The Right Tools

The right tools can make all the difference. It’s just as true of a pottery shop as it is with a wood shop. And, as with a wood shop, good tools are expensive.

Brent Manual Clay Extruder D3

One of the tools with which I became acquainted this week is a table-mounted clay extruder. The device consists of a large upright steel tube equipped with a plunger that fits into the top of the tube. At the bottom of the tube a disc die is inserted; a separate disc is used to cover the holes that are not to be used.  A large piece of clay, shaped to fit in the tube, is placed inside the tube and the handle of the plunger is pulled down to force the clay through the die to be collected below.  I used the tool to produce coils of clay to be incorporated into a coil pot.  Using different die, it can be used to produce hollow circular or square tubes, among many other shapes.  It would be a great tool to have in one’s pottery shop.  Good tools are not cheap; this one is on sale for $510.

Another interesting and useful tool I looked at closely earlier in the week is called a slab roller.  This one is a Brent SR20.  It is used to compress blocks of clay into slabs of uniform thickness, from almost paper-thin to 1.5 inches thick. The uniformity makes production of slab vessels and tiles more consistent.  Canvas cloth can be used on top of the clay to keep the roller from sticking to it; this can give the slab an interesting texture. This slab roller pictured here, one of the pricier in the online catalog I’ve looking at, goes for $2141 on sale.  I found another one that would do the job at onlyl $698.50.

During the process of making pottery, considerable volumes of clay dries and becomes scrap.  Using those scraps requires that the clay be worked or “wedged” to remove air; clay that has dried a bit may require the addition of water to soften it and make it workable.  Wedging clay is hard work and takes a lot of time.  The answer to all that time and effort is to invest (dearly) in a pug mill, a device that does all the work for you.  I did not see a pug mill in my class; I probably won’t, inasmuch as the device in the photo runs a cool $5,000 without extras and accessories.

A turning wheel is necessary if you’re going to turn pots and so forth. While I won’t likely get to use the wheel in my introductory class, I am interested in learning to use the wheel.  I found a number of wheels at The Pottery Shop online, most considerably more expensive than the one pictured here; it’s regularly priced at $950, on sale for $722.

No matter what devices and tools one has in one’s shop, all would be useless without a kiln to initially fire the clay and then glaze the fired pieces. The one pictured here is one of the less expensive kilns I found The Ceramic Shop website.  It has a volume of 3.3  cubic feet; inside dimensions are 16.5″ W x 23.5″D.  It’s available now at $1,349, a discount of $350 off the regular price.

After having looked at just a few pieces of equipment, I have reached the conclusion that I have neither the space nor the money to set up a pottery shop, even as a hobby.  And I’ve concluded that the reason many people take classes at the local college year after year after year is that the equipment they need but cannot afford (or the expense for which they cannot justify) is available.  And I’ve concluded that the cost of equipment is another reason so many potters seem to form collectives which provide both a place to work and the equipment needed.

Thus far in the few classes I have attended, I have not been able to determine whether I have either the skill or the patience to produce attractive and useful pottery.  The pinch pots and coil pots I’ve done so far are, frankly, hideously ugly.  I can tell, even before glazing, that they will not be attractive, no matter what I do to them.  But I have quite a few classes yet…time will tell if I have the right tools and the capacity to use them properly.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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