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.
Generally 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 😉