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.)


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.


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.