Category Archives: Tools

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.

trap

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.

gleco-trap

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.

disconnecting-old-pipes1

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.

assembling-new-trap

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?

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

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!

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.

Simple Tweaks to a Better Wheel Set-up

I have seen too many potter friends suffer with back problems over the years. It’s made me be very conscious about the health of my back and my efforts to stop any problems before they begin. Every potter who throws at a wheel has a different set-up. Although mine is based on a pretty traditional set-up, I have tweaked it enough to be both a more efficient work space and back friendly.
You might notice that there is a 2nd wheel in the background. I have a throwing wheel and a trimming wheel. I love being able to move back and forth between the two wheel and not have to clean up and change the set up. I keep either my Giffin Grip or my foam bat on my trimming wheel. I have it set up in the corner of my studio so I do not track any clay trimmings around my studio.

I know many potters who throw standing up to alleviate any potential back problems. For me this just creates another problem from being on your feet all the time. I think the most important thing I can do is to constantly change my tasks (throwing, trimming, wedging, decorating, glazing, paperwork, cleaning, etc…) and my sitting and standing positions throughout the day. Sometimes I will even give up efficiency for this.

Another thing that I did to help keep my back happy is to get a new throwing stool. After a ridiculous amount of research, I found this great potter’s stool: Artisan S-2 Stool that I bought from Clay King. It’s totally adjustable- both the height and the tilt. It tilts your hips into your work so your back can stay nice and straight. This has made a HUGE difference for me. I also put my non-pedal foot on a brick to keep me balanced and symmetrical.

You might have also noticed from the picture the mirror in front of my wheel. I started doing this a couple of years ago and it has also made my throwing life much happier. It took me about 2 days to get used to it (I had to remember to look up!). It stops me from constantly cranking my head over to the side to see what my piece looks like. It also makes a huge difference in the forms that I thrown. I can see exactly what is happening by looking straight ahead. You can make sure that each piece you throw actually has the shape that you think it does. The result is that both me and my pots have better posture. My back and neck are straighter and my pots end up having more lift.

I feel like I’ve lost a lot of time over the years looking tools on the other side of my splash pan. To stop this problem from continuing, I built this little shelf on the right side of my wheel. All the tools I use regularly are kept right there- nice and easy for me to find. (The mini-Altoids tin is perfect for a pair of bat bins). The tools in the picture are on the list of “clay tools that I cannot live without.” (I’ll talk about that in another post.) This little shelf mean less bending forward trying to search for the clay covered rib that has slipped under the splash pan…. My throwing bucket sits right in front of the shelf also for easy access (I’m right handed).

I realize how much I miss my tweaked space when I am teaching and do not have this set up.
A couple of (cheap!) things that you can do, even if it’s in a shared space, like a classroom:

  • Tilt a standard throwing stool by sticking a 2 x 4 under the back 2 legs. You can even drill into the wood about 1/4 – 1/2 an inch so the stool won’t accidentally slip off the wood.
  • Get a mirror. A hardware store, thrift store or Ikea are all great places to find a mirror. The just lean it up against whatever is in front of the wheel- shelves, a table, a wall. You’ll really see a difference in your throwing, and your back might be a bit less achy.
  • Keep your tools and water bucket on a stool next to your wheel. You can keep the stool clean by putting a bat on top of the stool, and tools and bucket on top of that.

update (10/29/07)- a post from John Zentner about his standing wheel set-up on his blog pots and other things.

update (10/30/07)- another great post from Anne Webb at Webb Pottery about her favorite tools and her wheel set-up.

update (10/30/07)- an article from the archives of Studio Potter magazine on back problems and potters.

update (10/31/07)- a post from Jeanette Harris about tools that she can’t do without.

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!