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BCS Video: Tips to Set Up Your Studio
I've been making pottery since I was a kid, but until a few months ago, I never had my own studio. Now I have a few wheels, a kiln and some shelves, but I had never thought about all of the little things other studios had that made producing pottery a little easier and more efficient. Here are the five things I did to make my home studio feel more like a real studio.
Tip 1: Make a Wedging Wire
The wedging wire is just like your wire tool, but it's attached to your wedging table to make cutting and wedging clay faster.
All you need to make one is:
- a 2 by 4 (about 4'5” long)
- 2 eye screws
- a turnbuckle
- Picture hanging wire.
Cut two 24” pieces of 2x4 (or cut them to the depth of your wedging table, mine is 24” deep) then make a brace by cutting the ends off of a smaller piece at 45 degree angles to make a trapezoid. Attach one 24” 2x4 to the top of your wedging table with wood screws, attach the other 24” 2x4 to the far end of that at a 90 degree angle and attach the brace to both at the joint for support.
Next, screw in your eye-screws at either end. Tie your hanging wire to the bottom eye-screw by threading the end through the eye, then wrap it around the rest of the wire 5 times, loop it back through the base of the knot at the eye-screw and then loop it again through the loop you just made then pull it tight. Tie the turnbuckle to the other eye-screw using the same knot and finally tie off the wire attached to the bottom eye-screw to the turnbuckle, again using the same knot.
As you use the wedging wire it will stretch out, which is why we include the turnbuckle to tension it again when it starts to sag.
Tip 2: Make a Throwing Gauge
When you are making multiples of the same piece, you want a way to measure for accuracy. Rulers can work well for a while, but can get covered in clay and become unreadable quickly. This throwing gauge is a quick reference that you won’t ever have to move or handle while throwing.
To make it you will need:
- 2 wooden dowels (one around 3/4”-1”, the other 1/4”)
- 2 blocks of wood (I just used a scrap of 2x4 from the last tip and leftover 1x6 from a different project)
- a carriage bolt and a wing-nut
- some drill bits
Drill holes the diameter of your wider dowel through the center of both wooden blocks. Turn one block (in my case the 2x4) on its side and drill a hole the diameter of your narrow dowel on one side and then a hole to fit your carriage bolt on the other (I recommend drilling these against the grain of the wood, otherwise you will risk breaking it later), next use a saw to cut a notch from the outside all the way to the hole made for the large dowel (I used a skill saw and I do not recommend the skill saw), cutting through the hole made for the carriage bolt. The block with 3 holes in it will now be able to move freely (or be held in place by the bolt and wing-nut) on the large dowel, which will stand on the other block, its base. The narrow dowel will be held in the moving block and its end will hang out over the wheel head.
Using the gauge is simple; either adjust the height to a pre-determined measurement, or throw the first piece, and adjust the throwing gauge so that the tip is right next to the top rim of the piece (just leave enough room to get your wire tool in there without chopping the rim off).
Tip 3: Make a Trimming Pan
A common problem when trimming tall pieces, especially when using a centering guide, is cleaning the enormous mess made from all the trimming scraps flying over the standard splash pan. This splash pan has extra-tall walls and will catch virtually anything.
This has the shortest materials list:
- a large bucket (~20 gallons, I used a beach bucket, the kind with 2 rope handles)
- maybe some tape, depending on what you use as a cutting tool (I used a skill saw again, and again: I do not recommend the skill saw).
Cut out enough of the bottom of the bucket so that it won’t interfere with the function of your wheel, and then cut it in half. Cut enough of the top off of one half so that you can trim comfortably. If the edges are rough or jagged then it wouldn't be a bad idea to cover them in tape, but it isn't entirely necessary. You can just rest the 2 halves on your wheel, around the wheel-head like you would a splash pan, or you can clamp, tape or tie them together.
Tip 4: Set Up Your Wheel Area
I like to throw at a wheel that is boxed in by tables and shelves. The best studio I ever used had the wheels built into large work tables so we had tons of room to put tools, ware boards, bats, wedged clay and finished pieces.
My new studio has a setup similar to a production studio I worked in. my wheel is in front of a long table (that either used to be a coffee table, or part of a media center), on my right I have a very low table for my pile of wedged clay and on my left are 2 cinder-blocks holding up a stack of ware-boards.
Any variation of this basic setup will make for an efficient studio. Start your day by weighing and wedging your clay (or pugging, but that's another article), using your wedging wire, stack it on the low table or box next to your wheel, set your throwing gauge to the desired height and move clay from the metaphorical inbox to the outbox. Before you know it you'll be turning out hundreds of pieces a day.
Tip 5: Throwing Posture
If you are going to be throwing hundreds of pieces a day, you have to take care of yourself, especially your back. Lots of potters have different solutions for preventing back pain, so here are a few that I have heard.
- Tilt your throwing stool forward. This is the most common solution to back pain, just toss a 2x4 under the back legs, or saw a few inches off the front legs. I highly recommend this.
- Throw with a brick under your left foot (or whatever foot you aren't using to operate the foot pedal). This is especially for potters who throw with their foot on the pedal all the time (which is not necessary), putting a brick under the other foot will level your hips which will straighten your spine. In the past I have used a variation on this tip, instead of a brick I used a broken pedal.
- Throw with a hand-lever, instead of a pedal. I prefer this method now, but my wheel's foot pedal is attached to the body of the wheel and isn't very comfortable to use.
- Lift your wheel and chair. Most wheels come with adjustable legs, or have leg extenders available. If you're tall (like me) lifting the wheel will make it feel more like it was made for an adult. You should also raise your chair to match (I find throwing from a chair that sits at the same height as my wheel-head is perfect).
- Throw standing up. If you haven't tried this yet, you really should. You will probably have to buy leg extenders if you want to make this your permanent throwing situation, but you can get a feel for it by putting the wheel on a table. Some potters find throwing standing to be easier and more comfortable (I find it confusing and slightly terrifying).
- Use an old office chair instead of a stool. Just because you left the cubicle life behind you doesn't mean you can't reap the one benefit; a sweet chair. Check thrift stores, used furniture stores and classified ads until you find something that can tilt forward and back, has some lumbar support and preferably has a name like “Excelsior,” “Executive,” or “Excalibur.”
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