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
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