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We often get asked, "What kind of bats should I buy?". There's no right or wrong choice in bats. It's a matter of preference, and trading-off the pros and cons of each type of bat.
A bat is a removable slab of material, that is placed on the wheel head of a pottery wheel, before you put down clay and start throwing your pot. The purpose of a bat is to allow easy removal of the thrown pot from the wheel head.
If you don't use bats when throwing, you'll have to put the clay directly on the wheel head (and that works perfectly fine while throwing). However, when you go to remove the pot, you have to cut it loose with a wire, and then carefully lift it off the wheel head and set it down elsewhere to dry. This can be done, but there is a high risk that the pot will become deformed, tear apart, get dropped or will have your handprints left in the clay. If you're an experienced potter and you throw dry (don't use much water while throwing) it's relatively easy to remove pots this way. However if you are less experienced, you tend to us a lot of water to throw, and the pot will not keep it's shape while being moved. Those folks (and that's most of us) need to use bats.
Pros - Generally the least expensive. The bat absorbs some moisture from the clay so the pot somewhat self releases as it dries.
Cons - Less durable. They can stick down to the wheel head and be hard to remove. Edges will chip when you try to pry it off. Some tendency to warp. Have to be careful when cleaning as they will absorb water and swell.
Pros - Very durable, and in some cases (like the Speedball bats) lightweight. Can soak in water without damage.
Cons - Does not absorb moisture so pots tend do not release as easily from the bat. Some people have trouble getting their clay balls to stick when they start a piece. Typically higher priced than Masonite bats.
Pros - Offers durability better than wood/masonite, while still retaining the water absorption advantages of wood.
Cons - Higher priced than Masonite. Fairly heavy. Can still chip and break.
Pros - No warping and has excellent water absorbing qualities, so pots dry more evenly and release easily.
Cons - Bulky and heavy. Can chip and break. Expensive to buy pre-made, but you can pour your own fairly cheaply. (Note: Regular bats are difficult to attach, but bat systems like the Pure and Simply system allow you use bat pins to attach them. Skutt Thomas Stuart wheels also have a plaster bat system available.)
Occasionally we have heard of people using bisque tiles as bats. They would absorb water like plaster but chip less.
Don't feel like you have to stick to one style. Many people have a combination of different types of bats for different purposes. Our Bat Packs are very popular because you get a variety of bat types and sizes at a great price!
Again, it's personal preference, although there are some practical reason to choose certain bats.
Smaller diameter bats take up less room on the drying shelf
Better yet, square bats take even less space on the drying shelf, although some people find non-round bats distracting when throwing.
Some people choose bats that overhang the edge of their wheel head, so they are easy to remove. For example, if you have a 12" diameter wheel head, buy 13" diameter bats.
Some bats have a lip on the edge (for example Speedball bats) which make them easier to lift off the wheel head. However Speedball bats have a blind bat pin hole (it's not a thru-hole), so some people find them harder to get on the bat pins in the first place.
The placement of your bat pins determines the minimum size bat you can use with pins, usually about 11-12 inches in diameter, or a 7.5" square. To get smaller bats to attach, there are "insert" type bat systems (Northstar Universal Bat and AMACO Adapt-a-bat), where a larger bat holds a smaller bat, and only the smaller bat is removed with the pot (thus saving drying shelf space).
Most potters wheels have bat pins installed (which are round bolt heads that stick up on the wheel head). Bats are placed over these holes so that they stay in place while throwing. This is a good thing, and you should use them. However some people like to throw with undrilled bats. They'll use lumps of clay or other techniques to hold the bats in place. If that's what you like to do, more power to you, but for most potters we recommend that you take advantage of the bat pins and purchase drilled bats.
Historically, there was no industry standard for the distance between bat pins. Some spacing was 10", some was 9", and there were even others. In recent years, all brands of wheels have pins set at 10" spacing. So unless you have an older wheel, or a very unusual wheel, you want bats with 10" spacing.
All of the drilled bats we sell have 10" spacing. If you need other spacing, Speedball bats are also compatible with 9" spacing, and Northstar bats can be custom ordered to whatever spacing you specify. Or, you can just drill your own holes wherever you need them.