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Good morning forum friends!


I am happy that Nerd helped me again with another of his QOTW's.


Now it's confessing time again: What is the biggest epic failure in your pottery career that taught you the biggest/best lesson?


*Pottery is one of a few avenues that failures teach you as much as success, perhaps more.


Who will be the ice breaker?


Have a wonderful week! I will be off to Barcelona Thursday (2 week symposium, 1 week congress). Marcia will be in my symposium too as well as other Potters Council members! WooHoo!


Pres is taking over the QOTW for the next 3 weeks. Thank you very much Pres! I appreciate your help very much!!



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I personally had a stilt/post melt in rear lower of my 35 cubic foot car kiln during 1st glaze fire at above cone 10.

The load fell over during the wet glaze melt-lost most of it as well as damage to kiln interior.

This also again happened during an 7.0 earthquake about 4 years later. Also at cone 10-the load fell over but I was able to save about 1/2 of it.

Both of these events I had to unbolt my front door of car so I could get into kiln. I built the car so when the trolly got stuck the door can still come off separate from cart.

These where larger disasters -sure bad glaze mixed up that sort of stuff but the fix was much easier than the above things.


The worst I have witnessed was in collage when a fellow student loaded a bisque in a alpine 36 cubic kiln and offset the posts not knowing they need to be lined up. He lit the kiln and within a hour the entire load collapsed to floor and a huge dust cloud rolled out of kiln room after a tremendous noise . That same person built a large catanary arch kiln which when lighting with propane had trouble and pooled some gas in lower floor area. When he lit it the kiln blew up collapsed the arch after the front and rear walls blew out. He was lucky as he was standing off to side so walls missed him. The arch came down on load and was a ruble pile.-The follow up was I later bought him out of all chemicals and supplies as he was prone to ceramic problems and left the field .



One setback was when I bought the property in 1973 the local gas company speed my from meter to kiln gas line at 1.1/4 inch so after buying and threading and laying 30 feet of this pipe it turned out to small. I had to rip it out and redo with 2 inch gas lines. I leaned that lesson-always use 2 inch for low pressure 7 inch water coluem gas pipe.

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Thanks to those who have responded thus far.


Let me rephrase the question, to get to the heart of the matter:


What epic failure at the beginning, actually ended up teaching you the best lesson/s or ended up producing a positive outcome?


I have a collegiate notebook full of stories: I excel at messing things up at first: but that ends up teaching me even more. I remember getting my new kilns, slab roller, and my first ton of porcelain. Hey, I was going to be tile king of the Midwest. After setting up my roller, building numerous drying racks, and cutting up specialty drying boards I was ready!! I rolled out nearly 500lbs the first day, cut them into regular tiles, oval tiles, round tiles, elliptical tiles: and a few other shapes I do not remember. Went into the house being content: thinking that was easy enough. Next August morning (98F) I opened the studio door to discover 500lbs of curled up and split/cracked semi bone dry tiles. What the H**L? No one told me it would curl, no one told me I had to weight it down, and no one told me about controlling the drying on hot days. Well, fortunately I have several large trash cans to throw this mess into. Oh yeah, and no one told me you could reclaim dried clay.

That story is nothing, should hear the one about the first time I fried a kiln. Hey, this thing can heat at 1000F an hour..cool!!!!

To answer your question: no I did not go to college for arts, and no, I had never worked with clays before.




Lesson/s: you might actually want to read books on the topic first, or seek out some advice from those who have experience. Other lesson: those kiln manuals have Orton firing schedules in them for a reason. Another lesson: temper your expectations.

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When I was working on crystalline Glazes in grad school, my husband and I bought a ^10 electric kiln. On the first firing of crystalline one of the pots fell over and the glaze ate a huge hole in the floor of the new kiln. We were able to repair it . Learned how caustic crystalline glazes are.


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Had a manual electric in the 70's on porch of house get stuck in the on position and I noticed it late that night glowing at the joints. I cooked the elements-thankfully it was a bisque so I all I had to do was throw it all away.


More glaze batches gone wrong in the 5 gallon size than I care to admit or can recall.


Let a friend put in a 100 starfish shaped forms in a glaze fire (he was using them for annealing glass between forms in his glass oven) He said the clay was high fire. It was not . It was cone 6 so the piles of forms only slumped and ruined only some of my stuff.


I let a friend light my kiln as I was at the movies he blew the load over messing with the pilot and then turned it off- thank god.

I never let anyone since light it. That was in the 70's


Blown up so many pots in the earlier days pushing the limits I now know what I can do without harm.

Used the wrong fiber on a roof and had to replace it

poured a 1/2 bucket (5 gallon)of glaze into my shoes while not paying attention

Kept the low fire clay outside studio thinking it could never sneak into a high fire load-wrong again it did and it was a mess-had fun with a grinder and lost some work as well.

Threw in a bunch of green waste into a going glaze fire in 1979  to cone 10 and ruined the glaze load (kiln is not a trash burner)

Watched a friend put experimental things like tin foil in his high fire bowls in my fire and all his bowls where ruined(heavy hard learning curve)

Just remember I have a art degree and studied ceramics full time for 5 years and still made these errors. Ceramics it makes you humble.

I'm here today on this forum in no small part so others do not have to learn these lessons in the school of hard knocks.


Whats amazing is still folks are trying to use meat grinders as pug mills and galvanized wire instead of High temp wire  and food kitchen items for glazes expecting good results. Its the horse to water saying for sure.Oh well the school of hard knocks always teaches best.

I have an advanced degree from that school after my BA in art was done.

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Marcia Selsor

 Learn how caustic crystalline glazes are.

Makes sulfuric acid seem tame.. How well I know.



Mark C.

 poured a 1/2 bucket go glaze in my shoes

Guess I will have to try that this weekend: I always say learn from those with more experience. Besides, I like trying new things.




  I will have to reflect.

If you have to reflect, think about it: then it is not epic :)   Everyone on this forum has an "epic", some will fess up, others will not.



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> Decided to move shelving in my studio without clearing the shelves and also without moving my greenware out of the way. Something fell off the top of the shelving and smashed into a whole shelf of greenware nearby. So mad at myself because that was totally preventable. 

> Bought plastic wide mouthed jars for my first time mixing glazes from dry. The jar slipped out of my hand, landed on the concrete floor and smashed the bottom like an egg. I was able to save some of the glaze but not all. 


> Shook a glaze without making sure the lid was screwed on. Temmoku all over the cart full of kiln stilts, me, the floor, everything in a five-foot radius. Took hours to clean up. 


> Put freshly made stamps into a bisque load without drying them out at all. Exploded into tiny bits all over the kiln. They were in the top shelf, everything in the whole kiln was dusted with little chips including quite a few underglazed items. 


> Used a "cookie" that my dad had made without realizing that they had gotten damp. In a glaze load of thirty pieces only three or four did NOT have a bottom full of sharp shards. Again, the cookie was on the top shelf so bits and pieces rained down through the whole entire kiln. 


> My friend spent hours making some teapots for an order right before she went on vacation. She was in a hurry so she did not let them dry thoroughly. The bottoms blew out and she had to remake them after her vacation anyway, the customer had to wait anyway, so it was just a waste of time plus it ruined several nearby pieces. 


> Same friend washed her bisque ware off, dipped it in glaze, and immediately put it into a fast firing. The glaze slid off her pots and melted all over the kiln. It was unbelievable, like melted cheese. She had thousands of dollars worth of orders in that kiln and every single piece crawled and melted and fused onto kiln shelves. Now she lets her dipped pots dry overnight and also turns the kiln on low for several hours before turning it up. Let's just say I let my pieces dry for a good long time after glazing. 


> A different friend had been cutting out slab pieces with a template and a pin tool. When she was done she was collecting up the scraps and thumping them into a pile. Well, the pin tool had gotten stuck between two pieces without her realizing. She slammed her hand down on the pile and the pin tool went right through her pinky and ring finger. Still makes me cringe and I always always keep track of my pin tools. 


I'm still pretty new to this and I still have kiln loads where everything is bubbled or pitted or has something wrong with it. Such a crazy art to be into and I keep coming back for more!! 

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As Mark C. says the school of Hard Knocks is the best teacher. I taught for 29 years in various schools mostly in Montana for 25. I have seen some big mistakes by students, but we all learn somehow. Experience is the best teacher, I think.


When I was in grad school, one young woman wanted to cast her foot. She and her boyfriend mixed a bucket of plaster and she put her foot into it and let it set up. Her boyfriend spent several hours chiseling away to free her foot. 


As Mark C. and Patti warashina both say, Clay is a humbling material. 



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I think one of my worst catastrophes was not in the studio, but pottery related. I was putting up a library showcase of student pots. This case loaded from the back. It had glass shelves on metal brackets that were movable that hung on rails in the back rails of the cabinet. Yeah you guessed it! I was putting one of the last pots on the top shelf, and the whole thing gave way somehow. Broke 4 large sculptural student pots and two shelves. It was a total disaster at the time. I spent the next month after school repairing the student pots with epoxy putty and super glue with touch ups with various acrylic paints to bring the pieces back to life. I told the students about the accident the very next day, as I did the librarian. I bought replacement shelves out of my pocket, and made hearty apologies all around. In the end all was good, the students said it really didn't matter, and the librarian would have replaced out of her budget. I knew it would have meant a few less books or materials. 


Over the years, I have spilled glaze containers(5 gal), blown up pots in bisque, had loads with spiral cracks in every large pot in it(bisque), fired an entire salt load with out the damper closed at any point, fired a salt with the door nearly collapsing at cone 7, and lost a box of pots when the van rear door came open going down the road. 


Its all about surviving. Surviving each day enough to learn from your mistakes and make the adjustments so it does not happen again.





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Monday i did a large pit firing and a cookout as we worked on my wood kiln.  I had emailed the dispatch center (911) that morning with an ETA start time of lighting the fire.  Most of the time they call about an hour before the light up, but this time they did not so i called there non emergence number.

About 30 minutes after the light up and i was on top of the kiln roof cutting a hole i see 3 fire trucks and no they did not come out to eat.


A few weeks ago my wife left me an work order to glaze and fire 50 wine bottle chillers (the only account i have).  Well she left the wrong glaze type on the work order.  The look on the winery's owners face when i tried to drop them off was priceless.  I'm just lucky i had 50 more that were bisque fired and were able to get them what they needed latter in the week.


The list goes on and on, but i have not had any huge fails.

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I can't find the newspaper clipping of the front page of the Billings Gazette with a young fireman smiling spraying a hose through the fence of the back yard of the Art Annex. But here goes the story:


My summer class was doing a dung firing and my assistant gathered some cow pies. For those of you not familiar with the process, cow pies should be dried, hard and frisbee quality for a dung firing. Unfortunately, the assistant collected damp cow pies. We had a pit, started building the coal bed, loaded the pots and covered with cow pies. Very shortly afterwards, smoke was getting thick on the main road going up to the airport. Soon, the fire trucks were there. 

My friend who is the photographer for the gazette caught a picture of the fireman dowsing our pit firing through the fence. headlines read "Where There's Smoke There's..? " I got a trip to the dean's office. I then did the firings out at my home in Huntley or on student's ranches.

I always call ahead.


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I have a list about as long as my arm in 10 point font! I am a bull in a china shop! I'm not really embarrassed or ashamed of any of my mistakes because I can't think that I'm the first person to ever make them. And as long as one is not making the same mistake repeatedly, one is learning.


Probably the most spectacular was loading an outdoor soda kiln in winter, and not turning the pilot on while doing so.

For those in warmer climates, the wadding between the posts and shelves freezes on contact with the cold kiln furniture, and then shifts when it thaws. The stack fell over somewhere around the midfire cone range. I was not popular amongst the people that lost work, but it was only a few pieces, thankfully. The kiln had a hard brick interior, so no damage there, either.

I've dumped 5 gallon pails of tenmoku into my socks, too. The cleanup on that sucks.

More pots knocked over in various states of completion than I care to think about.


I suppose the big thing the million or so accidents and disasters have taught me is that my work isn't precious: I can make it again, and probably better the second time. I have no compunctions about culling, or reworking anything.

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"Likes" for all who have posted thus far.


This week's QQW is going as I had hoped: with the seasoned pros posting their "ooopps" moments. The real audience are the newbies, greenies, and hobbyist reading their post. Now you know no matter how much schooling, training, and preparations you have or make: "epics" are going to happen. After all. clay "art" is the human spirit expressing itself in material forms. Whenever "human" gets involved, so does the humanity of having off days. Epics have and will happen again: just use them as another avenue of learning.


Nerd--still learning and very prone to epic ooppss.


Edit: so do not let those "epic" moments discourage you from moving forward.

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Nothing spectacular--the pit fires I did years ago in my apartment's tiny back yard (about 4' by 4' of exposed ground-the rest was a concrete slab patio) did not go over real well with the management, and the 2 kiln shelves worth of greenware (for a time-sensitive order) that I knocked to the floor a few weeks ago was decidedly a bummer. The lesson I have learned from other failures in my sweet young life is that it is best to get a grip and get over it.  Knowing that epic ceramic failures are likely coming down the pike gives me the shudders, but, as the song goes, I will survive.  

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somebody was watching out for me once when i had a small kiln in my basement studio.  turned it on, went to bed and in the morning while getting ready for a sudden business trip to california i needed something from the laundry in the basement.  it was the usual madhouse getting two kids out to school and me to the airport.


 thank you, whoever was doing the watching, the kiln was still going and would have burned the house down while i was gone for a week.

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Nothing major here, I've done the glaze bottle shake with the lid only perched on top (TWICE) but I really can't come up with anything epic.


I've had failures of various sorts, I know I'm not the first to have had those exact things happen, it's the nature of clay.


If I've learnt anything from all those common errors and faults it's to slow down, or to be more precise, don't rush it - and always try and work with clay which is at the right place in terms of moisture/dryness.

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My most recent was emptying a bag of Wollastonite into the talc bin and making my white glaze. This fortunately turned out OK because the resulting glaze became a studio favourite since it was a transparent white letting all underglaze and slip decorating show. Had to add a new glaze to the studio. I now double check the name on the bag (suppliers change and then labels change) before emptying!

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Well I was doing some stannous chloride fuming in raku and you have to place a special can over the work while it fumes and it has to be done quickly! Stupidly, I didn't measure and one of the pieces was too tall and didn't fit under the can. A friend was filming me doing all this and all my cursing was caught on film and tape and he posted it to his friends!    At least I was wearing respirator so I was not recognizable. Actually , the work came out fine.  Even the too tall piece which I had to turn sideways.  It was funny. Rakuku

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Guest JBaymore

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..............


I needed more of my custom clay formula mixed up.  Called up my handy-dandy long term supplier and ordered another 2000 pounds of it.  I had a show coming, a number of custom orders to complete, store/gallery stock to replenish, and so on.  I had already started production on the noborigama load a bit... but knew I'd be running out of clay any day. On the average I know that my wood kiln takes about 2000-2200 pounds of clay made into pots for a load....depending on the particular types of pieces for that load.


The clay arrives one day.  As the driver is unloading it I notice that the bags are labeled "Bateman" not "Baymore".  I ask the driver about that.  He says...... "Not to worry... just mis-labeled".  I say.,.... please call the factory and check on this to make sure it is my clay.  He does.  Gets assurances that it was just a mis-spelling of my name when the warehouse guy heard it and labeled the bags.  OK....... fine.


I continue working on the load.  At one point I am wedging together some of my OLD clay.. and some of the new clay.  As I slice the bung, I notice a SLIGHT marbeling of the clay.  Hummmmmm.............   Now I know enough about clay bodies that organics in the clays can cause slight color differences that have no bearing on the fired results.  That is normal.  Things like fireclays and ball clays (both were in that body) often look different run-of-mine to run-of-mine. 


BUT.... I flash back to "Bateman".  I call the supplier again myself.  Yup... it is the correct clay.  Yup... it's organics.  Yup...... not to worry.


Finished making and bisque firing the load and glazing.  Stacked the kiln.  Fired the kiln.


Unloaded the whole load into the shard pit.


I was NOT my clay formulation.  Probably was a cone 6 oxidation body.  Or a really botched mixing job with materials mis-weighed.  Just about nothing was salvageable in the whole load.  Looked terrible, slumping, warping, cracking, awful color... you name it... it had it.


This nearly bankrupted me.  Each firing of a large kiln like mine is a huge investment of materials and labor TIME.  LOTS of eggs in one basket.  Amongst the other stuff, I had one huge 12 place dinnerware set order in there for a very good client that was to be a wedding present..... missed the deadline.  Lost the purchase and the client.  Had no stock for general sales for a while.  Had used up a lot of paid-for materials.  Got zero dollars for my investment of all that time (time which simply can't be recreated).  Needed to spend more $ to get more materials to make more work.  Put production behind by one full kiln work cycle. 




SO....... I went to small claims court to try to recover something out of this mess.  Now the law says that I had to go to the court in the place where the company was located.  That was a couple hours drive away. I also consulted with a lawyer.  So there was more time and money invested.  My day in court finally arrived (weeks and weeks after he unloading).


And....................... I lost.


You know those disclaimers that the suppliers have on their websites and in their catalogs?  The ones that say "we are not responsible.... clay and glaze materials are naturally occurring minerals and we have no control over .... blah....blah.... blah".  Yup.... they are very powerful tools in a court of law.  They stand up.  Not only did I lose the value of the load... I had to pay for the clay!  Now the court DID allow me to not pay the INTEREST on the clay cost bill that accrued during the dispute.  Yay!


Lessons..... a multitude. 


The BIG one........... the phrase I use on this forum and in my classes all the time......... "test, test, test".


Do not put materials into full production until you KNOW that they are working correctly.


Also... trust you gut.  That should have lead me to .....test, test, test.  I screwed up.  I didn't.


The company in question... which shall remain nameless....... no longer exists.  They went out of business not all that long after this incident.  Guess maybe they had a lot more incidents like this.


There you have it.  Don't repeat my mistake.





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My biggest mistake was in grad school when I forgot that I had the 30 cubic foot gas kiln running with a bisque in it. I remembered at 11pm as I lay down for bed. When I got to the studio it was at cone 10. Whole load into the trash.


Just last week I accidentally set my small kiln to cone 6 for a bisque. I didn't double check the program like I usually do because I was in a hurry. Into the trash.

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More Epic stories, some rank right up there with suspense novels. Harrowing, frightful, just barely avoiding disasters.


So I have used these stories to encourage the youngins, the newbies, (hey, I might be one myself(, and the greenies. Epics happen-even to the best of the best.


So now I will use the most recent epic stories to talk to another group of forum stalkers. You know who are! The ones whose "epics" were so disastrous that you sold off your kilns and vowed never to touch clay again. Yet you keep coming around from time to time because the love of clay still abides. A professor lost over a ton of fired clay early in his career: it happens. A seasoned production potter mistakenly programmed a cone 6 bisque even after decades in the clay biz: it happens. Two almost fried their homes along with their kilns: it happens. So forgive yourself for your "epic", it happened: time to get back in the saddle and ride.


'epics" do not mean you are stupid, incompetent, or a bubbling klutz: they just mean you are human. If they happen to the best of the best: why did you think they would not happen to you?



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