Stoneware & Porcelain: The Art of High-Fired Pottery

By Daniel Rhodes | Go to book overview

Chapter 13
The Shop and Rhythms of Work

The pottery shop need not be an elaborate or expensive affair. Space is not always easy to find or to create, and the first essential to pleasant working conditions, in pottery as in other kinds of work, is enough space so that one does not feel crowded. The amount of one's production is important as far as space requirements go. If one is making pottery on a fairly small scale, or as a parttime occupation, a space about the size of a single garage may be adequate, but if the shop is intended for full-time work or for occasional periods of full production, a space twice that size will hardly be enough. In a small shop, it is wise to keep all the work areas quite flexible, so that if throwing is being done, the whole shop can be devoted to this process, and to drying, trimming, slipping, and all the other related work which goes on when a group of pots are being made. Then, when glazing is being done, the same areas can be used for vats of glaze and for pots in various stages of completion. The most useful work surface is a large central table. This can be about 3 feet wide, as long as possible, and about 33 inches high--high enough to work at comfortably while standing or seated on a high stool. Wedging and kneading is done on a lower surface, preferably one which is the exact height of one's hand from the floor when standing. Worktables and wedge tables should be sturdily built and surfaced with smooth planks. Unfinished wood is the ideal work surface for pottery making. It is slightly absorbent, which keeps the plastic clay from sticking to it excessively, and its relatively soft, resilient surface seems just right for all pottery processes. Wood surfaces which have been used for some time get a worn and scrubbed look that is very pleasant.

The most direct way to mix clay is to weigh out the dry ingredients into a pile on a clean cement floor. The dry ingredients are mixed together with a hoe, then water is gradually added until all the clay has become damp and soft. The mass of wet clay is then shoveled into the clay bin, where it is left to temper for a week or so. It may then be taken out, wedged, and stored for aging. Clay in small quantities may be stored in concrete laundry tubs or galvanized iron cans with lids. Larger quantities of clay can be kept in pits made of concrete or brick, or in large boxes lined with zinc. After a satisfactory body has been developed, it is best to mix clay in fairly large quantities. This avoids constant interruptions while more clay is being prepared and allows the clay to age before it is used. If there is enough clay storage capacity, a new batch of clay can be made up long before the old is used up, thus assuring constant supplies of well-aged clay. Clay in storage should be slightly softer than desired for use, which makes it possible to wedge the clay thoroughly without having it get too stiff. Clay scraps are thrown into a container and wet down from time to time. If just the right amount of water is added to the scrap, it will slake and

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