The brilliant photo above is by Sherry of Dresser Clay and Design in Semicoe, Ontario. It perfectly captures the dilemma faced by potters in attempting to make quality handmade pots whose price reflects the value of the potter’s work while remaining affordable. It also references the time that it takes to make a pot. This brief description of what it takes for me to make a mug can shed light on both issues. As you’ll see, a lot of time is spent waiting for pots to dry or kilns to cool!
The first step is to wedge the clay (i.e., knead it to remove air bubbles as you see in Sherry’s photo). Once wedged, I can shape (“throw”) a form on the wheel. I then have to let it dry slowly and evenly until it is dry enough to handle but still wet enough to continue refining the shape. At that point, I can trim the feet and add a handle and other embellishments.
Then I have to let it dry completely. This can take several days depending on the item and the weather. Slow and even drying is crucial to avoid cracks. When the mug is bone dry and I have made enough other pieces to fill up my kiln, the pots undergo the first (or bisque) firing. This firing removes most of the water from the pots and burns off any organic materials. It also hardens them to make them easier to handle during the glazing process. I fire my pots very slowly for about 12 hours until the kiln reaches approximately 1900 degrees F.
When the kiln has cooled (about 24 hours) I empty it, and I wash and inspect each piece, using a rubbing stone to sand it and make it smooth. The next step is to wax the bottoms of each pot. This is necessary to ensure that any parts of the pot that are going to touch the kiln shelf or any other part of the pot (lids, for example) do not get glazed. If they did, lids would fuse to the pots and the pots would stick to the kiln shelves.
Once the wax has dried, it’s time to glaze. Each pot is individually dipped into buckets of glaze and the waxed portions are thoroughly cleaned. After the glaze has dried (usually overnight), I often make decorations with underglazes or apply patterns with a contrasting glaze. Now it’s time to load the kiln again. As I place each pot in the kiln, I inspect it carefully to make sure that the glaze is covering it well. Filling the kiln is like doing a 3D puzzle since placement needs to be efficient to get as many pots into the firing as possible, but careful to make sure that no pots are too close together to touch each other or to have fumes from the glaze on one pot affect the glaze of the pot next to it. Once the kiln is full, I fire it again. This time the kiln is fired to over 2200 degrees F for about 5 to 6 hours, and it takes about 36 hours to cool. Once the kiln has cooled, I empty it and again inspect every pot for cracks or other imperfections and use a rubbing stone to further smooth the feet or bottom.
Now the pots are ready for prime time! I take several photos of each pot from different angles and write a description. Finally, I can list them in my shop and make them available for purchase.
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