Hobby Pottery

You need to price your work to cover your expenses and time, so that you end up ideally with a profit.People that under price hurt others!

I hate being at a festival with $30 mugs and people acting like I asked for their first born son.

Particularly at shows, a lot of people will be part time/hobby potters.

And particularly with hobbyists, the amount of time involved often does not factor into the sale cost as heavily as it should. They are working for fun, and are selling to recoup costs to continue that. Profit is a happy side effect where it occurs. If you are pricing to live off of your profits (and everyone – whether they need to or not – should do so) then it is next to impossible to compete with that attitude on price.

And, unfortunately, in a lot of general sales price will matter far more than quality.

I have taken advantage of that on occasion with really low effort shapes. Plain coffee mugs are great for it, though I can’t quite get down to $10 and still make money on them. I endeavor never to sell an item for less than it is worth, including the cost of my time. If you want to compete with people who do underprice their wares, you can only do it by cutting cost somewhere.

Cutting your prices to compete without altering the amount of effort/time/material you input will only drive you broke.

It sounds cynical, but the sorts of people who go to a general sale with a load of different potters tend not to buy anything of worth. They want something handmade, unique, beautiful, and the same price as that mass-produced teapot they saw at Pier 1 last week. They are willing to compromise on all of those things, except the price.

It’s hard to push a $80 mug, even if it did take me hours to make whereas I can sell 50 $15 mugs at a busy farmers market no problem. Save the nice expensive things for gallery shows. If you want to compete in that market, make cheap tat that takes you 5 minutes to throw and 15 in total. I paid for a couple of cars like that.

Soul crushing after a while and I wouldn’t want to go back to it, but it works.

Now?

I ask what the piece is worth. I know you can get pieces cheaper at walmart, but it is an art form that I put a lot of time into and it should be valued for that. If you don’t like my work or don’t have the money that is fine, but don’t tell me that I price too high. I price to make money and make it worth my time.

Skill In Forms

Learning how to throw simple forms will give you a lot more of a skill to build from. Some people like to try and make modls when they first start out, but even when I first started out on my old beater kick wheel and I could already knock out something like a pint glass pretty consistently in about 10 minutes.

I could probably turn them out faster than I could turn over a single slip mold

The nice thing about practice is that you will also end up with a pile of bowls and cups as you’re learning that take glaze just as well as a pint glass.

A nice wheel takes a little bit to get going but it will spin for days once it’s there then it’s just going to be the nature of that wheel.

If it takes a lot to get it going and it stops in less than a couple minutes then it’s probably that the bearings are shot and need replacing. My wheel has sealed bearings (no way to add grease) and are original equipment from I’m assuming sometime in the 50s or 60s.

Paragon and Other Kilns

What I have learend about the paragon is that it will be easier to find parts for–they’re still in business, and they supply elements for their old kilns, kiln sitter parts are still available and are not brand specific.

I think skutt might have bought the design, but I can’t remember.

The Alpine is old, Alpine does still exist, but I have no idea how far back into their product line they support–they are currently more known for building gas kilns, so I’d call them before I even considered that–it also looks substantially more beat up, and personally I wouldn’t pay the asking price for it.

One thing that you can do is to find out what model paragon that is and give paragon a call. Ask them to give you the resistance readings for the elements, and then ask them to walk you through reading these measurements either through the plug, or at the elements… You can do this with a cheap multimeter from radioshack or harbor freight–as long as it measures between 0-100 ohms, you should be fine… The point in doing this is to see if the elements read a significantly LOWER resistance than a new set would–this plus a visual inspection can tell you roughly how much life is left in them. As someone noted above, elements are expensive (for a kiln this size between 35.00-50.00/element.

If you bide your time, you can find a good used kiln, believe it or not, they’re a dime a dozen, and they really don’t hold their value in the same way that a wheel does (mostly because of the expensive consumables involved in the form of elements, but also because the insulating fire brick they are made of is relatively fragile, and it moves, shifts, and breaks over time.)

Things to check before you buy a kiln:

  • phase and voltage of the kiln.
  • phase and voltage of the power source where you are installing said kiln (the above two need to match–if they dont, it wont work.)
  • make sure as someone mentioned above that your breaker is adequately sized (20% larger than the kiln’s draw–this is listed on most newer kilns’ nameplates)
  • make sure the kiln will fire to your target firing temperature. There is almost no benefit to firing to cone 10 in an electric kiln since the atmosphere doesn’t change, you can get roughly the same color palette in oxidation at 10 as you can at 6. Firing most electric kilns to cone 10 regularly GREATLY diminishes the life of your elements.

A good resource for electric kiln elements is Euclids.

If you find an older kiln in good physical condition that needs new elements they can help you. I’ve used them several times now to replace elements in electric kilns.

There is no need to call the original kiln manufacturer to replace elements, so if you find an old Cress or Knight kiln in good physical condition you have options.

Most 7 cubic foot octagon kilns run on a 60 amp 220V breaker, the same as an electric stove. Check the main breaker for your house and see if you have space in your panel. Make sure you have the available 240 volt power and correct amperage breaker.

Your breaker size needs to be 20% greater than the actual amps of the kiln you purchase. Also make sure the kiln you get is specifically labeled as 220 or 240 volt. If it is 208 volt, it is not correct for residential power and will not function normally. Also make sure it is a single phase kiln, as three phase will not work and will require conversion to single phase, which is not always easy.

So look first to see what size in amps of breaker you can handle, and find something to fit that range.

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE SHOULD YOU TRY AND DO ANY OF THIS YOURSELF. ONLY USE CERTIFIED ELECTRICIANS!!!

Tall Cylinders

Tall cylinders are tough but good practice, and 15″ to 16″ out of one ball of clay is probably the physcial limit for most clays. It’s possible to throw taller than 15 inches from a single ball of clay, but you run into the law of diminishing returns.

It requires much less effort to throw large forms in sectionals or with coil throwing than to try and throw a 20″ or 30″ form from one ball of clay. The bottom simply needs to be too thick to support the upper walls at those sizes and you wind up with a ton of trimming needed and a much less delicate and refined form.

Several years back I was on a kick of throwing large forms in one go, and the best I was able to manage was 30 inches from a 43 lb ball of clay. It took forever, killed my hands, required a lot of trimming, and was absolutely hideous.

Throwing in sections, I was able to easily get a 4 ft tall pot, with no more effort than throwing 4 12 inch tall pieces. It’s just simply not worth it to throw much bigger.

I’m sure with everything perfectly prepared, right clay, right wedging, right water content in the clay, right hand positions, you might occasionally get past 16″ but you could probably take the same effort and put the work into stacking two cylinders to make something much taller, much quicker.

With that in mind, a few tips: Slow down your wheel on your later pulls. Dry your clay out as stiff as you can stand to throw. Wedge your clay completely, and then a bit more. Three or four pulls is usually the maximum, any more and you are just working water in to the clay and your cylinder will be shorter, not taller. Pay close attention to the second and third pull, and don’t hesitate to do a “half pull” that starts half way up the cylinder and moves up. Keep your fingers at 3:00 on the cylinder, if one slides away from the other you won’t compress and get a clean pull.

And of course everybody knows that a good India pale ale will help more than anything.

Molding

You can make an earthenware slip. As for pros and cons I find earthenware to be far too messy in any application.

I just hate that it stains everything and it will probably stain your mold.

Though the benefit of it over earthenware is it usually has a low vitrification which means that it becomes more waterproof at lower temperature due to iron content.

So yeah, it’ll be safe either way.

The only time it could be potentially “Dangerous” is if there is a non-food safe glaze in your studio, which is doubtful but it’s always good to check.

You don’t want poisons leaching into your food.

Also, just for future reference for vessels and glazes: Make sure the glaze fits your clay body. Crazing can be a nice effect but can make it impossible to clean. The same goes for crawling glazes. To be fair I am drinking out of a coffee cup with a shino glaze inside, and I am still alive!

I’ve made molds a thousand times but still forget things.

I would make a mold with four to six pints so you can make them in batches and the thicknesses will all be the same in the batch. Get a big plastic tub to pour the plaster in, to save the trouble of making kottle boards for what is probably going to be a one off for you.

Remember you don’t have to use an actual pint glass – any cylinder could work. So buy cheap plastic cups for your original. If there is printing on the bottom or other marks, you could try sanding them off, or filling them in with clay so you don’t have the manufacturer marks on the bottom.

Wear a respirator and or work outdoors when you mix the plaster. Don’t want the dust getting in the clay studio.