This page is a continuous work in progress as my processes and methods change over time, so will this page. Thank you so much for all of your support and curiosity!
I am often asked, "How long does it take to make a mug?", which quickly digresses to an explanation of the steps to make a simple pot. Below, I endeavor to walk you through this multi-step process. This process is constantly in flux and changes piece to piece, but hopefully this will provide you with a jumping off point. Please contact me with any questions or comments you have.
Throwing the pot
The first step is to throw the pot. Prior to working on the wheel, I wedge (like kneading bread) the clay to homogenize it and make sure it doesn't have any air bubbles in it. Throwing itself involves a number of steps: centering, pulling up (shown left), ribbing, faceting if choose, finishing the rim, undercutting the foot, and slicing it off the wheel. If I am going to trim the bottom of the piece and add a raised foot, then I must make sure to leave enough clay in the bottom for that part of the process.
Trimming the pot
Once the pot has dried to the "leather hard" stage, I can choose to trim the pot or put a foot on it. In the picture to the right I am using a trimming the foot of a "beernomi". The wads of clay on the wheel-head help hold the pot in place as it spins around. I use a steel "ribbon" or "loop" tool for most of my trimming.
Pulling a handle
There are many ways to make a handle. For most of my pieces I attach a pinched "lug" - carrot shaped hunk of clay - to the piece. I then wet the lug and slowly pull the handle into the desired shape and width. Once this is completed I will attach the bottom portion of the handle to the mug and let it set up for at least 10-20 minutes before I backfill the lower attachment. I backfill the lower attachment to give it more visual strength and weight. I have also noticed that it helps my handles flow into the body of the pot more effectively.
Before the first firing can happen, all pieces must be "bone dry". If there is too much moisture left in the clay, pockets of steam can form inside of the piece (this is especially true for larger, thicker pieces) which will explode when they are heated above boiling. I fire almost all of my work to cone 06, 1750ºF, for the bisque firing. This firing usually takes about 8 hours, but can take longer if I need to preheat it slowly if the load contains thicker work. Once a piece has been bisqued the clay has been partially vitrified; it is still porous, but can no longer be recycled back into workable clay.
Glazing the Pots
Glaze can be made of many different minerals. I make all of my own glazes from raw materials which essential boil down to silica (glass), various feldspars (fluxes that help the glaze melt), clay (to stabilize the mixture), and metal oxides for colors. Generally I pour or dip my pots in large buckets of glaze. Occasionally I will paint or spray glazes as well to get different effects.
Once a bisque-fired piece has been glazed, then I will load it into my propane-fueled updraft kiln. I fire the pots to Cone 10, 2350ºF, in a reduction atmosphere. A reduction atmosphere simply means that the gas (fire) is starved for oxygen and is not completely combusting. This forces the gas to pull oxygen from the glazes on the pots and from the clay body. This in turn changes the colors of the glazes and clay as opposed to firing a pot in an oxidation atmosphere (electric kilns fire in an oxidation atmosphere). The final glaze firing usually takes anywhere from 8-13 hours depending on how densely packed my kiln is and the outside temperature. I then have to wait about day for the kiln to cool off before I can unload the work.
Finishing and cleaning the pots
After unloading the kiln I sand and grind the bottoms of all of the pots. This allows them to be used on most tables without scratching them. If any pieces have flaws in their glazes I can try to fire them again, but often times this is less successful than I would like. If any pots have cracks or major defects they get the hammer. If it is minor or if the glaze ran too much then it is a second. Most of my seconds end up in our kitchen or as gifts to friends for watching our dogs.