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Centering Tools


ronfire

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Centering is not just a position on the wheel. It is a state of being. All these tools do is get the clay into the middle of the wheel, which leaves you with a mass of clay that is not smooth, consistent and homogenous. You must cone the clay at least a couple of times (3 is the magic number) to get it mixed and evened out before worrying about whether or not it's spinning perfectly in the middle of the wheel. If you 'center' the clay with this tool, it will go out of center at you open the clay, because the clay was not coned and mixed. The only time I would recommend using a tool like this is if you have strength or movement limitations.

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centering like throwing has a feel to it, the clay becomes fluid in your hands as you press steadily and evenly down against the wheel head. I agree whole heartedly with everyone here developing that skill is an important part of the process.

 

body ergonomics  are critically important when centering, sit close to the wheel and grip the sides of the wheel tray with your knees and legs to lock yourself to the wheel... next rest your elbows on top of your quadriceps and then lock your hands together over the clay resting your forearm on the splash tray. this type of body position or as close to it as you are comfortable will give you a very steady position and help prevent you hands from moving around as you press on the clay while centering( in this position your body will be over the clay). I then press downward at a 45 degree angle against the top of the clay toward the spinning wheel head always starting pressure slowly and against a small enough area (if it is a large piece of clay for you) that you can begin to take control of. working from the top towards the bottom bring the clay even and centered, it may help to cone the clay back up if some parts are not centered by now and then repeat the process of pressing down starting from the top again. if the clay is properly wedged its not necessary to continually cone and center as this will cause the clay to absorb additional water.

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So much good advice on this thread!! Wish I had not found out all these tidbits the hard way! Killed myself using hard clay for several weeks before I got a clue. LOL

I literally sit so close to the wheel that my legs are wrapped around the splash pan like I'm riding a horse. I brace my elbow of my non-dominant hand in my upper thigh and lean a LOT with my full upper body weight for larger amounts of clay. 4# is still my top limit for the amount I can center and it is a huge struggle. But I'm determined to win!

 

I personally feel that I need those few moments of coning up and centering to be ready to make the piece. Like JBaymore said, if you have strength or movement limitations that's a whole different ball game. :) There's a potter here in town with issues like that and she uses one. 

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Guest JBaymore

Like JBaymore said, if you have strength or movement limitations that's a whole different ball game. :)

 

That was Neil that actually said that.... but I concur completely.  Use what gets the job done... but in all cases skill development is the key to making good work...... not "short cuts".  If because of some sort of 'limitations'... by all means learn to use tools that facilitate using what skills you can develop to the max.

 

Once you have great skills.... and don't NEED the 'short cuts'....... THEN it is the time to decide if one of the 'short cuts' is right for you.  Most of the time... you find you don't need it and it is not really a 'short cut'.

 

best,

 

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

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Like JBaymore said, if you have strength or movement limitations that's a whole different ball game. :)

 

That was Neil that actually said that.... but I concur completely.  Use what gets the job done... but in all cases skill development is the key to making good work...... not "short cuts".  If because of some sort of 'limitations'... by all means learn to use tools that facilitate using what skills you can develop to the max.

 

Once you have great skills.... and don't NEED the 'short cuts'....... THEN it is the time to decide if one of the 'short cuts' is right for you.  Most of the time... you find you don't need it and it is not really a 'short cut'.

 

 

Dang it! Should have scrolled up to check my source! ;) 

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Can't think what would happen if I went to open a mass of clay with no prior contact ie coning it up and down, gets the mind and body right there for that clay. Can't miss out that feeling of the clay and how it is aligning on that particular occasion.

be like getting on  a horse without saddling it up and so not aware of what sort of mood it is in today and whether it has issues with me, the weather, the neighbours today, too hard.

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These self centering tools have been around for a long time. Some show up

in 19th century photos showing potters at work. They were called jigs.

Some jigs were used to open the center of clay as well.

 

The way I test my clay is to run à wire tool thru it. For two cups,

I'll take 7 lbs. clay and wedge it on the table. The fact I can wedge

it is the first test. (If it's too stiff to wedge, it's too stiff to throw).

While its still on the wedging table I'll stand it on one end, and run

a wire tool thru it. If I have to brace it with two thumbs while

pulling the wire thru, I slice it and add water between each slice, until

I decide to wedge it, stand on end, and pull the wire thru it without

holding it in place. Everyone has their own method. This works for me, because

I do it consistently wherever I demonstrate, using my own or someone else's clay.

 

Once the wire will cut thru the clay without being held, the 7 lbs would be

sliced into halves, and à cup made from each.

 

See ya,

Alabama

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Sure hand centering is a good skill. ...kind of fun up to 10lbs or so. I am a big guy (200lbs) I can do it. But, when i get to 25+ pounds, it can be quite a struggle. Being lazy, I built a centering tool that I power with my left calf, which is far stronger than my arms. In fact, it is quite easy to push the clay right off the bat. I can wheel wedge with it.... push up with my left calf and push down on top with my hands.

 

Also, with the teflon roller, I don't have to put any water on the clay, though I do have to watch for clay build up on the roller. I got the teflon roller from a rolling pin I got from a garage sale. Clay is the universal adhesive, so it even sticks to teflon if the surface of the clay  gets wet.

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one of my teachers a few years back was a great thrower and i really admire his work his name is Michael Berkley www.pitfiredpottery.com, he had an interesting way of getting across to his beginner and sometimes not so beginner students how to center clay. it was just using the basic good body position, but he would have them hold a brick in their hands and press the brick into the clay instead of worrying about hand position or what your fingers were supposed to be doing. as long as they kept their hands steady depending on how pressure is applied by tipping the brick the clay can be conned up and down and is centered very quickly very much like using the centering tool. once they got the feel for being very steady and how to apply pressure the rest was easy. i don't know if this was a new technique, but it was the first time I saw it. He also used to do a workshop at NECCA conferences teaching this method of centering.

 

another guy I've taken a few workshops from is my pottery throwing hero, he's a potter from Italy and 8 time (at least) world throwing champion. his name is Claudio Reginato, i don't remember the city in Italy off hand but the guy is incredible. he makes trips to the US and other countries doing workshops, if you ever get the chance and have not seen him throw it should be on the to list, there are videos on ytube. anyway I've never seen anyone center clay as stiff and hard as he uses. he was doing a throwing demo and the clay was too soft, so it was left out in the open outside of the plastic bags on the concrete floor for several days. well it was ok, but he would have liked to have seen it a little stiffer. the deal is the guy is a 3rd generation potter who throws on average 8 hours a day 5 to 7 days a week and has been doing this for 45 years. he is incredibly skilled and amazingly strong, the stronger you are the stiffer clay you can handle... me I'm starting to feel my years and where i liked the clay firm back in college and 50 pounds was doable, now i like to cheat a little on the big stuff and bite it off in chunks also use my tools a little more to my advantage.

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In China they are masters of taking it in chunks and making it big... i got the chance to spend a little time in one of the factories in Jingdezhen and try some of their clay on one of the big wheels. it was an interesting experience and would take some practice to get used to as the clay is very soft and the wheel had one speed... fast, the wheel was connected to some giant engine located under the factory and the large wooden batts were secured to the wheel head with soft clay. in the photo showing the two potters wedging clay you can see three large balls of clay, that's the amount used in each section of the multi section pieces also seen in the picture. the clay is centered one ball at a time on top of each other, each section is joined after it dries and then the pieces are trimmed. straps are wrapped around the pieces with as many hands as are needed to lift the joined sections, i saw 3 potters lifting and moving a 5 foot high finished green urn.

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