Tag Archives: Ceramics

DIY Kiln Bead Rack

DIY Bead Rack

Bead rack made of insulated kiln brick

Thanks to some good advice, I made a sturdy bead rack for glaze firing. Sadly, the Amaco Bead Tree I bought was problematic at best, so I desperately needed another solution. An alternative was suggested by Dan Severance, pottery guru and ceramics tech at the Port Moody Arts Centre. I’ve taken his advice a step further, customizing it to my needs precisely.

How to make a Kiln Bead Rack

Materials: an N95 face mask, safety glasses, work gloves, one insulated kiln brick (the lightweight kind), a rip saw or hack saw, a ruler, a pencil, narrow chisel or flat blade screw driver, hammer, and short lengths of 11 gauge nichrome wire.

Your basically going to cut a valley in the brick lengthwise. Dan suggested I make a ‘V’ shaped cut, which I will do with another brick, but for my purposes today, I made a ‘U’ shaped cut.


  1. Set up a work station outdoors or in a well-ventilated area. Use a sturdy table or flat surface. Place brick on its side lengthwise.
  2. Determine the width of your ‘U’ shape. Allow for adequate clearance on either side for the bead or pendant you are making. I decided on 7/8″.
  3. Draw two lines the length of your brick, keeping the area you’re going to cut out centred. The two walls of my ‘U’ turned out about 6/8″ wide.
  4. Determine the depth of your cut. My ‘U’ is about 3 1/2″ deep, leaving about a 1″ base.
  5. Put on your safety gear: mask, glasses, gloves.
  6. Using a rip or hacksaw, start making an even cut down through one of the cut lines you made. A rip saw cuts one way: pull it through the brick as you saw, move it back and start again. A hack saw works both ways: use even pressure and saw back and forth.
  7. Saw evenly through the length of both cut lines.
  8. Set aside your saw, then turn the brick over and shake the dust out of the cuts.
  9. Using either a chisel or flat blade screwdriver, carefully chisel out the middle part of the ‘U’, starting from the ends and working inward.
  10. After chiseling and removing debris from the ‘U’, stand it on end and do some ‘clean up’ of the bottom of the ‘U’ with the screw driver or chisel, making a flat surface on the bottom.
  11. Put your tools away and turn the brick over and shake out the dust.
  12. Measure out the lines indicating where the wire will sit on the top of your rack. I measured even lines about 3/4″ apart the length of the brick.
  13. Take your saw and cut crosswise over your ‘U’ to make indentations on either side of the ‘U’. I made mine about 1/8″ deep.
  14. Put your saw away.
  15. Gently widen the grooves with a nail by carefully raking it through the groove.
  16. Take nichrome wire and cut lengths to fit in the grooves. I cut my wire in lengths of about 2″. If you want, bend the wire into a very slight ‘V’. This will ensure your bead or pendant remains in place while firing.
  17. Test the wires out…place across the ‘U’ to see if they fit snugly. Adjust groove to fit your needs.
  18. Voila! Be careful with the insulated brick; it’s slightly fragile but makes a great bead rack that doesn’t take up too much kiln space.
DIY Bead Rack, end shot

DIY Bead Rack, end shot

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The Maltese Falcon, old and new

Different renditions of the Maltese Falcon chatting atop our Victrola

Different renditions of the Maltese Falcon chatting atop our Victrola

Maltese Falcon prop used in the movie, which recently sold for over $4 million.

Maltese Falcon prop used in the movie, which sold for $4.1 million November 25, 2013.

You may have heard that the Maltese Falcon, the original screen-used prop from the movie, “The Maltese Falcon,” just sold for $4,085,000. Auctioned at Bonham’s  in New York City,  the winning bid came over the telephone, an anonymous purchase. It was part of a sale of famous movie props. Historically, there were three authenticated falcon props from the movie: the lead one that just sold, which was in the movie, a backup lead version, and a resin one used in publicity pictures. The sculpture was originally created by an unknown artist, possibly Fred Sexton, a friend of Director John Huston. The resin one was likely sanded down to give the smooth, worn appearance of the prop seen in the film.

Humphrey Bogart, by Karsh, National Archives of Canada, via Wikimedia Commons

Humphrey Bogart, by Karsh, National Archives of Canada, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Maltese Falcon” star Humphrey Bogart described the bird as ‘the stuff dreams are made of,’ paraphrasing Shakespeare. The movie was based on Dashiell Hammett’s book about an iconic statue traced back to the time of the Crusades, a golden bird encrusted with precious jewels. In the book and movie, it turns out that the falcon in question is made of painted lead, that the buyers had been duped into purchasing a decoy. Character Joel Cairo offered Sam Spade $5000 for the black bird, so the value has certainly appreciated, since the movie was made, in 1941, and since the book was written, in 1930.

The bird begins to take form, April 2013.

The bird begins to take form, April 2013.

Well, the black bird is something that is part of our everyday life here at Jane Street and, in fact, there are six Maltese Falcons in our house. One is made of painted  plaster and likely linked back to the Sexton statue before it was altered for the movie. Another from that mold is made of resin, but has feathers smoothed down to match the movie version. One is a purchased bird made by a sculptor who copied photos of the resin falcon. The rest have been sculpted by my husband. The first is made of wax and was sculpted when he was in his 20s. Then, we have the newest versions, based on a masterpiece. A paper clay master was sculpted last April, from which four were cast and finished in the fall.

Making the mold; casting the clay master.

Making the mold; casting the clay master.

Pouring black urethane resin into the silicone mold.

Pouring black urethane resin into the silicone mold.

An exciting moment! The Maltese Falcon!

An exciting moment! The Maltese Falcon in raw form.

Since, the bird is in the news, so I thought you might be interested in this story, newsworthy in itself. The detail on the replica clay sculpture is incredible and the proportions are perfect. Mark started off by studying printed off, blown-up movie stills and other photos of the bird. He used them as references for his sculpture. After that, the actual work commenced. Beginning with a 25 lb. block of paper clay, he began marking out the design. Day-by-day, he worked on the sculpture, spraying it down and covering it with paper and plastic after each session. He was meticulous in his work and the resulting sculpture looks exactly like the Maltese Falcon in the movie. After completing his clay master, he built a mold out of MDF, sprayed the master with mold release and cast it with Smooth-On Sorta-Clear 40, a semi-transparent food grade silicone. He then cut it apart, removed the sculpture, cleaned it, sprayed it with mold release then put it back together for the next step. Cinched tightly with ratcheted straps, he mixed black urethane resin and poured it into the mold. The chemical reaction creates much heat…the bird was very hot when it was removed from the mold. Next, he fixed defects with automotive filler and covered the bird with many coats of black primer, which he then buffed with fine steel wool. The paper clay sculpture is unweathered. So far, he’s cast four birds from the silicone mold, sanding each down to give the trademark weathered appearance. He did a great job!

“Mr. Spade, have you any conception of how much money can be got for that black bird?” — Kaspar Gutman

The finished replica of the Maltese Falcon.

The finished replica of the Maltese Falcon.


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Raku Kitty

A slide show of a recent dry raku workshop is coming soon. In the meantime, I thought you might find these photos amusing. Our cat, Rosie, has taken to a shallow bowl I fired that day. She doesn’t look happy about having her photo taken here, but she adores that bowl. Whether it’s on the floor, couch or table, she’s in it. No chance to use it for anything else, as she has fully appropriated it! Dan Severance’s dry raku workshop was grand and I’m glad I fired more pieces, as I need something to show for it, something I can call my own. 🙂


Rosie in her bowl.



Rosie sleeping; Hudson Bay blanket backdrop.

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November 13, 2013 · 7:03 pm

Raku workshop this weekend

Horsehair Vase Judge's Special Award Mashiko 2006 Swanica Ligtenberg

Horsehair Vase Judge’s Special Award Mashiko 2006 Swanica Ligtenberg.
“Horsehair Raku Technique: taking out of the kiln at 1350F and putting horsehair on the pot which burns into it. Putting the pot on a tissue will give smoke effects on the pot. The yellowish color is from spraying ferric chloride on the put while it is hot.”
By Swanica via Wikimedia Commons

You know how you feel when something exciting is about to happen? Well, I can barely contain myself! I am taking part in a raku workshop this weekend. It is being taught by Dan Severance, of the Port Moody Arts Centre. A pro with much experience, Dan is also fun to be around. He’s perfected his techniques over the years and I know this all-day workshop will be terrific. We’ll be learning special raku techniques using horse hair and feathers, along with ordinary methods. I’ve worked with raku since the early 1980s but have yet to learn these advanced techniques. It’s perfect timing, as I’m going to start concentrating on raku.


Raku pottery coming out of the kiln. Photo via Wikimedia Commons


A vase glazed and fired using the Western Raku technique, showing the soot, crackle glazing, and random oxidation typical of this pottery form. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

 I like the primitive nature of a raku firing…red hot pieces lifted from a kiln and plunged into organic matter. Crackle glazes and smoky blacks. It makes me reflect on the history of raku, on the Japanese and Koreans artisans who have fired pottery this way for centuries. One reason I’m stoked is because, while I’ve used traditional raku glazes on sculptures and vessels, I’ve yet to use the metallic oxides which result in beautiful coloration and patterns. So think of us this weekend. We’ll be working inside a gorgeous two-storey Arts and Crafts-style building, then firing outside alongside it. We’re enjoying a gorgeous fall here in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Perfect for a raku firing: sunny yet crisp.

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