Tool Review: Bison Trimming Tools

You might have gathered from previous posts that I like tools. For years I limited myself to a the basics. Just a handful of adequate tools that did their job, but they weren’t anything special. I wanted to be able to make pots no matter where I was and no matter what tools were available. After I felt like I was I had pretty much achieved that point, I started collecting tools. I have a thing for well designed tools. A tool that doesn’t wear out in less than a year. One that is so comfortable to hold that it’s basically an extension your hand. One that does something that no other tool can do quite as well. I still only really use a handful of tools on a weekly basis- but instead of being just adequate, they are a pleasure to use.

Bison trimming tools fit my definition of a really great tool. At first, I was quite apprehensive. They are definitely on the expensive side. ($58 for the one below.) But I had been feeling frustrated my trimming tool situation and decided that I would try to solve my dilemma problem several years back during NCECA in the exhibition hall. I had been using Dolan tools for a couple of years. They were quite nice, (the nicest trimming tool that I had ever used up to that point) but I was wearing through them on a regular basis. My main clay body is pretty gritty which was causing a lot of wear. I stopped by the Dolan booth to ask their advice. They said if I was actually wearing through them, there wasn’t much to do. So I headed over to the Bison booth where they had a wheel set up with leather hard pots to trim. I sat down at the wheel, picked up a trimming tool and starting trimming off ribbons of clay. It definitely wasn’t like any other trimming tool that I had ever used. It sliced into the piece with almost no effort. After less than I minute I was hooked. I knew that I could never go back to using any other trimming tool. This sounds dramatic, but I’m serious! This is the tool I ended up bringing home with me from the conference:
I’ve had the large loop tool for about 4 and a half years and have never regretted shelling out the big bucks. It’s sharp, comfortable and the loop is the perfect shape for me. I just love how the sharp edge cuts into the leather hard clay. Eventually, I decided that I needed to add a second tool, a small loop tool for smaller pots and detail work. I ended up picking up a small loop tool at NCECA 2 years later. Again, I fell in love with my new Bison tool. I now have two trimming tools that cover most my trimming needs.
Bison trimming tools are quite different than other trimming tools. They are made of tungsten carbide and are quite brittle but will later forever if cared for properly. Here’s some info about the material they are made from from the Bison website:

All tools are made having tungsten carbide cutters. Tungsten carbide is not related to steel in any way. Nor is it ‘springy’ or bendable in the fingers. Do not twist the end to see how strong it is.

All tools are entirely non-ferrous, and there should be no contamination of porcelain from any oxidation from the tool.

Tungsten carbide is a very hard, dense material. As a consequence, it is somewhat brittle in applications where these unsupported slender sections are extending out from the end of a little stem. One must take care to keep them from spills, falls, or being jumbled in a tool box when traveling. Keep them safe.

One should not tap the tool against things to dislodge a gob of clay, nor should one allow others to do so. Just as with our pots… do not drop them.

 
 

I have actually dropped my large loop tool once onto my concrete floor. My heart stopped for a second, but somehow it didn’t break. I am very careful with these tools, making sure they always has a safe resting place when I put them down.

 

I think that I will need to get my large loop sharpened sometime this year. You can send your tools to Philip Poburka, the maker of these fine tools to get them sharpened. It’s $10.00 for medium or large tools, or $7.00 for smaller and miniature tools plus return shipping. I will plan it so the repair will coincide with a vacation. I don’t want to be without them!

The Bison tools and the Mudcutter are definitely three of the most expensive hand tools that I own. Part of the reason why I wanted to review them was to share my experiences with you to help you judge if it’s worth the money for you. Most of my tastes in tools aren’t so expensive. At some point soon I will be writing a review of a tool that I absolutely can’t live without… and it only costs $1.85 (usually marked down to $1 at NCECA).

6 thoughts on “Tool Review: Bison Trimming Tools

  1. Hi Emily – Thanks for sharing this… I couldn’t get over the “flinch” price tag when I’ve considered these in the past. However, your post sure makes it seem worth it.

  2. One of my mentors once told me never to get attached to any one tool, but once you have had a Bison tool, its very hard to go back. When I have evacuated for hurricanes, my Bison tool goes with me (sounds crazy, doesn’t it?).

  3. This is so interesting Emily. I buy new tools all the time (but not really frequently enough) and I feel it is really bad for the environment you’ve convinced me! thanks heaps

  4. I have two Bison tools and love them. I have discovered that the smaller the trimming tool the more control I have and the faster I can trim.

    I sharpen the tools once a year with a diamond sharpening tool I bought from Lowes. It has a course side and a fine side: I use the fine side. So far I don’t feel that there have been any negative effects of sharpening them myself. I love them too much to ship them away!

    1. Good to know! The one time I sent my Bison away to be sharpened, was right before the birth of my 2nd daughter. I knew I wasn’t going to be working in wet clay for a little while, so I was ok being without it. Thankfully, I’ve only had to have it sharpened once in about 10 years!

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