How it's made
|Ever wonder how your pottery was created?
Here, I outline my process of transforming a
lump of clay into beautiful and functional
Wedging the Clay
The first step in making something from clay is wedging. This is a
process that removes air bubbles from the clay you will be using. It
is of utmost importance because when they are in the kiln, air
bubbles will expand, leaving wart-like bubbles or even cracks in a
When I first purchase my clay it has already had the air removed by
a machine called a pug mill, but in order to reuse my scrap pieces
of clay, I must first wedge them
Throwing at the wheel
To prepare for throwing at the wheel, I first weigh out chunks of clay
to the size appropriate to the form I will be throwing, in this case, 1
3/4 lb for tankards. I then shape the clay into nice balls so that
centering (the first step in throwing) will be easier.
Now I throw the intended form. This involves first getting the clay
uniformly to center, then opening a hole in the middle, and finally pulling
the clay upward into form. Once the walls of the piece are of a uniform
thinness, and I have shaped the piece to the form I desire, I cut the piece
from the wheel and move it to a board to slowly dry. For flat pieces, they
remain on a bat that is attached to the wheel head, and the entire bat is
moved for drying and to make way for the next piece to be thrown.
After drying to what is called a "leather hard" state, handles can be added,
the piece an be trimmed, and any other alterations can be made.
To make flat pieces, especially if they are in a shape other than round, I
use a process called slab building. First I must prepare a slab. I do this
by cutting a piece of clay from the bag, and then stretching it by hand until
it is long and thin. I accomplish this by throwing it out on the table... almost
like a pizza dough.
Once the slab is about three times as thick as I want it, I transfer it to my
slab roller. The clay is put between two pieces of canvas and forced
through a pair of toothed rollers. Each side of the roller is adjustable to a
very accurate degree, so I can make the slab as thick or as thin as I want. I
can even have a gradient from one side to the other, if I so choose.
Now I take the slab and smooth it and compress it with a drywall knife. I
compress it in several directions, this makes the slab stronger, and the
finished piece more durable. Then I cut it to the approximate size of the
mold I am using. I lay it in the mold and smooth it in with a sponge.
Then I trim it and if I am going to emboss it I do so now. I let it set up in
the mold for a day or so and then remove it to finish the edges and allow
it to dry.
Handles and Finish-work
Glazing and Final Firing
Little e Pottery
Once a piece has dried to the leather hard state I can add handles and
knobs , trim the bottom of a piece to make it smooth, and any other
finishing touches can be completed. Here I show how I handle my
tankards and mugs. It starts with a process called extruding. I have a
large extruder tube that forces the clay through a cut metal die so that I
can get long rope of clay that is of uniform shape and thickness.
I will extrude until I have an entire board of what will become handles, and
let them dry until they have reached a workable consistency. Then I score
the body of the piece to be handled with a needle tool, score the edges of
the handles where they will be attached, and finally, press the handle into
the body of the piece. Then I smooth the connection until it looks fluid and
I am confident that the connection is solid and secure.
Upon completion, everything must be completely dry before it goes into
the first firing, or the bisque firing. Any remaining water will expand rapidly
at its boiling temperature and create cracks, or even minor explosions in
firing pieces. Depending on the size of the piece and the number of
attachments this may take from one day to over a week. When completely
bone dry, clay pieces are referred to as green ware. Green ware is
incredibly delicate because it is essentially shaped dirt. The purpose of
the bisque firing is to strengthen the pieces so that they may be handled
for glazing. In this firing I take the kiln to cone 06 (cones are one way to
measure temperature in a kiln), or 1828 degrees Fahrenheit.
My studio cat, Marvin.
Before you can glaze a piece, you have to have glaze! I make my own
from raw minerals. Glaze recipes must be weighed out precisely in
order to get consistent results. As I measure each ingredient, I add
them to a bucket with some water. Once the entire recipe is measured, I
drill mix it and sieve it so it will have a uniform consistency. Finally, I
measure the specific gravity of the mixture with a hydrometer, and add
water and drill mix again until I get the desired viscosity.
Once my pieces have come out of the bisque firing, they are strong
enough to handle, and are ready for the glazing process. The first, and
perhaps most important, step is to put paraffin wax anywhere that I do
not want to have glaze. The glaze becomes molten in the final firing, and
turns into a glass. If there is glaze on the bottom of a piece it will
become fused to the kiln shelf, or if there is glaze between a base and a
lid of a piece they will become permanently fused together. So I brush or
dip those parts with melted paraffin wax.
Once they are all waxed, I can finally glaze them. I drill mix the glaze I am
about to use, and then dip the pieces according to the color patterns I
want them to be in. Because the glaze is just minerals in water, it must
be stirred before each pot is dipped. The glaze dries quickly into a
When I have glazed enough pieces to fill the kiln, I load it again. This
time fire it to cone 6, or 2232 degrees Fahrenheit. When the pieces
come out, they are finally complete!
This is a platter glazed
in the color combination