Thursday, October 25, 2012

Typical Winter Days in the Pottery

It snowed again today. Sigh Open-mouthed smile. The temperature this morning was eighteen degrees and the snow was filtering softly down with a light breeze, gradually dusting everything with a deepening layer. It lasted for a few hours, but didn’t amount to much, really.  If the weather clears up, we’ll probably have a couple more projects to do with Ursula, but in the meantime we’re in the studio. I know it’s only late October, but with the snow, the cold weather and the work in the studio it feels like our typical winter schedule already.

Yesterday Ben got up, washed his face, turned on the coffee pot and started a fire in the woodstove well before dawn. I got up a few minutes later and we sat beside the woodstove drinking our first cup of coffee. After breakfast it was still cold in the apartment side of the studio so we sat by the woodstove for our second cup of coffee, watching the cloudy sky begin to lighten. We then moseyed to the bathroom to brush our teeth and then pulled on our boots, coats, hats and gloves to head out for chores: fed the barn cats and chickens, haul in firewood, and sweep snow off the deck.

Finally in the studio, Ben threw mugs and saucers for the berry bowls he threw on Monday and I threw some platters and teapots. In the afternoon we painted the pots I had dipped the day before and then loaded the kiln. We’re behind on our orders and still have to throw a bunch, but if we don’t concentrate on getting pots glazed we’ll never get enough Dano pots done for the coming holiday season shows for Joyce and Delia, so we have to keep the kiln hot even though we would both rather just throw pots. After we loaded the kiln Ben baked the bread he had been tending to all day, making the sponge and then the bread dough before baking it, and did afternoon chores: gathering eggs from the chickens, feeding the cats again, and chopping more firewood When we came back inside the whole place smelled of freshly baking bread. I don’t do so well eating either wheat or yeast, but I couldn’t resist having some warm bread and butter with dinner. After dinner Ben waxed up some more pots and rinsed them off so I could dip them this morning.

We started in the studio today by filtering our main base glaze. I had filtered it right after mixing it late last winter, but some tiny granules had formed in it over the summer. These granules make tiny hard lumps in the fired glaze and we don’t know what glaze ingredients formed the granules, but when we flick them off the pots after dipping them, they leave a small pit in the glaze. When we rub our base glaze the surface gets powdery and it’s hard to paint the designs on, so I filtered it before dipping this morning. We have to put a fan on the pots to dry them quickly, because our glaze is picky about drying time and causes problems if it dries too slowly.

We have been having more trouble with our glaze lately. A couple of years ago we decided to lower our firing temperature from cone 7 to cone 6, since it the elements we get these days burn out so quickly. It used to be that elements lasted for several hundred firings, now we get less than a hundred and replacing them is not only expensive, but takes us away from glazing or throwing for much of a workday. So, we figured if we could get the elements to last a few more firings by lowering the maturation temperature by a cone, it would be well worth the effort.

We took the easy route to lower the temperature and added a frit to our glaze. Frit, for those of you who don’t know, is an artificially manufactured flux for glazes and glass. Well the frit did what we wanted and lowered the temperature and even had a couple of nice side effects: the glaze doesn’t get quite as powdery  when you rub it as it did before and it doesn’t chip in the dried, pre-fired state so easily while we’re handling it. On the other hand, the frit has boron, which gives the mixed glaze in the barrel a thicker, almost pudding-like consistency. Which means it dries more slowly. We had, in our tests tried a non-boron-bearing frit, but the fired surface wasn’t as nice as it was before.

Now it’s back to the test circuit. I formulated the original glaze about eight or ten years ago and used it until we changed it without many surface problems, so I’ll  try to reduce the firing temp by another means, it might be just a simple change in the feldspar and increasing one or adding another flux while slightly decreasing the amount of clay in the recipe.

Then, too, our clay is getting harder to get to the studio. Our trucker doesn’t charge very much to get a ton of clay here, only $250, but also doesn’t put a priority on it, if he has room he picks it up, if not we don’t get it until the next week or the next. We’ve been waiting about a month now. We are really happy with our clay body, but another trucker would charge well over twice that much. So, we’re thinking I should revisit the clay body I was formulating several years ago before we found our current body. I nearly had it perfected, but now I can’t recall much about it. If I can get the body perfected, we can have the Archie Bray Clay Business mix it for us in Helena and we can just drive up and pick it up ourselves.

So, with this and our regular throwing and experiments for new work and my goals for writing, it’s going to be a busy winter. I hope it’s a long one.



Trimmed and handled pots drying on the shelf


Bisque ware (fired once to bisque temperature) waiting to be glazed and fired (to glaze temperature).


Pots dipped and waiting to be painted in our good old designs.


Finished Dano pots waiting to be sanded on the bottoms and boxed up to be shipped out.

(Dano is a youth camp that sells our work as a fundraiser through Joyce and Delia.)

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