Hey baby, I’m your Homo Habilis…

Well, usually at least. This last couple of days was an exception. I started dabbling in some nifty new technology (to me). This involved casting some new tools, so when the old ones wear out I’ll have some ready to go. This tool is called a Gyubera, or cow’s tongue rib, that is sort of indispensable when making a lot of Karatsu forms.

The problem with them is that it is awfully hard to find them in the right shape for what you need. There are a lot of cheap ones on the market which are, well, cheap. The one thing they have going for them is that they have a lot of extra wood on them so you can do a lot of fine tuning with a rasp and sandpaper. The good ones are good, but cost a small fortune. I paid about $80 for my large one that I use for teabowls. Smaller one was about $50. Am I the only one that thinks that is ridiculous? Well, they were handmade one by one, by a barber. As strange as that sounds, there was this one barber that made really nice gyubera. He is now retired, and though someone took over his business, the new guy needs practice.

However, the big problem with all the aforementioned gyubera is that they are made of wood and prone to cracking and rot. It’s kind of a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ situation. If you keep them damp, they rot. If you let them dry out, get wet, dry, wet, repeatedly, they crack. I found a partial solution to this by soaking them in Minwax wood hardener, and applying a layer of epoxy. But the epoxy bubbles up with time and they wood hardener wasn’t enough to prevent cracking over the long run, although it did extend the life of the tool considerably.

Not wanting to have to buy more, because of the cost and the fact that the new guy still needs practice. I thought I’d just make some myself, but it didn’t solve the wood material problems. So, these last couple of days I spent making plaster molds of the original gyubera, and using dental grade acrylic resin to cast new ones. I got the resin from a friend who used to be in the business. It is a funny pink color because it is supposed to look like gums. Aesthetically speaking, not my favorite for clay tools, but on the bright side it is unlikely I’ll ever get my tools confused with someone else’s tools.

After a couple of tries, I got a pretty good working two piece mold of two gyubera side by side. Got it ready for the resin pour and got the resin poured without too much fuss. Once it was poured and set for about 20 minutes, it was ready to heat cure in a 50C hot water bath for 25 minutes. Strangely, all of this went fairly smoothly. The problem came with trying to get that mold apart later. I tried and tried but it was not happening, and I ended up breaking the mold. Still, the casts were covered in plaster, because the liquid of the resin had penetrated through the release agent into the plaster. Oops, guess I should have used the special acrylic resin release agent instead of the casting slip release agent. Live and learn.

The cleaned up casts will make usable tools, but they are pocked with bubbles and other spaces where the resin didn’t flow properly. I’ll have to try again, improve the craftsmanship.

2 thoughts on “Hey baby, I’m your Homo Habilis…”

    1. I suppose you could, but it seems like it would be heavy and easily broken if dropped. I also wonder how easy it would be to fire it successfully without warping.

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