Sunday, January 06, 2008

Recycling Clay

Jo saves all her scraps of clay -- like those created when she trims the bottom of a pot she's thrown. The scraps all go into a bucket along with some water to keep them from drying out.

When Jo accumulates a bucket full of clay slurry, she pours it into an old pillow case and hangs it from a tree. The majority of the water drains away during this step in the process. This takes several days. Exactly how long depends upon the weather, and when Jo feels like getting back to her clay recycling. Adding water again solves the problem should the clay dry out too much.

When dry enough to work with -- though still too wet to run through the pug mill -- Jo forms the clay into rough cylinders and sets them on a shelf inside the studio to dry more.

The de-airing pug mill. Basically, clay goes in one end (where the feed handle is laid back) and comes out the other. In the middle is a revolving screw that helps feed the clay through and mix it more throughly. More importantly, a vacuum pump attaches to the center chamber of the mill so the mixing occurs under a slight vacuum which removed any trapped air. Air bubbles create voids in finished work.

Traditionally, potters "wedged" clay to remove trapped air. This process is very similar to kneading bread dough. After a decade of time and many tons of clay, wedging began to take it's toll on Jo's wrists. Deviating from tradition by investing in a de-airing pug mill was a reasonable alternative to constant pain that was only going to get worse. Besides, using the pug mill is a lot quicker and easier than wedging.


Lana Gramlich said...

Great news on getting the pug mill. I've "wedged" myself in the past & that's no way to do it!

Mary said...

Wow. Now, that's a HOBBY! Lots of work but worth every minute, right?

Q said...

Dear Marvin,
This is so interesting. I have never done any pottery work. One of these days I will come to one of Jo's shows and buy a pot. I would love to have one of her pieces.

Marvin said...

Lana: Some traditionalist say that there's a serenity and "oneness" with the clay that come from wedging. Me thinks carpel tunnel syndrome is the main outcome of wedging.

Mary: Pottery is a hobby gone bad -- so bad that it's become a job.

Sherry: That sound like a deal to me. It's been a while since we were in your area, but who knows what the future holds?

Jackie said...

I just discovered your site and am enjoying reading many of your posts. Once upon a time I did a bit of clay work, and that wedging was HARD. I didn't know there were devices that do all that "kneading", but it sure makes sense that someone got tired of a full body workout while trying to do a bit of pottery...

Marvin said...

zhakee: Thanks for the visit and comment.

Contrary to what some purists claim, I don't think the clay really knows or cares whether it has been wedged or pugged, but your wrists, arms and various other body parts certainly know the difference.

lisa said...

Wow, this takes me back! I used to make pottery in high school, although back then they were mostly (bongs) vases. ;-) I did that wretched wedging, and you're right-a machine is the way to go!

"Excess Money? Buy Art !" said...

Does anyone know the name of the little critters that live in the recycle bucket. I'd like to know more about their biology

Please send replies to
gnicastro at yahoo dot com