Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Shipping the first 32 bowls

Thirty-two foot-soaking bowls ready to ship

We wrapped up 32 foot-soaking bowls and placed them in boxes Monday afternoon. Originally, we were going to deliver them, but the client said they had someone who would come and pick them up and drive them back to New York today. Well, we got a call from some shipper who wanted to send them UPS. They weren't wrapped for UPS. They were wrapped for a dedicated drive from here to the hotel, someone who would take care of them. When we ship UPS we always double box.

So, we're waiting to hear from someone on when they will be picked up, or perhaps my son, Levi, will drive them up in a rental truck. Meanwhile, we're putting together another 10 bowls tomorrow, and I'll be starting another ten in the afternoon. I just don't see how I'm going to get 85 done by July 15.

I've gone back to the original clay now. I had decided to add some grog and kyanite to the clay to help with some joint cracks, but I've had some other cracks in the grogged clay, and I don't like the finish of the grogged clay. I think I just need to take care when joining them.

I'm looking forward to a bit of cooler weather later this week.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Can't get my Head around it

Carrying a green foot bowl to the 'spraying area'

I think I have to increase production of these foot-soaking bowls in order to meet the next deadline after Tuesday's pickup of 32. I'm supposed to have another 85 by the middle of July. I've got an extra 25 already made, some of which have been fired. So that leaves me with 60 to make in the next couple of weeks. I've been making them six at a time, every three days, I think.

See, I make six of the platters (bottom section of foot bowl) one day.
Then I make six bowls (top of foot bowl) the next day and trim the platters.
Then I put them together on the third day, and I usually make another six platters on that same day.

I'm thinking I can make 10 at a time every three days. But that's 18 days. Or is it? I can't get my head around it!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Is a 12-hour cool-down possible?

In order to fire all the foot-s0aking bowls in the time I have, I need to fire a kiln every 12 hours. My current firing schedule is 12 hours to cone 6. No problem there. But if I let the kiln cool naturally, it takes longer than 12 hours to cool. I've never been one to unload hot kilns. I try to wait until they reach 130 degrees F.

It's 11 p.m. and I have one kiln firing (about halfway through the firing) and another cooling. The one that's cooling is at 650 degrees now. I need to get it unloaded and firing another three bowls by 7 a.m. So, I wedged a little piece of fired clay under the lid to try to slowly speed up the cooling. I'll check it in the morning and see where it's at.

I could decrease my firing time a bit to give me some more cooling time, but I don't want to mess with things too much. I'm using the "slow" schedule programmed in the controller of my Skutt kiln, because it's recommended for large pieces.

I'm open to suggestions from any potters reading this.

A few Things not about Foot Bowls

I decided to blog about a few things unrelated to foot bowls while taking a break from the heat, and having a cold one.

Empty clay bags are gathering around the window of my workshop. Santiago at Starworks told me they will take the bags back for future use if they are in good shape. They might even take some money off my next purchase.

The top section of one of those bowls I'm working on
fell to the floor when I flipped it over so I had an extra
platter, and Levi decorated it with a sun.

This is actually the same kind of bug that weirded Levi
out a while back, dropping from the ceiling of our workshop.

It turned out to be one of these, which weirded
Levi out again because one of these had bit him
the other day.

The bowls are beginning to cover the floor
in my new tool shed. Oops, that was about
footbowls, wasn't it?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wrapping Station Created

We are setting up our wrapping station for the foot-soaking bowls. My wife Mary found a good deal on boxes and bubble wrap and they actually delivered everything today. After I got back this afternoon from a visit to my chiropractor (routine) I spent an hour placing the flattened boxes up in the loft of my new tool shed. I actually enjoyed filling up the space with the boxes, as it's an area I created just for that purpose. The bubble wrap is two huge rolls about six feet tall, factory seconds. I don't think there's perforations for tearing sheets of it. I don't normally like to use bubble wrap, but this is such a large order and tight deadline, we got the packing material that was easiest and cheapest.

The client who ordered the bowls is sending someone to pick them up, and we're delivering the last of them in a month, so we don't have to pack like we're shipping them. Just a couple of layers of bubble wrap and a box.

Three bowls are cooling and three are firing in another kiln. I'll get up and glaze three more and load the kiln that's cooling. I'm still firing bisqued pots, but I'll soon be able to fire raw again as soon as the bowls dry that I made with new joining methods and clay with grog and kyanite.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Complexity of Making Bowls a Challenge

Foot-soaking bowl surrounded by soul pots
in the electric kiln

One of the challenges I find myself pondering at the moment is getting all these foot-soaking bowls to come out relatively the same shape. I sent a prototype to the client and they loved it. I know I've made quite a few bowls that differ from that first shape in one way or another. I am making these in two pieces: one large platter and one large bottomless bowl. At some point during the past month, I noticed the edge of the platters were rising up more than before. This caused the shape of the finished piece to change.

I've been making six pieces at a time, and it takes two or three days. One day for the platters, next day the bowls (trim platters), and the next day join the two pieces. I'm also glazing and firing as many bowls as possible in between. With production pottery, I'm used to sitting down and throwing the same shape for a couple of hours, and the first few pieces might differ until I get into a groove and the shape begins to flow.

With these bowls, it's that flow that is lacking. Or more accurately, the flow is late to develop. I'm feeling like I'm just now getting into a comfortable flow with this order, and I've already made more than 30 pieces.

The client is sending someone to pick up 32 bowls at the end of June, and I feel I'm just now getting my head around these bowls. He wants finger ridges, so when I first starting making them, I added finger ridges. Then I decided to "make" finger ridges after joining them by trimming with a tool. This worked well, but now I'm adding grog to the clay because of some separation at the joint during firing on a couple of pieces. So, I'm back to adding finger ridges with my finger.

I think I've figured out how to keep the rim of the platter from rising up too much, and I decreased the weight of the bottomless bowl by a pound because I'm throwing them more efficiently. It's all a balancing act of sorts, keeping up with these little things that can have a big effect on the final shape.

I'm not complaining - just venting. The deadline is always looming, and I get a bit tense at times. I'm learning a lot with this order, and the engineer in me thrives at the complexity of the task. It's one of the reasons why I love being a potter.

Finishing up a bottomless bowl:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New Tools, Vinegar, Focus

I've seen these tools before at ceramic supply stores, a little tiny rake for scoring pots. I've always used a serrated metal rib for scoring. When I went to StarWorks Ceramics for my weekly clay pick-up the other day, Takuro talked me into buying one. It's a great little tool. You can really score more thoroughly with it, and since a few of my two-piece foot-soaking bowls separated a bit at the joint during the glaze firing, I'm now being extra careful in joining the two pieces.

Here's the points I'm focusing on:
Adding grog and mullite to clay
Thorough scoring.
Vinegar added to slurry
More deliberate tapping together the two pieces once joined
Watching that I don't use too much slip when adding coils inside and outside the joint
"Working" the joint as best as I can after outside coil is added (this is difficult as I'm adding an upside down bowl onto a platter at the leather hard stage)

I've decided to bisque fire all the pieces I made up until the ones I made today, so I'll have to fire every day to get 32 fired by the end of the month, my first deadline.

Here's a few pictures of today's work:

Another tool I picked up in Star was this little loop tool.

I'm cutting a groove into the outside of the bowl to allow a coil to be added outside the finished piece after joining.

This is the little rake

Vinegar slurry brushed into all the grooves

The platter gets scored

I decided to score in two directions

Adding a coil on the outside
I do this after tapping the platter from underneath
with a metal chisel and then scoring and slipping
the groove. This is where I think I need to be careful
to not use too much slurry (or slip)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Update on the Bowl Situation

I picked up some more clay at Starworks today for the foot-soaking bowl order I'm working on, and after discussing things with Takuro, who runs the ceramic supply center there, we decided that I would add five percent grog and one percent kyanite to his Star White Cone 6 clay and add a little vinegar to my slip I use for joining the pieces. I'll also be more careful joining the two-piece bowls.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking I'll bisque fire the 30-some pieces I've made so far just so they have a better chance at not separating. I've been glazing them raw, until I unloaded the last load and found several areas where the joint had started to separate. (see post below)

Three bisque-fired bowls are firing in the electric kiln right now.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Close Inspection Reveals Crawling is a Crack

I've fired nine foot-soaking bowls, and I thought I had a minor problem with some crawling of the glaze around the joints. I figured it was some dust left behind after sanding some rough spots off the green pots before glazing. So this last firing I really hit the pots with some pressurized air before I glazed.

After I unloaded the kiln today, there was more "crawling" than ever, so I thought I'd take pictures and blog about it, maybe get some advice from other potters. I took some macro shots and when I blew them up to 100 percent with Photoshop, I realized that the crawling was actually due to my join coming apart. It's not a crack that goes all the through the wall, just a fissure of sorts.

So, now I've got about 20-some bowls that I've finished and are waiting to be fired, and I'm thinking I might try to bisque fire a load before glazing to see if they'll do better. That's a lot of work, so I want to figure out if I can salvage them. I've been raw glazing with a spray gun.

I've still got to make another 130 bowls, so I have to start thinking about what part of the process to change to keep this from happening again. I've been drying them slowly, and when the bottoms don't show any more color change from wetness, I set them upside down outside in the sun to let them fully dry.

My firings are slow, between 14 and 15 hours to cone six with an hour soak at 250 degrees F. and 1,000 degrees F.

I throw the bottom of the bowl (a platter shape) and the top of the bowl (a bottomless bowl) and join them at the leather hard stage, scoring and slipping each section, tapping the sections together lightly with a tool and putting a coil on the inside and the outside.

There's so many possible causes and solutions. Which one will I find? Which one will help me?

Mary says we're having a technical difficulty. We need to investigate the fault, and find a solution.

What I'm thinking right now is I'm possibly using too much slip when joining. I'm scoring each section and applying two coats of relatively thick slip on each section. Once joined, I brush the joint with slip, not to apply more but to smooth it over before I tap it with a tool. Maybe I need to do more tapping.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Floppin' and Flippin' Foot Bowls

I'm in the middle of throwing the upper portion of six foot-soaking bowls. It's noon and the shipping guy called this morning and said he'd be by after lunch with my new kiln, a Skutt 1231 Production Kiln. I'm kind of excited. I'm hoping to get through with these six pieces before the shipping guy makes it here, and I keep hearing trucks slowing down on NC 705. I duck out of the door and listen. I go back to throwing.

I'm just about through with this 16-pound bottomless bowl. And I tap the foot pedal. Suddenly the bowl disappears before my eyes in a split second. It just disintegrates. I tapped the wrong end of the pedal.

Upon closer inspection, I find the major portion of the former pot lying on the ground, some of it twisted around the base of the wheel head next to the wheel I am working on, and a small portion wrapped around the foot pedal of the other wheel.

Expletives are in order and after I spout off a few, I return to the pugger for more clay.


I spent the afternoon moving my oldest kiln - a Crusader that is full of drooping elements and broken brick - and replacing it with the shiny new Skutt. What a joy to lift the lid with the new Lid Lifter. Nice. I'll need a 90 amp breaker and I'm good to go, after a test fire, of course. Who does test firings? I'll do one this time, I think.

Yesterday, I received a shipment from Laguna: four replacement belts for my Laguna wheel, which is over 12 years old. The new belts are a little longer and fatter than my other ones, so I unscrewed and screwed a few nuts around the motor to tighten up the tension. But the belts are flipping around on the large pulley underneath the wheel head. I haven't had a chance to call Laguna and ask them for advice. Any potters out there have an old Laguna and experienced this? I'd love some advice.

I thought I'd share a little trick I do to prevent the bottoms of large platters from slumping when turning them upside down when still somewhat soft. I use the stuffing for pillows to support the platter. You can buy a bag of pillow stuffing at Walmart. Last time I bought some I got a roll of the stuff, and cut a bit and fold it, adding a bit at a time on top of the folded up stuff until I think it's enough support.

Ready for a foam bat and a flip

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Heat Helped us Today, I think.

Today was ridiculously hot as Levi and I worked shirtless in my uninsulated, partially refurbished chicken house workshop putting together six foot-soaking bowls after I spent the morning unloading the kiln and attending to other things around the shop. I had the goal of glazing three more bowls after finishing the bowls, but at 6:15 when we cut the last angle on the bowl, I just didn't have the energy. And a trip to Burrito Brothers in Asheboro was also on the agenda for the end of the day.

We had to work hard today because the heat was drying things out quicker than I wanted. But then again, I've got a deadline of the end of June to deliver 75 of these to a hotel in New York. So, the pressure to get it done today was good. But I don't see how I'm going to fire these three at a time every day and get them to New York. I guess I will just do the best I can do.

I am waiting on a new electric kiln to arrive to help with the firing. Meanwhile, the nearly 30 bowls we've made so far are in different stages of drying. And I don't want to push the drying.

I blew the feet off two bowls when I was firing prototypes a few weeks ago because I was pushing them to get them to an art consultant in Southern Pines.

A couple of potters have commented on my post below, wondering how this order came about. Being connected to the internet definitely helped, as well as the willingness to spend several weeks working on nothing but a single shape.

More details after I get some sleep. Thanks.

Morning Sunshine-soaking Bowl

Rarely do I post more than once a day, but I just had to share this photo.

Three Down and 72 to Go

I unloaded my first batch of foot-soaking bowls this morning. I can only fit three in my electric kiln, so I've got to start firing a kiln every day as soon as possible. I'm waiting on a new kiln to arrive to help out with this.

I fired this load of bowls a half-cone higher to try to get the bottom of the kiln a bit hotter. It seemed to work. I noticed a couple of spots where the glaze crawled just a wee bit. I'll be more careful to blow all the dust off with pressurized air before spraying the glaze on next time. I think I can touch up the spots with a Magic Marker.

The first prototypes I fired had ugly white feet showing where I wasn't able to get a nice line between glaze and clay, so this time I sprayed the bottom (including the foot) and scrubbed off the glaze when it dried. I also took someone's advice and laid a dry towel down and set the piece on the towel, twisting it back and forth before setting it in the kiln. The scrubbing is another time-consumer but worth it.

These bowls will be placed in every room at the Andaz 5th Avenue in New York, a luxury boutique hotel built by Hyatt and designed by Tony Chi. You can check out the hotel here. The foot bowl you see in the pictures is an original made of enameled copper.

While I can only fit three of the bowls in the kiln, there is space surrounding each bowl, so I'm also firing a few smaller items around the bowls, such as this soul pot, glazed with an Alberta slip glaze containing black copper oxide.

I love the glaze, but I'm not sure if its food safe, so I'm using on the outside of functional ware and on decorative pots.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Productive Day

Long day today. I put together four foot-soaking bowls, glazed three foot-soaking bowls and threw six bottomless bowls that I will join onto six large platters (bottom of foot bowl) I threw yesterday.

I've been softening up some StarWorks cone six white clay made from local clay to make the pieces, running it through my Peter Pugger after wetting it down, poking holes in the pieces of clay before adding to the pugmill. Seventeen pounds of clay is a lot of clay to center every day for three months. I have a three-month deadline to make 195 of these foot-soaking bowls.

Because of the soft clay, I set up two wheels and work on one wheel for a time, then switch and work on the other wheel, while the clay stiffens on the first wheel. It works pretty well, but tonight I experimented with using some stiffer clay on the bowl sections. I was able to throw a few of them in one sitting.

I throw the platter section rather thick because they require a rather high foot. I'm finding it extremely time consuming bringing 17 pounds of clay out to 18 inches diameter leaving it slightly concave. I might try some stiffer clay on the next platters I throw. I'm wondering if I'm softening up the clay too much. It's nice to have a mixer/pugger to be able experiment with stiffness of clay.

I'll be putting six foot-soaking bowls together tomorrow and loading a kiln with the three that I glazed today.