All posts by KaratsuPots

New old kiln II

Here`s the kiln after I got everything in place and cleaned up. Yep, those lids were actually blue…

Here`s the interior, is it not beautiful? (It`s best if you hear the previous sentence uttered by Fozzie Bear, or perhaps Grover). I know pretty much nothing about electric kilns, but to me those elements look really clean and hardly fired.

The lid is operated by an interesting, simple mechanism wherein as you screw the handle down the lid is lifted by the arm and can be swung away from the top of the kiln. This also allows for nice control of the opening of the top during firing. When I first saw this setup I kind of poo pooed it, but after assembling and trying it out, it seems to really work well.

New old electric kiln

One day about 5 years ago, I noticed a dusty blue metal box behind the shelves of ware containers in my mentor`s kiln room. When I asked what it was he said it was an electric kiln he had been given but never used, and did I want it? Said I could have it for free, because he got it for free, but that it ran on 3 phase 200 volt current.

At the time I didn`t have a studio let alone space for a kiln, or a 200 volt outlet, but it was always on my mind. Now, 5 years later, I have the studio and my new kiln cover for the wood kiln going in this fall, and wouldn`t you know it, a 200 volt outlet on the exterior wall of the studio that was put in for the immediate purpose of running a concrete mixer, but the long term purpose of running that kiln I`d seen years back.

The kiln is for firing Uwa-e, or overglaze enamels and it`s top temp is probably about 900C. It`s going to be a bisque kiln for me, since I bisque at around 750C. Doing a bisque in my propane kiln costs around $50 in propane. Firing this kiln will cost about $4. It will hold only about 1/3 of the gas kiln, but it`s still far cheaper. I figure $12 to $15 as opposed to $50 for the same volume of pots. A couple years of firings should make back the money (around $900) I spent running the 200V to the workshop.

Here`s the kiln after we loaded it up onto the truck. Boy was it heavy…. took 4 full grown grunting macho men to get it up there. To the left are the lids, and the control panel in the foreground.

Making Tokkuri

For drinking sake, I’ve always preferred the Katakuchi form (just a bowl with a spout off of one side). Easier to fill from a large sake bottle, and just as easy to serve from as a tokkuri. Where tokkuri excel is that their shape allows for them to be easily submerged in hot water in order to heat sake. Thing is, these days the best sake is made to be served chilled, or room temp. No need for heating as it will in fact ruin the nuances of the sake.

That said, I still have to make them now and then, because not everyone shares my affinity for katakuchi, and because tokkuri are often used as flower vases rather than drinking vessels. I sat down the last couple of days and decided to try to make some Fujinokawachi style pinch and coil tokkuri. Fujinokawachi is one of the more famous kiln ruins from the Old Karatsu tradition. It’s famous in particular for it’s coil and pinch/paddled ware such as fresh water jars and tokkuri forms with madara (rice straw ash mottled white) glazes, and Chosen Karatsu (rice straw ash white cascading down over brown iron ash glaze).

Coil and pinch/paddle is called板起し ‘ita-okoshi’ (to build with coils from a flat base) and 叩き’tataki’ (paddling) in Japanese. It is shown in this sequence of photos from a previous post:

These tokkuri are built in the same way, except that they are not paddled since they are a bit small to get a hand into. Building this way is not as fast as throwing on the wheel, but I like the softness of the forms and the fact that I can get a thinner, lighter pot. I’ll build the pot up to the shoulder, then start tapering and continue building up. Then I’ll lightly water the neck section and throw once to extend it and finish the lip. Last, I go back and finish the neck profile. If you do the spout/lip section last, the neck will collapse. It takes me about 30 minutes to finish one tokkuri.

Here are the finished forms. I had fun playing with the proportions, still always amazed at on small change will do to the overall look of the form.

I put a matchbox in for scale to give an idea of size. Except for the tallest, they all weighed in at 350 – 400 grams, still wet. The tall one was just over 450 grams wet. I’d say the average height is about 20cm. In case you didn’t notice, or wanted a closer look, here’s a close up picture of my cute little winged beast, which was given to me by it’s creator Eva Funderburgh, who makes all manner of wonderful beasts. You can see more of her stuff here.

Last, here are a couple of pics of the one that didn’t make it. Stupid mistake. I finished the whole thing up, then got a little over zealous trimming it off of the wheelhead and under cut it too much, which made one side of the very bottom so thin that it collapsed. I was half finished smashing it, and decided instead to slice it down the side to see how the inside looked. I’d never done that before with tokkuri. Ends up the rim was a bit too thin, but the rest of the neck and body were a fairly uniform 2.5 – 3mm thick.


For anyone interested, if you click on the link below you will find an animation of how to tie the cord (himokake) on wood boxes (kiribako):

This is my pottery mentor’s website. If you look around you’ll find lots of other animations, images, and short movies. Very interesting. Tsuruta sensei will be doing a one day demo and talk during the kiln building workshop at my studio this fall. Workshop link is here:

Box Prep

I got several boxes (kiribako) in yesterday, so it was the perfect opportunity to explain how the boxes are prepared for their pots.

First of all, the pots are measured and I call the box maker, who then makes the boxes and sends them to me, looking like this after the plastic covers are removed.

It’s easiest to do them as a group, so I set them all up and break out my trusty brush, box signing ink, stamps, and stamp ink, and get to work.

Notice I’m too lazy to make my own ink by rubbing the inkstone in the well and adding water. I found this wonderful bottle of ink made for writing on wood boxes and it works better than home made. Something is added that makes it less fluid but still easy to write with, and it doesn’t have a tendency to bleed into the wood grain like straight water made ink does.

Here are all the boxes after being labeled with the type of pot contained, my name, and stamped. The stamp is the Chinese character ‘Ma’ or ‘Man’, which is the first syllable of my (Mike, or ma-i-ku) in Japanese. The character is normally written as 万 or 萬, but I looked up the ancient version and it is what you see on the boxes. If it looks like a bug to you that’s because it is, it’s a scorpion. Funny, the character ‘Man’ means ten thousand, I hope the poor bastard that first wrote that kanji didn’t encounter ten thousand scorpions for inspiration.

I like having the big red stamp on the boxes, as it draws the eye away from the severe case of PPCSD (Piss Poor Calligraphy Skill Disorder) of which I am sorely afflicted. I just repeat my mantra, “I’m a potter not a calligrapher” when I do a particularly bad run of boxes.

After all the signing is done and the brush is clean, I start preparing the paper lid cover, stamped cloth, and cord. Usually I’ve forgotten about the cloth and have cleaned and put away the stamps, so have to get the stamps and ink out again and stamp the cloth pieces. Here are the boxes with the paper, cords, and cloths all done. The whole process takes about 30 – 40 minutes per box, sometimes more if my mantra doesn’t work and I end up deciding to sand off the writing and try again.

And with their respective pots….