A couple of jars

Well, I’ve been looking at the Onggi videos that Adam Field has posted to youtube (go to youtube.com and search with the word “agfield2000” to get his videos) and decided to have a go at it. When you see the video, Kim Young-Ho, the guy making the onggi jars, really makes it look easy. Well we all know when it looks easy, it’s usually just the opposite, and this is no exception.

I should mention that I do a lot of coil and paddle work, but that my Karatsu style coil and paddle uses coils that are about as big around as my little finger. The Korean Onggi work uses coils that are probably 2″ or so in diameter. After watching the video a couple of times I decided to give it a shot. The pictures below are of my third attempt. The first two were failures, to say the least. Lots of problems with keeping the pot round and centered, and keeping every successive coil from flaring out wider and wider.

Another thing I should mention is that although I don’t know for sure, Mr. Field edited out a lot of video, and I think there are some important things not shown in the video, for example what type of  clay is being used, and also how long the pot sits to firm up before each paddling.

During the video, a roaring sound in the background starts at one point, and I suspect this is a torch or burner of some sort to help dry the pots to get them firm enough to paddle. During much of the video, you can hear paddling, and it has a sort of echoing metallic ring to it, which tells me that the clay has gotten quite firm, because wet clay just gives a sort of soft thud when you paddle it.

Anyway, all the details aside, I decided to play around and here is the pot I’m going to use for holding glaze, it has a thick, wide rim for grabbing and carrying, and the body is thick enough to stop bullets. This characteristic was unintentional, but what can I say? Did I mention it’s my third attempt? I put it on the scale so you can see the weight. The bat is about 750 grams, but even after subtracting that, the pot still weighs in at just under 10 kg, that’s about 25 lbs, for a pot that’s only about 20 inches tall.

This second pot is one that I built using the Karatsu coil and paddle method, with the thinner coils, building a thinner pot. This type of pot would not hold up to heavy use like a regular onggi style pot. It’s too thin to take much abuse, the walls are about 4mm thick. Normally, a pot like this would be used for tea storage, but the mouth would be smaller in diameter and there would be 4 lugs on the shoulder to allow for a cord tie down to keep the wooden lid in place. Although I’m more comfortable with this method of coil and paddle, I plan to keep practicing with the onggi style, because I think that once I get used to it, it will be very useful and quick for making large, sturdy jars that will hold up to abuse.

Notice that the second pot weighs in at just over 4 kgs and is more uniform in shape. The onggi form is a bit lopsided because I was having trouble putting those fat coils on without deforming the profile of the pot. The last pic shows both pots side by side. All in all, they both took about the same amount of time to make, but I suspect that with practice the onggi method is much faster.

With all of the pinching, rolling, slapping, and squeezing I’ve done today, my forearms are toast…. Until next time.

4 thoughts on “A couple of jars”

  1. Hi Mike,
    all my more 20 cm tall pots are coiled and thrown 'cause my hand-wheel is not powerful but i don't have a perfect clay skin like u. I like rough texture and imbalance shape. …

  2. Hi Eric,

    I'm with you, I like the textured surface too. However, with that onggi pot I couldn't keep it together without using a rib on the outside! The first two tries, I kept developing vertical cracks. I'm sure the clay I was using was too short.

    Even with a lot of rough texture, though, I like this type of form to be fairly balanced. The fire usually softens it in the end anyway.

    Happy potting!

  3. Hello Mike,
    I just met your mother at the Durango farmer's market a few weeks back, small world eh?

    Thank you for spreading the word about my videos! Much appreciated.

    To answer some of your questions:
    1. There is almost no editing down of Kim Young-Ho's video (time wise), other then where I cut out the adding of some coils to avoid too much repetition in the video. I wanted to show as much of the process as I could.
    2. You're absolutely right, the type of the clay has a lot to do with how hard or easy these pots are to make. I have never come across such an amazing clay, it has unreal green strength and is very sticky to the touch. It is processed a bit firmer then what you would normally throw with, but less then you'd expect.
    3. The pots are made in one sitting, no time set aside for the clay to firm up, aside from the bucket of burning charcoal (with one side cut out) placed opposite the potter at the base of the pot after the first set of coils have been laid to the floor. The potter has to be careful to keep the wheel spinning as he continues to work on the piece for even drying on the lower third of the jar. The charcoal heater is only used for the 2 largest sized pots.
    4. The roaring sound is a pugmill, used to extrude coils, the Kim family is extremely traditional but they are also practical.

    I hope this helps. Good for you for jumping in and giving it a try, very impressive results.

    Please look me up whenever you're back to visit family in this neck of the woods.


  4. ps
    The heat gun is my backup plan for workshops and unfamiliar clay, it can really help to get me out of a pinch in front of a crowd. I had to learn to make even the largest Onggi Jars without help of flame, coal or heat as I was re-using all of my clay during my apprenticeship.

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