The Studio

I get to spend some of my Monday evenings in my studio. Lately, though, I’ve missed a few Mondays due to work and life demands. That’s ok. It’s a hobby.

Last night I got to work from about 7 pm until about 9:30pm. It was great. I started off by pressing a slab into the fish jello mold. Then, I wedged enough clay for a pair of tea pots. Then I got to work making the tea pots.

While working, I generally plug in my iPhone and listen to spoken word podcasts. Last night I started with Harry Shearer’s Le Show. Always fun, and often informative, Shearer is a regular choice in the studio. After Le Show, I listened to a couple episodes of In Our Time, a BBC panel show covering all kinds of topics, generally history, science or philosophy. The programmer’s host, Melvin Bragg, does a remarkable job of keeping the discussion moving and on track. In 45 minutes, they always manage to provide a good discussion of the topic at hand. It is one of my favorites in the studio.

When I set up the studio, I included an old shelf stereo system. I thought it was there for music, but it turns out, it’s more for spoken recordings. Being able to listen to shows like Le Show, In Our Time, The Philosopher’s Zone, and the occasional ZenCast, to name a few, has made time spent in the studio more enjoyable and more valuable. The ideas discussed, and the thoughts they spark make my time in the studio a lot more than just practicing my hobby.

Does the intellectual stimulation improve my pottery? I dont know, but it does make the time I spend there more enjoyable, and that must translate into better work.

Playing with Lytro

The Lytro arrived today. Here’s something from unboxing…

Apparently, I can’t embed the images, but the links do seem to work. Interesting. I’m looking forward to trying this on pottery. Since it’s difficult to get really long depth of field when photographing bowls and other board pieces, the selectable depth of field of the Lytro should make it much more interesting. We’ll see. Really, it’s just another cool toy!

New Equipment and Plantings

Today, I finished the initial test build of the decoration turntable. The idea was to build a tool to help make glazing large bowls and plates that must be poured more controlled. I had problems getting consistent rotation while outing glaze, so the idea to make a motorized wheel made sense.

I made the initial sketches last fall, and started collecting parts and worked out the motor and mounting. It was a lot of fun, and the results are promising.  The motor is a surplus gear head motor with a tremendous amount of torque and very low RPM rating. The rest is left-over plywood and lumber from other projects and a pair of simple hinges.

Turntable for pouring glaze on large pieces. Motorized using the power supply from the foam cutter.

Part of the design requires that the angle of the head be adjustable to allow different shapes and sizes of bowls. I still have to build in an adjustable method of angling the top plate assembly. The current plan involves a series of detent holes and a pivoting U-bar. That’s on the way. Another point of design is to be able to use the wheel for decoration as a banding wheel, which will require that the motor be disengaged. I have a couple approaches in mind, but at this point, it would have to be removed. by taking out the wood screws.

At this point, the basic elements are in place and working. I was able to turn on the wheel and have it rotate at a variety of speeds appropriate for decoration. I’ll throw a big bowl soon to test the wheel.

Today, we also bought a couple new hanging plants to round out the decoration of the studio. The plants now fully frame the front of the studio. We’ll keep the watered and look forward to them vining and shading the studios porch.

Work Tables and Wedging Tables

Building the second table on the first table - already working!

I built my own work table and wedging table based on plans from EAA- 1000. That’s a chapter of the Experiment Aviation Association. They use lots of tables to build planes. I just use them to make pots. The tables are solid as you could ask, especially with a couple hundred pounds of clay or buckets of glaze on the lower shelf. Perfect for the studio.

Over the past couple years I’ve recommended the EAA-1000 plans, and I did again recently for a friend setting up her studio at home. I realized the plans weren’t easily found on my site, so this post should fix that. With great appreciation to Bob Waldmiller and EAA-1000, here’s everything you need to get started…

I took my time and had my friend Skip helping with the construction. We had a mitre saw, which made cutting the 2x4s effortless. We also used a circular saw to cut the plywood, and a cordless drill to put in the woods crews. Lots of carpenters glue, and a few finish nails finished it off. It took us a couple weekends to build two tables. Skip kept one and I have the other. There was nearly enough plywood left to build the wedging table which I constructed using the sample approach as the work table, but with some modifications to make it slightly lower for better wedging, and not so wide. I also beefed up the bottom shelf for clay storage. I have had 400lbs on the shelf with no problem (and no movement during wedging either.)

After two years of use, the tables are still solid and working great. I sanded and resurfaced the table top with the same acrylic I used on the whole table originally last fall. I noticed some woodgrain rising in the surface, probably due to the near constant moisture on it. A bit of sanding and a small can of polyacrylic later, it looks like new.

Blog Moving…

I started this blog to keep track of the progress while I set up my pottery studio. The blog started back in February of 2010. It’s been wonderful working with WordPress. So wonderful, in fact, that I decided to start hosting my own WordPress blog on the server.

Please note that I will not post here actively until further notice. If you’re interested, the blog has moved to I hope you’ll keep up with my progress there. Thanks!

Open Studio / Work Day

Today started early at the studio. With Christian’s help, the hanging plants, lantana, got planted in the ground and a big hydrangea between them. Christian created some new hanging baskets, and set up some mandavia to climb the poles of the porch roof. It’s all starting to look better.

Since I declared the studio open from 10 – 2, I had time to tackle some chores. I refreshed the water in the sink, which tends to develop an notable funk after a few weeks. I hope the new AC will help with that a little. I also got to paint the kiln fence with the first coat of blackboard paint. It will take at least one more, maybe two. I also managed to get the hardware for the bird feeder and assemble it. We’ll do a backyard test for a while, but that may be a cool thing to add when wr start selling at the farmers market.

I also made some hump mold supports for corn on the cob dishes. These were made by slicing a piece of 2″ PVC pipe. I made a pair of dishes later this evening and found that the forms worked pretty well. Overall, I need to work on the process, but the forms are a good start.

This evening, after dinner, I went back and threw for a while. I also started working with the dark brown clay, Standard 266 . It threw pretty well but wasn’t as moist as the light brown I’ve been working with. Still, it was fun starting a different clay body for a change.

I’ll trim and add handles Monday evening. And that wraps it up for now.

Air Conditioning

This afternoon found the studio buzzing and comfortable. Earlier today, Vernon Suits came by and hooked up the electrical for the AC unit. Cool air is now blowing around in the studio, and it’s just in time since the temperature this weekend is expected to be quite high.

The heat in the studio already was enough that the water in the recirculating sink only lasts about a week before starting to smell bad. Hopefully the cooling will help extend the life of the refreshed water. It should also make it possible to work in the studio with some degree of comfort.

One more milestone on the path to being a productive studio.

First Day of Work in the Studio

This weekend was all about the studio. From Friday after work until now, Sunday evening, it’s all been about the studio one way or another.

Friday after work, we had a small, informal get-together at the studio. It was mostly just folks that had something to do with the studio’s coming to be, one way or another. We had some light refreshments including Tokyo Kinston’s avacado sushi and sweet potato sushi. And Mother Earth’s beers.  The party lasted from 5 until 7 and its was a lot of fun. It was also a nice warm-up for the bigger open house we’re planning for May or June.

Picking up the studio's first load of clay from Fat Cat Pottery in Wilmington.

Saturday morning, Dad and I headed for Fat Cat Pottery in Wilmington to pick up my first load of clay and glazes. We started about 9 and got there a bit after 11:00am. 300 lbs of clay (200 lbs. of  Standard’s #122 and 100 lbs. of #266), and 3 custom glazes from Fat Cat (Crystal Blue Green, White, and Clear) later and we were on our way back home. There was a brief side trip to J. Michael’s Philly Deli at Monkey Junction to keep our strength up. After unloading, I went home and mowed the grass and did some shopping, planning to start on Sunday.

That didn’t work. I threw my first bowl in the new studio, on the new wheel, with the new clay Saturday night about 8:00pm. Dad came over and shot some video of the occasion.

Sunday a little past noon, I headed for the studio with the intent of cleaning up a bit, and maybe throwing a couple pieces. I ended up throwing 4 mugs (beer sized), one vessel that I plan to use for tools in the studio, and fun beehive vase. And then I trimmed last night’s bowl and did some work. By the time I finished, today’s pieces were ready to trim and add handles. So, at this point, I have 7 pieces and a goofy sign slab drying out. Not bad for the first day.

It’s official, the setup phase is over. It’s now a working studio. While there are still things to be improved or added, there’s enough done that I can make pottery, and that was the main goal. I’m really pleased with the way to space works and with the tools. And I can hardly wait to do the first firings.

Weighing In

Taylor kitchen scales

Scales for Studio

This evening, after trimming some work at Double Diamond Pottery, I decided to head over to Greenville to get a kitchen scale for the studio. Yes, I did shop Kinston first, and did not find a basic mechanical scale. I might not have been creative enough in my search, but I did find one that fit my requirements on Target’s web site. My primary requirement was weight range up to 10 pounds. The next most important factor was “no batteries”. Every scale I found was digital, hence used batteries. Not good. Target was the only store I could find that had the mechanical scales in stock. And the price was well below the digital scales.

I appreciate the convenience of a set of digital scales, and in the kitchen, it might be a better approach. The accuracy and ability to weigh very light materials could be an advantage. Since I’m not formulating my own glazes yet, gram accuracy wasn’t significant.  In the studio on the wedging table, I just wanted a simple, funcitonal device that would tell me roughly how much clay I just threw on it.

How many other product categories have been over-developed? This ran through my thoughts on the drive back home. It was easy to come up with examples, but as long as pottery is still available for coffee cups, cereal bowls and salad palates, I don’t think it will be too big an issue.

More stuff checked off…

Sketch of the studio's front

Barley Hollow Pottery

The list is growing shorter. I’ve worked out the wedging board arrangement for now. The KISS kiln monitoring software has been set up and awaits its first firing test. Originally, I thought it would run on an old PC I have and Windows 98. The KISS software seemed happy, but the USB interface just wouldn’t communicate. I  imagine given enough time and tinkering, it might have been possible, but I decided instead to use my Acer Aspire One netbook to host the software. It looks like it will work fine, and it takes up much less space than the PC and monitor. So little, in fact, it fits in a drawer when it’s not in use. When we put in the wiring for the AC, I’ll run a wire for the KISS system, too.

An AC/Heat Pump unit is the next big project. We’ve selected a unit and just need to get the electrician back to wire for it, and the HVAC guys back to put it in place. The spring weather is warm already and it’s showing me that the studio will definitely benefit from having the AC. I was initially more concerned about preventing freezing, but being able to work in some degree of comfort is important, too.

The kiln shelves are all ready to go, and have their third coat of kiln wash applied and fired. They look like they need to have some pottery sitting on them glowing bright orange. I can hardly wait.

Meanwhile, at Double Diamond Pottery, I put in my last month’s notice. It will be hard giving up the weekly fellowship and support. It has been wonderful being able to learn more nuances of making pottery with Melanie, Mary Wynne and Mark, and I know the three years I’ve been there have made a huge difference in the pottery I make.