All posts by KaratsuPots

A couple of jars

Well, I’ve been looking at the Onggi videos that Adam Field has posted to youtube (go to 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.

A Nice Rainy Day

Well, all the wood that came so far (3 palettes of pine beam cutoffs) is finally split. As I was stacking today and the wall of wood got higher, I found myself looking out over the yard. With the rain tapping the kiln shed, the wet bricks, and the flowering cherries, I just had to take a moment to enjoy it all.

Here`s the pile of split wood ready to be stacked. Gonna take some time…

Makiwari Paradiso

As satisfying as splitting wood with the axe is, it`s relatively slow, and even with good aim, the wood is hard to get down to a nice small size for side stoking.

Although the larger hardware stores here carry 2 ton (meaning pressure exerted) electric splitters, sometimes even 4 ton, these are not powerful enough to split larger pieces or harder woods. Most people I talked to seemed to be of the opinion that 7 tons was about minimum for home use, and I`d been to one kiln where they`ve been using a 7 ton electric with success, but even that cost around $1000. Splitters are expensive here, around 3 times what you`d spend in the States, I think. Anything over 7 or 8 tons is gas engine powered and pricey. Most hover in the range of $3000 with the bigger ones even more.

Thinking about how to get a decent wood splitter that I could afford, I came up with yahoo auctions. In Japan, it`s the biggest online auction, much like ebay in the US. I found a 7 ton model for sale that I researched and found to sell normally at about $700. I waited for the last minute of the auction and bid $350, held my breath, and lo and behold, I won it. So, ended up getting it at half the discount price and about 30% of the MSRP. It came yesterday, and I finally got to try it out this afternoon.

Works like a dream for the kind of wood I`ve got. There`s a low torque/high speed setting, and a high torque/low speed setting, which really speeds things up. The power setting splits even the tougher pieces with knots down to smaller chunks, then the speed setting lets me chop the chunks into nice uniform slats for stoking.

The major drawback to this small size splitter is not the power but the body length, which won`t allow anything over 20 inches to be split. But, once I got the hang of keeping a bunch of properly sized wood on hand, this splitter went through it in no time. One more thing is not so much a drawback as an annoyance: The power switch must be depressed manually for the motor to run, if you take away your hand, the motor switches off. I`m sure it was meant to be a safety feature but it`s ridiculous, because with the location of the button and as stiff as it is, you`ve got to be as strong as the God of Thunder, and as flexible as a teenage Soviet gymnast to operate the thing realistically. Luckily, though you would never mistake me for Thor or Olga Korbut, I happen to be the owner of some nice little wood clamps, one of which happens to clamp down just right on that little green button, keeping the motor running while I work continuously.

You can see from the pictures that the pine slabs are a fairly uniform 4 to 5 inches thick, and they split down nicely into sizes from about 2 inches thick, to 3/4 inches thick. The stack in the picture took about 90 minutes, MUCH faster than the axe, and much more uniform in size.

Woodsplitting Heaven

I received 3 full palettes of pine beam cut-offs from a lumberyard and have been splitting them for a couple of days now. They are surprisingly easy to split and nearly all are about the right length for stoking. After my first palette was split, I put up these drying shelves between the posts of the kiln shed, and they are filling up faster than anticipated. I imagine I`ll be building a lot more drying space before long.

At this point I have no idea how much wood it will take to fire the new kiln, which will be built and fired this fall (more info on that here), so I`ll be preparing WAYYYYY more than enough.

I tried to get my neighbor in on the splitting, shouting out `boy this wood splitting sure is fun!` and `gosh, this is so great, what could be more fun than the satisfying sound of a log splitting asunder? I sure don`t know…` Unfortunately however, my neighbor was on to my clever ruse, and my Huck Finn moment was lost before it even began. The fact that he`s always collecting and splitting wood for his wood burning stove might have been the fatal flaw in my otherwise genius plan.

Pseudosexual Ice Cream

Well,I`ve never posted much non clay related stuff to this blog, but when my wife came home from the store the other day with this, I just had to take some pictures. Is it just me, or is this not just the most unintentionally suggestive ice cream you`ve ever seen? My first thought was that this would create quite a scandal in the US.

First, when the kids started eating them, I was reminded of their younger breast feeding years. Little mini ice cream breasts. Kinda cute, actually.

Then you see the back end of the thing with the clip, and you realize that someone has essentially figured out a way to package ice cream in a condom. Ice cream condoms… not as cute, but definitely hilarious.

The little ice cream condoms are actually quite thick and strong, I guess they have to be in order to be stuffed that full and frozen without fear of rupture. The downside is that they are under quite a bit of pressure. You snip the tip to eat the ice cream, and woe to you if it`s not sufficiently frozen, because it will spray everywhere. What images this conjures up I will leave to you.

Anyway, it just goes to show that no matter how long you`ve lived in foreign country, you can still have some interesting culture shock moments. So, I`m going to go out and split some more wood, make pots and get ready for a bisque fire, then I`ll come back inside and curl up on the sofa (in a fetal position) with a nice ice cream booby.

New old kiln III

Here are some photos of the control panel after it was cleaned up. What a difference, without the thick layer of dust.

I have absolutely no idea how the controls on the thing work, by the way. Should be an adventure trying to figure it out.

I decided to pop the cover and see what was inside, and was pleasantly surprised. Looks positively brand spanking new. And best of all, reasonably simple. If anything is broken, it`s likely that it`ll be easier to fix because it`s analog. This is the box labeled `control panel`.

Next is the box labeled `magnetic switch`.

If anyone familiar with this type of analog kiln controller can explain how it works, I`d very much appreciate it.