• Sharon Feigal

Favorite Tools

Everyone who works with clay has their favorite tools. Each step in the process has tools, and of course over time there are plenty of opportunities for new favorites. Here are a few of the tools I've used in the past couple of weeks, while making a series of platters.

Getting ready to throw means setting these items out on my pottery wheel (my most important tool!):

  • Bat - In this picture, that's the wooden disk most of the tools are lying on. I have several different sizes of wooden bats, depending on what I'll be making. These are my biggest ones, and I secure them to the wheel head with pins that go through the holes. Some of my bats are simply small squares of plywood.

  • Xiem BatMate - This is a fabulous product. Basically, it's a chamois cloth, and it helps hold things onto the wheel head. In this case, I'm using it to cushion these large bats because they are a little tiny bit warped. When I use my smaller bats, I don't use pins and only this BatMate. I can also use the BatMate to trim (more on that a bit further on.) You can see the BatMate as the grungy bit under the wood, on top of the metal wheel head.

  • Wire cutter - The wire with two wooden handles is for cutting clay. I use it to separate a quantity of clay from the larger package and after throwing something, I cut it from the bat with this. It's a bit tricky with super wide things like platters! Some people don't use them, but instead wait for the thrown object to "pop" itself off the bat as it dries. Since I'm not in the studio all the time, I can't monitor progress closely enough, so I haven't tried that.

  • Needle tool - The green tool is a fancy version of a simple needle. It folds into its handle. Needles are used for lots of things. Sometimes I use them to measure bottom thickness, or to cut off the top of the side walls if they are too wonky. Most of the time, though, I don't use the needle part of this tool. I use the other pointy end to clean up the foot of my product, and as another rib (read on).

  • Sponge - That's the grungy white kidney-shaped thing. This particular sponge is a fancy one from MudTools. A few years back, I treated myself to a bunch of fancy tools from MudTools. Their products are great. Everything here looks a bit grungy because I'm throwing with black clay a lot lately. If I want to use these with really white clay or porcelain, I'll need to really seriously clean them. Sponges are used to wet the clay, to dry the clay, to shape the clay, to smooth the clay... I actually use several sponges in different ways, but this is the one I use the most often. It's not very absorbent, but I throw pretty dry and don't need absorbent. I also throw pretty thin, and this one is good for fine work.

  • Ribs - The red tool, the wooden tool, the metal tool and even the already listed green one are all examples of ribs. Ribs are used to shape the pot and dry it off. I like the red one a lot for general shaping. For these platters, I used it to compress and flatten the bottom evenly. The metal one is intended to help shape the lip, and I used it only a little with this project, but I tend to keep it on hand. The wooden one I use for really everything. I use it to shape the pot itself, but I also use it to trim the foot and clean up the excess around the edges, and also to squeeze extra water off my BatMate between bats.

In addition to the tools, there are some other pieces involved in setup.

  • I usually prep as many balls of the amount of clay as I'll need. This was the final set of platters, and I only needed 4 more, so there were only 4 balls.

  • My coffee thermos and water bottle (not pictured) are handy. Working with clay is thirsty work! After I've cleaned up, I'll usually guzzle a bunch of water and moisturize my hands.

  • Tri-focal reading glasses help me see what I'm doing, but I still don't see moving objects all that well. I miss having good vision. Maybe I'll blog about the accident that messed that up for me sometime.

  • The yellow cleaning cloth is handy for anything needing wiped up while I'm working. Usually, it's my hands before I rummage through for other tools in my case.

  • For recycling clay, I put scraps into an old coconut oil bucket with water. The dirty water is called slip, and I use that to throw instead of clean water. I like it better. I have 3 buckets: for white, for black/dark, and for creamy gray. More on recycling clay another time, but here the bucket is used in the throwing. I also scrape off my messy hands into it.

So that was Step 1: Throwing. It took me a little less than an hour to throw these 4 platters. I can do it faster, but I don't usually need to. Set-up and clean up probably took me more time that day.

After the platters reached leather hard, they needed to be trimmed. In this case, it was a week later. I did go back to trim them sooner, but they weren't ready, so I wrapped them in plastic to slow down the drying process, put them back into the wet cupboard, and came back the next time I could.

Depending on what I'm trimming, I need really different tools. For trimming platters, it's pretty easy. I fix the platter to the wheel head using the same Xiem BatMate as before, or I put a thick wooden bat between the wheel head and the pot so that I don't crack the bottom putting pressure on it, depending on how high the walls were. And then I use these tools:

  • Wooden rib - For general cleanup, smoothing after trimming.

  • Apple corer - I'm playing with cheese board ideas and handles, and this makes really nice holes.

  • Soup spoon - I love the soup spoon. I have a bunch that I use in my massage practice for scraping the skin and tissues. One day I needed a new polishing tool at ceramics, and I remembered there was a spoon in my purse. Now it lives in my pottery tools.

  • MudTools Do-All Tool - This is my main trimming tool. It has nice options for different types of trimming. It is a bit of a pain to keep it sharp, though, and I like it really sharp.

  • Ball-ended pointy sculptor - I use this to carve my spider signature in the base of each pot.

  • Small loop trimmer - Sometime the Do-All doesn't quite do what I want. This tool is a really traditional basic shape of trimming tools. They come in lots of sizes and shape variations. I have a few.

In the end, I decided not to use these platters the way I'd originally intended. I spent some time decorating them. There are a few more from the previous set. I will add those pictures later, or you can see them when they're ready by following my Instagram!

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