Sunday, April 17, 2011

Venco Reassembled

Yesterday I got the Venco totally reassembled and tried to pug some stoneware clay through it. The first thing I encountered was that my little taping of the screens was way too aggressive and I had to remove them and take all the tape off and then just retape the top 2.5 inches. What was happening is that clay was totally filling the slot which allows a vacuum to reach the clay. It works much better now.

But, and I accept suggestions here, it will not pull a vacuum. The vacuum pump, which is one of the old Clisbys, is working fine. If I put my finger over the hole it goes straight to 28+ inches of Hg. But with the NEW gasket in place, and just about every old and new gasket I could find or make from the stuff I have around, except the old one which I stupidly threw away, it will not go above 5 inches Hg.

Since the middle gaskets were of electrical tape, and since clay got real dry around the gaskets if the mill was not used for some time, I made new ones out of Buna-N rubber, the same rubber that separates the top and bottom pieces on my Shimpo stainless steel mill. I also made the vacuum chamber gasket out of this Buna-N rubber but it really leaks. Badly.

I have a really nice lap wheel and so took one of the metallic diamond pads and attached it to a flat piece of metal, and sanded the top of the vacuum chamber until it was flat, which took some time. Did not help a lot.

The top piece of plexiglas is the piece that came with the pugmill and it is not totally flat and many years old -- close to 25 probably. I tried some other pieces of thin plexi and they did not work either.

So. What to do? The first thing is that I will block off the vacuum chamber leading into the pugmill and make sure it's the gasket at the top of the chamber that is the problem. I think it is but it could be the Buna-N rubber which runs down the seam of the top and bottom pieces of the chamber, or the Buna-N pieces that protect the plates where the screens are extracted. I don't think it's this because the Shimpo works fine with the Buna-N.

I do not tend to have great mechanical ability. A problem like this one stumps me for some time. The mill has lots of clay in it so it's not open at the end, as a Venco can tend to be. Interesting problem.

Suggestions appreciated.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cleaned Out Venco Pugmill

I've not cleaned out my Venco Pugmill for several years and it just seemed like the time to do it because I was not getting a good vacuum and there looked to be lots of corrosion. I had decided to install Buna N rubber gaskets all the way around to try to get the vacuum tighter, and to try to have less air seeping through the joints. When I don't use the pugmill for several months there is a noticeable dryness at the horizontal seam that runs the length of the pugmill. Venco recommends electrical tape for the joints, but over time, air gets through and it causes problems with stuff spalling off the sides into the clay, and the hardness I mentioned.

One test that I used was to take a pug and twist it, and in so doing there were air bubbles and delamination. So I decided to tape the screen aggressively so that the total amount of volume that needed to be deaired was less than before, and was nearer the vacuum chamber. As luck would have it, Rick McKinney of MKM Tools stopped by and he noticed that the screens were polished where the most clay went through and suggested that I tape with this in mind and so I did. Not sure how this will work, and for sure the mill will be slower, but I hope it helps. The mill is too fast anyway -- hard to keep up with for one person.

Monday, March 14, 2011

New Drying Molds

I mix my own clay, both stoneware and porcelain. At this point in my career I want to be sure that it is done like I want it done, and want to be able to mix small enough batches so that the formula can be flexible when conditions change. The old drying bats were just totally worn out. So we made some new ones last week. Here is a view of the process with the bus pan balanced in the wet plaster, and all the sides clamped up. We actually needed that wrench to balance the load.

A very quick little mixing formula is 2.75 pounds of plaster added to 2 pounds of water makes 81 cubic inches.

Here is the finished bat. 50 pounds of plaster and 36.6 pounds of water.

I always line the bat with a double layer of cotton sheet and then pour in the slip. After a couple of days the sheet can be removed with the clay and the bat can be allowed to dry. With these new molds that might not be necessary, but I will probably still do it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Owen and Nadia's Pieces -- Part 2

Owen and Nadia's Pieces.

This last week I got to fire Owen and Nadia's pieces. Owen's piece is a dog with an invisible fire hydrant, and Nadia's is a Macaroni Penguin, something which I had never heard of, but sure enough, if you Google Image them, they are there in all their glory. Before Nadia glazed her piece the head came off and we glued it back on. In thinking of what might happen in the firing, I decided to make an executive decision and fire the head separately. It was the right decision. I made a little conical clay support and glued the head to it. Some of the macaroni also came off and I made a little clay pedestal and fired them so that they could have shiny glaze like the pieces do. Here they are unfired just before stacking in the kiln.

And here they are fired, but not assembled.

Dupuytren's -- The Surgery

Friday was the day that I went to see Dr Eaton at The Hand Center in Jupiter to get my hand fixed. It turns out that I had something that had to be removed and the surgery that I thought I was going to have was not going to work; there was a skinny tunnel into the hand about the diameter of the metal part of a wooden needle tool and about an inch long and covered with hardened fascia, and it was going to have to be removed. I had driven 300 miles and so Dr Eaton just numbed up the hand and we waited for about an hour for all the components of the medicine to work. There was the anesthetic, of course, and then there was epinephrine which is a vaso-constrictor which helps with bleeding, about 3 cups of coffee worth, taken in about 1 minute. Soon I was just zooming.

Dr Eaton's mom is a potter so he has a real appreciation for potters. All through his childhood there was a wheel and kiln at his house, and his mom made pots.

The reason I went to see him is that my friend Alan Stowell, guitarist, violinist, mandolinist extrordinaire had a Dupuytren's repaired several years ago using needles and all traces of it are totally gone. So I already knew that Dr Eaton was an incredible craftsman, and I felt totally comfortable with him and the staff.

I sat in a chair and watched the whole thing and it was fun in a weird sort of way. Anne and her sister Trish were walking on Jupiter Beach but they came over to the office when they found out that this was going to be more involved than we had originally thought. When they got to the office they said that it sounded like we were having a party back in the operating room -- lots of laughing and carrying on. Friday afternoon, you know.

Here is a photo where Dr Eaton is holding the tunnel just before removal. Don't look if this sort of thing will not be interesting to you.

I can't make pots for a couple of weeks but have talks to prepare for NCECA related events so this is a good time -- and it's over!

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Jim asked about the oilspot bowls and so here is one from today's firing. It was in the bottom of the kiln, and it only went to cone 8, so it's kind of muddy and not as nice as the ones from the last firing, which were hotter. I have plans to open up the bagwall in my kiln so that more heat gets to the bottom, but this firing was all about two very large copper red covered jars, and the kiln was fired to maximize them, so these bowls were an afterthought as it were.

The bowl below was in the previous firing and it's much nicer, at least to me. These two bowls were identical before putting them in the large kiln, in fact the bowl below was the one I deemed to be the worst of the batch. There were 4 bowls in this firing and I will probably fire them again, or at least pick the worst one and fire it.
The large jars are nice, but I want to fire them again because I think I can make them nicer.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Firing Today in Car Kiln

After struggling with the flu/cold for the last week, I was finally able to fire the large gas kiln today. It was actually the first day that I have had enough energy to do this firing, although the pots have been ready for a week. The photo below is of two large covered jars, which if all goes well, will be a beautiful copper red. So much can go wrong with these and I am a bit apprehensive, though it appears that things went well.

Above this saggar, are several shelves of dinner plates and bowls, and a couple of horse sculptures by my friend Bill Schaaf. There are also some oilspot bowls hiding here and there.

I must say that when I tried to push the car in, things were a little cramped and minor surgery had to be performed to get the car to settle correctly, well not quite correctly, but close. There was about a quarter inch at the bottom where the car did not touch and I did not notice it until the kiln was already hot.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hans Coper

A new post by Tony Clennell got me thinking about how much I love the work of Hans Coper, and how I have been influenced by him over the years. It is without question that Hans Coper is my favorite potter of all time. Perhaps because when I was a young guy of 24 years old, just beginning to make pots, I found a book with lots of his work in it and was hooked.

I call these pieces "Hourglass Vases" and the first one sits on Anne's dresser so I get to see it every day. It's a little under 12 inches tall, thrown in one piece. It has a titanium crystalline glaze and was fired in reduction to cone 10, 11, 12 -- somewhere around there. Both vases were multi fired with lots of grinding, spraying and cussing in between firings. I know how to place a darn or gosh for maximum effect.

This green one is from the same period, and about the same size. Both were made between 1994 and 1998, and both these images are from scans I just received back from ScanCafe. I must say that I like the quality of the work they do. I will make a post about my experience with them if anyone is interested.

In this case, the glaze was applied evenly by dipping, but the fire drew the pattern on the piece. Sort of like wood or soda firing, except with much less success. These glazes were so hard to do that I just stopped making them.

To me these pieces are about opening and closing and then opening again. If we really want to, we have the right to live our lives with an open heart. And that's what these are about for me. They are a technical challenge which makes them fun to make, and they are an aesthetic challenge because there are a lot of really bad forms lurking in there, and the strategy must be precise to get a good one.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


John Bauman just had a post about inspiration and it got me thinking about things I do to keep myself inspired to keep making stuff.

One of the things that I have done for the last 30 years is a collaborative series of pots with my friend Lennie Kesl. In about 1980 Lennie and I were both teaching at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, and I asked him if he would like to decorate some pieces if I made them. He was thrilled and we thus started a body of work that has persisted all this time. We started out with stoneware and slips, progressed to stoneware with underglazes, white earthenware with underglazes, and finally to red earthenware with glazes, underglazes, slips, crystals and whatever else Lennie can put on there. This first one I call the Alien because it seems very strange to me, like it's from some other planet. The glazes and underglazes are built up, sometimes a half inch thick.

This one here is a bit crazier. It's about the size of a dinner plate. Both of these were done in 2004.

Finally this last one is kind of a takeoff on Pre Colombian ceramics. We really have fun with these and this one was one of the most fun. You can not see it here, but there is a face which is facing straight down, and one of the tripod legs comes right out of that face's third eye, as if a horn on a devil. Lennie is quite serious when he does these, and while the humor is there for all to see, Lennie is very serious about it all.

Lennie turns 84 in June. We are going to make some more things real soon.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It's Time

I've started to dry out these 7 glaze buckets because the glazes have not been used for 12 years and it's time. These are all titanium crystal glazes that I fired in reduction and you can see some examples of them at

It's hard to just let this go. Those were nice glazes but they were just so difficult to use, and the success rate was so small, that it was just not reasonable to continue with it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Fallonator -- Part 2

My friend Phil, who owns one of the only Fallonators in captivity, has posted some pictures on his blog and here is a link.


The Fallonator

It's a very long story, and one which for now will be without pictures, but my friend Terry Fallon has been developing an automatic reduction system for an electric kiln and it works very nicely. He got this idea a few years ago and I was able to be one of the 5 people that he bounced ideas off of which was wonderful for me because I know nothing about engineering -- though that was my first major in college. But I had fired reduction kilns and was very interested and so I was allowed to tag along.

Anyway, here is the scoop. Terry is beginning to build some systems that are add ons to existing electric kilns. The reduction is accomplished from a small propane bottle like you would hook up to a hand torch. There is an oxygen probe made from an oxygen sensor from a car, and you can program the amount of reduction that you want and it will do it. Terry has a special motherboard that allows you to say, in each segment of the firing, whether you want reduction or not. The kiln can be fitted so that it will send both temperature and reduction information wirelessly to a computer, and you can see the graphs in real time on the same chart. It's pretty neat. Very neat.

Fuzzy Green 2

Here is the Fuzzy Green pot that came out this afternoon. It's a bit different from the first one but quite similar. This one had 4 soaks instead of 2, but the rest was mostly the same. Same batch of glaze, same top temperature, same thickness of application. I found the glaze a little difficult to brush and so I am going to ball mill it some more tomorrow afternoon. I say ball mill, but I have a 30 year old Lortone Rock Tumbler and it is not really a ball mill at all, but it does do a good job for me.

This second photo is a top view of the pot above. You can see the first Fuzzy Green pot in the background. Both of these pots are resisting my efforts to separate them from their pedestals with a torch. This fuzzy glaze is quite hard and it makes a strong bond between the pot and the pedestal.

You can see the cone next to the pot in the bottom photo. I write the name of the firing on the cone -- BB 6-83 -- so that I can reference it in the future. That's the 83rd firing on the 6th set of elements in the kiln called Baby Bear. Mama Bear and Papa Bear are on either side keeping guard.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Fuzzies

Here is the Fuzzy Yellow pot that got fired the other day. It is pretty nice and the glaze eventually behaved. I had to scrape the glaze off the top of the pot 3 times before I finally got it to stick. The pot was glazed by brushing.

Here is the Fuzzy Green glaze that I mentioned. This one just came out this afternoon and it is still on its pedestal, glazed to its catcher. Another hard glaze to make work. What really attracts me to these fuzzy glazes is how nice they feel in your hand. They are really smooth and the glaze also has some internal sparkling and you can see little specks when the light is just right. It's obvious that this is a matte glaze, but this is the most matte of all the glazes I use. Nothing shiny about it, except for that little sparkle.

I fire these mostly one at a time, and change things between firings. I have another pot in tonight, a Fuzzy Green but with a very different firing profile, so it should be quite different. Though I do like this one. And another one for tomorrow night.

Another thing I am trying to do is figure out just which parts of the crystal grow at which temperatures, so I can design effects because different colors happen at different temperatures. So this pot had just two holds beyond the top temperature and yet the crystals are very complex. I was expecting something much more simple but am not complaining.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Glazed Pots

I spent a better part of the day yesterday airbrushing these bowls and plates. What you see here is the pots glazed, but before airbrushing. There are 2 coats of the tan glaze, 3 coats of the blue glaze, and a brushed coat of a glaze I call Gatorskin, which is a slip based ash like glaze. I also airbrush Gatorskin so that the effect of it is very subtle and feathered, rather than hard edged if it were brushed at the end. This first photo is looking from the front to the back of the shop, north to south.

The photo below looks from west to east and you can see the dinner plates ready to be airbrushed. Perhaps you also notice a water purification system on the wall in back. We have very bad water here in the woods, and this system is an attempt to get good water. It works very well. The water has less that 10 ppm dissolved solids, and tastes wonderful. I also use it for glazes, and mixing clay too. I have started mixing all my own clay.

The old refrigerator gave up the ghost a couple of months ago, and I have not wanted to buy a brand new one, and have not checked Craigslist faithfully for oldies as I will have to have help loading it into my truck, and I am just so busy with the commitments of these pots. But soon a "new" refrigerator will appear. Perhaps the one at our house which is now just 20 years old.

Friday, January 28, 2011


I have slides that are over 40 years old and it is time to digitize them, especially since NCECA is in Tampa/St Petersburg this year and I'm involved and will need to make a couple of presentations. So I sent 30 slides off to ScanCafe to see what they would do with them. I am happy with what they did and now I am going through all the slides I have from 1968 to digital, which is about 2002, I think. There are thousands.

This is one of a close up of one of my second year graduate school works. It is a slab built round pot, and you see the top. It was lightly rakued, a process I called "Smoked Raku." Its diameter is 16 inches. I will post some of the other ones from that period, including the firecracker pots and the flocked pots, as soon as the scans come back.

ScanCafe is inexpensive if you get lots of slides scanned, but the shipping is expensive for just a few. That said, it was worth it to just see what their quality would be and not commit hundreds of slides only to be disappointed. This image is clear, faded for sure, but I think it can be helped with Photoshop. It did not have much color anyway.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fuzzy Yellow

I have been trying to get this glaze to work for a couple of years and it has been an incredibly difficult one. I call it Fuzzy Yellow; there is also a Fuzzy Green, which is difficult too. This one came out yesterday and it is what I'm looking for. It's extremely matte and very smooth to the touch, really nice to hold in your hand.

I have another pot which will fire tomorrow night with the same glaze and the same firing cycle and hopefully will be as nice. These glazes are finicky and even though I do the same thing and fire the same way, I do not expect the results to be the same. But hopefully doing the same thing will make for a successful piece.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Kiln Disaster

Here are a couple of photos of the kiln disaster. It was a copper red firing and the bottom octagonal shelf just melted with all the weight on it. This first photo is before anything was unstacked, and you can see that the bottom shelf appears to be missing. It's in there somewhere.

This next one is of a piece of that bottom shelf. Hard to believe it was rated for cone 10, but I have fired those shelves to cone 10 many times, just not with so much weight on them.

This final photo is also of that bottom shelf, the largest piece of all the ones I chipped out. It's stuck to the kiln post, and there is major glaze running.

The shelves above the copper reds were fairly OK. The pots all need to be refired, but they did not collapse as they might have. There is lots of pinholing on the glazes, but I have seen worse come out beautiful in a second firing.

I fired the kiln yesterday to red heat just to make sure the patching was dry -- it has been a month -- and the new target brick, a 12 x 12 x 1 inch slab of alumina, would be able to withstand a burner about 10 inches away and not crack.
The alumina slab came from a friend and it weighs 22 pounds. When I picked up the package I was really surprised by the weight. I was expecting maybe 8 pounds. I've not unstacked it yet so don't know whether the slab is OK.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Graduate School -- USF -- 1971

I went to graduate school in Ceramics at the University of South Florida in Tampa and since NCECA is in Tampa/St Pete this year, I just had some slides scanned. Both of these slides are of my work at the end of the first year, which would be the early summer of 1971. We had to display our first year's works to see whether we would be accepted to continue and this was my setup. Casual. The whole place was casual. But effective as all the professors came out to see it, and I was allowed to continue.

USF was a very new college at that time and the view you see here is long gone, with buildings everywhere. Almost all of the professors were under 35 years old, so it was a young place and very stimulating. New, progressive, confrontational. We had people like James Rosenquist and Robert Rauschenberg making work down the hall from us in the GraphicStudio, and the place was teeming with energy.

I'm not sure how these pieces relate to my current work; I had only been interested in Ceramics for 3 years at the time, and so these were some of my early pieces. This was also before I decided to become a potter so I was not trying to make pots. Pots were not looked upon as a valid direction for a graduate student at USF. I had shelves in my studio and kept black plastic over them and made pots on the side all my way through grad school. Fired them on the weekends. So I really had two bodies of work going at the time and the professors knew about the pots, did not seem to mind much, but they never saw them.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Night Firing

This is a picture of a firing that we did just before our Holiday Show. It's just getting dark and the kiln is very hot at this point. I wish I could say that every thing turned out well, but it did not. One of the bottom shelves warped badly and the whole stack fell. We had to chip a lot of stuff out of the kiln and then repair the brick with a castable refractory, and, as of now, I have not fired it again while waiting for the refractory to dry completely, but it's ready to go now and I hope to fire it soon.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Dinner Plates

Well it's not all porcelain around here these days. At our Holiday Show people kept asking for dinner plates and here is the first half of them. I made 25 altogether, including ones for our home that Anne asked for. Never hurts to order when everyone else is ordering.

While I love to make porcelain, I also love to make pots that people can use every day. A mug that someone might cherish gives me great satisfaction, and I love to see lots of pots all lined up neatly, ready for the next step, whatever that is. There were also orders for bowls and I got all of them in except for 4 hiding on the table in the photo below. They are lined up in a square, but even 4 makes me happy. It's 25F here in North Florida this morning and the large electric in the photo, Papa Bear, is firing to go off around noon. We are going for heat today.

Here is what the plates will look like when they are fired, well, except that they will be plates instead of pie plates. I use two different matte glazes and then spray an ash like glaze in the interstices of the glazing process. Each piece is glazed with many layers which require handling the pots several times before stacking them into the large gas kiln, where they are reduction fired to cone 10, around 2350F.

I do have to say that these pie plates bake incredible pies. Anne makes an apple pie every Thanksgiving and a cherry pie every Christmas and the pies are always wonderful and crusts are always perfect. They are a bit larger than the traditional pie, but, what the heck, it just means more pie. Yum.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Owen and Nadia

The other days some folks came out to choose a present for a friend and their two kids each got a little sample of clay to play with. I was just amazed by the little pieces that they fashioned. Owen made this little dog and Nadia made the standing figure. I find both of the figures humorous and gesturally wonderful.

I'm not sure whether Owen meant for the dog to have his leg up, or if the piece just dried that way, but, as you can see, he is definitely a male.

The pieces got loaded into the bisque kiln this afternoon and they will be fired tonight. I found myself being much more careful with these pieces than with my own as I do want them to come out successfully.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy New Year 2011

Well here is me making the first pot of 2011, a small bowl in a set of 8 which will be used for pasta. I usually don't make dinner plates but several people wanted from 2 to 6 plates and the total I am making is 25. I don't think I've ever made 25 dinner plates at one time so this is a nice project. There are also several sandwich plates, bowls, and even a spoon rest to make.

The shop is quite disorganized at the moment and I hope to get some real work done on that tomorrow. There is 33 years of accumulated stuff laying around and it's time to begin to cull the stuff I will never use again. There are thousands of test tiles that could be digitized and turned into a wall or thrown away. Boxes and boxes.

Something weird is happening in my hand and I think it might be a Dupuytren's Contracture. It is like someone stuck a needle into my hand going up the little finger and there is a hard something inside the hand. It is beginning to pull the finger towards the hand.