You may have been taking classes at the local art center or just getting back to pottery...whatever your reason, you are ready for your own studio! Skutt provides a helpful online resource to guide you on your journey. Click here or copy the following address into your web browser: https://skutt.com/how-to-set-up-a-home-pottery-studio/.
Don't assume that living in a rental property excludes the possibility of living your dream of having a pottery studio. This article (https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/pottery-making-illustrated/pottery-making-illustrated-article/in-the-studio-pottery-studio-in-a-rental-home#) from Pottery Making Illustrated discusses the ins and outs, and details you will need to consider for your special circumstances.
Of course, you are careful about what you dump down your studio sink, but some level of slurry, bits of clay, residue from glazes, etc. ends up going down the drain. These materials can accumulate in traps and further down the pipe to cause clogs and subsequent expensive visits from your plumber. PREVENT that by installing a clay/plaster trap below the sink. There are a number of options and DIY available to you. The most commonly used is a product from Practico called the Glecko. Its installation is demonstrated in detail by a potter in his studio by clicking here. In this article from Ceramic Arts Network, Charan Sachar provides plans for a more elaborate DIY installation. There are plenty of other clay trap options out there if you do a google search.
The key, when looking to install a clay trap, purchased or DIY, is to ensure that the accessibility for cleaning out the clay cache is as mess-free as possible.
Skutt Kilns has the information you need on using your electric kiln, regardless of the make or model. This link includes information on:
• Separation of kiln shelf layers
• Thermocouple placement
• Evenness of kiln load
• Density of load
• Shelf size
• Firing speed/heating rates
• Hold time
• Cone type
• Cone placement
They also cover use of the EnviroVent2 downdraft system, which is specifically a Skutt product.
If you are interested in throwing or handbuilding functional pottery, it is helpful to know how much clay to prepare. This guide, available at Ceramic Arts Network (https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/docs/default-source/uploadedfiles/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/potteryclay.pdf) provides some general information on clay as well as guidelines regarding how much clay you will need to complete your project. (See the chart on page 6 of the document for clay weights for various ware types). The weights there may seem to be slightly excessive, but keep in mind that every potter works differently. You will need to figure out what works best for you.
Another chart, available here for download as a pdf, from Lakeside Pottery, gives you a quick reference for your studio.
Yes and no. Yes, you can invest in more trimming tools. But if you have the tools you like, you can SHARPEN THEM.
You may use any number of sharpening tools (files, emery cloth, stones, rotary tools, bench grinders - be gentle with these!). You will probably have more success using more than one sharpening tool, since trimming tools have a wide variety of blade configurations.
Over time and use, your tools will still need to be replaced, but you can prolong their usefulness with proper maintenance.
For a thorough explanation on how to load and fire your electric kiln, visit https://skutt.com/best-practices-for-loading-and-firing-your-skutt-kiln/. While this blog is from Skutt, the information applies well most electric kilns and provides some insights into the firing choices available for kilns with electronic controllers.
You might also take a look at this site (https://skutt.com/how-to-extend-the-life-of-your-elements/) which addresses ways you can extend the life of the elements in your electric kiln.
Cones are used in firings to measure heatwork, which is different than merely measuring temperature. Heatwork is a truer reflection of what is happening with the clay and glazes and is a reflection of not only the actual temperature in the kiln, but the rate of temperature rise.
If you recently invested in a new or used electric kiln, you may have some questions about long-term maintenance and repair. These are the parts of your kiln that will likely require some attention from time to time:
TROUBLESHOOTING KILN PROBLEMS:
WEST MICHIGAN CLAY NOW HAS A CONTACT FOR ELECTRIC KILN REPAIR. (call us at 269-751-5839 for details)
BE CAREFUL IF YOU CHOOSE TO TAKE ON YOUR OWN KILN REPAIR - KILNS PACK A POWERFUL PUNCH OF POTENTIALLY DEADLY CURRENT. Ensure that the power source to the kiln is disabled before doing any work on your kiln. IF IN DOUBT, call us for information on how to contact our kiln repair guy, or find a qualified electrician .
Here are some resources that you may find helpful:
If you just purchased a kiln and want the skinny on kiln problems, see the post titled "MY KILN ISN'T FIRING CORRECTLY"
Once your kiln is set up and running, there are a few parts that will need to be replaced from time to time. These include elements, thermocouples, and relays (these are simply electronic switches). Most electric kilns these days have electronic controllers. These have a small 'motherboard' that is protected from power surges and wiring malfunctions by a fuse. If the display on your controller is blank, check to see if the fuse is blown. This usually indicates a wiring issue that needs to be resolved. Simply replacing the fuse will likely result in another blown fuse if you don't find the problem causing it. This may be a good time to call in an electrician or someone with knowledge of kiln wiring. Rarely, the motherboard will fail. This is actually not difficult to replace, but, again, is a repair that is best done by someone with experience in kiln repair.
WEST MICHIGAN CLAY NOW HAS A CONTACT FOR ELECTRIC KILN REPAIR. (call us at 269-751-5839 for details)
You can avoid problems to some extent simply by maintaining your kiln properly:
ELECTRONIC CONTROLLERS DISPLAY ERROR CODES FOR MANY PROBLEMS. CHECK YOUR MANUAL FOR THE CODES SPECIFIC TO YOUR KILN. You can often find information on error codes online, using the Support link at your kiln manufacturer's website. In addition to information on troubleshooting your kiln, these sites often have support email links and phone numbers that you can use to ask questions about your particular kiln and situation. Kiln manufacturers have technical departments that handle these questions and they can save you a lot of time if your initial troubleshooting efforts are unsuccessful. It is best to have your kiln's model number and serial number on hand when communication with support.
It is always a good idea to put witness cones in your firing, to determine actual heatwork. It will also give you additional data to provide your manufacturer's support staff if you contact them with a firing issue.
Common but not exhaustive list of kiln problems encountered include:
These are the a few of the most common problems encountered when firing your electric kiln. Don't assume that your kiln is 'broken' - as long as the bricks and kiln housing are intact, you will likely be able to get up and running again just be replacing a few relatively inexpensive parts!
Click here to download a simple one-page general explanation on mixing glazes in dry form.
IF YOU WILL BE BRUSHING YOUR GLAZES, we suggest adding CMC gum. DO NOT attempt to add CMC in dry form. You will end up with a lumpy, gummy mess. You need to dissolve it in boiling water, whisk it until smooth, then add the gum solution to glazes you want to brush.
Detailed instructions from Laguna on mixing their dry glazes can be downloaded here
This series of videos by AMACO/BRENT covers mixing glazes, dipping, layering and making test tiles (please note that all Potters Choice 25 lb. pails of dry mix have been discontinued)
This post , Using Additives such as CMC Gum to Beef up your Glazes, includes detailed information on how to use glaze additives to expand the possibilities in brushing, dipping and pouring as well as re-glazing your work.
Potters, especially those new to the craft, often experience frustration in the glazing process.
The main methods for applying glaze are:
Each method has its pros and cons, which are covered in this article: (https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/pottery-making-illustrated/pottery-making-illustrated-article/8-Ways-to-Apply-Glaze#)
As with any and all methods in making work, you may need to experiment to find what works for you.
The thickness/consistency of the glaze varies by the application method. Again, some experimentation may be necessary to achieve the desired results. Generally, glazes are thickest with brushing, thinner with dipping, somewhat thinner yet with pouring and thinnest for spraying.
Consider using a variety of application methods to obtain the results you seek.
Waxing the bottoms of your pots will help regardless of what application method you choose.
Some simple tips that may help you along the way:
Amaco provides examples of layering with the Potters Choice, Celadon and Potters Choice flux glazes. Click here (https://www.amaco.com/t/glazes-and-underglazes/high-fire/potters-choice to access the Potters Choice page on the Amaco site. If you click on an individual PC glaze, you can scroll down the page to find colorful examples of layering with other PC, Celadon and Flux glazes. These examples used two coats, brushing of each glaze indicted, and also which was the base and which the top coats.
If you like to brush your glazes on your ware, or even if you pour/dip and then brush, these two videos may provide some insights that will give you a boost:
At West Michigan Clay, we sell CMC in powder form. For detailed information on mixing and using this as well as other gums in your glazes, visit https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/daily/article/Using-Glaze-Additives-to-Make-Average-Glazes-Great.
Equipment and Materials needed:
Your gum solution should have a syrup or glue-like consistency. If the clumps are gone, you are ready to use the gum solution as an additive to glazes.
Common glaze defects:
This excerpt from the late Robin Hopper's book "The Ceramic Spectrum" covers five common glaze defects with photo illustrations and suggested solutions.
While you might think that glaze defects are less of an issue with commercial glazes, this is not necessarily the case, especially if you are new to making and firing pottery.
Mixing your own glazes is money-saving as well as introducing another creative element to your pottery. There are plenty of resources online that provide procedures and recipes for mixing glazes from scratch using raw earth materials that are available at West Michigan Clay. In addition, we recommend the books listed below, which provide background on processes and a great collection of glazes at various firing ranges to get you started.
Adding water to your glaze mix is covered under our FAQ post on mixing dry glazes. Sieve your liquid glazes with an 80 or 100 mesh sieve once they are mixed with water. Use CMC or similar material if brushing your glaze. Adding 1-3% bentonite in your dry mix will help keep the glaze materials in suspension and avoid hardpanning.
The following books - some available at your local library or from Michigan Electronic Library (http://www.mel.org. ) - include a good background on mixing your own glazes and a variety of recipes for mid-range and high-fire glazes.
More general references on glazing and decoration:
Now that Gerstley Borate (April 2023) is in short supply, the question of what can be substituted for materials that are not readily available comes up. Gillespie Borate is a simple one-to-one substitution.
We always suggest that you TEST when using a new material or making substitutions.
Two online resources for raw materials substitutions include:
1. This article published in Ceramic Arts Monthly in 1997 provides some information that may be useful if somewhat dated.
2. More detailed, up-to-date and technical information on raw materials can be accessed at https://digitalfire.com
It would be nice if this topic were as cut-and-dry as 'lead or no lead'. It isn't that simple. There are a lot of materials we use that, even in their fully fired state, may leach into foods, especially those that are highly acidic.
Further complicating matters is that concept of layering glazes and how the combinations alter the glazes in a manner that alters the degree to which it is safe for use on dinnerware, even if each of the glazes on its own is labeled as food safe (see this discussion on the Ceramic Arts Network forum)
The two main opacifiers used in making ceramic glazes are zirconium silicate (sold as Zircopax, Ultrox, etc) and tin oxide. Due to the cost difference, glaze recipes often use zirconium silicate to opacify a glaze.
Tin oxide is not as effective as an opacifier for white glazes in high fire reduction. However, the presence or absence of tin oxide impacts the colors produced by metallic oxides in both oxidation and reduction. Because of this, as well as the different kind of 'whiteness' when used to produce white glazes, substituting one opacifier for another is not straightforward.
See this post on Ceramic Arts Network for a demonstration of differences in applying each of these two opacifiers.
This excerpt from the late Robin Hopper's book 'Making Marks: Decorating the Ceramic Surface" explains the difference between these materials and their application. Commercial underglazes are mostly engobes. You can create your own slips/engobes/underglazes using clay and additional ceramic materials to broaden your creative clay pallette.
Underglaze pencils and pastels can be made from very basic ceramic materials - usually just dry clay, coloring oxides or stains and some bentonite. You can purchase most of the materials at West Michigan Clay - we usually have black stain, but not other colors.
You need to be able to bisque these – how high you go will determine how hard your ‘lead’ will be.
For a video on the process, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5t7CXeqJ170
For instructions on making your own underglaze pencils and pastels, read this excerpt from Robin Hopper’s “Making Marks: Discovering the Ceramic Surface” at https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/daily/article/drawn-to-surface-how-to-make-and-use-underglaze-pencils-crayons-pens-and-trailers/
It is best to store your moist ceramic materials in a location that avoids temperature extremes. Should you find that your clay and/or glazes have frozen, allow them to thaw before proceeding.
For a detailed explanation on what happens when clay freezes, click here.
YES. Unfired clay is reusable/recyclable and re-wettable. It isn't necessarily quick , but if you are patient, it can be pretty easy.