually a stack of 7″ Creative Industries square bats that I use for smaller items. They have 2 sets of notches molded on the underside to fit different bat pin spacings for both this wheel and the Soldner. Also have 12″ & 14″ round CI bats, and a few Plastibats (which are actually superior, very sturdy and don’t bend, but are unfortunately more expensive). Nice thing about these plastic molded bats is they never rot and seem to last forever. The drawback is they are more expensive, limited in sizes (nothing more than 14″ in diameter). The Creative Industries ones have a tendency to bend when pots being taken off the wheel, so you have to be extra careful.
– a kitchen scale – for weighing pieces of clay out for throwing
– a mirror – (not pictured) helps with seeing the contour of pots while both throwing and trimming. I threw for 2 weeks without one, bending to the side to see the profile, and not only did it kind of slow me down and make my neck/back hurt, but my pots looks different too.
– big table – (the one pictured here is an old door on sawhorses with canvas stretched over it). I will throw a series and when the table is full, get up and move the pots to ware racks.

There was one time I had bins of tools. (Can you have too many tools??) Well, I still have them, but I have narrowed it down to a few that I actually use regularly at the wheel:
– a pin tool;
– a wooden knife;
– a sponge (a medium sized natural sponge; cellulose sponges also work great in a pinch);
wooden ribs (a small kidney shaped and larger one, both Kemper);
2 Sherrill Mudtools – soft/red & hard/green (I like these because unlike a rubber rib they don’t break down and have so far kept their smooth edge; rubber ribs tend to break down within a few months in this climate);
a long metal rib;
– a chamois on a fishing bobber – stays floating in bucket so I don’t ever lose it and its easy to see; cutoff wires of different thicknesses;
– a metal scraper from hardware store;
– a Bison trimming tool
– a Giffin Grip
– a Grabber pad attached to one of my plastic bats mentioned above
– a 16″ square piece of plywood (very low tech) for trimming larger bowls and platters on.
– many sets of metal calipers for fitting lids


Jul 22 2007

Mixing clay.


Today was the first run of our “new” clay mixer. In the spirit of recycling, the mixer is a converted 1915 dough mixer from an old bakery.


As you can see here, its powered by the still useable motor portion of an old generator.

(Our other mixer, which served us well but finally rusted out this spring, was made from a Second World War anti-aircraft gun.)