Archive for the ‘Pottery Making Demo’ Category

Summer Workshop

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

I have agreed to teach a one week throwing workshop for Snow College in Ephraim, Utah as part of their Summer Snow program. The class will run June 3-7 and will focus of throwing and finishing green pots. There will not be a firing as part of this class. I want to use all of the available time on passing on forming techniques to the interested student.

Making dishes.

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

January is usually a slow time at the pot shop. I make a lot of pots for the holiday sales, much more than I can sell. It is always good for people to come to the sale and see so much ware. Most year I don’t even think about throwing until February. January is a time to go snowshoeing and prepare taxes. Right about the end of December I got a rather large dinnerware order (30 place settings). I have been working my way through the dishes, not in too great a hurry but plugging along. It is nice to be indoors with the Utah weather so cold and snowy the past while.
I do get out some to “work” with the new tractor Mrs Santa brought me.
I start with dinnerware by throwing a “pancake” of clay to stick a bat to my wheelhead.
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When the pancake is thrown to the width of the bats and smooth I cut groves in it, first with a point of a wooden rib and then with a serrated rib. This creates a surface that the wooden bats will adhere to easily.
These are bats that I have been using since I made them thirty years ago. I cut them out on a table saw (another blog sometime) and gave them three coats of urethane. They have held up very well.
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You’ve got to love throwing on a treadle wheel. It is just fun. Carpe Argillam! I’ll not say too much about these throwing photos because they really speak for themselves.
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I will say that is is critical to compress the clay on the bottom and at the rim to avoid cracking.
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I’m checking the width and depth. I want the width 12.5″ so there is a ways to go. It is good to have the current width in mind as I go to the next stage of throwing the plate. The depth is where it should be at about a half inch.
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I am now forming the rim of the plate, compressing the rim and the bottom.
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Phil Rogers illustrates the technique of forming the rim thus. Hid picture explains it better and faster than I can.
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Once again I am measuring both height and width. The rim height is 1.5″ and the width is 12.5″ as it should be. With that done I set a pointer so I can throw the rest of the plates to that mark.
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The next day after the plates are leather hard it remove the bat I left on the pan cake and trim the edge of it to a sloping shape so I can use it to trim the plates.
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I am placing a leather hard plate on this trimming chuck made from the pan cake which is also now a soft leather hard and will grip the clay nicely to keep it in place. With the plate centered on the chuck I press down gently with a small round disk of wood to hold the plate in place as I trim the foot. I am measuring the foot so I can get them consistent.
The last move is to mark the plate.
Over the next few days I made a smaller plate and a soup bowl as per the clients wishes. The dinner plate is made from 5 lbs of clay, the salad plate also known as lunch plate is made from 3 lbs as is the soup bowl on top.
While I was making the dinnerware Shonpa Yeshi was in the studio with me. He is a student at Wasatch Academy, a nearby boarding school. He is Tibetan and is from Dharamsala, India where there is a resettlement community. He stayed with us for three weeks while the school was out for the holidays. He took most of the photos for this blog and made some fun little clay objects. I was amazed at his ability to sit quietly and watch me throw.

Making a round box.

Monday, November 15th, 2010

I started making these little thrown round boxes a few years ago. They are made to be fired in a specific place in the kiln. Place them against the back of the arch on the top shelf. There they catch a lot of ash that falls on them as the flame dumps it as it curves downward. A lot of them go into the kiln with out any glaze on them. This one has my Thistle slip glaze on it.
A make the pot with 1.5 lbs of clay. After pulling up the walls I indent the top 1/2 inch using a wooden tool and carefully measure the out side of that indented part.
The lid is thrown from 1 lb of clay. I throw the inside to the same dimension as the outside of the indentation on the pot.
When the lid and pot are a firm leather hard and of equal moisture content I make a pad of clay I can use to press the pieces against as I trim them.


Pressing the lid firmly against the trimming pad I trim the top of it until it is smooth and rounded.

Next I trim the bottom of the pot in the same way.
Now I center the pot on the trimming pad and anchor it in place with four wads of moist clay.
The lid is usually a little small. THat is better that loose. With the moisture content equal I can carefully trim to fit. I get the moisture content more or less equal by covering the pots for at least 24 hours after the initial drying to the leather hard state to allow the moisture content to equalize.

Using the square edge of a rib I carefully trim away the clay a little at a time, checking often to find the right fit, until it is just right to accept the lid.
With gentle pressure on the top I then trim the lid to make the profile of the two parts continuous.


Next, with the lid still in place on the pot I dampen the top of the lid and use a bread knife to texture the top of the lid.

I repeat the same for the sides of the lid.




The pot sides are textured in the same manner as the lid and the two parts are fitted together. There are often small adjustments to make the fit just right.

Here is a tool I use to make a variation on the texturing. It is simply a textured roulette that I turn on a piece of heavy gauge wire as the finished pot turns on the wheel.
Good Luck and Happy Potting.

Making the “MacKenzie” salt shaker.

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Many people associate this little salt shaker with the Minnesota potter Warren MacKenzie. He has made a lot of them. A friend of mine traveling in rural France saw them in a traditional potter’s showroom. Who knows. Warren did not come up with the design. As the story goes he was teaching a class when one of the students came in with a salt shaker and asked Warren if he would show them how to make one. Warren asked the student where that one had come from. The student replied that his teacher had made it to which Warren replied why don’t you have the teacher show you. The student replied that the teacher wouldn’t, that it e=was a secret. Warren then suggested that this was no teacher.
I was eating lunch with Warren and Nancy some years ago at their home in Stillwater where I first saw one of the salt shakers. As I was examining it Warren gave me some pointers on making one. I’ll pass the information along.
I start with a centered ball of about one pound of clay.
I open the clay leaving the clay in the middle a bit thicker than the rest of the bottom.
I thin open the bottom of the pot all the way to the wheel head.
I pull up a little bitty cylinder in the center of the pot.
I close the cylinder off forming a cone.
The a start pulling up the outside walls
See the cute little cone down in there?
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I taper the walls in and close off the top.
With the top sealed off I shape the salt shaker into whatever shape I want. I like a slightly onion dome shape.

After the shaker is leather hard I put it in a chuck and trim the outside edge and trim out the inside of the cone. A needle tool works best for the inside. I then bore a hole in the center of the cone with a one eighth inch drill bit. That size works best according to MacKenzie. If it is smaller the salt takes too long to load. If it is larger the slat comes out too fast. In use the salt will only come out if the shaker is shaken up and down. If it is shaken side to side nothing comes out.
People always ask if they can put pepper in this pot. I tell them to use a small pepper mill.

Making a lidded oval baker.

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010


A year ago I tried making a couple of large lidded oval bakers. They turned out well and were sold as soon as they came out of the kiln. (Why does Dave Ericson a;ways show up to help unload?) I decided to try a longer run of the last week. Here is a simplified step by step of their making.
I started by throwing a series of low wide cylinders and reshaping them into a trefoil type oval.

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The rim is thrown thick and formed into a gallery to accept the lid.

After the body of the pot has set up a while but is still pliable I throw the bottom. I like throwing rather than rolling it because i get that nice spiral in the center.
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The body of the pot is then placed on the bottom and “wiggled” around until I feel it start to stick. I then smooth down the edges with my finger inside and out and cut all the way around it with a wooden knife tool and then trim away the excess clay from the bottom with a fettling knife.

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Using a triangular rib I scrape away excess clay from the base and undercut it a little. I like to leave the “deckle edges” where they occur.

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With the oval baker still on the wheel I stick a couple of handles on and pull them in place.

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Next I cover the bakers with light plastic and roll out a slab of clay a little bigger than the pot for each one and set them aside.

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After the slab has had time to stiffen up some I use a hard rubber rib to press the slab into the rim of the baker carefully stretching it to give it an inverted dome shape.


After I have finished shaping the lid I trim around the edge of the baker with a needle tool and let the lids and bakers dry and stiffen together.

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When the lid is stiff enough to handle but still pliable I turn it over and trim it along the line left in the clay from the rim of the baker using a needle tool on the outside and a fettling knife on the inside. I also smooth the rim of the lid with my fingers and a little water if needed.

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With the lid trimmed and smoothed I pull a strap handle, bend it and attach it to the lid. I fit the lid to the baker by gently adjusting the shape of the baker to conform to the lid and by shaping the lid with a sureform. This is only going to work if the baker is still somewhat pliable. THe moisture content of the baker is critical and can be maintianed by wetting the baker and keeping it covered until the lid is ready.

These six bakers were made and put together over a three day period.


Sunday, November 8th, 2009

One of my standard production items is an oval platter made with a rolled out slab on a plaster hump mold. I have made them for a lot of years but only this last year started making them with textured slabs like this.

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I have never gotten around to getting a proper slab roller. I still roll them out by hand with out any sort of gage to get the thickness consistent. I like that aspect of them.

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The mold is one I made years ago while still a student. I borrowed a wooden bowl and poured plaster into it to get this negative of the shape I want to make the piece. The slab is laid on the mold and the gross clay is trimmed away with a needle tool. After patting the clay a little I trim the clay to fit the mold and pat it a bit more. The clay sets up for a day or so and I remove it from the mold and round the rim with a rib tool.

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The roulette used here was made by winding a piece of cord around a cylinder of soft clay.

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This roulette was impressed with the thin edge of a wooden rib.

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This slab was textured with a wooden roller that has cord glued to its surface.

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Here I used a narrow wooden roller with fine cord glued to it.

Home Stretch

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

I’m just two weeks away from the last day I will be throwing pottery this year. By then I’ll have enough ware to fire two to three times. My holiday sale days are November 27, 28 and December 5 then its off to Flagstaff with Sterling Van Wagenen to talk about a possible Grand Canyon film. When I return to Utah I’ll be scheduled for some hernia repair surgery that will put me out of commission for the rest of the year. I’ll likely start throwing again as soon as my doc says OK. Lee and I are gunning for a April or May Grand Canyon river trip that will be just the two of us. I’ll need to have a lot of inventory stacked up so I can take the time off and still be ready for my Memorial Day sale.
Here are some of the things I have cranked out the past week.
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I have been making some roulettes out of bisqued clay and impressing them into bowls. I am also using the rope and cord rollers I made a while back.Here are some examples of what I have so far including close-ups of detail.
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From time to time I make a few of these large chargers with slogans on the rim.

Tools and pots

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

I am not really a tool and die man. I build kilns and make tools out of necessity. I know some potters who make pots only so that they can make tools and build kilns. I am the other way around.
So anyway I decided to make some new roller type tools for putting pattern on pots. From left to right here are:
A roller from Capital Ceramics in Salt Lake. Next are two rollers used to press down seams in wall paper. One is new. The other on is twenty years or more older. I can’t find ones like that any more. I suspect the new ones are all plastic. Then there is Shoe Goo and various strings and cords from the local hardware store.
I start by rolling the glue onto the roller like I would if I were inking a brayer for print making.
When the glue is evenly distributed I wind the cord onto the roller and hold it until it sticks.
Nice tool, eh?
Here is the same idea with carpenter’s string.
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Mugs showing string roller, cord roller and bisque stamp impressions
Here is the same thing on a small vase.
Three slab built platters with rope/string patterns and details of the same. Fun with clay.

Hope and Virtue

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

I was putting handles on mugs while listening to NPR’s coverage of the inaguration. As the new president finished his speech I shifted gears and began making 15 lb platters. I had an idea I wanted to act on. I wanted to do something to commemorate his words and my feelings on this day.
When I throw wide platters I like to place a ball of clay in the bottom after opening it to the desired width. I pound the clay while turning it to make sure it is stuck there. Then I smooth it into place with water and make it part of the bottom. This insures that the bottom is compressed and eliminates the possibility of “S” cracks in the bottom.
I pull the platter to the desired hight and leave a fairly thick rim from which to form an outer flange.
The flange is formed by pulling the clay out rather than laying the clay down. Phil Rogers in his exellent book “Throwing Pots” illustrates and explains it like this.
After the platter has set up a while but not too much I use rubber stamps to impress words into the flange. I made six of these today expressing things I felt about the inaguration.

Listening to: Windward Passage by Neil Young and the Ducks

The wimp’s way to make it big.

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

When I was learning how to build pottery on the wheel a few decades back there was a really large guy in the studio who made big pots. He always made them from one big lump of clay and was a gas to watch. He made the most amazing shapes with his mouth while he was throwing. My cousin Scott (who got me into ceramics) remarked that he must be one heck of a kisser. One time a cute little girl named Nora asked him to throw her a bathtub. He said he would if she would use it to bathe in the studio. Not having his physical endowment I didn’t try stuff like that. Then came along Shirley Ray, this relatively small and skinny girl, who made pots big enough to hide in using some Korean methods.
I have not made a lot of big pot because I have to stick with what I can move through my inventory. I suppose that may sound mercenary but it is a fact of life for one who makes his living with clay. If I am selling pots I get to make more. I love making pots a lot. It is a real kick. Nothing turns me off in terms of wanting to get muddy as much as looking at a full showroom. I now have a couple of interior designer clients who want big stuff so I dusted off Shirley’s methods and am using them with my middle aged arthritic hands to make, what are for me, big pots. So with the help of ibuprofen and some cheater moves I am making big bowls this week. Too bad Nora isn’t around.
I am starting with a fairly hefty 30 lb platter thrown with a slightly concave rim. I let it sit in a breeze free studio or with the electric wheel turning slowly to prevent uneven drying.
When the platter is leather hard but not too dry I score the rim with a serrated rib and wet it down pretty well.
I use an old Brent extruder to make a 1.5″ coil. Ten lbs of clay makes a coil that will fit this 20″ platter.
I lay the coil down on the scored and dampened rim and make a lap joint.
If the rim has been dampened enough I can knit the outside edge as shown above. The inside is no problem as it is still plastic clay. The knitting is done with a wiping not pinching motion using a dry digit. (Usually my thumb.)
Note: If you let the bowl dry too much this knitting is harder to do and you run the risk of a dry joint that will crack somewhere between now and the final firing.
When I am satisfied that the knitting is complete I wet down the coil and carefully throw it to the desired hight. At this point the newly thrown section is allowed to dry to the same leather hard state as the platter was. If I am in a hurry I’ll use a weed burner to push things along. This method is OK but must be done carefully so as not to over dry the bowl, and for hecksake don’t burn down the shop.
When the new rim is stiff enough (but not too dry) I add another coil like the last one. and throw it to the desired hight and thickness. If the rim is too thin a 1/2″ coil can be added after the required drying has been allowed.
I like to texture some of these especially if I am thinkig of applying a glaze that is sensitive to thick and thin variations. The stamps are bisqued clay. The bread knife is from a flea market in Missouri where my mother lives. I have a hard time passing up a flea market, thrift store or kitchen shop. They have so many good potter’s tools.

Listening this morning to the Rick n’Roll Show on Gulch Radio this morning.