Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Trimming Chalice Stems

I am working on chalices for next year, and have started to do the trimming after some throwing. Pictured here are 8 stems along with a few mugs waiting for trimming.

I have often spoken of doing chalices for communion sets, and even shown a video of me trimming one and putting one together. However, someone pointed out that my trimming chuck for the chalice stems is never shown. I have included several pictures here of my chuck, and the way it is put together. It is pretty simple involving the following items
  • Section of 3" PVC pipe 8-10" long
  • 3" Pipe flange
  • 3" Tank to Bowl gasket
  • 3" Pipe Hub Donut

The Pipe Hub Donut goes onto the pipe that is inserted into the Pipe Flange.

The Tank to Bowl gasket, which is soft foam, is inserted into the Pipe Hub Donut. This gasket was very important, since it is the piece that allows the whole thing to work without damaging or marking up the chalice stem while trimming. I can apply quite a bit of pressure on the bottom of the stem without putting any marks on the outside of the chalice stem. Whereas, whenever I would use a thrown slightly stiffened chuck I would have marking on the chalice stem.

I use a Griffin Grip to hold the entire assembly on the wheel. You could use the same device glued or otherwise attached onto a bat and then use the bat on the wheel head, but this was more convenient for me.

I have shown a slightly out of round uneven stem here ready to be trimmed. I often start trimming with a hack saw blade held perpendicular to the clay to cut and even up the base, and then move to regular trimming tools. In cases like this I might start with a needle tool first. Every piece has to be evaluated for the best trimming technique to be used, at least for me there is no "one size fits all".

I usually do production with 10-20 chalices at a time, trimming all stems first. Then I trim the bowls on the Griffin Grip, adding the stems immediately after adding magic water and to the trimmed area. I also level thing up by using the wheel turning slowly.

It took me a few tries to get this to work for me, but once I worked through the process, I realized that the tool was much better than other techniques for trimming the tall stems I wanted for the chalices.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Spring and Summer of 2016-Ceramics Monthly project

I have been moderating on Ceramics, in the forums for a few years now, spotting spammers, keeping the peace, and making suggestions or giving comment in areas of my expertise. This summer I was contacted by Forest Gard at Ceramics Monthly to write up an article for something I suggested in the forums about using bats on the wheel. I was really excited about doing this as simple as the whole idea was. At any rate I have been allowed permission to post the article on my blog here.
This appears in the December 2016 issue of Ceramics Monthly.

Spring and Summer of 2016, Revisiting bowls

Batter bowl with rolled rim and strap handle

Strap handle with hot pad stamp decoration

I have been doing bowls for several years now, and really enjoy doing them. However, I have used many of these bowls over the years and found some things about them lacking. I really like batter bowls, and yet never believed my handles to be integrated into the form well enough. They performed well, mixed eggs or batter nicely, and were easy to pour from and clean. The handles even worked well, but just did not seem to fit, more added on. 

Top view showing hot pad stamped decoration on handle

Lately on bowls I have been using a flared rim about 1" to 1 1/2" wide, This rim allows a baking bowl to be lifted out of the oven without having to have a handle. One day I decided to roll the rim down making an indent opposite the spout. Adding a strap handle from there was easy, and I believe the result is quite pleasing as you can see from the photos.

Small bowl with stamped hot pad decoration

Decoration was done by pressing a silicone hot pad against the unshaped bowl cylinder, then shaping without outside support. This also gave the bowl a bit of a looser feel than some of my other work.

Serving Bowl

 I like my bowls with a healthy foot providing stability visibility. The problem with that over the years has been how they work in a dishwasher. If the bowl is trimmed properly, and has a deep foot ring, it is problematic when unloading the dishwasher. You usually get everything wet when unloading if you lift the bowls out before all the rest. The deep foot holds water! This year I started using a brass piece of pipe to cut large arcs in the foot rings of other pots like the funiery urn. It just came natural after liking the look on those to try it on the bowls. Worked well.

Mixing Bowl with stamped hot pad decoration

 For those of you that are interested in throwing bowls, I throw the bowls here with 4, 6, and 8 poinds of clay. Both the batter bowl and small bowl are with 4 poinds. The Mixing bowl is using the 8 lb.  amount, and is quite useful for mixing, and with the rim even for cooking in the oven. The flared rim allows ingredients to be dumped into the bowl catching any oversights. When lifting a bowl out of the oven when hot, the rim allows secure grip without worrying bout sliding out of grip.

Mixing Bowl from above

Spring and Summer of 2016 Buial Urn

Greenware burial urn

 I have been remiss in keeping up with the blog site here, as it seems like there is never enough time in the day. I have been working on several different projects the last two seasons and also attended the NCECA conference in Kansas City in March.

One of the projects that was completed n a hurry was a burial urn for a man that my father had been a guardian/mentor for over the last 30 years. I had never thrown a burial urn before so dove into the internet to get some idea of sizes, possible design ideas, and other specifics that might help me design this man's urn. Some of the concepts I tried to put into it was  that often things get lost in time and that it would be good to have name and date for future reference instead of just an urn with nothing to identify the remains. So I believed that some sort of double lid would be appropriate, with the possibility of sealing one of the lids with glue or caulk. Some of this also came about because of my mother's and sister's search into our family heritage, and some or the problems they had with identifying relatives.

Inner Lid with name and birth date

 I used rubber stamps to add the name on the lid in the center area, and as I did not have stamps for the numbers of a size I wanted to use, these were incised. As you can see the lid fits very closely to the size of the rim. It does have a gallery that fits into the pot, it is not just a cover.

 The lid opening is large enough that the ashes in the plastic bag from the mortuary would fit inside with a little effort. This allowed things to be pretty easy for my father to fill the urn, without a lot of mess. The rim is flat at the top with a slight outer edge that is about an 1/8" wider than the neck. Reasoning for this is that it would allow some caulk around the rim before putting the lid on the pot to seal things in place.

The man spent much of his life outdoors, working on a farm, hunting, hiking and doing other things outside. I believed that it was appropriate for some form of decoration that would suggest something of what he was about. So I used a pine tree motif roller to stamp the pine branches, needles and cones on the side of the cylinder before shaping. I also added a few other decorative lines enhancing the belly, and a bottom foot ring on the jar form.

Glazed Lid

The pot was glazed with a glossy white as a base color along with a rust brown and a rutile green,
The white was dipped, and the other glazes were sprayed on.

This is the completed urn, with the lids in place. I believe that the glaze turned out quite well, and that the pine motif showed up well with the glaze technique. The clay body is 211 Hazelnut Brown cone 6 from Standard Ceramics. This was one of the factors I believe was important to this particular piece as the coloring worked well with the motif and glazes.

When I first began working with the Hazelnut Brown I liked its working and drying characteristics but was frustrated with the dull color I was getting with my glazes. I began experimenting with the use of a white slip, and later a white base glaze over the clay. This made things brighter, and I found that a little sanding off of either the slip or the glaze on the decoration helped to bring these out even more. I have just ordered another ton of clay, and half is the 211.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Teapots, Once More

     Teapots have always been a test of my skills as a potter. In the beginning it was about making a teapot where they would look good without any flaws in the construction, and the lid would fit, the handle worked well, and the pot would not be overly heavy when full of tea. As time went on it became a matter of getting that spout to pour well, without dribbling, or spraying tea in a shower storm or without leaving a lot of drip when done pouring. Eventually, I got to the point where the teapots poured pretty well and all things worked.

Teapots have so much of a presence in literature and popular entertainment with personification and animation. How could anyone forget the animated teapots in Beauty and the Beast or Alice in Wonderland. Some of the ways of late that I have been altering the pot form with pressed decoration before shaping and cutting and reassembling the pot before adding spout has lead me to a more whimsical approach to the teapot, as can be witnessed in most of these.

I have included still images of these pots for those of you who do not want to download or wait for video,I can understand. However a video is a great way to see all of the pot.
This first piece is from an earlier load this Summer. The rest are from a load that came out on the 22nd of October.


This teapot is using pulled handle for the lid, and the body with no alteration. The neck of the pot was cut in a manner similar to those done in an earlier blog post that also shows the technique for altering the neck angle.

These pieces from the last load, are darker than what I would have liked originally, but the colors are rich, even and quite deep. The load over fired to cone 7 where I usually fire to cone 6. That is a 31F. degree difference, which in pottery is a lot. In this case though I was lucky, it worked out.

This is the only teapot without an altered neck in this batch. Decoration is done on the body with stamps before shaping.


I was throwing a series of mugs in early August that used a silicone hot bad that had a hexagonal texture on the surface with a hole for hanging. I had been experimenting with techniques to loosen up my forms. Pressing the hot pad into the cylinder before shaping warped the cylinder and gave me a nice surface texture that got distorted when shaping the mug. So I decided to try it for the teapots. This is one of the first with texture on the body, and pressed into the lid handle after pulling it.

That process led me to the following form with the whimsical alligator on the top of the pot. Lots of fun, with the texture from the hot pad on the body of the pot, the handle of the pot and the tail/handle on the lid.


I thought that the lid deserved a close up photo, and I was quite happy the way he turned out.

All of these pots pour very well, the handles are comfortable, the lids fit well, and have vapor lock release holes. The also have provisions to hold the lid on when pouring. Some of them also have a front tab to aid in balance while pouring. However, it is not really needed.

Aesthetically, I could go on with a lot of garble art talk about why and how that means little to so many. I will say that I like the use of the rubber stamps and the silicone texture before shaping. This texture then becomes stretched and distorted interestingly as the pot is shaped by only the movement of the hand inside. It takes a little practice, to not press so hard as to cause a hole when shaping. It also limits to some degree the amount of  volume you can add to the cylinder in the shaping process, again to not rip through the form with the texture. I do not like the idea of the texture over the entire form, it needs visual rest areas.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Recent work & Packing and Mailing Communion Sets

 It has been a long Winter here in Central Pennsylvania, with lots of snow, ice and cold to keep me from working in a garage heated by an electric heater. Electric bills are just to high to justify much time in the Winter. We had a break in this weather a few weeks ago, and as I had orders to get ready for shipping, time to work.

I had several pieces that had not been glaze fired, so I started work with some glazing of mugs, bowls and Communion Sets. I have not been entirely happy with the glazes that I have been working with, especially the white, as it never seemed to fit the pots right with some pinholing and other problems. So I have added a new white glaze, and a blue green glaze. I have also started working with a glaze program called Insight(Level 2) to help me understand more about my glazes, and modify intelligently the ones I am using.

 So here you will find some of the new Communion sets, and other items from the first load.
Many of my glazes were from Bill Van Gilder, a prolific potter that has been generous enough to post and publish his glazes online and in some books.
Cream Rust on the first coat is a Cinnamon brown, and  on the second coat is a creamy beige.

The pots above have been glazed with Cream Rust of his, and the new white based on a glaze from Mastering Cone 6 Glazes by John Hesselberth & Ron Roy. The glaze is Glossy Base #1, with an addition of 4% zircopax, and 4% tin oxide

The pots to the rt have used the same glazes with the addition of Caribbean Green, from the Mastering Cone 6 Glazes book.
 On the left the new white and the Caribbean Green.

The bowl below is using Rutile green from Van Gilder, and the new white and the Caribbean Green along with the Cream Rust. The mug next to it for size comparison is using the same combinations.

Over the years, I have several occasions to discuss how I packed the Communion sets for shipping. As I seem to be doing something different in the way of shipping, I will elaborate a bit here. Below are series of images that show the box getting prepared for shipping.
Bubble wrapped paten upside down on 3" layer of popcorn

The popcorn, Yes, popcorn is falling into the box from the dry popper.
When you compare the cost of Styrofoam  beads to the cost of popcorn, you will be astounded how expensive the beads are. True, the electric for popping is still a factor, but in the long run popcorn is cheaper. I will not send anything overseas in popcorn, but in the States arrival is within 3-7 days so nothing is a problem.
Chalice added after 4" of popcorn

No I do not double box the pots. I use 14"X14" boxes, and make certain the pots are wrapped with a layer of good bubble wrap for cushioning, and pack my boxes full.
Box nearly full, but popcorn will be added until doming 3" above box

The final secret to doing this well is compression. The box at the left many people would believe is sufficient to close up and tape closed and ship. I still will add at least two more loads of popcorn from the popper to fill that until it is peaked above the edge of the fold line on the box at least 3".

Box compressed, taped with mailing labels

I use USPS for my shipping, not any of the other shippers out there for basic reasons. It supports the post office, which I believe in. The post office is down the block from me-convenient. Sending many pieces out standard and priority are the same price, and priority includes $50 insurance.

In all the years of shipping, excepting the one year my son sent out the orders while I was away, I have lost none of my orders to shipping or damage in the shipping. All have arrived when expected, and in good condition. I don't change anything if it isn't broke!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Chalices for Communion sets, my way

There are a couple of ways to make goblets and chalices that I have seen and tried. Some potters make goblet type cups by throwing a cup on top of a solid piece of clay shaped like a stem. These are usually heavy as they get larger. I have seen some of these where the potter will turn it up side down and trim out part of the stem by hand or while on the wheel. I have also seen and tried throwing a cylinder, choking it for a cup at the top and adding a small ball of clay into the cup to seal it completely. Other potters will throw the cup and the stem in two pieces, which is the way I have come to make the chalices that I have been creating for over 30 years.

So the first thing that has to be done in this technique is to throw the bowls, and the stems. I throw these off of a large hump of clay usually 15 to 20 at a time. I throw all of the cups first, then the stems.
This usually takes a morning to get them all finished up. Then they have to dry until what potters would call cheese hard. Cheese hard is a state where a finger will indent the clay, like cheese, and a slab of clay will be able to be held out by one end without slumping completely just slightly bending. It is just before leather hard where the clay is stiff, not able to be impressed with a finger, but a finger nail will. Usually pots are trimmed when leather hard. I start at cheese hard on the stems to make it easier to trim in the chuck for leveling the bottom and removing a little hole in the center of the stem base.
A few years back, I created a chuck out of some plumbing parts that works quite well with my Griffin Grip (gp). I use this to trim almost all of the pots that I make preferring it over the many other methods I have used in the past. These include thrown chucks, damp wheel heads, clay chocks on the wheel head an piece, and many others.
I start my trimming of the base with a good hack saw blade that has not had edges worn down. This helps me to level out the base. Then I use a needle tool to trim out the center of the base so as not to have a trapped air pocket. I do not worry about the piece blowing up from trapped air, but it does stress joins and could crack them.
I finish the stem with a signature and a letter stamp "R". Most of my stems have a base in them, but occasionally they will just be an open stem. Then turning the stem right side up add any decoration that might seem warranted. This is just rough trimming as the clay is still a little damp, but later the sides will get more cleanup and definition. I like contrasting areas of smooth and valleys for glaze to pool in as much more happens when they are there.
Once the stems have all been trimmed, usually two hours for twenty, I will move on to the cups.

By now the cups have set up to nearly leather hard so joining the two together is pretty safe without distorting the cups in the gp. An old trimjim tool is my trimming tool of choice but almost any trimming tool will work, I trim the cup with the stem diameter in mind so that the stem fits into a hollow on the underside of the cup, then I burnish the two together as the clay is still a little damp and the added water from the joining. I use magic water (1 gallon of water,3 table spoons of liquid sodium silicate, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of soda ash) to join these together added on with a stiff cone shaped brush. This will score the area a bit, and make a little clay mixed into the magic water to fill gaps.

Once the chalices have been completed they are left to set up until completely leather hard and then cleaned up by additional trimming and hand rubbing with a soft sponge. This will remove the nerds and ditties (little pieces of clay) from the sides of the piece and smooth up any unwanted gouges.

bats full of chalices
Chalices are ready for firing, but at the same time 20 of these does not make a load, just as a few bowls, some canisters and other pieces does not either, but altogether they will fill the kiln.
New canisters to be completed.

Kiln inside with bowl and bird bath
Here is a view of the inside of my L&L kiln that I have had for over 25 years. I fire with no kiln setter, just cone packs to check on the temperature of my firings. This does mean baby sitting the kiln for 12 hours usually, but I have been doing this for a long time. Kiln firing this weekend!