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clay prices part ii second edition

updated sat 22 nov 97


Terrance Lazaroff on mon 17 nov 97

I did not see this posting go by so I checked the address and I think it went
into the gread void. Here it is again.


Welcome back to Part II of To Buy or Not to Buy. You may not have read the
previous article, If so I suggest you e-mail me so you will know what we
are working towards. To those of you who are up-to-date; lets get down to
number crunching.


Someone, on the internet, posted a cost for a mixing/pugging machine at
approximately $4000.00. US$. I looked up some prices in my faithful
catalogue and found a range of prices between 3,000 and $7,000.00 CDN.
Taking into account the dollar exchange we can see that we are talking
about a high end machine. We could probably find one less expensive. but for
this discussion we will use the $5,000.00 figure. Some of us may have the
amount of money to purchase the machine with cash, but let us include the
cost of a loan, amortised over two years, for those in our group that have to
go to the bank. We should also include transportation costs, as the average
potter lives a distance from a supplier. So here is what our fixed costs
will look like.

Clay mixer/pugger - $5,000.00
Cost of Loan/2yrs - $ 500.00
Transportation - $ 125.00

Total - $5625.00


I then priced a good stoneware recipe that was used at school. The school
stoneware recipe priced out to be approximately $0.25 per lb. of dry clay.
We will hire a student from time to time to make our clay and let us say that
we will pay an hourly wage of $7.00 Our production capability figure will
be 700 lb. of WET clay in two hours. This production figure appears a bit
high but this is just an exercise and the internet member who raised the
question stated that he could make this amount of clay in the mentioned time.
I would sure like him to come and work for me. We will also have to convert
our clay measures. In order to achieve 700 lb. of WET clay we will be using
approximately 540 lb. of DRY clay mix.

We can now determine the variable costs of processing one pound of dry clay.
Recipe costs (dry) = $0.25 lb
Labour costs = $0.03 lb found by $14.00/540 pounds of dry clay

Cost of dry clay = $.28 per lb.

We must now decide to convert our figures to either dry or wet weight. I
elected to use the wet weight. Thus if I have 100 lb. of dry clay at $0.28
per pound the total cost will be $28.00. Conversion to wet clay demands that
we add up to 30% water or 30 lb. Doing this we now arrive at approximately
130 pounds of wet clay that cost $28.00. This in turn means that we have
paid $28.00/130 lb. = $0.22 per lb.

I selected popular stoneware clay, sold in my area, to use as the example
for the cost of commercial clay. This figure will represent our selling
price. One box weighing 44 pounds of wet clay costs approximately $16.00 or
$0.36 per pound (wet).
Remember now that to break-even we must make clay at the cost of comercial
brand. With this in mind we can now insert the numbers into the break-even
formula ($5625/X) +$0.22 = $0.36 Where X = the quantity of clay that must
be used to bring us to a cost similar to purchasing commercial clay at .36
cents per pound (wet), when we can make the clay for $0.22 per lb (wet).
The $5625 is the fixed costs.

The result is that we must make and use 40,178 lb. of wet clay to arrive at
the cost of commercial, wet clay. If we were to make clay and sell it to
anyone at $0.36 per lb wet we would have to sell approximately 18 tons of
clay to break-even. Every pound of wet clay made after we reach this figure
will be considered less expensive than commercial mixed clay.

Now, Let us say, for the sake of argument, that we want to save, at least,
$0.05 per pound on our clay costs. This means we will be selling this clay
to our pottery at $0.31 per pound. In order for our clay making subsidiary
to break even we will have to sell according to the break-even formula
($5625/X)+.22 = $0.31 . We would have to use 62,500 pounds or approximately
28 tons of wet clay. Now the savings to our pottery will be , providing we
use 62,500 pounds of wet clay, approximately $3000.00. It could take up to
14 yrs to use this amount of clay. It depends on our clay usage.

When we look at the figures we can see that by using 2 tons of clay a year,
we will require more than 9 years to break even and 14 years to save $0.05
cents on the pound. Using 5 tons of clay a year will give us a break-even
point at about 4 yrs. and about 6 years to realise a $0.05 a pound less.
Finally looking at using 9 Tons of clay a year we will require about 2 years
for our break-even and 3 years to realise $0.05 per pound less. These
figures are only good providing there are no major expensive maintenance
costs incurred during he period of use. Is there a better way?

In part three I will compare purchasing custom clay and discuss methods of
paying down a mixer/pugger faster so that there would be some benefits to
buying such a machine. Until then.

Terrance Lazaroff
St Hubert, Quebec, Canada !!!!!!!!!!!!

Talbott on mon 17 nov 97

Terrance... If you use 8 tons of clay or more a year and are into pottery
for the long haul then I would suggest that you get a mixer and pugmill...
Get the best equipment available!!! About a $6500 investment. A Soldner
Claymixer Studio model cost about $2500 and a Venco 4" deairing pugmill
about $4000 * (* includes shipping). The equipment will pay for itself in
about 2 to 3 years... Even if we did not save on clay we would still mix
our own because of the control that we have over the claybodies... Some
will disagree but for us there is a really BIG difference between pre-mixed
clay and what we manufacture ourselves.. The pugmill saves so much time
and work on "organizing", wedging, and measuring the clay that once you
learn how to use it... you would not even think of doing pottery without
it... And you can recycle trimming and slop etc. with much more ease with
these two pieces of equipment. It all depends on how much pottery you
make and if you want to conserve your body (wrists especially) and if you
want to make the best use of your time, and materials. ....Marshall


Celia & Marshall Talbott, Pottery By Celia, Route 114, P O Box 4116,
Naples, Maine 04055-4116,(207)693-6100 voice and fax,(call first)
Clayarters' Live Chat Room, Fri & Sat Nites at 10 PM EDT & Sun at 1 PM EDT

Kathi LeSueur on tue 18 nov 97

The discussion of pugmills, cost of clay (dry materials), and payback over
time was an interesting one that raised some questions for me.

First, what is the formula of this clay you are mixing that costs $.25 per
pound of dry clay? Is this a stoneware, whiteware, porcelain. The numbers
just seem high. I buy clay from Texas and ship it to Michigan. It costs me
$.26 per pound shipped to my door in 5000# shipments.

I have a pug mill (Bluebird Powerstar). One of those $4000 jobs. Best
investment I ever made. It has paid for itself over and over with the
extrusions I do with it. But even more important is that I no longer wedge
clay. Not ever. I've suffered wrist and shoulder problems. Through my
physical therapist I've learned that wedging is one of the worst things a
potter can do to her (or his) body. In time it will get even the strongest. I
would strongly recommend that anyone who is working full-time at being a
potter should find a way to invest in such a machine. It doesn't have to be a
$4000 machine. There are smaller more inexpensive models available. But it is
necessary if someone wants to do this as a career.

Kathi on wed 19 nov 97


I do not disagree with what your are saying. In fact I feel that we are
saying the same thing. We have to remember that the discussion was about
purchasing a clay mixer/pugger or whatever in order to have cheaper clay.
What I am saying, is that this does not come without some understanding that
it takes a lot of clay to arrive at a price of clay that is cheaper than
commercial. Your mention of having control of your own clay body is a
positive point but with a good supplier one can have the same control with
out the overhead. I think that is where the preference of potter comes into
play. In part III I will discuss some of the benifits and payback methods
that could help justify purchasing the machines.

One final point: I am not selling custom clay nor am I trying to degrade the
use of mixing and pugging machines. I would love to have them myself but
my usage of clay is not adequate to justify the purchase of this equipment.

Best regards

LINDA BLOSSOM on wed 19 nov 97


All of your computation is based on the assumption that price is the sole
or at least main reason for mixing one's own clay. By the way, the cost of
the recipe you state is close to the cost of mixed clay in my area. You
have some high prices. My reasons for mixing are not just price. In fact,
price is just a great bonus. I have been altering my body over the past
four years and my mixer, the peter pugger, makes it all possible. When I
wanted to try paper pulp in my clay, it was a snap. When I altered the
basic body to get my shrinkage back to 10% after replacing grog with pulp,
I was able to do that until I got it right. If I need the highly grogged
body for a special project, I can make it when I need i without waiting for
the company to reach red clay in their mixing cycle and then get it
delivered. I know what is in my body - I don't have to wonder if an
overworked and underpaid employee did it wrong. This happened to one ton
which was the deciding factor to make my own. I can store the dry
ingredients in an unheated greenhouse saving space in the studio. Couldn't
do that with wet clay. I hated being restricted to the format of a boxed
pug and dealing with all of those plastic bags and boxes. I also didn't
like handling those dense 50 lb boxes. Now I deal with a pug of clay that
is extruded to the length I need for the project I am making. The pug is
perfect in thickness,when sliced lengthwise, to roll out into a slab. I
don't care if I never recoup all the investment - I love having a mixer.
The flexibility, control, and ability to experiment is worth it.

Linda Blossom
2366 Slaterville Rd.
Ithaca, NY 14850
607-539-7912 on thu 20 nov 97


The clay used as the example in this discussion was a University recipe
stoneware. Your point about the clay being close to what you pay is exactely
what I was pointing out in the article. Simply put; It will be difficult to
make clay at a price $.05 cheaper than a comercial body.

I do not disagree that there are advantages with using these machines. I wil
mention some of them in my third posting. The key point is that one must use
a lot of clay in order to break even or to be able to make cheaper priced
clay than that available at most suppiers.

St Hubert, Quebec, Canada

John H. Rodgers on fri 21 nov 97

-- [ From: John H. Rodgers * EMC.Ver #2.5.02 ] --

Have been following the thread about pug mills with interest.

I decided a long time ago that pug mills, due to the nature of their
construction and subsequent price , were not a short run investment. I
couldn't justify buying one just to try to save a few cents on the clay. I
could buy a lot of clay for the cost of the mill. The advantage of the mill
over short term, if you are producing a lot of clay scrap, is being able to
conveniently and quickly reclaim,ie, re-pug the reclaimed clay. Over the
long term--and that might be years---one could save a bit by mixing their
own clay and pugging it, in addition to re-claiming scrap. If there are
other clay persons nearby a little extra commercial venture could be entered
by re-pugging their clay for a fee of so much a pound. By and large however,
its a long haul to fully recovering the cost of the investment. I would
think, however, that purchasing a pug mill generally means, besides trying
to save a nickel on clay, you are serious about making money with your clay
art. If so, then the purchase takes on a whole new meaning. If you are out
there where the competition is, and the name of the game is making bucks,
then you most likely need to know what it took my hard head a time to absorb
, and act on. Once I did, things were better.

"Technology for Competitive Advantage"

Thats what it's about. If you don't follow that little axiom, you are going
to struggle, and eventually be left in the dust. Look around and see what is

I once had a basket weaver tell me - with the best of intent- " You can't
be an artist and like computers".

GOOD GRIEF!! With my computer I can send pictures of my work to any
customer on the face of the planet in just a few minutes. I can do my
marketing, keep up with my inventories, do my book-keeping, send messages to
my kids, chat with friends, investigate galleries, and draw conceptual
graphics before I throw clay, on ad infinitum.

On this list one can observe the inroads of technology. Look at the
discussions about how fiber and ITC compounds are being used. All that is
from space age technology being adapted to our little piece of the world.

As I see it, there is a tendency among clayart kind of people - not all but
some - to wish for the good old days. And it's not to say the good old days
weren't great but not everybody wants them. Change is in the wind.

Once, on a hunting trip just off the Yukon River, I asked an old Eskimo
friend of mine what he thought about the idea, as some had suggested, of
going back to the good old days of hunting moose with spears and walrus in
skin boats. He looked at me, snorted, and said "Damned dangerous, those old

With snaggle-toothed grin, he said "Much better, these times!!", and he
held up a brand new Winchester 30-06 about to be bloodied on its' first
hunting trip.

It was wonderful!! I'll never forget it!!

An example of the change is how the days of being able to stoke up the old
wood burner, whether stove or kiln, whenever we want are inevitably waning.
The signs are in the emissions regulations that are beginning to show up
here and there, extending ever outward to include emissions from fuel fired
kilns. And when they are gone, technology is what is going to carry us
forward, whether we like it or not. What we adopt we want to examine
carefully before acceptance. We should not be oblivious to the negative side
that technology can show, but use it to best advantage.

And so, in the business place we arrive at the axiom.

"Technology for Competitive Advantage."

Just my thoughts on buying pugmills and related issues.

John Rodgers
In Alabama where the leaves are beginning to turn brown. But the brown
leaves in my Alaska home have already been covered with a beautiful blanket
of white.

-------- REPLY, Original message follows --------

Date: Thursday, 20-Nov-97 03:31 PM

From: Terrance Lazaroff \ America On-Line: (ZALT)
To: CLAYART LIST \ Internet: (

Subject: Re: Clay Prices Part II Second Edition

----------------------------Original message----------------------------

The clay used as the example in this discussion was a University recipe
stoneware. Your point about the clay being close to what you pay is
exactely what I was pointing out in the article. Simply put; It will be
difficult to make clay at a price $.05 cheaper than a comercial body.

I do not disagree that there are advantages with using these machines. I
wil mention some of them in my third posting. The key point is that one
must use a lot of clay in order to break even or to be able to make cheaper
priced clay than that available at most suppiers.

St Hubert, Quebec, Canada

-------- REPLY, End of original message --------