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Fredrin

Any tips for speccing a new ceramics workshop?

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Hi all, 

I'm new to the role of ceramics area manager at a fine arts Uni here in London and they have a plan to reinstate a section of what were once some excellent clay facilities. 

We're in the early planning phase and this is not something I've had to do before, so I was wondering if any of you had any wisdom to share before I make a mistake that I'll end up regretting for years to come! 

The space is approx 12m x 7.5m, looking to allow roughly 5-7 students working in there at a time and needs to be kitted out with all the essentials.

Can anyone recommend any good resources where I could read up about how to establish a good workflow in a studio of this size? Any info would be much appreciated.

 

Here is a wishlist of what equipment I'm requesting:

 

-         De-Airing Pugmill

-         Medium sized electric kiln

-         Large electric tray kiln with auto-loader

-         Medium size Gas Kiln

-         Raku kiln (external)

-         Outside space for pit firings and alternative kilns

-         Wedging surface with storage for clay and boards underneath

-         Hand-building work surface

-         Several shelving stacks for storage and drying of work

-         Glazing station for missing and applying glaze

-         Storage for clay, raw materials and glaze ingredients

 -        Spray booth with compressor and ventilation

-         2 x Wheels

-         Slab-roller

-         2 x basins with space either side for drying tools

-         Sedimentation basin for waste water

-         Surface for plaster bats for drying/reclaiming clay

-         Wall-mounted extruder

 

 

 

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First, what is a Large electric tray kiln with auto-loader?

My studio is about 200 square feet larger than what you're working with. I've got 10 wheels, shelving for 45 students, an 8x8 foot work table, 3 electric kilns, storage, etc., and I keep about 60 square feet for my studio. I do not have space for a slab roller or pug mill or spray booth or a separate glazing area.

Things to consider regarding the gas kiln: Is a gas kiln really going to work in the situation? Electric kilns are much simpler to install and use. Will there be more than one teacher that knows how to use the gas kiln? I see a lot of gas kilns in schools where the previous teacher got it and used it, but the teachers after her don't have a clue how to use it and it just takes up space. Are the teachers prepared to put in the time that is required for firing it? Is there space for a gas kiln? You can put 2 or 3 electric kilns in the same space as one gas kiln. The gas kiln will need to be in a separate room. Nobody is going to want to be working in the same room while it's firing- they're hot and stinky. I only say all this because when I had a gas kiln it was a big issue. Firing electric is much simpler from a business standpoint. I would spend the money on more wheels and another electric kiln.

Before you buy any equipment, make sure you have the ability and funds to vent all of it. Gas kiln venting is a big undertaking. Electric kiln venting is simpler, but still necessary and can be difficult in urban areas. Spray booth venting can also be a big deal.

Air compressors are noisy. You'll want to figure out a place to put it outside of the studio. You don't want it running in the studio during class, or nobody will be able to hear anything.

Lay out the space on paper or on Photoshop, and create little blocks that represent each element you need to put in the studio. Then start placing them and figure out what you can really fit.

It takes a lot more shelving than you think.

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1 hour ago, neilestrick said:

First, what is a Large electric tray kiln with auto-loader?

My studio is about 200 square feet larger than what you're working with. I've got 10 wheels, shelving for 45 students, an 8x8 foot work table, 3 electric kilns, storage, etc., and I keep about 60 square feet for my studio. I do not have space for a slab roller or pug mill or spray booth or a separate glazing area.

Things to consider regarding the gas kiln: Is a gas kiln really going to work in the situation? Electric kilns are much simpler to install and use. Will there be more than one teacher that knows how to use the gas kiln? I see a lot of gas kilns in schools where the previous teacher got it and used it, but the teachers after her don't have a clue how to use it and it just takes up space. Are the teachers prepared to put in the time that is required for firing it? Is there space for a gas kiln? You can put 2 or 3 electric kilns in the same space as one gas kiln. The gas kiln will need to be in a separate room. Nobody is going to want to be working in the same room while it's firing- they're hot and stinky. I only say all this because when I had a gas kiln it was a big issue. Firing electric is much simpler from a business standpoint. I would spend the money on more wheels and another electric kiln.

Before you buy any equipment, make sure you have the ability and funds to vent all of it. Gas kiln venting is a big undertaking. Electric kiln venting is simpler, but still necessary and can be difficult in urban areas. Spray booth venting can also be a big deal.

Air compressors are noisy. You'll want to figure out a place to put it outside of the studio. You don't want it running in the studio during class, or nobody will be able to hear anything.

Lay out the space on paper or on Photoshop, and create little blocks that represent each element you need to put in the studio. Then start placing them and figure out what you can really fit.

It takes a lot more shelving than you think.

Thanks for taking the time to reply Neil, this was exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for.

In answer to your first question, excuse the typo - one of these, essentially:  https://www.potclays.co.uk/studio/products/10221/gold-kiln-gk250-truck-loading-kiln

I should have perhaps mentioned in the OP that this will be a ceramics workshop for use by fine art students, rather than those on a dedicated ceramics course. As such, their ideas are quite conceptual and their needs are often to produce large scale work using hand-building techniques. This explains the oversize kiln and lack of wheels. The wheels are more there for students who have some knowledge of how to use them as otherwise I will spend all my time teaching people to throw (which as a thrower myself, I'm not against the idea of, but hey!).

Thank you for your thoughts about the gas kiln, which I already had in the "maybe" column. I have never fired one before and from what you say, it sounds like I won't have the space or the time, as it's just myself managing this space. I was prepared for the gas kiln to be a bit of extra work, but was OK with that as I would love to give students the option of reduction  firing (beside really wanting to try it myself). Sounds like I may need to reconsider.... My dilemma here is that this may be my one shot to get a gas kiln in as they are currently planning the extraction for the whole building and if I don't make the kind of provision for venting a gas kiln now, I may not get another chance!

Mercifully, the air compressor is going to be housed outside of the workshop and piped in as I'm familiar with the racket one of those makes in a studio. And yes, the eternal competition for shelf space!

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it would help if you could visit several studios, private ones or school locations to see what is possible.   knowing what someone else has and does makes it much easier to decide what to buy and how to equip the studio.

do you already have instructors?  i would ask them for their input.   a city building was constructed here in florida to hold many differing activities.   the architectural firm was based in a large city in the north.  the pottery studio was placed on the second floor.  poor choice.  the windows in the studio ran from floor to ceiling facing west.  classes were to be held in the evening, imagine the sun striking all that glass and blinding everyone in the space.  only one sink, a kitchen model, was placed in a row of kitchen style cabinets.  the sink was to be used by about 15 people who all had to clean up at the same time.   it was located immediately at the doorway of the only storage space available.  can you picture the traffic pattern about 10 minutes before everyone left?   nobody bothered asking the instructor about anything at all before it was built.

ask several potters for their advice on YOUR particular situation.  most potters are generous when it comes to helping out.

Edited by oldlady
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Got it. That's what we call a car kiln.

There are front loading and pull-apart electric kilns that can accommodate sculpture very well. Also consider what the students will have access to once they get done with the program. Are the majority going to have to fire electric due to the restrictions on gas kilns like here? Ideally, the transition to their own studios should be as easy as possible. Reduction is great, and it would be great to have gas and electric, but if you have to choose, go with whichever is going to help the students the most when they leave your program.

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@oldlady - Thanks for the cautionary tale. I think you're right in terms of basing the plan off studios which you know work well. In the back of my mind is a slightly larger studio where I recently studied. It was well thought out and dealt with the "traffic" issue pretty well.

@Rae Reich - My thoughts exactly - given what Neil said above about gas kilns needing quite a bit more supervision and space (which is of a premium in this instance) I think I'll have to put that in the "future projects" category and hope to build one outside near the raku at some point.

@Mark C. - Gas is pretty pricey over here since the North Sea reserves dried up!

I've opted for two large Rohde electric kilns (1 and 2 in the diagram attached) - internal dimensions 91x100x115cm and 71x101x103cm. If there's space a third smaller kiln would be good for lustre and crystalline firings.

The other items in the plan below are:

3. Pugmill

4. 2 x wheels

5. Spray Booth

6. Slab roller

I'm trying to fight for a bit more space for drying and storing work as this is always in high demand! 

 

5ad8625a9116e_NewDoc2018-04-18.jpg.bf44d40fb089bd2a9e6f5b9bb60e9ac1.jpg

 

 

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The biggest drawback I see is an all electric oxidation firing program. I feel for students especially the level you are talking about you should provide another type of firing as a choice-weather it be raku or reduction -salt/ soda just something else to vary the work.

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@Mark C. Totally agree. Thankfully it looks like a space outside for a raku kiln has been approved. The gas kiln will have to wait until an extension is built, as from what I gather, they need a fair bit of space and supervision during firing.

I would be interested to hear what people think about running two large kilns next to each other - one electric and one gas? 

 

@Chilly  I haven't been there yet, but I've heard very good things about their E10 location. I should head to one of their member exhibitions as it's right on my doorstep.

Edited by Fredrin

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I would think that you need two types of storage areas, one for bisque, one for greenware. and possibly an area for glaze ware before firing, I really don't see enough of that. You may also find this link of help as we recently had a spec out on another studio: 

best,

Pres

 

 

 

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Thanks @Pres - loads of good info in that thread. 

And yes, the lack of storage was my main concern.  After a bit of wrangling with the site planner, I've managed to push the lower wall South a couple of metres, so will use that space for damp cabinets and drying greenware (shelving next to kilns is for bisque and glazeware).

I've never had the luxury of  a dedicated drying room before, but I'm guessing the main features of that space are  no draughts, stable temperature and a ton of shelving?

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There never can be enough storage. I had a classroom that had an entire back wall with shelving up to 8 ft. At the same time we had shelving under all worktables, and a second room for wheels with shelving on the walls and narrow workbenches for standing while glazing.

 

Don't forget storage for all powders in bins or such. Control of the dust is important.

 

best,

Pres

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And a cart or dedicated area for kiln shelves and posts. 

Will you be storing a lot of clay for students? Is that a common thing that's done there? (As opposed to having them bring it in as needed.) Or is that area for the clay you reconstitute?

Edited by Rae Reich

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@Rae Reich

Yes, we'll be operating a "weigh & pay" scheme for students, so allowing storage for a few different varieties in that room in the top right of the plan.

 

But as Pres points out, it will mostly be for big bins of raw materials and other glaze ingredients. It's nicely enclosed so I can kick up plenty of powder so long as it's just me in there (with a mask on).

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Along with ventilation, powder is on surfaces; you raise it any time you are in there, so take precaution as when you move those bins or even walk into the room you will have dust that you will eventually inhale. So include a closed room in your dust collection system.

 

best,

Pres

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fredrin, looks like you are covering all bases.   one thing i will repeat that i have seen in other studios.  DO NOT LEAVE THE POWDERED INGREDIENTS  IN THEIR ORIGINAL BAGS.   get them into large enough bins or containers that have straight sides and wide lids.    could not believe the condition of a studio in a community college!  

for anyone not doing this, try to minimize the dust by putting the whole bag into the bottom of the bin and using a razor knife to cut the very lowest possible point all the way across the bag.   slowly pull the bag as it empties into the bin so the powder simply re-settles into the new space without clouds of dust.   get the lid on asap.

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As a student of various college ceramics classrooms I've observed the following: territory battles over inadequate table space, never enough sinks, sinks always backed up with an angry "don't put clay down the sink" sign above them, more wheels than students using them. 

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sinks of various depths allow for more kinds of work to be done.   two faucets at a double bowl laundry tub helps two people at once.

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Fredrin - here are my thoughts since i work mostly in a sculptural studio where none of the art is functional.

First let me confirm these points. The clay is not a major program but i assume could be in future if interest is shown? the students are handbuilding and mostly big work.?

Here is what I have noticed with most of the sculptors  as students and artists i have interacted with. They want WYSIWYG. They dont want surprises or any chances. they have expectations and that's what they want to see.  In that realm electric kilns are ideal. they either want bright colours which are mostly low fire here or they work with oxides.  A lot of artists work in colour and prefer electric kilns.  I dont remember the english potter's name who used various layers of all sorts of clays (low fire to high fire in each piece) and got amazing results in the electric kiln. However this is the American philosophy. It might be quite different  across the pond. 

many of the sculptors also do cold finish work on their pieces like encaustic for instance or specific paints and other things. 

i dont come across sculptors using  a lot of pit fire.  a lot of the pit fire people i know are  wheel throwers and pottery people. some of the sculptors make small raku pieces (depending on who is doing the lifting). 

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