Traditionally, Karatsu pottery involves a lot of paddling and trimming very soft clay. It’s hard to find tools that do this well, so the easiest way is to make your own. Here are a few of the tools I’ve made. They’re all really simple and cheap, and work better for what I need than what is commercially available.
I have included one bought tool (at left) because I use it a lot for paddling bottoms and lids, and it’s good for comparison. It’s good for bottoms and lids because of it’s even surface, but not good for much anything else, because the design is too even and man made for my taste. The made tools are from left to right:
-Cedar Paddle: cut to shape then burned to soften. ‘Worm holes burned in with a hot nail. use for bigger pieces because the length allows for more support.
-Pine Paddle: Use for small/medium pieces. Since it’s short, it’s easier to collapse what you’re paddling, but it leaves a much more interesting design/deformation.
-Copper Wire footring measurer: I use this to premark all feet before measuring so I get reasonably similar footring diameters. The copper makes it easily adjustable, just bend to desired diameter.
-Cedar Anvil: I cut a section from a cedar fence post and used a burner on it to bring out the figure, then used a small rounded chisel to dig between the rings. Using the growth rings looks more natural than turning rings on a lathe.
-Pine Knife: I made this for incising tea bowls, but I found it not to work well with Karatsu clays, too sharp. Works great with Mogusa and Gotomaki clays.
-Granite Finisher: I use this to erase knife marks, etc. on the bottoms of my paddled pots.
-Two trimmers: made from some cool stuff I found on the road that never gets dull, it’s some sort of laminated bandsaw blade stock with a 3mm strip of really hard metal on the lead edge.
-Pine decorative ‘thwacker’: This has various designs cut into the ends for final decorative markings. If you get it right on, it makes a cool ‘thwack’ noise, if not you’ve just torn a hole in your vessel.
-Footring carving tool: I made this out of some olive wood I had laying around, and mini hacksaw blades from the 100 yen shop, since I needed a footring carving dull loop tool. Brings out the wrinkles in the clay.
-All purpose rough cutting tool: Made out of an old chopstick and a jigsaw blade. I made it for carving the spout holes for katakuchi forms.
The second photo shows more detail and reverse sides of the paddles.
My wife and I have started building a new house and when the land was prepared for the foundation and retaining wall a lot of dirt was moved around, heaved up, etc… I went by after a heavy rain and noticed that the whole lot was littered with pot shards. Turns out that the land we bought, as well as the neighboring area was a community during Momoyama/Edo period Japan. I’m not sure at what point the land became a rice/soybean field, but about 20″ down the strata contains numerous pot fragments discarded by this Momoyama/Edo period community.
I’ve divided the shards up into stoneware and porcelain. The best find is in the porcelain group: a whole unbroken ‘benizara’ (lipstick dish) dating back about 400 years. It can be seen near center/top standing against the remains of a stemmed cup. It’s a mass produced piece probably pressed in a wooden form.
Both groups show some interesting traits: the hakeme work on the stoneware, the varying degrees of melt of the glazes, the unglazed interior center which indicates they were fired in stacks. Various shades of blue in the Gosu painting depending on the purity, and varying shades of blue discoloration in the ‘white’ porcelain due to the iron content of the porcelain stone used. The older pieces are definitely less white and more ‘blue/grey’.
Nearly all the porcelain pieces exhibit glaze faults that would have relegated them to the discard pile in later years, but everything that came out of the kiln during this time period was precious, even if it was divided up into grades of quality. Unless something was really messed up in the firing it could be used for tableware.
I also found the one green glass marble, which when viewed closely, is quite irregular. This suggests to me that it is handmade, but I have no idea as to the age.
Here are some traditional Karatsu forms which I scanned from the back of a book on ‘Old’ Karatsu ware. For the Ozara, you may notice that the feet are rather small in diameter. This is because the potters used the light Korean style kickwheels, rather than the heavier hand spun wheels of the Mino/Seto potters, whose work shows larger diameter feet.
Here’s a pic of a used, new to me kiln from Takasago Industries in Imari. A bit more insulation than is normally used, even for a Japanese kiln maker. Hot face IFB backed by a lower temp brick, backed by fiber board, covered with a thick corrugated steel sleeve reinforced with heavy steel framework all around. The door swings out on a heavy arm and closes, then seals with the 4 worm screw round handles shown. The top of the kiln is covered with backing brick, then about4 inches of a insulating castable containing lots of vermiculite. the floor has sand troughs on either side of the car, which the skirts of the car slide into, to create a sealed chamber (aside from the burner ports).
This kiln was used by a school for about 5 years, and is in pretty good condition. The car has some loose bricks, but those will be fixed along with rust removal and fresh paint before they deliver. Also new fiber gaskets around the door frame, as well as on the door and flue where the car comes in contact.
The price included the kiln, furniture, a new pyrometer w/ 2 new thermocouples, delivery, and installation including the roofwork required for the chimney, and the rail placement for the car.
So, the price for the kiln itself came to about $5,000 – $6,000. Much reduced from the original price of $22,000. I checked with other kiln makers as well, and the same specs ran from $20,000 – $28,000, no shipping, no furniture, no installation, etc… Talk about shocked.
I also looked into building my own, a minnesota flat top, and the brick alone came to about $6,000. IFB is expensive in Japan, 575yen was the cheapest I could find in my area. There were cheaper places in other parts of the country, but the shipping crossed out the savings.
This kiln should be a good size for a studio like I am planning. It’s 0.3 cubic meters of stacking space. Big enough to do most of the sizes I make, small enough that I don’t have to wait long to fire. I might find firing more often inconvenient, but I think the increased number of firings will be good for my experience and allow me to experiment more.
I will also have my homemade gas ‘ittekoi’ kiln which I built as a small volume test kiln.