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Though most tools used in ceramics will not break the bank, every dollar counts. Many of the common tools used in ceramics can be replaced by simple items you already have around the house.
• If you are not working in a studio, prep your surfaces and tools with cornstarch prior to working. This will keep clay from mucking up your tools, surfaces, and canvas. Cornstarch will also clean up textures and designs made with impression. Just remember to dust first.
• You do not need a plaster table for wedging clay. You can improvise a portable wedging surface by filling the back of a stretched painter’s canvas (found at most craft stores) with plaster.
• Create personalized ribs from old credit cards, compact disks, and sand paper. Cut them to shape and sand the edges. CD’s work great to get the perfect shape for a cereal bowl. You can also try cutting different patterns into the edges of your homemade ribs to use for different textures. A zigzag pattern on the edge will scratch a nice set of stripes into the clay.
• There is no need to spend loads on rubber stamps and other printing equipment to create texture on clay surfaces; puffy contact paper, traditionally used to line shelves and drawers, can be used to roll texture onto slabs of clay.
• If you roll your clay out between canvas sheets, try using a rubber spatula or putty knife to smooth the fabric’s texture from the slab.
• Did your pin tool roll away? Though it will not work quite as well as the pin tool that came with your pottery kit, the pointy plastic end of a dental floss pick will work in a pinch.
• Dental floss also works well as a replacement for a cutting wire.
• Try out that rusty potato peeler for trimming.
• If you need to slow the drying process, try applying wax or petroleum jelly to the area. This will hold the moisture in and will melt off when fired in the kiln. Cool areas also help to keep pieces from drying too quickly. Leave those mug handles and lids in the basement overnight.
Slip/Glazing Finishing Tools:
• If you run out of the special wax for glazing, try using simple white glue (like Elmer’s). It does not work as precisely as wax, but it will do.
• Scrap PVC pipe makes great glaze stir sticks because they can remain in the glaze for any length of time without becoming mushy or dissolving like wood.
• Try using a whisk or a bristle brush for mixing glazes. This will help break up and blend the clumps.
• Metallic glazes can oxidize over time. Polish these pieces just as you would your grandmother’s old silver – with silver polish or lemon juice.
There are so many combinations of glazes, clays, and personal style that the possibilities in pottery are limitless. Keep your eyes open in the kitchen, in the garage, in any room of your house really. You might be surprised with what you find!
Buy a large plastic (Rubbermaid-type) container (at Target or Wal-Mart for under $10.) Pour a couple inches of plaster into the bottom of the container. After the plaster has cured for a couple weeks, soak it with water. Now you can put pieces in there, put the lid on, and they will stay damp. This is great for pieces that you plan to assemble later such as parts of a teapot or sculpture, for handles, and in-process work. Every now and then the plaster will start to dry out, then just re-wet it.
Bats: These are used for throwing large based ware such as plates and platters, that are very awkward to remove from the wheelhead, as they have a tendency to collapse.
Bats are made with 6 gauge marine ply, in varying sizes. I find 20cm 30cm and 40cm are the most useful sizes. Draw your circle onto the timber, and use a jigsaw to cut out the shape. Sand till smooth on the edges.
These too should last your lifetime.
Either soft or hard rubber ribs are nice to handle for shaping
or smoothing surfaces. At some point treat yourself to an
elephant ear sponge which also feels great to work with. A
chamois strip is nice for smoothing over edges on rims (the
inexpensive way is to use a piece of paper towel). There is
no reason to spend a lot of money on tools (some of the
best are found or made) but we encourage you to try some
because many exist to make your pottery life more
productive. I found a great application for an old
manicure set, there is one tool with a slightly curved end
which is perfect for taking off a bit of extra glaze around the
foot of a bowl.
Losing tools in general?
1. I have found the best way to store large tools is to throw my own pot for them. You can make it just the right size for whatever needs storing, and have your handiwork around all the time! Platters are useful for laying out a bunch of tools in a row......
Read this entire article 'Losing/Storing tools' in the Articles section of this site
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Use scrap pieces of vinyl flooring beneath your canvas when using a slab roller. This makes it easier to run the slab through without distortion or jamming (for slab rollers where the roller is stationary and the clay moves.) But for any slabroller or even hand rolling, it also makes it easy to move the slab to another work surface after without stretching it.
Rule number 1: Do not buy a pugmill when you need a mixer! Pugmills do not mix clay effectively, they perform other very beneficial operations; most notably they compress and they can deair the clay. The augers in a pugmill perform very little in the way of a mixing action. Augers move the clay forward through a shredder, some models then provide a deairing vacuum chamber and finally through a nozzle opening.
Mixers, on the other hand continuously work the clay, distributing water throughout the mixture until the clay is one homogenous, moist consistency. Clay that is completely mixed is then either wedged or then sent through a pugmill.
Selecting Mixing Equipment
There are a number of manufacturers of studio quality equipment. Among the more popular brands are Bluebird, Soldner, Shimpo and Peter Pugger. Each has excellent safety features and this should be number 1 in your evaluation criteria. Check the specifications: mixers are often rated by the total batch weight the machine can handle, and pugmills are measured in the amount of clay they can process in an hour. Evaluate your studio's clay use: a smaller capacity mixer or pugmill will cost somewhat less than larger machines, but will require a greater investment of time and energy.
A deairing pugmill is more likely to allow the user to use the clay without wedging right away, but most non-deairing pugmills will provide a dense extrusion that requires only minimal wedging.
No matter which method you use, keep in mind that clay is a wonderful material because it never needs to go to waste.
Clear plastic storage bins can also be used for storing tools (horizontally.) The shallow ones are best because you don't want to be sifting through a deep pile of tools. I have all my extruder dies in one, for example, and sponges in another. A silverware drawer organizer could also be useful here, as it would have dividers.
Lose your throwing tools?
1. Get a small rectangular plastic organizer (sold in drug stores, Target, Wal-Mart, etc.) These are often used for organizing drawers. Keep this on your throwing surface and return all tools there. If you use a square throwing container, you can often hook these directly on the edge of your container. Just be sure to get a kind that has a lip. For example, the utensil holders that hook to dish drainers.
2. Put a table right beside your wheel, and place your tools there between uses. Something that can work great in place of a table are a couple stacking storage bins. These plastic bins have flat surfaces on top, and doors that open in front, and are often used for storing dog food or other dry goods. You can store other items inside while you use the top for your throwing tools. (Find these at Target, Wal-Mart, etc.)
3. Clip some clothespins to the rim of your water bucket (the spring type). You can rest long tools across them.
4. Make a “table” that is level with your wheel head, by sawing a piece of countertop (Formica covered particleboard.) Curve it around your splash pan, and make holes for your throwing buckets. Use 2x4's to raise it to the proper height.
5. Another option, especially if you have a wheel that doesn't have its own platform, is to take an old end table or coffee table and cut a U into it so it slides around your wheel. Saw the legs to the appropriate length. This will give you a nice big surface for your tools.
Wareboards: These are invaluable for transporting, drying and storing ware.
Best made from Marine ply 4 ply is enough, 1m x 50c, is a good size. Cut out with jigsaw.
Cut 40cm long x 4cm dowl in half and nail 10cm in from either side (this gives a fingerhold and is easy to slip into frames (If you've been ingenious
enough to build them )
Underglaze crayons or pencils in a variety of colours can be used to draw on greenware or bisqued ware. The piece can then be glazed and fired, fixing the clours permanently underneath the glaze. Underglaze crayons give the freedom to draw anything that the artist wants to or can draw with a crayon or pencil
One potter I know stores his tools in sharp builders sand with some oil mixed in. He says it keeps the tools clean, free of rust, and he doesn't have to sharpen as often. (I'm not sure how you tell them apart when they are hidden in the sand, but I suppose you could color code them, or just learn the handle shapes.)
A small test sieve is a must, for experimenting with glazes and oxides.
They are very easy to make and become invaluable.
Purchase a strong plastic container approx 1 ltr capacity. with a rim
on the base, the rim gives the seive strength. Also purchase 200 mesh wire, it is expensive but only a tiny circle is required.
cut around the rim with a stanley knife, heat a long handled knife in an
open flame (a gas kiln is great), and gently melt the plastic around the
hole and stick the mesh to the molton plastic.
This technique can be used on a bucket seive as well for large batches
Claycutter: Is a must-have tool for all potters as is the only tool used to cut clay.
I find very fine picture framing wire to be the best, it can be wound around and handles you prefer from buttons to wooden dowel.(an incision should be made in the dowel for the wire to sit in , or your hands feel the result).
For slicing large slabs to wedge, I use very strong fishing line and buttons, this I find is the easiest on my hands.
Ribs: These can be of many materials, wood, plastic, rubber and aluminium(I suggest you purchase the rubber and metal from your local pottery supply store), being the most common.
Wooden ribs: are made by roughly cutting the shape with a jigsaw, and using a bench grinder to shape the curves and slant them into a workable v-shape. The off cuts of your bats make perfect ribs.
Marine ply being the best timber, as it resists the water, these ribs should last a potters lifetime.
Plastic ribs: Easiest ribs to make, but too rigid for my liking. Roughly cut credit or like, plastic card into shape, and sand smooth
I recommend you use three tools for trimming. One with
a small tip (step one) which is great to run over the bottom
of a pot to get an even base, one with a squared off tip (step
two) to smooth out the base and to finish it and a larger one
(step three) which is for trimming the sides and making the
bottom completely even. These will naturally get dulled by
the hard elements in your clay body so be sure to sharpen
or replace them when they are too dull to effectively trim.
You can achieve a nice clean cut with a sharp tool and it
takes less time.
Although there are hundreds of different tools available for the ceramist, only a basic assortment is required for the beginner.
For handbuilding all that is really necessary is a claycutter and smoothing knife, the addition of extra tools will depend on the work at hand. Many tools can be made at home, check out my tips.
Beginner pottery tool sets are available at art, craft, even
hardware stores usually for around $12-$15. One of the
basic tools a beginner's set comes equipped with is a
trimming tool. It's great to get you familiar with trimming
and but you may want to add a couple more to make your
set complete. Especially with trimming tools be sure you
have the right ones for the job.
Part 1: Making the stamp.
Step one: The stamps can be made from plaster or by bisquing a clay master. I
with plaster, as the fine grain accommodates delicate carving, so the following
instructions are for
plaster. Make the forms for filling with plaster from small thrown pots or juice
cans. Forms can
be round, oval, or rectangular. One larger cylindrical form should also be
prepared, which is
slightly smaller in diameter than the inside of the mugs you will be decorating. A
sturdy piece of
wood (1"x2"), twelve to fifteen inches long with a hole drilled in one end, will be
inserted in this
larger form. This will be used like a shoe on a shoelast, to hold the pot in place
while pressing on
Brushes: Some lovely effects can be made with home made brushes.
They are best made with hair that has never been cut, be it human or animal, and bamboo is the easiest handle to work with.
It is a simple matter of gluing the hair together inside the bamboo, then twist wiring the outside to get a very tight fit.
Another tool in your beginner set is an aluminum rib. Ribs
come in many shapes and sizes and can also be made of
wood, plastic, other metals or rubber. They are wonderful
tools for shaping pots or for smoothing out the inside or
outside of a pot. Once you are acquainted, you should try a
small and large rubber rib, they really do feel nice.
Recently, someone wrote us who began using a large
wooden rib (a 6" diameter semi-circle) for creating a low flat
bowl out of a cylinder. They said it was a breakthrough!
The rib enabled them to achieve the shape they had been
looking for and it was easy to use! I hope you have as
much fun discovering the right tools for the job
Best Ready-made Tool helpers: Dremel high speed rotary tool (available in
with Aluminum Oxide cone or round tips. Great for grinding off poky bits
from glazeware (but refire
glaze to smooth it again...)
For glaze test and slip mixing, get an old electric blender and mayo or
canning jars. Screw the
cutting assembly on the jar with what you want delumped, and blend away.
Keep a hand lightly on top
as you blend, to keep the jar from being vibrated off. I never sieve glaze
samples--the few tiny lumps
don't matter on the test, and a lot of time is saved...