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dianen

Ergonomics - Detail Work

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Hello everyone. By way of introduction -- I've been lurking on this forum since 2010, and have never posted before.  I'm primarily a hobbyist, but since my meager home studio is getting overloaded with my endless experiments, I hope to try to start selling occasionally. I do mostly detailed  carving and painting, which is pretty time-consuming (and is why I'll never be a production potter).

My problem is that I can't seem to find a comfortable way to do this type of detail work for very long. It gives me really nasty upper back pain. I've tried adjusting my stool height and work height, and so far, have not been able to find a solution.  I've been thinking about trying a sculptor's stand and working standing up, but the surface area is so small, I think there wouldn't be anywhere to comfortably brace my arms. I can sit at the wheel for hours without any discomfort, and I think that's because I can lean forward from my hips without having to bend my neck down. But the detail stuff does seem to require that sort of hunching.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

 

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Hi Dianen!

Would you be willing to post pics of you working at your wheel and at detail?

At a table 'bout halfway between bellybutton an' sternum might allow for elbows to rest, an' the workpiece elevated such that just above the wrists can also rest on what the work is on? 

Perhaps another scenario to consider, where you're leaning back in your workchair, against the backrest - an' arms can then use the chair's armrests - where work is elevated above your lap by an adjustable shelf of some kind, swing-away attached to the chair, or on rollers, or...

I imagine the work has to be close enough to get in the sweet spot o' your bifocals (heehee, if'n y'old as meee), for sure such that your elbows are well bent past 90 (inna strong position for rotation of the hand) - hence,  close in?

 

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welcome out into the light, lurker!

i used to make fish about the size of my hand.  in shaping them, i used my right thumb to press the body of the fish into the palm of my left hand.  did this for years until the hands started to cramp up and tell me to stop it.  so i understand now that supporting the work in order to do things to it is very important at all stages.   

today, i cut a piece of 2 inch thick leftover foam  into a hollow curve to hold the pot whose interior i wanted to spray with glaze.    now i can direct the spray into the bowl without it bouncing back into my facemask.    

i think you might try something similar to hold your pieces.  since they are small, i would try cutting thinner foam into circles that can be stacked to hold a particular piece today and a different one tomorrow.    you probably work in similar sizes most of the time so a stack of cut circular voids can help get the work steady so you can place it conveniently and comfortably in a good position for carving.

supporting bigger work might involve stuffing tubesocks and shaping them as needed.

 

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Thank you all so much for the suggestions. Hulk, I'd post pictures, but would have to spend days tidying up my work space first.  Oh, the horror! I think you might be spot on about it being a vision issue. I take my bifocals off for close work and use headband magnifier glasses, which generally means I need to get REALLY close to the piece to see the wee little details clearly.  I'm going to try all of your ideas and probably a combination of them and report back in case it helps someone else with a similar problem in the future. The devil sure is in the details for me. :)

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I'm really liking progressive lenses. The only glasses I have that sport the fixed focal length segment at the bottom are sunglasses - where the top is all "infinity" - hence good peripheral performance for bike riding - and fixed focal length close up for flat repair and such.

Any road, my readers/cubicle/computer glasses are progressives close as is possible at the bottom of the lens, about four feet out at the very top - optimized for near work. If you are using fixed focal length eyewear*, perhaps something that allows a bit more distance would help? 

Drawback on progressive lenses, the sweet spot is in the middle - peripheral vision isn't very good - hence there's adjustment for that, and getting used to nodding/tilting up or down to adjust focus...

*I use optivisor for peerin' at lil' stuff; it goes right over glasses, and can be fitted with different lenses (more magnification, shorter focal length). Mom had a large lens, about 8" diameter, on an adjustable arm fitted with a light for doing her embroidery - neat gadget.

 

ovisor.JPG

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Hi, @dianen, and welcome!

I work in similar mode and have, over the years, developed a couple of solutions. 

After much searching, I finally found a comfortable chair with soft arms that are the perfect height to rest my elbows while carving and decorating/glazing. The arms are as long as the chair and level so that I can rest a board across that holds my turntable/banding wheel for close work on small pots. I also have an old rolling "computer" table, the kind with a base that rolls under your couch or chair, like bed tables in hospitals. I use that for larger pieces so I don't have to lift the pot or board when I get up. Just be careful to balance the load on it, some are more tippy than others. The height is adjustable on most, but closer to the ground is preferable for stability. 

When you find that chair, protect it from large persons who plop! :( 

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Hulk, I misspoke a bit. Actually, my glasses are progressive, but they're useless for really close work. They work for a couple weeks after a new prescription and then my eyes rebel or something and I can only use them for objects at least 2 feet away. Shrug. The Optivisors are exactly what I use sans glasses. I can get REALLY close that way and it gives me the most control. Rae, you're so lucky to found your perfect chair, and I giggled at the thought of protecting it from large ploppers. This morning, I tried every chair/board/foam combination in the house and it seemed they all required neck bending. So, next I tried working on a slab of foam on top of my microwave which is on top of a table, and voila, it was the perfect height for working standing up without neck craning. So, throwing caution to the wind, I placed an order for a sculpture trestle. The work surface is only 13" x 13", which has put me off the idea before. However, I'm thinking it should be possible to clamp a sturdy board to it and lay some foam on top of that. Maaaybeee it will work? Hope so, anyway. It's supposed to be healthier to stand rather than sit, too. I'll report the results.

sculptors-trestle.jpg

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Rae, that's what I'm hoping the board that I'll clamp to it will accomplish. It won't be delivered for a while, though. Of course, with the work near eye level, I may end up introducing new aches and pains.

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Hi Dianen -

Neophyte here myself - been throwing less than a year and have only posted once before!

Although the focus has been on equipment, I wonder how much you're paying attention to your own physical health and constraints. As we get - ahem - older, we tend to lose flexibility and muscle strength. Doing close work and sitting for long periods of time in restricted positions also tends to do its damage by shortening muscles and reducing range of motion. It's highly captivating and we often find ourselves having sitting in a particular position for an hour or more. I sometimes find myself bent over a wheel for 45 minutes or more and then having trouble standing up straight!

I'm not a physician but I have my own share of upper back and neck problems so try to stay aware of what might be causing them. Getting up from your work every half hour or so and doing some stretching exercises is not a bad idea. I did a quick search and there's even a video devoted to stretching exercises for artists that focuses on hands, arms, and neck:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEf5AGef4yI

There are others out there even by this particular physician. We all know the benefits of exercise, ie stretching and load bearing (lifting weights). Good equipment - the ones we buy and the ones we're born with - need some good care and attention. :)

Just some thoughts from an aspiring and aging potter...

- Jeff

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My own experience leads me to offer one suggestion.  Consider seeing  a chiropractor to procure an  expert assessment tailored to your working environment.

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Jeff, thanks so much for the link to the video. Those stretches just hit the spot(s)! Indeed, it is sometimes hard to remember to take breaks, especially when I'm trying to get as much done as possible before the clay needs to be "watered" again. Yep, aging is downright annoying and so unfair. Lee, that's another good suggestion. If the trestle doesn't work out, that may be my only recourse. The trestle isn't going to be delivered for about a month. It did seem oddly comfortable working on top of my microwave, so hoping for the best. It's possible that simply working standing up results in more body movement and less getting locked into a position.

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