Janet H Walker on wed 5 nov 97
I got tired of wax. I don't have a steady hand and couldn't seem to
get the hang of making nice clean regular edges for the glaze to
stop at. Also I make irregularly shaped handbuilt things and often
there is no "obvious" place for the glaze to stop aesthetically
speaking. In fact, the pieces looked pretty ridiculous when you
turned them over and there was an odd-shaped unglazed patch on the
bottom. So I tried stilts instead. Seemed reasonable -- no time
spent waxing, more pleasing results aesthetically, and so on.
Tried it. Now I have some questions for people who are successful
I am most interested in hearing from people who both single-fire and
use stilts. I suspect that some of the things I am having trouble
with come along with single-firing.
1. The ^6 porcelain I use slumps easily unless I get the piece exactly
centered on a big enough stilt.
- Any tips for placing the piece on the stilt and then the whole
combo on the shelf.
- What's the biggest stilt you've found? I have Bell #10 which is
mostly OK for round pieces with bottoms up to 5" diam.
- How would you do a long narrow piece, e.g. 3x12" Multiple small
- How do you handle flat square pieces? Three wires, four
corners. Something is gonna (does) droop.
2. I get marks that are more than mechanical stilt marks. They are
like "deposits" from the wire into the glaze and look like an
interaction between the metal in the wire and the glaze. It does
not happen with all glazes. Example: in white or clear glaze, the
marks might be black dots. With a high iron glaze, the marks are
dull metallic patches the size of my little fingernail. In a glaze
with tin, the marks might be green or purple. So, what's in the
wire I asked myself. Are they using a chrome-alumel alloy? Is that
fuming and combining with the glaze? (Remember I'm firing to ^6).
- Any suggestions besides "learn to like the effect"? (Actually I
sort of do sometimes.)
- I also get ordinary stilt marks. What's the best hand tool for
easily cleaning those off? (I'm using a quite large coarse silicon
carbide lump that also scratches around the mark as well as cleaning
3. Since I'm single firing, the clay shrinks a lot. The wires from
the stilts sometimes end up getting distorted because they are
anchored in the glaze and then the piece shrinks and the wire has to
go with it and so it is no longer pointing straight up.
- Can I just hammer the wires straight up again?
- Can I prevent this? Someone speculated that the wires were too
pointy (the stilts are still pretty new) and that I should blunt the
- Do you suppose that the wires are sinking into the glaze because
I put the pieces onto stilts to dry when the glaze is either wet or
still soft? Is this a bad practice?
War stories, folk wisdom, suggestions, observations, all welcome.
Thanks in advance.
Cambridge MA USA
Carolynn Palmer on thu 6 nov 97
At one time, years ago, I used to fire to cone 5 and 6 in an electric kiln,
but bisqued everything first. Anyway, I used to wax three little circles -
about 1/2 inch in diameter, on the foot or bottoms of the non-footed pots and
glaze and then just before loading, stuck a tiny ball of unfired clay onto
the waxed area. These acted like stilts and could easily be popped off after
firing. They sure saved my kiln shelves when the glazes tended to run
But they wouldn't work when I got to firing higher with clay bodies that
slumped over these stilts - so I abandoned this and now wax every bottom.
Carolynn Palmer, Somerset Ctr, Michigan
Eleanora Eden on sun 9 nov 97
Hi Janet, Cold rain here tonight. Guess it's getting on toward winter.
Well as you know I fire always on stilts, and never with once-fired work.
But as I go down your pile of queries it seems my experience is pretty
I have BTW been going through my stilts recently and getting rid of the
ones that are crooked as I have been having some accidents lately....anyway
I'm just wondering if with single-firing spreading the load might be
important enough for you to consider using little bitty three-pointed
stilts in each of the three corners on a largish piece instead of letting
it sink into three individual points.
>1. The ^6 porcelain I use slumps easily unless I get the piece exactly
>centered on a big enough stilt.
> - Any tips for placing the piece on the stilt and then the whole
>combo on the shelf.
I always place the stilt on the bottom of the piece and then place it into
position in the kiln using two hands, the piece in one hand and the stilt
held in place with the other. I'd agree that using a big enough stilt
would be crucial for you. So how about making some stilts of your own?
You make a triangle-shaped pancake of a clay/vermiculite mix and stick
kantholwire struts in 3 corners. Make sure it's heavy enough wire to do
the job. I use these to augment purchased stilts as my own stilts don't
waste so much vertical space.
> - What's the biggest stilt you've found? I have Bell #10 which is
>mostly OK for round pieces with bottoms up to 5" diam.
> - How would you do a long narrow piece, e.g. 3x12" Multiple small
I like those hershey's-kiss-shaped single-point stilts and would probably
use three in a long triangle. Or use one of those bar stilts at each end.
Remember you can re-arrange a bar stilt for a special use by bending back a
bunch of the points so you only have the number of points with the distance
apart that you want. Or break it in half.
> - How do you handle flat square pieces? Three wires, four
>corners. Something is gonna (does) droop.
I use single point stilts and use four of them.
> - I also get ordinary stilt marks. What's the best hand tool for
>easily cleaning those off? (I'm using a quite large coarse silicon
>carbide lump that also scratches around the mark as well as cleaning
I only use one glaze so the various effects are news for me. I just get
small black messes. Which I don't like and don't worry about. I use a
dremel tool for cleaning off the stilt marks and get a fairly good job. On
a dark glaze if you don't like the white scratch marks a little bit of
SkinSoSoft will get rid of them.
>3. Since I'm single firing, the clay shrinks a lot. The wires from
>the stilts sometimes end up getting distorted because they are
>anchored in the glaze and then the piece shrinks and the wire has to
>go with it and so it is no longer pointing straight up.
> - Can I just hammer the wires straight up again?
> - Can I prevent this? Someone speculated that the wires were too
>pointy (the stilts are still pretty new) and that I should blunt the
I find that if you try to hammer the wire you break the stilt. But
sometimes I am successful with using pliers to bend the stilt back. After
they're fired they get pretty brittle but you can get pretty good at it,
easy does it. I think pointy is best. The pointier the stilt the less
gathering up the glaze will do. You get real good new points and a
not-too-thick glaze and you can do pretty well. But if you're single
firing aren't the points embedding themselves in your clay fairly
regularly? Maybe with a single-firing situation the pointiness works
against you instead of in your favor. Hmmmm.....
> - Do you suppose that the wires are sinking into the glaze because
>I put the pieces onto stilts to dry when the glaze is either wet or
>still soft? Is this a bad practice?
You're putting the pieces onto stilts with wet glaze and then transferring
the whole kit'n'kaboodle into the kiln? I wouldn't do that because I
figure I'd have alot bigger mess. With single-firing I'd think this would
be even more important. I have a bowl of stilts I use for drying purposes
and I keep them aside. I remove the piece from the stilt, mend the glaze
if there's any mess, and put it fully dry onto a fresh stilt before putting
it into the kiln.
Hope this is helpful. I think stilts are really great, in theory at least.
When I'm pawing through mountains of them looking for the right one and
trying not to get scratched it's growl, growl, growl....Cheers, E.
Eleanora Eden 802 869-2003
Bellows Falls, VT 05101 email@example.com