All posts by KaratsuPots

Nice Weather

Have been spending the last couple of days in the garden getting some much needed work done. It was nice out yesterday, warm but not hot, and sunny with a cool breeze. After we finished prepping the ground and laying out sod, I noticed this little guy sitting on some flower leaves under one of the cherry trees. They’ve been  everywhere lately, on anything green or wet and shady. Perhaps it’s some wierd fetish of mine or something, but I think they’re just  about the cutest little creatures.

Last spring, when I had a friend over, we were out on the deck late into the evening, finishing off a nice sake, when one of these little green guys came up from under the deck to go after the bugs attracted to the deck lights. He would wander around a bit getting the lay of the land, then one by one, he’d focus on a single bug, stalk it, and pounce. Never missed one. We sat there and watched him for almost an hour, fascinated. He spent half the time vertical, on the sliding glass door, pouncing in all directions, and never fell (him, not us).

Anyway, here’s a picture of the frog, a volunteer flower in the walk path, and some of the bees having a good time with the lavender.

Accepted to Korean Show

Good news recently: got accepted to the foreign potters exhibition at the annual Gangjin Celadon Festival. They selected 20 people to participate in the show. I have no idea how many people applied for acceptance, but I’m hoping it was more than 20….

Here are the pictures of work that I submitted. I recently bought the gradient and am very happy with it. The lighting are standard 500W halogen shoplights with thin foam sheets (think thin foam material for wrapping pots and glasses during moves) dangling in front, as diffusion screens. Sony camera is set to ‘One Set’ (hold up a white sheet of paper under the lights and take a reading to calibrate white balance) WB, and shutter is set to ISO priority mode. Setting this camera to ISO priority mode did the most to keep the pics clean while maintaining good color.

One more jar

Just finished this one this morning. Started it yesterday, but the shoulder needed time to firm up before finishing the neck and lip. It started raining cats and dogs yesterday, so it wasn’t in danger of drying out too much. The kiln hole is full enough now to have a nice morning swim…

This jar ended up at about 48 inches tall and about 5.2kg. Both those numbers will shrink quite a bit as it dries.  It’s bigger than the onggi style pot I did and is about half the weight. I think that says more about my ability to make onggi pots than the onggi technique itself, though. Oh well, practice, practice….

All the jars so far, side by side

All the jars so far, side by side, with their hats on (if the mouth is not covered, sometimes it shrinks too fast and stress cracks appear around the base.) After they have firmed up enough to turn over, I’ll do that and let them dry completely.

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.