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Tools for Pottery Explained

Oct 26, 2007
Beginners learning how to make pottery and sculpture in clay, will need a minimum of tools. Those basic tools required are outlined below.

Basic Tools Needed

#1 Wedging wire. This tool is made by attaching two pieces of 1/2" dowel to the ends of a 12" copper wire, about 18 gauge. It is used to cut blocks of clay in two in the wedging process. The dowels are used as handles, but they also make the wire easy to find.

#2 Knife. A knife is needed for all trimming and cutting processes, but especially for trimming tiles. Any knife with a short blade such as a paring or Sloyd knife will do.

#3 Metal pallets. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes with a plain cutting edge or a toothed edge. Pallets are used for smoothing or scraping the surface of clay.

#4 Rubber pallet. A rubber pallet is used to clean glaze or slip from the mortars or pans in which they have been mixed. The pallet not only cleans the container, but saves the slip or glaze.

#5 Pointed tool. A pointed tool is needed for a variety of processes, such as incising designs on pottery, or doing sgraffito decoration (scratching designs through slip into the surface of pottery).

#6 Elephant ear sponge. This is a flat, thin, fine-grained, natural sponge, similar in shape to an elephant's ear, from which it gets its name. It is used for finishing surfaces and edges of pottery and sculpture. Cellulose complexion sponges can also be used.

#7 Brushes. Several soft, hair brushes are needed for applying slip and glaze, and for mending. These can be of average quality, such as imitation camel's hair. Nos. 3, 5, 8, and 10 will serve all purposes.

#8 Syringe. A hand irrigating syringe with hard rubber nozzle and a bulb can be purchased in any drug store. It is used for slip decoration .

#9 Wood modeling sticks. Choose a number of modeling sticks of a variety of shapes for the modeling, working, and finishing of clay. Sticks about 6" to 8" long with thin, flat blades are preferable to thick, large ones.

#10 Wire loop tools. Several loop tools with tempered metal loops are necessary for smoothing the surfaces of pottery and sculpture, especially for cutting down high places, for hollowing out sculpture before firing, and for carving and sgraffito work in the decorative processes. Select three or more tools of sizes varying from 8" to 10" long, and with various shaped loops.

#11 Tiles or plaster bats. Tiles or plaster bats are needed for supporting or for keeping objects moist while working on them. Unglazed biscuit tiles, 4" x 4" and 6" x 6", are adequate for most projects. They may be purchased from a ceramic supply house. Plaster bats can be made. They can be used for any size, and especially for work requiring a base larger than 6' x 6'.

#12 Wedging table. If any considerable amount of clay work is to be done, as for example in class or group work, a wedging table is essential. This is a table about 2' deep and 3' long with a cement or plaster top. (The top can be made by first constructing a box about 6" deep with a solid wood bottom. Half fill the box with gravel or pebbles and pour cement or plaster into it until it is even with the top.)

A wedging wire is arranged by erecting a 1' x 2' post at the back of the table. This should project about 2" above the table top and extend down as far as necessary to be well supported. It should be anchored to the table with screws and bolts. A steel piano wire is stretched from the top of the 1' x 2' post to the front of the table. A 2" turnbuckle, set near the top, will help to make the wire taut. (In using the wedging table the clay is cut in two by pushing it against the wire and slamming the two pieces on top of each other.)

Now just purchase some clay and you are on your way!
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