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In the past, I have often written that I wedge all of my clay even though I take it right out of the bag. There are several reasons for this, and I wanted to take a few lines to explain them further and throw out some ideas for thought. My reasons for wedging clay for the last 30+ years are as follows:

  • If the clay came out of the pug mill, it usually needed to be blended to an even consistency, remove air bubbles, dry it our some, and line up the particles so that for better strength.
  • If out of the box at home, it had usually frozen over the Winter here in Central PA. Freezing drives water out of the clay to the outside, and leaves all sorts of striations in the clay block. I start wedging this by turning all sides into the center with cut and slam, then cut and slam the entire block about 5 times, finish by spiral cone wedging the clay into weighed out pot sized amounts.
  • Wedging as exercise. I wedge clay for exercise, as crazy as that might seem, but when throwing for hours at a time, the break to wedge up the ball of clay to be used on a pot down the line is a welcome way of stretching the back and shoulders. This also brings me to the final reason I forced myself to not be lazy about wedging clay.
  • Finally, wedging as therapy. Years ago I was in a bad auto wreck that left me with some damaged vertebrae. This caused lots of pain in the lower back for decades. Some days I could hardly get out of bed without levering my body out of bed with the weight of my legs. I found that hanging from an overhead bar would stretch the back and help some. However, my go to exercise became wedging because of the way the process worked. . . .  at least for me. The process of wedging lifts the shoulders upward and back as you push against the clay and at the same time the shoulder lift and the body movement stretches the back muscles and the spine itself. With regular rhythm and movement in the wedging process where you are not trying to hurry the job, or wedge too much clay you can do wonders for you core and spine.

So, I leave this open to comment, and I am sure many of you will go on about getting a pug mill, which for me would be a big investment, but as I get older I have been looking for a good used one. However, even with a deairing pug mill, I would still probably wedge for the last two reasons above.

Karen B and D.M.Ernst like this

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I'm with you Pres, I wedge everything, even out of the box/ bag, and have my students do the same.  I find it to be good practice, especially with them.  If I didn't have them do so, they'd just take the cube-ish chunk of clay, and slam that on the wheel.

 

I do wish I had a pug mill for reclaiming though, like an old Walker.  It's not the work, that I'm trying to avoid, it's just the time and mess.  Mixing the wet slop, with the bits that are past workable, is a pain for everyone.  

Pres likes this

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No doubt there Tyler.  Even the relatively "fresh' soft clay, out of the box, feel even softer after wedging.

 

Also, I have taken bags, out of older boxes, and found the clay to be dried out.  Not air dry  mind you, but cheese hard, and unsuitable for immediate use.  So that tells me, the clay is drying somewhat in the bags, with the clay be drier on the outside, and moister on the inside.  This is why I label the boxes by year, and rotate them.  I didn't have that problem last school year.  I used nearly every box... Dang kids with their interest in the Arts!

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Good idea to label the boxes by year. I used to not have much of a problem with clay drying, but since they started not using twisties on the clay bags it has become more of an issue. I usually have clay for two Winters stored at the house here, the third Summer, it can be a little stiff. In the HS I used up the boxes every year between the adult classes and the HS classes. I usually did start the new year out with pugged clay from the year before. This allowed the clay that came from the manufacturer to age a bit usually until October or November. I usually could pug up 3 55gal barrels at least for the Fall in the Spring.

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The clay, you get from your supplier, doesn't have twist ties anymore?

 

And the labeling, is a trick I picked up from a couple different colleagues.

 

The first district I taught at, the other teacher did the ordering.  They always over ordered, pretty much everything.  I guess the theory was, order a lot in case the budget was cut.  Sadly, it generally meant, that we had more supplies than we needed, or had space for.  This is partially what led to the dried out clay.  I taught ceramics, they did not.  Yet contrary to what I suggested, they kept ordering more clay, and glazes I didn't ask for.  So I had to deal with dried out clay, and hard panned bottles of glaze.  

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no wedging, throw straight from de-airing pug. The real potter in the partnership does wedge some but I think she mostly does it out of obligation, I mean "ya gotta wedge, right?"

 

I am going to setup a comparison though to see if I can tell the difference in my work to the point of justifying the extra time and we are putting a wedging table in the new studio. We buy by the half ton (one ton price) and go through it pretty fast so it is not getting hard when used. I think it is a popular local clay and fairly fresh when we get it and there is no freezing in the winter. We have a bluebird mixer and de-airing pugmill for reclaim. 

 

I also have resisted a riding lawn mower for my acre of ground so I get plenty of exercise from that :-)  

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I'm slow to use up my clay, since I'm not on production or anything.  I take the clay out of the bags, place it in 5 gal buckets with a wet wash cloth or sponge on top.  I seal it up and let it sit around for a while.  I find it is softer and easier to wedge.  I always wedge. I have about 10 buckets going at any time.

 

Jed

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Put the bags in the boxes sideways with the bag folded over into the edge of the box.

I have always used Laguna and they used elastic bands to close their bags.  I have recently used a few different Standard clays and yup, no tie or elastic.  At first I thought my box was a fluke but nope.  I sort of like the idea of putting the clay in 5 gallon buckets.

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I recently came across an old blue bird pug mill for $150. 3/4 hp and 6" pipe reduced to 4". I figure it will come in handy for reclaiming clay. It's a continuous pipe, which means it's gonna be a btch to clean. I may cut it into two sections and have a couple of flanges welded on to make this easier. I know I will still have to wedge, but maybe the mill will ease the load a bit. I like the way  "Pres" views wedging as exercise. Very positive way to look at it. Can't wait to pump some clay. It's so much softer than those dusty dumb bells that leer at me from the corner of the room.

 

                                                                                                        john a.

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It builds muscles in your hands that not many people get, unless you play guitar, or some other instrument that involves finger strength. At the same time the shoulder and triceps get a nice work out.

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With arthritic thumbs I use a pugmill but I still wedge before balling. The stiff clay has been awakened and that initial power needed is reduced so my hands are happier.

Clay approaching being used I put in polystyrene vegie boxes with a little water in  and pug it from there.

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Say you want to throw 9 mugs using 1 pound of clay for each mug.

 

Do you wedge a 9 pound ball 1 time or 1 pound balls 9 times?  I am asking because I have never seen a real potter at work.  I have done a ton of research but have no practical experience.  

 

If you wedge a 9 pound ball 1 time, when you cut it up for the 1 pound balls, do you pay attention to the spiral so it is oriented with the spin of your wheelhead?

 

How I wish I could spend a week with some of you more experienced potters observing your process.

 

Thanks.

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On 1# of clay, that spiral means very little. I will wedge up 15# at a shot, cut and weigh 1# balls, hard slap to form a ball. I really slap hard to compress and get rid of corners. Most of the time anymore, I just throw off the hump.

 

Babs, I have arthritis in my thumbs also, had surgery in the Winter on my rt thumb. Wedging seems to alleviate some problems, but it does pain in the beginning to get that spiral going. In the long run, the pug mill would be nice, but justifying it is difficult for the little that I do. As to the surgery, if I knew what I do now. . . I would have never had it.

Babs likes this

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On 1# of clay, that spiral means very little. I will wedge up 15# at a shot, cut and weigh 1# balls, hard slap to form a ball. I really slap hard to compress and get rid of corners. Most of the time anymore, I just throw off the hump.

 

Babs, I have arthritis in my thumbs also, had surgery in the Winter on my rt thumb. Wedging seems to alleviate some problems, but it does pain in the beginning to get that spiral going. In the long run, the pug mill would be nice, but justifying it is difficult for the little that I do. As to the surgery, if I knew what I do now. . . I would have never had it.

Interesting that you say this. It is amazing how we use our thumbs without thinking, until there is pain in them.. It is the initial dead clay that hurts or maybe it is the initial awakening of the joints  I really am beginning to like my pugmill more and more.

clay lover likes this

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Just got the bowling ball redrilled, to see if that will alleviate some of the problem. Talked at great length to the guy that drills some them for me and learned a lot about thumb angle and bowling ball comfort. Seems one of the balls was drilled wrong creating stress on the joint.

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Yeah, I have used bowling balls as hump molds, even used one with a wheel chair student to roll out slabs. Rolled in a circular motion, the weight of the ball does most of the work, can be finished with rolling pin and little effort.

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Just got the bowling ball redrilled, to see if that will alleviate some of the problem. Talked at great length to the guy that drills some them for me and learned a lot about thumb angle and bowling ball comfort. Seems one of the balls was drilled wrong creating stress on the joint.

Pres;

You may laugh at this. In Canada, we do 5 pin bowling. The balls are smaller and do not have holes. Why not move to Canada? The bowling is easier.

Tom.

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