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the =?windows-1252?q?=93three_e=92s=94_?= of homemade tools

updated mon 2 jun 08


David Hendley on fri 30 may 08

Hi, here, below, is my presentation from the "Tool Doctors"
session at the 2000 NCECA conference. As you will see, I try
to make most of my own tools and encourage others to, as well.

To make cut-off wires, I "unwind" the brass wire wrapping
from used bass guitar strings. Just grab the end of the brass
wire with some Vise Grips and pull, and it will quickly unwind,
keeping the twisted look , like a stretched-out spring.
This is not the same as using a plain steel treble guitar string.
Fast and free, and the brass never rusts! And the look is the
same as using a twisted wire that potter buys or buys wire
to make. I use rubber washers, about an inch in diameter for
the handles (left over from when I was making air-tight lids
for pots).

David Hendley
Maydelle, Texas

The =93Three E=92s=94 of Homemade Tools

In recent years, I have noticed an accelerating pace in the introduction

of new tools, equipment, and accessories offered for sale to people

working with clay. This is not a bad trend; in fact, it=92s a healthy

sign of interest and activity in the field. But, I can=92t help but =

if there is work being produced that is unduly influenced by the

standardized tools that were used to make it, and if a certain

way of thinking is on the decline because the artist does not give

as much thought to the design and use of tools.=20


Back in the early 70=92s, when I was a student, there was not much

in my college ceramics room besides some raw materials, mixing

machinery, scales, tables, wheels, and kilns. We were encouraged

to make anything we wanted or needed, from batts to needle tools.

My professor, J. Brough Miller at Texas Woman=92s University,

insisted that every serious ceramics student take a welding class.

We built and re-built kilns, and learned useful skills like

woodworking and the fine points of shopping at the scrap metal

yard. This =93can-do=94, =93do-it-yourself=94 attitude has stayed with =

as I still make many of the tools I use in the pottery studio.


So, why should you make your own tools? Well, there are

three reasons, that I call the =93Three E=92s=94 of homemade tools:

Economy, Education, and Expression. All do-it-yourself

projects include, in varying proportion, each of these three

elements. At first thought, economy may seem like the

primary benefit of making your own. In fact, it is often

the least important, and sometimes almost absent. For

example, when I show visitors to my shop my wood

fired kiln, they often start talking about how much money

I must be saving by not paying for electricity or gas.

Uh=85well, yes, if you don=92t count a day away from

other work to retrieve and stack the wood, a day to

stoke the fire, and a half-day to clean the kiln furniture

after each firing. I try to show the visitors how the

wood-fired kiln is a tool for enhancing the persona

expression in my work, not an economy measure.


There are, however, many homemade tools that do

effectively save money, and we all know that many

potters and art departments have more time than=20

oney. When taking educational and creative aspects

into account, the time spent making a tool or piece of

equipment can be time well spent. Hardly a day in

the ceramics shop goes by that I don=92t use a homemade

tool that I consider better, or at least better suited to

the way I work, than what is offered for sale. For

example, I hate batt pins, so I don=92t use them. My

batts, which have served me well for more than

twenty years, are Formica sink cutouts, retrieved from

a cabinet shop. They are held on the wheelhead by three

1=94 X 2=94 cleats screwed on the bottoms. No matching

up the holes to the pins, no enlarged oval holes that

won=92t hold tight, no knife to pry the batts off the

wheelhead, and the wheelhead is still easily accessible

when a batt is not needed. I think my system is better

than anything you can buy, and the cost was next to

nothing. My kiln posts were extruded using a claybody

of half old crushed insulating firebricks and half fireclay,

for a cost of pennies per post. They are as good as

commercially available posts, but I make them even

better by rolling them, just after extruding and cutting

to length, in a pan of alumina hydrate. This thick

embedded coating makes them hold up better to the

ravages of ashes flying around in my wood-fired kiln.

Further, I stamp the length measurement of the post

on all four sides, so I can tell at a glance a six-inch post

from a seven-inch. Better than anything I could buy.


I cite the hand extruder as an example of a simple

machine that can be easily and quickly homemade

at a considerable savings over the cost of a

manufactured machine. I built my first extruder while

taking Mr. Miller=92s welding class, so the project also

allowed me to hone my designing, fabricating, and

welding skills. There are no calculations or hidden

critical aspects to building an extruder; it really is as

simple as it looks.


Like the extruder itself, making extruder dies is a

most worthwhile area for experimenting with designing

and making your own. This is where the third =93E=94,

expression, will really come into play. Designing the

die is a large part of the creative part of extruding.

A ceramic artist who is limited to only commercially

available extruder dies is thus necessarily limited.

Designing and making a die is pretty quick and easy,

and the materials are cheap, so making your own

opens the door to both learning and individual expression.

I currently use Plexiglas scraps to make small handle

dies, and aluminum highway signs, available at scrap

metal yards, to make larger or multiple piece dies. A

really great benefit of working this way is that the

materials are ready and available; when a new design

idea is developed, a rough die can be quickly made

to test the design. If it proves promising, the die can

be smoothed and refined for further use.


Another avenue for individualizing extruded work is

by designing and making what I call =93post-extruding tools=94.

These are various jigs or forms that are designed to

alter or add to a newly extruded shape. They can be

made to work with an existing extruder die, or a die

can be designed and made to fit the post-extruding tool.

Recently, I=92ve been working with wood moldings to alter

or add to fresh extrusions.


In a process-oriented medium like clay, every detail

matters: every material, process, tool, and technique.

In the pottery studio, every choice determines the look

and feel of the finished work, and is an opportunity

for the potter to incorporate his or her personality,

or spirit, into the piece. For me, this means that,

whenever possible and reasonable, I want to formulate

my own materials, cultivate my own techniques, and

make my own tools.

Lee Love on sun 1 jun 08

On Sun, Jun 1, 2008 at 5:02 AM, Kelly Johnston

> "My batts, which have served me well for more than
> twenty years, are Formica sink cutouts, retrieved from
> a cabinet shop. They are held on the wheelhead by three
> 1" X 2" cleats screwed on the bottoms.

Kelly, ever see a Giffen Grip? You should see my Grip on my Devon
made Leach wheel. Mixed metaphors!
Lee Love in Minneapolis

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is
rounded with a sleep." --PROSPERO Tempest Shakespeare