Category Archives: Tool Making

Studio work table

The last table for my studio was finished this week. It can be wheeled back and forth between the glaze room and the throwing room depending on what I’m working on. I designed it with a fairly large overhang so it’s comfortable to work at. I hate sitting at studio tables when you can’t really sit at it with your legs under the table. Storage is good, but not at the expense of a comfortable working space.

The top of the table is covered in canvas. If you’ve never stretched canvas before, here’s a little tutorial on how to do it.  It’s something that I learned how to do from my dad, who is a painter. It’s basically the same process of stretching a canvas for painting, but on a solid surface, like plywood. If it’s not stretched right, it will be really annoying to work on. One thing that I do that’s a little different from the paint canvas technique is I wet the canvas down with a sponge. It makes it a little easier to stretch and you’ll end up with a tighter fit. I usually buy my canvas at an art supply store, but during one of the discussions on Facebook, someone suggested getting a canvas drop cloth from the painting department at Home Depot. It has a coarser texture, but a good price if the size works for you. It’s an interesting idea.

pottery-studio-table

When I was shopping around for really good locking casters for the table, Kristin Kieffer suggested that I get casters from Caster City. So I ordered up 4 for the table and they’re great! When you’re shopping around for casters for a table like this, make sure you get dual locking casters. It’s really solid enough that you can wedge on it.

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You might have seen my post last week about my built in trimming splash pan. I asked for photos or links to other DIY splash pans and Ben Stark shared a post with me that he had written a while back. So here’s another splash pan idea, courtesy of Ben Stark Pottery:

ben-stark

Make sure you look at the original post. The way he designed it to be removable and slide on and off the wheel is pretty genius! If you have any projects that you’ve done at your studio, send me photos or links! I love this stuff! Just send an email to: emily (at) emilymurphy.com or post a comment on any blog post and I’ll see it. Thanks for sharing Ben!

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The next project that I’m working on (and will be blogging about shortly) is a new photo taking set-up. I’m really excited about it- and excited to share it. In the age of digital cameras and Etsy, it’s something that we all want to have. I’ve been designing my set up for years, but never had a good place to actually build it. When I took an informal poll f potters about what they wished they had in their studio that they didn’t have, a photo taking set-up was top on the list. Part of the light diffuser that I built is made out of PVC. Last week Miri, over at Nick and Miri’s PR Prattle had some fun ideas about PVC including this get dolly for kiln shelves (photo below). The Rincon Facebook Fan Page had some more ideas too. I love the description of PVC being tinker toys for adults.  ha!

kiln-shelf-storage1

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A couple of weeks ago, I was catching up with some shows on Tivo, and something caught my eye. It looked like the character, Angela, on the show Bones, was wearing one of my pendants. I have no idea if it really is, but when I look at it, my reaction is: Hey! That’s one of mine!  It’s a simple design that is not unusual, but the coloration and the knotting of it makes me feel like there is no question. If it is, it’s one of the larger sizes, stoneware with tile 6 slip, a very light spray of a copper glaze around the center. Anyway, it’s fun to think that one of my pieces ended up on a show that I love. A few years back I had some large bottles and platters in the show “Dream Home” on HGTV. A producer borrowed some pieces for the season finale. I wish I had some screen shots from that show!

After I finish my photo set-up, I’ll have some more pendants up on Etsy in the next couple of weeks. My shop’s been empty for a long time. Time to dust it off!

angela-bones

Trimming splash pan

One of the things that I knew I wanted to build in my new studio was a nice big splash pan for my trimming wheel (I have a separate one that I use for throwing). I often use a large foam bat or a Giffen Grip, so a regular splash pan just doesn’t work. Plus the clay trimmings can sort of fly all over the place, so I needed something with tall sides. Over the course of the studio construction, I’ve been brainstorming different designs. Mostly, I’ve been over thinking it and over designing it. Suddenly last week I had a moment when it hit me- and the solution was the simplest design of all.

I always like having my trimming wheel in a corner.  Since I don’t clean up my trimmings every day, I like having it out of the way so I don’t track the trimmings around the rest of the studio. So I already had 2 walls  next to my wheel. Separating my two wheels is a wedging table. It’s bolted to the wall and I decided to add some sides to the table to keep trimmings and wheel splatter from getting over all the stuff stored under the wedging table. So that gave me the 3rd side of my box.

So this is what I came up with:

built-in-splash-pan

My trimming wheel is a Brent wheel that I picked up 2nd hand from a friend. Brent wheels have a metal plate under the wheel head. A normal splash pan fits under that metal plate. If you put the splash pan above the plate, you’ll end up with a spinning splash pan. So I definitely wanted to avoid having anything above the plate, but with plywood, I couldn’t fit it below, so I just went around the plate.

brent-wheel-splash-pan

Here’s a close-up of the plate and how the board fits around it.

close-up-splash-pan

I wanted to be able to remove the “splash pan” for cleaning, or if I wanted to use the wheel to throw occasionally. So it sits on top of 2 strips of wood screwed into the wall and the wedging table.

splash-pan-support

So there you have it. My super simple solution for my trimming splash pan. Of course, odds are you don’t have the exact same space as me, but the idea is adaptable.

I would love to see other photos of homemade splash pans, or other studio solutions. Send me an email with a photo and description if you have something to share: emily (at) emilymurphy.com

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Besides the new splash pan, it’s been a busy week around the studio.  The building out of it is just about finished.

I also installed a new clay trap under my studio sink. I’ll be posting photos about that on the blog soon. My last work table is built and the casters for it arrived today.

Over on the Emily Murphy Pottery Facebook Fan Page, the conversation has been continuing between blog posts. I can’t believe it took me so long to make a Facebook page, I’m having so much fun with it! It’s been a great way to connect with people and I’m getting a ton of ideas for blog posts from it. Everyone wants more tool making tutorials!

I recently caught up with several months of pottery blog reading. My Google Reader was full of unread posts. Now that I’m caught up, I’ve been adding lots of new blogs to my blogroll. I’ll be posting about that soon, but if you want to get a jump start, check out my updated list here. Let me know if there are any that I should add that I’m missing. My 2 main criteria are: it must be mostly about clay, and it must have real written content, not just posts that update Etsy, etc… My blogroll is connected to my Google Reader, so I read every blog on the list. So I have to have some sort of limits on it!

I’m heading over to Continental Clay right now to pick up some Grolleg Porcelain! It’s (finally!!!!) time to start throwing! I can’t wait!

How to make a USB powered pottery wheel

I just came across this little instructional video for a making a USB powered mini pottery wheel out of an old hard disk drive:

Of course this is not something that you could really go into production with, but it is pretty amusing. Maybe I can talk Ian into trying out this little hack sometime.  It probably wouldn’t be a great idea to have clay so close to a computer. Perhaps a USB extension cord would be an important part of this project.

If anyone out there tries this out, please let me know… and send pictures!

How to: make a cut off wire

I have some issues with the standard cut off wire. They can break and it usually isn’t easy to replace the wire. Sometimes you need a longer wire to cut off a big platter. And sometimes you want something different from you wire – either a thinner wire or maybe something that will add texture.

To make a cut off “wire” that fits your needs, this is what you need to get started:

  • A pair of corks. I prefer the rubber wine corks.
  • A drill with a small drill bit.
  • A wire of some sort: fishing line, thin wire, a stretched out spring.**
Drill a hole into the center of your cork.    

Thread your cord, wire or spring through the cork. If you’re using fishing line, thread it through multiple times and tie a couple of knots. If you’re using beading wire, use a crimp bead. If you’re using a spring or other single ply wire, twist the wire after you thread it through the cork.


An added bonus: they float!
Next blog post will have some images of the wires in action.

**Some ideas for “wires:”
  • Fishing line of whatever thickness you prefer. You can find it as hardware stores, Target, craft stores, sporting good stores, etc…
  • If you prefer to have an actual wire, beading wire is perfect! There are a bunch of different brands out there. Look for multi-strand braided wire. You can find it at craft stores and anywhere they sell beads. Or you can find it here.
  • To make a wavy texture wire, you need to find a spring that is made from a thin gauge wire that will be easy to stretch out. I have found the BEST springs at one of my favorite stores – American Science Surplus in Chicago (and they only cost 20 cents!). Unfortunately, they don’t sell the exact wire online, but you can get a package of assorted springs from them here, and I’m pretty sure that you can find something that’ll work in the package.

Check out some more of my “How to” posts. If you have any suggestions for future tutorials, send me an email or add a comment!

How to: Make a texture roller for clay

This project is instant gratification. Something that is not that common in the world of clay. With this texture roller, you can use it as soon as the hot glue has cooling, which is very fast. It’s a great project to do in a class, or on your own so you have a custom tool that no one else has.

Supplies:

  • a roller of some sort (cut up pieces of PVC, empty rolls of tape, couplings for PVC, plastic rolling pins from the dollar store or craft store).
  • a sharpie.
  • a hot glue gun. They only cost a couple of bucks.
  • extra hot glue sticks.

Draw your pattern onto the rolling pin. It’s easier to work out the pattern before with a Sharpie than it is later with the hot glue. Think about some sort of connected pattern, they tend to have the best results. And don’t go overboard with the lines, you’ll regret it later. And remember that the hot glue line aren’t going to be perfect, so just go with the imperfection.

While you’re drawing, plug in your hot glue gun. Make sure that you do it on a surface that you can toss when done, like newspaper or cardboard. When you’re done drawing on your design, start gluing. Be a bit heavy handed with the glue. If the lines are too thin, they won’t show up on the clay as well.

After the glue seems cool, start rolling away… The first attempt might stick a bit, but after there is some dusty clay on the roller, it won’t really stick.

If you’re not a hand builder, a nice use for one of these textured slabs is in the bottom of a thrown and altered casserole.

How to make a bat gripper

I went through a period of time early in my ceramics career where I was a tool minimalist. It’s something that I think every potter should go through. I had 3 tools that I would use: a wire tool, a wooden knife tool, and a basic wooden rib. I was even flexible with what tool filled those 3 slots. I like the idea that it was really about how I moved the clay, not the tools or gadgets. And I also like the idea that wherever I was in the world, I would be able to throw a pot- regardless of the tools. This idea has also led me to using many different types of clay, and to throw on different types of wheels. It makes me a portable potter. So even though that’s my philosophy on clay tools…
..I LOVE TOOLS! I know how to work with the fewest possible tools, but I really enjoy working with many tools. It can allow you to do something with greater ease, or achieve a new surface, or just make you happy because of its cleverness.
At some point over the last 5 or 6 years a little boom of new tools popped up, many as a side business from a potter who was making cool tools for themselves. I’m happy to be a potter during this period. I love trying out different things, and sometimes (many times) I get hooked on one. I am going to be sharing with you some tools that I really love, and some tools that I make myself in the tool section of this blog.

A tool that I really dug was the Bat Grabber.

I loved it for teaching when I was working on a wheel that had worn holes for bat pins to stop the wobble. I also loved it under the little square bats that tend to lift a little when making a tall piece in my studio. But it had a problem where it would start to erode over time (you can see that from the pictures). And then they stopped being made (the material was no longer manufactured). So I had to do something to fill my need of a new Bat Grabber and here is what I did…

I got a roll of rubbery shelf liner. The cheapest one I could find; but I think that any would work. You can probably use a rug pad too.
 

With a Sharpie, I used a bat to trace out the circle and to draw in the placement of the bat pin holes. I made both a 14″ circle and a 12″ circle. Just because.

Then you cut it out, including the holes.
To use it: dip it in some water and squeeze out the excess. Then stick it on your wheel head, and use a bat on top. Circular, square, plastic, wood or foam covered. They will all stay a little bit more secure with this do-it-yourself bat gripper.

(Don’t forget to make pots when you’re not making tools…)

How to: Make a Foam Bat

A foam bat is endlessly helpful for trimming large pieces, and having a soft surface to work with altered pieces on.

You will need:
*A new clean bat. I used a 22″ Hydra Bat from Continental Clay.
*High density foam (it won’t flatten out when you put a heavy piece on it).
*A can of spray adhesive.
*An electric knife.
*A Sharpie or any permanent marker.

Take the bat outside and spray the bottom of it with spray adhesive.

 

Spray one side of the foam with spray adhesive. Put the adhesive sides together and press evenly.

 

Put the bat, bat side up on a banding wheel and cut off excessive foam with the electric knife. This will give you a nice clean edge.

 

Place the bat on your wheel using bat pins to ensure it’s perfectly centered. Use your marker and ruler to make concentric circles. 
Until you get to the outside edge. 
Then trim away!