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The Shimpo Aspire Tabletop Pottery Wheel.

This little wheel weighs 25 pounds, goes on a tabletop, and is supposed to center 20 lbs. Yeah right. Looks like a toy doesn’t it?

Shimpo's table top wheel for beginner to advanced throwers

Well I tried it out and here it is. No toy.

The proof is in the pudding.I don’t remember how much clay I used, but the pot stands 13 1/4″ tall. Not bad. Like any Shimpo I’ve used, (and despite the fact that this one is belt driven vs direct drive) it handles clay without breaking a sweat. Very quiet as well. I like the fact that despite all that strength, its very light and I can easily pick it up, stick under my arm, and go. I’ve tried a Soldner tabletop model (made by Bluebird) and it was great.. sturdy and strong, but very heavy.

Anyways, I was impressed not only by its ability, but by its exceedingly reasonable price.

Thanks to my friend Kathy, here is a great quote by Bernard Leach, the father of modern day studio pottery:

Every artist knows that he is engaged in an encounter with infinity, and that work done with heart and hand is ultimately worship of life itself.
Bernard Leach

Mixing glaze (by the way, the drill and mixer are actually being supported by an adult out of the photo)

Mixing glaze

We try to nurture interest in the clay process and art whenever the opportunity presents itself. (A few years off from being able to wedge clay though. hehehe)

When we originally built our kiln in 2000, we used all recycled brick and built it around the size of shelves we already had. It was a flat top, built mainly of stacked arch brick for the walls and a fiber (ceramic blanket) and heavy sheet metal roof. Not fancy, but we had a kiln and didn’t have to spend much money to put it all together.

Cordite shelves beside new flat nitride bonded shelfIt took at least 7 years of painstaking tweaking and firing before I really got to know its ways. About 5 years ago a dog we had knocked over the entire stack of old brick we were using for the kiln door, breaking most of them!! (..sigh) Long story short, it has been a struggle from the get-go to achieve reduction with any reliability, if at all.

As I think I mentioned in my last post, the old kiln as it was is no more. The flat roof – gone. The danger of fiber bits falling down into pots if you accidentally brushed the roof of the kiln with your head when stacking/loading – gone. The flat top was replaced with a retrofitted sprung arch and we finally were able to get new brick for the door. Extra fiber and roofing tin wraps the outer walls now as well.

The other exciting change made was replacing the old severely warped cordite shelves in favor of 6 new nitride bonded silicon carbide shelves. As you can see in the pictures, some of the old shelves were warped an inch and a half to two inches in places (I put one of the new nitride bonded shelves beside the stack of old shelves to show the difference in thickness and flatness). As with a wood or soda fire, loading typically involved painstakingly “wadding” each and every pot for the firing with a mix of 60/40 china clay to alumina hydrate. It was the only solution I could see to prevent warping. I have several potter friends who have those zoomy Advancer shelves that run about $100 a shelf in the size I was looking at. The nitride bonded are a step down from the Advancers, but are a lot less cost prohibitive, costing maybe $20 or so dollars more than a comparably sized cordite shelf.

Thin, flat, and light nitride bonded shelf

These new nitride bonded shelves weigh all of 11 pounds (the old cordite shelves in comparison weighed 44 pounds!), so loading the kiln takes a lot less of a physical toll on me and I can load it independently. I still do wad some – little teeny wads – (vs using kiln wash or sprinkling alumina hydrate on the shelves), especially on those clay bodies I might be firing that might be a bit tighter than our native clay to prevent sticking, Loading takes a fraction of the time as does the preparation of the wadding itself. Now that I have flat shelves, the wads can be glued on in advance as well.

The new arch in combination with the new flat shelves gives me at least, I am guessing an extra foot of stacking space. Not only that but the kiln now reduces and fires more efficiently using about a third less propane per firing. With the rising price of propane ($264 for 75 gallons this last delivery), the upgrades to the kiln and shelves couldn’t have come at any better time. (Better for the environment as well.)

As an aside, we got our new shelves and brick from Larkin Refractory Solutions in Atlanta. Wonderful customer service and knowledgeable staff.

Last fall I started experimenting with bas relief (low relief) design on pots and hand built forms. This style of carving and design seemed to me a natural progression/extension of the designed raku pieces I already do.

Unfired Designed platter

I had a number of pieces ready to glaze, but when we started having serious issues last fall with our raw materials that consequently, left our old standby glazes unusable, I put the pieces safely away until some of the technical issues were resolved. With all that work, I was reluctant to commit them to the fire.

With some long needed changes to the kiln this spring, and a fresh full bucket of celadon glaze, I finally felt brave enough to commit them to the fire.

Carving a relief design and knowing how the glaze will play with it, has its learning curve like everything else. I am anxious to see how this process evolves.

Relief Designed Platter with celadon glaze

Here is that same platter after it came out of the kiln last Friday. It was glazed with celadon then fired to Cone 10 (2400 F) in a gas kiln.:

Here’s where we’ll be this weekend. Maybe see you there!

FestforAll, Baton Rouge - May 3 & 4th

(For more info, please visit the FestforAll section of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge’s web site).

My name is Anne Webb and I'm a studio potter living and working just outside of Magnolia Springs, on Alabama's beautiful Gulf Coast. Please leave comments!
Drawing Day 2008
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