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Mark C.

Production Tips For Production Potters

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I know there a few production folks out there on this board-feel free to share your ideas to save time.

I threw a few bowls this am for a gallery order as I have a big show this weekend and wanted to be dry soon and I thought about some production ideas.

Mine start with the clay in boxes-I tend to think about 25# pugs.

That is how I think about it-12 -2# forms from a pug or 16-1/12#s etc. Just by the way you cut it.

That is- weigh all the clay to start with then over time you know what that weight is buy cutting it from pugs and you no longer have to weigh it.This alone will save you time.

Having a good scale will help you

For example a pug cut top to bottom in quarters then sliced longwise is approx. two-pound balls. The extra 1# of the 25#s is spread out thru 12 pieces.

The other tip is cut your end off a cutting wire (yes cut the handle off one end on a new wire) –that way you can cut to the bottom of the pug and then pull out the wire without wasting time lifting it. Having a one-ended wire as well as a two ended wire will be or great use once you master this skill. Seems like a small point-try it-it makes cutting a pug into 48 pieces for spoon rests very quick or 12- 2# balls or 4 -6# pieces or whatever.

Once you master this wire and the cutting you know longer have to think about it.

Next is use ware boards next to your wheel-that way you are handling more ware at every time you get up. After the pots get off the ware boards use bats or boards that hold a lot of pots so you are moving them in mass-this all saves time. When you are moving one pot around you are not efficient.

I use plaster to throw small stuff on but whatever you use have plenty of them, as you do not want this to limit you

.

I use the sun (during the sun season) to speed drying and after trimming them. I can dry pots outside until Halloween and then again in April when sun gets hot enough mid day to do some good. I have racks under cover next to car kiln as well to dry pots. Late fall and mid winter its heater time in studio for drying. Today I threw this bowl order and trimmed it and they are now drying all in same day.

Add your production tips for others to learn from.

mark

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mark, i bet you have horrified some folks with fast drying! :o  

 

so many new potters think that everything has to be dried slowly.  not so.   items that have additions, arms and legs on sculpture, handles on pots, that kind can dry more slowly than those simple bowls that mark made.  what is the point of drying slowly when the whole object is to get the work done?

Maninder kaur and Chantay like this

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Well after lunch and some painting wood trim with enamel primer and some other fall to do items I trimmed these bowls. Keep in mind I threw them 10 am to 11am-now its 2.15 and they are drying after trimming-Later I will sponge them on bottoms and stack them for bisquing. They could be bisque fired tonight (yes one day is enough if its sunny with porcelain) but I do not need them that fast but they will be dry enough.

Mark

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great tips Mark, I use the slicing and quartering but if I'm doing a heap of stuff, not so common now, I just measure the pug length ie put a ruler along the pug and slice accordingly, my pug mill, 3" gives a good sized mug.

clay lover likes this

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Pres

I never spend the time making the square cut clay into balls-the wheel spins fast enough to do it for me. I just put the cut pug next to the wheel as a whole unit and throw the cut chunks-I guess I did not yet make this point clear. If you need to ball the small clay that takes extra time.

for small forms under 5#s I never ball it.Just knock it round as the wheel turns.

Mark

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You can also build what amounts to a large "egg slicer" to cut pugs automatically all at once with only one or two moves.

 

This approach can also be done to make small slabs out of a full 25 pound rectangular slug.

 

best,

 

......................john

...extending this idea, you could fashion a cutting grid at the extruding end of the pugmill. A crosshair pattern would cut your pug into quarters. John's egg slicer would finish the cutting to the desired length.

 

DISCLAIMER: The writer of this post is not an actual production potter. Nor is he a paid spocksman or have any affiliation with any pottery related financial services....

 

Jed

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...extending this idea, you could fashion a cutting grid at the extruding end of the pugmill. A crosshair pattern would cut your pug into quarters. John's egg slicer would finish the cutting to the desired length.

Yup... quite standard tactic in heavy production places (multi-employee small "factories").  Some of the companies that make pugmills offer these kinds of attachments.

 

When you are working on lower margin pieces to keep the prices in the more affordable ranges, and depending on volume for amassing the profits, you do everything you can to eliminate extra handling (labor). 

 

Small extra steps seem like "nothing" at the time, but when you do that same small thing 100 or 500 times a day.... it adds up.

 

best,

 

.......................john

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Mark, do you not wedge the clay before throwing it? Just curious

I used to for over 5#s but since have a PRC wrist surgery I do not do much wedging.I stopped wedging small stuff many decades ago. And no I do not get s cracks.

Mark

Wedging small items is overrated

Judith B and MikeFaul like this

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Great topic. Here are a few off the top of my head.

 

I use bats that accept 6" bisque tiles paired with brackets on my wheel that accommodate a large ware board (it's a Bailey wheel). Got the bats from a company called Euclids out of Canada and the tiles you can order inexpensively from pretty much any place that sells bisque. This bat system allows me to throw a dozen small pieces without getting up or having someone move my board as often.

 

I have 5 gallon buckets next to my wheel full of the balls that I need to throw for the day. I also try to keep all of my tools in one easy to reach place.

 

I use a pointer to guide me (made from a skewer and a lump of clay stuck to the side of my wheel) so I only have to measure the first pot to get accurate measurements.

 

I use a rolling cart to move ware to/from kilns. Less steps = more efficiency.

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I built 4 slicers for the purchased clay. 2 slice one direction to make the block into 3 or 4 sections, the calculated weight is on the oak frame .

#3=5.5  #4=7.3  

Have 2 more frames to slice the other direction  cutting then into 4 or 5 segments this weight is also on the frames. Then written on the frames are the combinations of the cuts, such as: 

 4x5=1.1 lbs   3x4=2.4 lbs

these pieces can then be cut again with the wire frames or by hand to half again.

 

Now I just have to cool the kiln faster or get 2 kilns as the last bisque was loaded so tight that my 45 year old kiln did not cool in 24 hrs. The other part is I have to start to sell some stuff, first show is in 3 weeks.

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Frankie, what are those cute little things on your square bats?   I, too, use that system from Euclids , with bisque tiles from Lowe's.  BUT it took me a bit to stop grinding off my ring finger nail on the bisque tile.  When it has slip on it, you don't even notice that your are down to the quick until you clean up for the day and have no nail left!!

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For me the thing that ends up taking the most time if I'm not careful is making decisions, and it's generally decisions about how I should make each piece that take the longest. 

 

I never used to care I enjoy this process, like sketching on the wheel. But it can bite out big chunks of your time if you're not careful. I also used to be single. Now I'm married with a kid and full-time job. I'm lucky to get into the studio for a few hours every week. 

 

But when I get in there, it's go time. To help speed up the decision-making time, I focus on one item, and one form I really like for that item. For example, if I am making mugs, I will make a very similar mug 10 times over doing the same decoration or something very similar. It's basically batching my work. I used to make all different forms and decorations, like I had to have 10 completely different mugs. Now I am sane and have started to really appreciate more nuance and subtlety as I mature with my ceramic eye and taste. 

 

For those who like lists, here are some pros for this way of working:

1. You get to refine your favorite forms

2. When you sell your favorite you have X amount more to sell that are very similar and qualify for almost your favorite ;)

3. You can experiment better with glazing. What if I did this to the pot instead? What about finger swipes? You get the picture.

4. You can throw faster with the decisions already mostly made ahead of time. 

 

I'm sure there are more but it's time to play a game with the wifey. 

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Frankie, what are those cute little things on your square bats?   I, too, use that system from Euclids , with bisque tiles from Lowe's.  BUT it took me a bit to stop grinding off my ring finger nail on the bisque tile.  When it has slip on it, you don't even notice that your are down to the quick until you clean up for the day and have no nail left!!

 

They are just some lids I was throwing.

 

I know all about the ring finger nail! I don't have quite as much missing as you describe but when I first started using the system, I was stumped at my missing 1/4 nail on my ring finger. I am glad to hear that I am not the only one!

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We do many of the things that have been mentioned above. Regarding ware boards, I've outlawed the moving of pots--We move boards not pots. We converted baker's bun pan carts (side loading) to ware carts. We made shelves out of 3/4" marine grade plywood, cutting it into 6" wide planks, three planks fill a single shelf (18" deep). We purchased a shroud with zippers from a restaurant supply ($75), and voila we had a damp cart that can hold up to 100 carts in about 2 square feet of floor space. And, it's on casters. Each board can hold up to 5 mugs. The boards are stacked next to the wheels. Potter's move their pots from the wheel heads onto the boards, the boards onto the shelves. They setup over night.

 

The next day for handling, boards are pulled from the cart, handles attached, pots are moved to and from the boards. Boards are returned to the carts. And, the carts move the pots to and from the kiln room.

 

We try to always be aware of the number of movements we're making and tools being used to complete a task. To attach a handle we use a single toothed rib to trim and score the handle and a small brush. In the past a potter might use a multipoint needle tool to score, an x-acto to trim, pre snap the handle using a tube, a dry makeup brush to clear crumbs, a wet sponge to wipe away slip. It took forever to attach a handle. 

 

By switching to a different slip formulation we can use barely any slip, using the scoring rib we shallow score instead of deep score, there's almost no ooze of slip. If there's no oozing slip there's almost no crumbs to brush away. Assembly times plummeted. Two tools, one pass, let it set, one set of clean up movements, back to the board and then the board goes on the cart.

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Mike, would you be willing to share your slip formula?

Sure...

 

We were making a de-flocculated slip with Darvan #811, we pulverize dry stoneware and mix it with a little water to the consistency of Ketchup, then add some Darvan, about 1tbs to 1 gallon of slip. You only need a little. Mix it with an emersion blender and then add more dry clay until it returns to the thickened consistency. Repeat 3 times. Most people stop here, and do quiet well. but we notices a higher percentage of hair line cracks on handle joins with this recipe on abutted joins. I was reading a post from Mark who uses a vinegar in his slip, so I made this modification and cracks all but disappeared:

 

1. Take the deflocculated slip and thin with water,

2. Add about 1 tsp of distilled vinegar to 1 cup of slip, and mix together (note: we just eyeball these measurements). The slip will thicken considerably.

3. Adjust viscosity with water.

 

We found adding the vinegar to the de-flocculated slip seems to cause the moisture to even up between the parts in the join super fast. At the same time the slip dries very vast, I'm guessing the moisture has to be going into the main clay body and the handle. Once we attach the handle and get a good join, STOP. Do nothing more. Let the piece set for about 10 minutes.

 

We work in groups of 10 mugs divided onto 2 boards, each holding 5 mugs. So we handle 5, then move to the next board (2 minutes per mug) after the 2nd board we go back to the first, and run a finishing sponge over the joins to clean up and slip extrusions. Then we clean the second board. When we go back to do the finishing work, the extruded slip has dried to about cheese hard. So it fills the crack between the handle and cylinder nicely. The two boards (10 mugs are placed back on the cart, and two new boards are pulled from the cart to be handled. Repeat.

 

We use the side of needle tool to smooth the join under the handle to provide a nice curve into the side wall of the mug. This smooths a large surface area with minimal number of strokes. The needle tool diameter is small enough that it cuts the clay quickly, yet it is rounded so it doesn't scar the clay and create the need for more clean up.

 

Hope that helps...

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We try to always be aware of the number of movements we're making and tools being used to complete a task. To attach a handle we use a single toothed rib to trim and score the handle and a small brush with slip.)

 

This is exactly how I put handles on-same tool does all the steps-I just slip the mug body not the handle to attach

If you handle lots of mugs this is how you want to do this for speed.

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Mike, would you be willing to share your slip formula?

 

Sure...

 

We were making a de-flocculated slip with Darvan #811, we pulverize dry stoneware and mix it with a little water to the consistency of Ketchup, then add some Darvan, about 1tbs to 1 gallon of slip. You only need a little. Mix it with an emersion blender and then add more dry clay until it returns to the thickened consistency. Repeat 3 times. Most people stop here, and do quiet well. but we notices a higher percentage of hair line cracks on handle joins with this recipe on abutted joins. I was reading a post from Mark who uses a vinegar in his slip, so I made this modification and cracks all but disappeared:

 

1. Take the deflocculated slip and thin with water,

2. Add about 1 tsp of distilled vinegar to 1 cup of slip, and mix together (note: we just eyeball these measurements). The slip will thicken considerably.

3. Adjust viscosity with water.

 

We found adding the vinegar to the de-flocculated slip seems to cause the moisture to even up between the parts in the join super fast. At the same time the slip dries very vast, I'm guessing the moisture has to be going into the main clay body and the handle. Once we attach the handle and get a good join, STOP. Do nothing more. Let the piece set for about 10 minutes.

 

We work in groups of 10 mugs divided onto 2 boards, each holding 5 mugs. So we handle 5, then move to the next board (2 minutes per mug) after the 2nd board we go back to the first, and run a finishing sponge over the joins to clean up and slip extrusions. Then we clean the second board. When we go back to do the finishing work, the extruded slip has dried to about cheese hard. So it fills the crack between the handle and cylinder nicely. The two boards (10 mugs are placed back on the cart, and two new boards are pulled from the cart to be handled. Repeat.

 

We use the side of needle tool to smooth the join under the handle to provide a nice curve into the side wall of the mug. This smooths a large surface area with minimal number of strokes. The needle tool diameter is small enough that it cuts the clay quickly, yet it is rounded so it doesn't scar the clay and create the need for more clean up.

 

Hope that helps...

Thank you! Your process sounds so streamlined. I'm going to try it.

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My slip is just the fine stuff off my hands collected from larger forms in a plastic container next to wheel with vinegar added-I do not even have a lid just a scrap piece of plastic over the top with the brush on top-that way the brush is always where I need it.

Our bats hold about 15 mugs (depending on size) so thats what is handled and moved at one time.I cover them with plastic overnight then dry them.

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We try to always be aware of the number of movements we're making and tools being used to complete a task. To attach a handle we use a single toothed rib to trim and score the handle and a small brush with slip.)

 

This is exactly how I put handles on-same tool does all the steps-I just slip the mug body not the handle to attach

If you handle lots of mugs this is how you want to do this for speed.

This week I think I'm going to throw a couple dozen or so mugs and run some tests to figure out exactly what the percentages are of different methods. Does it make a difference if you slip the mug and not the handle? What about scoring, one surface or both? Moisture content? Drying process? The scientist inside me wants a paper that says empirically and precisely what protocol works the best. 

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