Thursday, 24 May 2012

Out Of The Kiln

It’s only when you become a potter yourself do you finally realise how much goes into making a pot. Of course most people know about the throwing and firing aspects, and some people also appreciate that there’s also a lot of designing, planning and preparation that goes on behind the scenes too. But I’m not sure for instance how many people know that even when a pot comes out of the kiln, the story isn’t over yet!

When my pots come out of their final firing (which is when they’ve been glazed) there’s still a couple of extra things I need to do before the pot can go out into the world. My pots are usually made of stoneware clay and fired in an electric kiln. This is quite a ‘clean’ way of firing (there’s no residue left on the pots like there is in raku for instance) but they still need a final check.

First I check that the glazes have all worked properly and there’s no cracks or faults in the body of the pot. Sometimes the glaze will ‘run off’ the pot for instance or a drip of glaze will stick onto the base. If this happens the pot is either a reject or sometimes can be saved by chipping the glaze off with a hammer and chisel. The angle has to be just right, and the tapping has to be ‘just so’, but if you’re lucky the drip of glaze will slice cleanly away without damaging the pot.

Next I check any pots with lids. I always fire my pots with their lids ‘in situ’ which means hopefully a lid will shrink to the same extent as the body of the pot during firing and be a perfect match. However, tight-fitting lids, like those on teapots for instance, do have a tendency to get stuck. The remedy is to hit them with a wooden stick: literally! The best way to release a stuck lid is to ‘tap’ (sometimes quite hard) the edge of the lid where it meets the body of the pot to encourage it to separate. Usually they come free after some patient thwacking, but if they don’t, then I try filling teapots via the spout (or submerging closed forms) with alternating hot and cold water. This usually does the trick.

Finally, I give all the bases of my pots a quick sanding over: and this is what I did today by the way. The bases of pots and any bare/non-glazed areas of exposed clay always feel a bit rough to the touch when straight out of the kiln. This is perfectly normal but when a pot is a functional item – like a jug – it needs to feel comfortable to hold. It’s also important that the base of a pot doesn’t scratch any surfaces when used every day. So I always check the base of my pots and smooth any sharp edges with sandpaper. I use normal medium-strength sandpaper to do this, which is just enough to take away the roughness without losing that rustic charm that stoneware has. Then I wipe the pots with a cloth to clean away any dust.

And that’s it! At least that’s the end of the ‘making’ part. The next stage is another blog post entirely…

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