Category Archives: Reviews

a (follow-up) study of clay bodies from Continental Clay fired in a soda firing

Collage of Continental Clay clay bodies soda fired to cone 10 in reduction.

Over the years, you may have come across some tea bowls that I made of the clay bodies at Continental Clay in their shop in Minneapolis and also shared in a previous blog post as well as. The blog post still gets a ton of visits, but it felt like time to update them… it has been 13 years! New examples! Better photos! More clay bodies!

I use these examples to help my students at the Northern Clay Center choose what they want clay body they to use (minus soda and woodfire clays). I hope these photos capture the range of finishes these clay bodies give and can help some of you decide what you want to use, too! Each piece is glazed in a thin shino, just on the interior. The soda ash in the shino comes through the wall of the bisqued clay and adds another level of flashing to the piece! All pieces were fired to cone 10 in reduction with soda sprayed in around cone 9. I’ve added some thoughts on each of the clays. I highly encourage you to play around with different clay bodies in soda – whether it is from Continental or another supplier. You can change the surface of your piece with flashing slips – or by switching up the clay!

First up is the Soda Clay body from Continental Clay. It has beautiful flashing and great orange peel that can have a lovely green color to it. It is groggy and can be rough at first, but you’ll quickly get used to it quickly4. But it will dull your trimming tools quickly! It has some excellent durability that can stand a lot of abuse. It seems like it has an above average high alumina content and can be a bit dry when not hit with soda. But a lovely range of flashing and texture to it. When I was primarily soda firing, this was my main clay. It a custom body that we used at Lillstreet, and then CC adapted it into their own Soda Clay body.

The B Clay from Continental Clay is a dream to throw and can flash spectacularly in a soda firing. Especially with shino as the liner glaze! The range of color is wide. And although this sample is very colorful, it still doesn’t catch all it can do. If it is in an oxidized pocket of the kiln, it can be more tan and even in color. It’s the top clay body choice by my soda students at NCC. And probably my favorite clay to throw. Both B Clay and porcelain do some extra flashing when lined with shino.

Grolleg Porcelain has my heart! It can be fickle, but when it does its thing, it is glorious! Again, the secret is glazing with shino as a liner so it takes the flashing up a few notches. Check out the range of colors! The peachy color really comes out when the piece is thin and a liner glaze of shino is used. If Grolleg is in a pocket of oxidation, it can be just white. Or if it is in a heavy soda and reduction area, it can be a shiny grey sharkskin finish! This is the main clay I use in my cone 10 oxidation work too.

The test cups that I’ve made of Domestic Porcelain from Continental Clay in the soda kiln always crack me up. I made one, fired it and it came out miles more gorgeous than any other example that I had seen of the clay come out of the soda kiln. So I made ANOTHER one and fired that. And that was equally stunning. But seriously, it doesn’t usually look this dynamic. It’s a nice clay body – and is significantly less expensive than Grolleg, but out of the soda kiln, it usually gets an “eh” from students who try it. But I can’t seem to recreate the typical results it on my test cups. Maybe the kiln is just messing with me. Or maybe it just reacts really well with shino on the inside and thin walls. So I will leave it all up to you to decide if you want to dive in with Domestic Porcelain or not. And maybe share some photos so I can see what’s happening in other kilns!

Wood Fire Porcelain is one of the Continental Clay clay bodies that I haven’t worked much with, so my opinions and information is limited. I had been expecting more range of color, but on the pieces I have soda fired, the color range is limited to mostly tan with hints of peach. It throws nicely (especially for a porcelain!). And feels like you can push it quite a bit. It can go up to cone 12. I really loved throwing it. And have fired a few pieces in c.10 oxidation too. It’s a bit creamier in color than Grolleg, but it is a small difference. I’m excited to fire this in a wood kiln sometime! The pieces I have seen that have been woodfired are gorgeous.

The Fireclay Stoneware from Continental Clay is a toasty choice for the soda kiln. It throws well and has a nice range of warm tones in it. It doesn’t attract soda as strongly as the B Clay. So there can be dry spots if it doesn’t get a direct hit with soda. But when it does get a heavy hit, there can be some rich dark tones that are quite stunning. I enjoy the Fireclay Stoneware with flashing slips brushed on. The contrast can be quite stunning!

The Fireclay Stoneware with Iron from Continental Clay is the same body as above – but with some extra iron oxide added. That iron gives it an deeper, darker color in soda. I have had some students who are looking for a metallic finish and they will use this body, and then use an iron oxide wash on top of it. I love applying a light colored flashing slip with a coarse brush. And glazes that really react to iron really shine on this clay body.

Buff Stoneware is another clay that I haven’t used that much. But my students do use it regularly. It is a sandy (as opposed to groggy) clay that always feels kind of “fluffy” when I throw it. And when that thought pops into my head, I always chuckle to myself. How can clay be fluffy?! The orange peel texture from when it is hit with a lot of soda is much finer than the Soda Clay, for example. It’s a nice body to throw and has nice toasty flashing in the soda kiln.

If you’re looking to work in a thick, sculptural way, there is nothing better than the Raku Clay body from Continental Clay. It flashes a warm, toasty color in soda. It resists soda so it rarely gets too juicy, in my experience. But its unique coloring and durability is sometimes the best choice for some pieces. It can take a lot of altering, paddling and variety of thicknesses. I also enjoy the clay that is revealed from the rough, quick trimming. I haven’t used it much, personally, but I’ve had quite a few soda students use it so I’ve seen many examples over the years.

I thought I’d share some of my favorite clay, in action. This pair of mugs were made from Grolleg Porcelain. The darker band is smooth orange flashing slip. And the blue is spray of Randy’s Green. They are lined with shino. And the reds/ pinks are copper that is flashing from the copper rich glaze that is sprayed on. I had to keep this pair in my own collection. All the parts came together so beautifully that I knew I had to keep them around because there was more to learn from them.

New clay trap for the studio sink

It’s been a busy week setting up the final details of my studio. I know once I’m deep into the clay, it’s hard to find the motivation to take care to the remaining items on the to-do list. I really don’t want to mess up the plumbing, so I was anxious to figure out some sort of clay trap for the sink.


Whenever I think about a clay trap, I have the image of a box trap trying to entice the tiny clay clay particles from escaping down the plumbing.

But that doesn’t really seem like a realistic solution! I had been planning on putting together my own trap, but then I read of stories about how they can “go bad” by getting super stinky or leaky or they prove to be too difficult to change when they get full. So I got scared off of  the DIY solution. If it’s something that you’ve thought about doing, these plans look interesting. Then there is the Gleco Trap. People seem to like it, but the little containers seem expensive, and as a full time potter, I was worried that I would have to change it all the time.  Then I discovered that they had a couple of larger sizes, but the price tag was too steep. Thanks to Facebook, Paul Randall gave me a fantastic tip.  Gleco Traps are used by dentists, and if you buy directly though a dental supply company, they’re much cheaper. I am a huge supporter of ceramics suppliers (trust me, they get lots of my money!), but I couldn’t ignore the price difference. Since I first looked at the traps, the price from the dental company has inched up a little, and the price from the ceramic supply company has dropped quite a bit. But when I bought it, it was literally almost half the price.


The directions are pretty straight forward. When we first had a sink installed, we left room for a system under the sink, so it was easy. If you have a closed sink cabinet, it would be good to make sure you have enough room to squeeze it in before you order it. I bought the 3.5 gallon size. There is also a 5 gallon size, but this seemed like it would be enough, plus it would be a little more manageable.


It comes with lots of extra fittings so it should work with most plumbing situations. Everything just screws together so you can disassemble it when you need to change the bucket. The downside is that you do need to buy a whole replacement bucket. But hopefully that will be a long time from now.


I have no idea if this is going to be the ideal solution, I’ll let you know in the coming months. You can see into the semi-transparent bucket and how much sediment is in to so it’ll be obvious when it needs to be replaced. Changing the bucket will really be the test of the system! It does have the possibility of getting a little stinky, so they suggest adding chlorine crystals from a pool supply company, but it seems like bleach should do the trick, right? That’s what I’ve done with other trap systems.

What do you do in your studio to keep the plumbing from getting clogged?

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).

Tool Review: Mudcutter

The Mudtool Mudcutter. This is one of the tools that I cannot live without. Ok, that is a slight exaggeration… it’s a tool that I can’t work in my studio without.

It’s basically a giant cheese slicer with a super thin wire. It’s on the expensive side (retails for about $30). When so many of our clay hand tools cost $2 – $5, this is a bit of a jump up. But it really a tool that I use every day, throughout the day in my studio, so for me, it’s definitely been worth it.
I use this for the Mudtool Mudcutter for 5 basic studio tasks.
Here they are (in order frequency):

  • I use it for cutting clay when I’m weighing out uniform pieces. I can cut the clay using the Mudcutter with one hand (my right) and then I can pick up the chunk of clay with my left hand, put it on the scale to weigh it. I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it shaves a couple seconds off each time I weigh a piece of clay. It adds up! 
  • Cutting feet on plates and platters:
  • Cutting off the exess clay from the bottom of a handle on a mug.
  • Faceting!
  • Cutting a teapot spout at an angle to fit the body of the pot. The super thin wire doesn’t have much drag, so you don’t distort the spout.

There are more uses for this tool, but those are my top 5. The 2 parts that make this so tool unique: The very thin wire that cuts through clay without drag, and the depth of the area between the wire and the frame.

One time, a couple of years ago, the wire snapped. I ordered replacements… and it turns out that they were out of stock. I had to wait about 6 weeks for the replacement wire. It was hard being without it. I now have a couple stashed in my studio so I’ll never be caught without a replacement again.

I don’t know if this is a tool that would be helpful to you, but it’s one of my “must haves.” I had no idea when I bought it that it was going to become a tool of daily use for me.

What are some of your favorite tools?

The Magic of Clay

I added this book to my library of ceramics books a couple of weeks ago. It’s written in the form of a children’s book with beautiful collage images and is chock full of technical information. The Magic of Clay by Adalucia Quan covers a wide variety of topics: where clay comes from; the chemical make-up of clay; varieties of clay; potter’s tools; wedging; slip & oxides; the stages of clay; types of firings; pyrometric cones, etc… All the fundamental information that ceramic artists (students, amatuers and professionals alike) should know about.

The Magic of Clay would be great required reading for beginning and intermediate ceramics classes. It takes a lot of the technical information and puts it into a format that is easy to understand. For some, the talk about alumina and silica can be pretty dry and not very engaging. This book definitely makes learning about the chemical make-up of clay pretty interesting and will engage clay-geeks and non-clay geeks alike. (I self identify as a clay-geek.)

Tool Review: Bevel-o-Matic

I picked up some new tools at NCECA last month. One of the tools that I bought from Bracker’s is the Bevel-o-Matic from Todd Sholtz of I had wanted to talk with Todd about his new tool, but I kept missing him. So I brought it home from Pittsburgh and started using it… without any directions. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out how to use it, and I instantly loved it. After I got home that night, I checked in online to see what sort of info was up about this new tool. That’s where I discovered that I was using it incorrectly. Oops! But I liked how it worked and I’ll have to play around with it some more to see if I want to change my ways.

The Bevel-o-Matic is a simple tool for beveling the edge of a leather hard slab with a razor sharp cutter at a 45 degree angle so you can create a clean, sharp mitered joint. I’ve used several other bevelers that are designed with an angled wire to cut the edge but I didn’t love them. For the way that I use a beveling tool, I prefer the beveler’s sharp razor edge better than the wire ones.

Here are some images of the Bevel-o-Matic in use:

Above you can see how I used the tool. (correct/suggested usage is the last photo). I hooked the metal Bevel-o-Matic over the edge of the table and pushed the leather hard slab over the tool. The clay is easily cut away leaving a very clean beveled edge. Caution: By using it this way, you do have the possibility of cutting yourself. I did like how hooking the bevel tool over the edge of the table allowed me to have lots of resistance and made it easy to cut a slab that was pretty firm. 

I have all the parts for my box waiting to be joined with the nicely beveled edges:

The parts went together perfectly thanks to good measuring and nicely beveled edges.
Here is the proper way to use the Bevel-o-Matic. You’re supposed to drag it across the top of the clay instead of hooking it onto the table and running the clay over it.

Thanks to Bracker’s for this photo. 


Of course there are other options for beveling, and you don’t need a special tool…but I appreciate a tool that makes a job a little easier. If you’re a big hand builder, and you’ve been using this tool regularly, I’d love to hear from you.


Another note on… I wrote about this company 3 years ago on this blog after I got a signature stamp made: A Potter’s Mark: Signing Pots.

Peace, love and leather hard pots.

One of my favorite moments when I’m making pots is that moment in time when the clay has firmed up enough to handle without distortion. The moment when you can take a trimming tool to the bottom of the pot and you get nice long ribbons of trimmings that don’t gum up your tool.

Normally, the moment in time when the pots are perfect for stamping, carving, slipping and trimming is a moment that I experience in solitude with my pots. But I thought that I would try to share a bit of this moment with you. Below are some images of cups that I made today. They are freshly stamped and awaiting a second trip to the wheel for trimming.

You can see in the image (below) on the left that the soft clay is impressed deep enough that you can see the stamping on the inside of the cup. I hope that you can get a sense of the depth of the stamping from the image on the right from the pictures (click on them to see the image larger). The clay has to be dry enough that the stamp doesn’t stick to the clay, but soft enough to get a deep impression without cracking. More to come on this series in future posts!


I know that I am not alone in my love of leather hard clay. I see lots of freshly made pots in the posts of my fellow clay bloggers! I have put together some pictures (and links) from their sites to share with you.
Eleanor Hendricks of Fenelon Falls, Ontario, shared some great pictures on her blog last week illustrating her love of the process of making. She ended her post with this question:

Does anyone else sometimes treasure the process more than the finished products? 


Amy Sanders, of Charlotte, North Carolina, shared this image on her blog of her carved plates. What beautiful lines! As usual, with pots, it’s all about the timing!
I love how these drying beer cups from Euan Craig caught the sunlight in Mashiko, Japan. The perfect moment of leather hard met the perfect moment of sunlight streaming in his studio.
Cheryl Alena Bartram of Golden, British Columbia, shares this great image of tumblers on her blog. I can imagine the board of cups going on and on and on and on…. I have been known to base the amount of pots that I throw in a sitting based on the length of a board or the size of the table.
Douglas Fitch makes pots “in middle of nowhere, north of Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom,” far from my studio in Chicago. But when I see these images of the rough leather hard pots I think I can smell the mustiness of the clay… and that’s a great thing.
I find that there is little more satisfying in a day’s work that a table covered in finished pots.
John Zhender (from my home state of New Hampshire) posted this satisfying image of finished banks and lidded cups on his blog:
Look at these gorgeous plates that Ron Philbeck made at his studio in Shelby, North Carolina! I think I have to throw some plates tomorrow…
One of my favorite clay books is A Potter’s Workbook by Clary Illian. The images in the book are almost all photos of leather hard pots. The focus is on the forms without any distraction of decoration or firing technique. If you make functional pots, I highly recommend adding this book to your collection.

Surface Decoration Techniques: faceting with a wire.

Faceting the walls of pots is a great way to change the surface of a piece. The facets can be highlighted with atmospheric firings and glazes that break on high points. There are many ways to facet a pot – wet or leather hard, with a wire or a special faceting tool, with a straight wire or a curly wire. Each choice will give you a different final look. I do have a personal preference for faceting while wet. If you facet right on the wheel after your piece is thrown, you can still alter the shape while pushing out from the inside of the piece and you can “re-throw” the lip which is great for a drinking vessel! And if you happen to go through the wall of your pot, you can still re-wedge the clay and try again. 

Below are images of a sample cup of wire faceting techniques:


top left: a curly wire that I made that you can see in a previous blog post.
top right: a Bill Van Gilder Wiggle Wire.
bottom left: a Mud Tool straight wire tool.
bottom right: a Mud Tool curly wire

And below you can see the finished result of the sampler cup:
clay body: Lillstreet Soda Clay
firing: soda fired, c. 10 reduction
slip: top half dipped in Bob Briscoe’s Slip for all Occasions
glaze: rutile blue
This is part of my “Surface Decoration Technique” series.
I have been creating, soda firing and documenting simple straight sided cylinders with a variety of surface treatments for examples for my classes and this blog. The original idea was to create demos to show students that aren’t specifically “my pieces.” The fun result of this project has been that it’s given me an excuse to return to things long forgotten and to try some new techniques.
Watch out for upcoming tutorials with lots of pictures and slip and glaze recipes. 

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!

Ask a Potter: Photography

I regularly get questions emailed to me about clay, kilns, the business of clay, etc… I have decided to start a series “Ask a Potter” where I answer some of these questions on that I think will be interesting and helpful to other readers. Please feel free to share your 2 cents and join in on the dialog!

Who takes your photos? What kind of camera do you use?
-Diane in Georgia

My “professional” images are taken by Guy Nicol in Chicago.
His studio is also at Lillstreet Studios. If you’re not in the Chicago area, don’t let that stop you, you can ship your work to him.
I have been using Guy for my photos for the last 7 years, and his work is amazing. He specializes in studio arts such as ceramics, jewelry, fibers, etc… I’ve used the images he taken to apply to shows as well as promotional materials (postcards, business cards, etc…). Some of Guy’s images of my work published in exhibition catalogs, 500 Cups (2 images), 500 Pitchers (2 images) and Ceramics Monthly. 

Some examples of photos that Guy has taken for me recently:


I do take lots of photos myself that are posted on this blog. I got a new digital camera early last fall, the Canon PowerShot A570 and I’ve been really happy with it. 

I would say the photos that I take myself fall into 3 categories – personal, studio shots/ works in progress, and images for online selling. I’ve been dabbling in online selling for a while trying to figure out what outlet I think is best. I’m finally ready to jump into the Etsy pool (more on that to come!) and easy, high quality photos are a necessity.

Below are some photos that I have taken with my digital camera: