Category Archives: pottery

New Pots, Finally!

Unloaded the kiln yesterday and started cleaning up some of the keepers. This firing was good. A lot of keepers, some refires, and a few hammers.
Here are a few of the pots that are at least partially cleaned up and ready to go.

Loading, new tools

Well, didn’t quite make the Feb. 29 date for firing the kiln. My wood ash supply ran out and it was hard locating more and getting it tested. Also had the top element go out on my electric kiln, so couldn’t use it for bisquing. Finally got  that stuff done, so was able to mix up glazes and get to glazing/loading. Got the rear setting done this evening. My shipment of cones from Axner came in the nick of time, so here are the new self supporting cones in action. I have decided that I LOVE self supporting cones…

The rear setting done, finally. A total of 115 pots, give or take.

I mentioned that I’d run out of glaze ingredients. Some testing was required to ‘find’ my glazes again.   This glaze is tough because it goes clear if too thin, or is too white and runny if too thick. Also, I’ve been trying to tweak my Madara to more closely resemble that of the old Karatsu pots, circa 1580. Theirs went on thin, but kept its color. A lot of silica, probably. Here are two test tiles with  Madara glazes. They were fired in the tiny test kiln and you can see they went pretty clear, because they were directly in the flame path. The tile on the left is the tweaked version, with more silica/rice straw ash and less mixed wood ash. I think it is pretty close to what I want, and will have more color when not fired in the tiny kiln with that concentrated flame, and gets a slow cool.

two test tiles with variations of Madara Karatsu rice straw ash glaze.

This upcoming firing we will have our first attempt at hikidashi, which means pulling pots at high temp and letting them cool quickly, or quenching them in water or something flammable such as rice hulls, sawdust, etc… This time, all of the hikidashi will be hikidashi guro, or black glazed ware pulled at temp. In the picture of the rear setting above, all of those pots with the red glaze are going to be yanked out. From the side port, a pair of tongs about 1 meter long is just about long enough to get most of the ware. For pulling from the front stoke, tongs are just too short, so I spent some time this afternoon making a new tool. By drilling a hole into the side of the test kiln, I converted it into a simple forge. I took round steel stock and repeatedly heated it and hammered it to flatten the end then used a hammer and chisel to split it lengthwise from the end. A little creative hammering gave me a two pronged fork shape for scooping up bowls and pulling them out the front of the kiln. Can’t wait to give it a try.

New fork tool for pulling pots from the front stoke

A Nice Spring Morning Walk

Last Wednesday, I went fishing at night with friends. We arrived at our spot and while parking the car noticed dozens of large toads out in the rain. It was still cold out, we all had several layers on plus rain gear, but those toads looked comfortable enough. My friend said that this was a sure sign that spring was here, and so far he’s been right. Every day since Wed. has been downright comfortable, though it still cools down in the evenings. Millions of years of instinct trumps the weather man every time…

This morning on our walk, the smell of spring is in the air. That bite in the wind is gone, and the air is suffused with a humidity  not present in the winter months. This morning the cloud cover is thick and some rain will surely follow. The mountains are shrouded in mist, and the vegetation seems to soak it up. Everything is green and lush, unopened buds starting to swell.

Raz and I head up a new mountain road, the concrete is white and unstained, with just a few fallen twigs scattered over the surface. In a few years it will be grey and covered with pockets of moss and lichen, grass will be emerging from cracks and crevices holding the residual soil of the mudslides that will intermittently cover the road, only to be cleaned up by men or washed away by subsequent rains.

Even the forest is clean and uncluttered. Someone has been here clearing out the underbrush and deadwood, leaving behind a carpet of ferns broken only by the trunks of large trees. A few smaller trees have emerged as well, living in the shade of the canopy. Where the mountain was cut to build the road, there is green netting covering the soil with sodded grass slowly covering everything. In some places the grass was too slow to fill in and the rains have caused the clay soil to slide down to the raised curb at the edge of the concrete.

View down the mountain. The road is visible in the shadows of the forest.
View back up the mountain from the patch of road in the forest shadows.

When we reach the apex, about where the road starts to descend again, there is a clear cut area which looks like some sort of construction project in its early stages. Behind a large berm is a concrete gutter which has been installed to keep the water from encroaching into the project area, but clay and soil has fallen in, trapping rainfall in pockets several inches deep. In one of these pockets, I see several clusters of what are probably frog eggs.

Frog(?) eggs. At least 2 different kinds.

The clay exposed in the cut above the gutter is interesting. It looks very red, almost purple in places, and it has a lot of some sort of rock interspersed throughout. In one or two areas there is even some clay that looks fairly white. Perhaps it would be good for making pots. The red clay and the dark stone might be good for putting in a glaze. It may be worth a trip back up in the car with some bags and a shovel. Chances are once this project gets underway, I won’t have access to this clay again.

Iron rich clay matrix with some sort of grey stone inclusions. Shale maybe?
The whiter section of the clay bank

Coming back down the other side of the mountain, there is a cedar grove where a group of guys from my neighborhood have started growing Shiitake mushrooms. Lots of hardwood logs arranged standing up and in the shade of the trees. The logs are in that ‘A’ frame standing pattern to allow for good air flow. That, plus shade and rainfall equals lots of nice fat Shiitake. It takes about 3 years from when we inoculate the logs for them to start producing mushrooms.

Shiitake growing area w/inocculated logs arranged and growing mushrooms.


A little guy growing from one of the logs.

Hikidashiguro test

Here are some test tiles from a test I did this afternoon of a glaze for hikidashiguro.

It is 50/50  Benigara (RIO)/Mixed wood ash

Katakuchi and Guinomi

Here are some of the last pots to be made for the upcoming firing. Katakuchi (spouted bowls) and guinomi (small drinking cups).

The katakuchi are made from 3 blended clays, with added sand and crushed porcelain stone. I got lucky with the clay for the guinomi, clay gathered from a roadside cut more than 10 years ago by an in-law. It was really nice to throw with, and trimmed like a dream. This was the last of it, so I’m really hoping to get some keepers.

The spouts are really simple. Just a lump of clay smashed out with your thumb against the palm of your hand, then attached to the pot. If you look closely you can see the creases of my hand in the undersides of the spouts.

I realized that I tend to post pictures of unfinished work more often than not. I’ll try to remember to post pictures of the finished pots after the firing, if they come through it ok.

Handle Diapers and Stretchy Clay

The last couple of days I broke down and made some larger mugs and tankards. I generally avoid handled forms because most of the clay in my studio is not suitable. If you make a coil and bend it around your finger, it just cracks apart instead of bending. This time, I mixed a bit of plastic clay into the normal stuff to try to improve its plasticity. The mugs threw fine on the wheel, but again, when it was time to make the handles the clay was crap.

At first I tried pulling handles from a large ‘carrot’ of clay, but once you wet it, two pulls and it would be cracking apart and dropping off in your hands. Taking a different tack, I rolled out some tapered snakes, like Opossum tails but less stinky, and tried altering and attaching those, but when I tried bending them around to attached at the other end, they just cracked apart. The very few that didn’t crack ended up cracking a few hours later as they dried. Doh!

So this brings me to the current discussion of handle diapers. Sticking with the Opossum tail method I rolled out some coils. Then, before pressing them flat, I stretched a piece of plastic wrap over them. Making sure the plastic wrap was good and stuck to the clay, I attached the flattened handle to the shoulder of the cup, then turned the cup over and set it on the edge of the table.  Grasping the tapered end of the handle and the plastic, I lifted up the handle end and attached it. If any cracks appeared they could be eliminated by pulling on the two ends of the plastic which compressed the handle. Or, rubbing the clay through the plastic would erase them too. Leaving the plastic on, I placed them in styrofoam boxes to prevent rapid drying, hoping that it would also help the moisture to equalize between the cups and the handles. Today, I checked them after about 18 hours and they seem stable. None of the handles show signs of new cracks and they have firmed up nicely. The plastic is still attached but has puckered a bit from the shrinkage in the clay. It will be interesting to see if these dry completely without cracking.

Several years ago I ordered 100kg of white clay from Seto for making some Shino and Green Oribe ware. Never got past the experimentation stage for various reasons, but the clay is still taking up room in the studio so I decided to break it out and use it. I was double bagged in thick plastic and is still quite soft after almost 5 years. Unlike the Karatsu ‘clays’, this stuff is really clay, the stretchy kind, and it was great fun to play with. I made 600 gram lumps and threw some beer tankards. Then, pulled some handles and attached them, no fuss, no cracking, easy. I could get used to this stuff. It was so easy I decided to make some more this week for the firing at the end of Feb.