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tools: inexpensive does not mean cheap

updated tue 4 may 99


Ray Aldridge on sat 1 may 99

At 02:56 PM 4/30/99 EDT, you wrote:
>----------------------------Original message----------------------------
>I completely agree with Mel and John about the value of good
>tools, especially kilns, but spending a lot of money on something
>is not necessary and does not make it good.
>Just ask the Air Force how they like their legendary hundred
>dollar screwdrivers and toilet seats.


>Another thing: someone just starting out should not go out and buy
>the best of everything. Just think of all the great work that has
>been made on a woobly wheel and fired in a rubble kiln. Just think
>how much you'll learn.
>With a little experience, you'll know what you REALLY need,
>and you won't spend money like that art administrator who has
>never actually touched clay.

I agree. It's not so much the money you'll save, though that's not to be
sneered at, it's the experience you'll gain. I built my first wheel and
kiln 25 years ago in Las Vegas, with a budget limited to gas money.
Period. The wheel had a pipe shaft and a truck rim filled with concrete,
and greased leather bearings. I taught myself to throw on that horrid
thing, and I was so ecstatic when I could eventually afford a Brent
brick-weighted kit that I still use the Brent all these years later--
though it's gone through a couple changes of wood. My first kiln was built
of local sandstone and mud from the desert, fired with construction offcuts.

You can't buy that sort of experience. I realize that most folks wouldn't
want to, of course.

Dale A. Neese on sun 2 may 99

When I visit potters I really don't see cheap, I see resourcefulness. I was
fortunate to learn from a very resourceful potter. The best thing he did was
to take us all to a junk yard and teach us to weld. Found lengths of angle
iron for bracing used firebricks. Building pipe burners. Rollers. Mixers. I
believe that I am more confident in my abilities as a potter by not always
throwing money down for new items. Usually you can find something used when
someone just starting out is frustrated by all the bells and whistles and
gives up. Experience is what counts. So many of the students coming out of
school these days lack the resourcefulness to do the basic kiln building and
learn from the experience. Everyone now learns throwing on an electric
wheel. I'm not that old, but all my department had was kick wheels. Most
now have used premixed clay out of the box and opened a jar of commercial
glaze, set the timer on the new kiln controller and walked away... only to
come back and found the kiln has had a melt down. Gone are the days of
spending 48 hours in the college clay studio, firing, glazing, throwing,
welding, mixing clay. Today you may have a MFA, but it won't help you rewire
or build your kiln.
I put every nail in building my studio. Searched and hauled good used brick
for my first downdraft, Only the chamber was new soft 2600s. Best firing
kiln I have ever built. The pots that came out were not cheap, you could
tell by holding and looking.
I'm not trying to dis anyone on the subject of cheap tools or the least
expensive, It's just how you learn to use the cheap tools that counts.
Dale Tex-----Original Message-----
From: David Hendley
Date: Friday, April 30, 1999 1:57 PM
Subject: Tools: inexpensive does not mean cheap

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
I completely agree with Mel and John about the value of good
tools, especially kilns, but spending a lot of money on something
is not necessary and does not make it good.
Just ask the Air Force how they like their legendary hundred
dollar screwdrivers and toilet seats.

Spending money is the AMERICAN WAY. We think that
if you spend enough money you will get the best; that there
is nothing that money can't buy.
I'm reminded of the guy in "Zen & the Art Of Motorcycle
Maintenance". He just couldn't live with the idea of using
a piece of a beer can to fix his high-tech motorcycle. He had to
wait until he could buy an "aluminum shim" from the dealer
to fix his machine.

If you want to see this mentality in all its glory, go to a college
with a newly outfitted ceramics classroom which was designed
by an administrator.
Take in the ambiance of those $10,000 Alpine kilns that fire
2 cones hotter on the bottom than the top, and are next to
impossible to reduce evenly.
Gaze in wonder at the pneumatic extruder that has not really
been used yet because it takes too long to set it up to make
a few coils.
Feel like a real ceramics professional sitting on a genuine
"potter's stool" ($125), while scooping some feldspar out of a
"bulk materials bin" ($2,500).

Well, the best tools are often cheap and you don't always
"get what you pay for".
There are several good alternatives to money: intelligence, work,
and patience.
If you need something RIGHT NOW, then your only option
is to go buy it, pay the price, and take your chances. If you can wait
a while, chances are what you are looking for will just happen along
someday soon. No reason to pay the Snap-on guy full price for a set
of sockets; just keep on eye on the garage sales and pawn shops
and a set will turn up.
Snap-on tools at K-Mart, made in China prices.
My triple beam balance and heavy cast aluminum banding wheel
were $5 each at a tag sale.

If you are willing to study and learn, chances are that you'll find
out that there's no reason to buy anything; you can make a better
one yourself. My extruder cost about $5 to make 25 years ago, and
I wouldn't trade it for anything on the market today.
My kiln fires as good as any commercial potter's kiln I've ever seen.
The firebricks in this kiln don't know that they were bought for
5 cents on the dollar; they still do their job as good as bricks bought
for full price.

Another thing: someone just starting out should not go out and buy
the best of everything. Just think of all the great work that has
been made on a woobly wheel and fired in a rubble kiln. Just think
how much you'll learn.
With a little experience, you'll know what you REALLY need,
and you won't spend money like that art administrator who has
never actually touched clay.

Good pots, everyone,
David Hendley
Maydelle, Texas

At 10:26 AM 4/27/99 EDT, you wrote:
>----------------------------Original message----------------------------
>as many of you know, i travel around some.......see a great deal.
>talk to many potters.
>the one thing that is very disturbing to me about many people doing
>pottery is.........cheapness.
>they do not look at what they do as being important.
>if you approach your craft, hobby, avocation as
>would spend some money on quality tools.
>does a mechanic buy his tools from k-mart, made in china?
>no, snap-on.
>i have used the same analogy about language.........if you are going to
>the studio to `play`, have fun..mess about`, how do people
>take you seriously. you go to the studio to work, do research, create...
>ask the vendors.......potters talk about kilns based on one thing..`price
>good deals.`
>if you were starting a brand new studio should be looking
>at the best kiln money can buy....that is always the first consideration.
>not wheels. kilns.......that is the life blood of a potter. if you have a
>kiln, good pots often follow, then good sales follow that.
>i think i am correct, when i say that josiah wedgwood became famous
>in england, because he took a chance on a young kiln builder that got
>several hundred more degrees out of his new kiln than the other folks
>on `stoke on trent`.........and he got his new `blues` from that kiln.
>i am sure that any one of the kiln manufacturers would build a high
>tech, well insulated, well wired kiln......if the folks would buy it.
>but, i also think that they would gather moss in the show room...waiting
>for one potter to buy one.
>if you are going to make that next step forward, get out of the basement.
>or, you will be there forever....gag, cough, snort.
>`self respect is the starting point of great craft.` mj1999

>I can't reinforce this GREAT thought from Mel enough. (or should I type
>......... mel) (Mel-san....ichibanme, ne'.)
>A cheap tool is just that. A cheap tool. You get what you pay for. And
>the kiln is the limiting factor and process flow constriction to the entire
>studio operation.
>As many of you know, I build kilns for people upon occasion. I don't build
>the cheapest kilns and I pride myself on that. Materials selection and
>construction is done with performance and longevity in mind. Put a 2300F
>rating brick where a 2800F should be and you have planned obsolescence
>(sp?). Put a hardbrick where an IFB should be, and you store heat in
>refractories that you didn't have to. Make the kiln the wrong size and you
>screw up everything in studio operations. And so on.
>The right material, in the right place, constructed the right way. Simple.
>Everything you make has to flow through your kiln. It makes or breaks the
>final work (no pun intended ). It also dictates things like maximum
>ware sizes, turnaround time, firing efficiency, firing labor costs,
>necessary ware storage space size, and many other crucial variables of
>studio life.
>Kilns deserve more thought than they are typically given, I think. This is
>not a place to cut corners or rush through in making decisions.
>That Japanese saying I mentioned before a while ago comes to mind again
>here: "Fire first, clay second, form third."
>BTW.....mel........ I'd like to order about a dozen of those cone breakers
>John Baymore
>River Bend Pottery
>22 Riverbend Way
>Wilton, NH 03086 USA

Merrill Rush on mon 3 may 99

Hi! in Texas-----you sound like someone who might be able to steer me in the
right direction for info I am seeking.I would like to make(with the help of
some mechanically minded friends)a pug mill.The only reference that I have
been able to find is a book by Davis(I think)called the POTTER'S
ALTERNATIVE.So far I have been unsuccessful in finding a copy,as it is out of
print and even Amazon can't find it for me.Do you have plans/directions for
building your own pug?or can you tell me where to find such?
I am a novice potter,working with hand-me-down equipment and things that were
out on the curb on trash day !! I am interested in having the pug for
re-claiming clay and mixing batches of locally dug clay.Any help will be most
Merrill--------your neighbor in Louisiana