Tag Archives: DIY

The satisfaction of homemade and ‘found’ pottery tools

Boy whittling a boat from a piece of wood. Source: Wikimedia Commons

You don’t see much whittling these days, but it used to be a major pastime. I tried my hand at it with my white, pearlized pocket knife. My brothers had jack knives and I bet they learned to whittle with them in Boy Scouts. The same skills can be put to use today to  make your own pottery tools. There is much to be said for a tool you make and use. Aside from sounding like an advertisement for the Simplicity Movement, it’s just plain fun. When you pick up your new tool and begin using it, you might catch yourself thinking, “I made this.” It will give you more satisfaction than money can buy. Take a look at some of the sites below for ideas, diagrams, and photos of projects you can adopt for your own. If you are all thumbs, though, or if tool-making just doesn’t interest you, you can still check out the articles about adapting and adopting every day objects.

Sondahl’s Pottery Tips: “How to make your own wedging table, bats, loop tools, trimming tools, plaster stamps, throwing ribs and sticks, sponge sticks, hole punchers, scrapers, and glaze density tester. Also a practical grinding disk to attach to your wheel head.”

Making Your Own Pottery Tools: The use of Elmer’s glue, credit cards, PVC pipe, toilet bowl brushes, and more. Very inventive and wins the Commonsense Award!

CleanMud: Sponge sticks and slab rolling strips. Homemade wood trimming tools and textured paddles by the same artisan can be found here, too.

Pottery Tools You Can Make: About.com’s DIY page for potters includes links to sites that instruct you how to make wedging tables, hand tools, texture rollers, bats, and cut-off wires. Personally, I am interested in the shrinkage ruler and could really use something like that.

Pottery Throwing Tools: A Guide to Making and Using Pottery Tools for Wheel Throwing: Ceramic Arts Daily will give you this e-book for free if you sign up for their daily e-mail about ceramics. It is well worth it and there are plenty more free e-books to be had through them, too. If you don’t want to give them your personal e-mail address, create a new one through hotmail or gmail and have the messages forwarded to your personal e-mail address by adjusting the preferences to the e-mail program.

Round out your ceramics experience by making a tool and you will feel more invested in your art. If you want handmade tools but simply don’t want to make them yourself, you can find nice, sturdy ones at Jepson Pottery Tools or Brothers Handmade.

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Cold Porcelain and Pasta Francesa made from ingredients in your home

Yes, it is smooth. Yes, it is white. Yes, you can fashion things from it. But that is where the similarity ends, because cold porcelain isn’t mineral clay and cannot be fired. It is a modelling compound that you can buy or make yourself, the basis of which is corn starch. After you create something with it, the piece is air-dried, then sealed. If it is unsealed, it can ‘melt’ if it comes in contact with water. Heat is to be avoided, too. There are a number of names for the compound: corn starch clay, cold porcelain and pasta francesa. Victorian salt clay is similar in that it is air-dried. The Artful Crafter says,  “I like the porcelain designation because cornstarch based modeling clays are pure white and if sealed after drying, they actually resemble fine porcelain.” I have searched the web to see what people were doing with it, but have found very little that could be considered finer art. Cold porcelain use is mainly on the craft end of the spectrum. I think that is unfortunate because it seems to be a medium a person can do a lot with. There are some serious cold porcelain sculptors out there and one of them is Pakistani artist, Hussain Awan. “I am a cold porcelain sculptor I strive to open new avenues of art in this medium,” he explains on his Flickr site. Please take a look at his pieces called LifeOld Traditional House, and  Orchids. The Puerto Rican site, A Wild Thing shows a number of small busts made of the material. The site states, “With this paste we carefully craft our unique designs which mostly depict the  heritage of the island.” People in traditional dress are shown on the site. Mexican artist Miguel Armancci has really explored the medium. I like his piece called Triton Rojo. His work has an ethereal feel and the portraits are quite enchanting. I especially like Angel de otoño. However, much of his other work feels too much like manga or is too sexist. Yet, these artisans are among the few who are doing anything serious with cold porcelain. There is an abundance of trite, cute, saccharine work out there but, no matter how well-executed, it is still trite, cute, and saccharine. Clearly, this form needs a wider audience and artist base.  I also believe that it is a very accessible art form.  Not everyone has access to a kiln. In addition, cold porcelain work is a hobby that is not expensive. This is important because the art of making art is for everyone. I appreciate knowing about a modeling compound that can be made from materials in one’s home: cornstarch, oil and glue. A recipe can be found at Noadi’s Art. Sheryl also directs us to her other site for more recipes: Creating with Cold Porcelain. In addition, The Artful Crafter has a list of dos and don’ts and here is an FAQ.


Filed under Articles and Interviews, Featured Artists, Fun, How-to-do-it

Garden ornaments as a basis for a ceramic key hider

Recently, I locked myself out of the house. I had left with my husband, but returned alone. When I got home, I realized I hadn’t taken my keys. Our neighbor wasn’t home, so I couldn’t get our extra key from her. In addition, our hidden key was nowhere to be found. So, I set the ladder up behind the house, removed the beading from the screen on a window and broke in. How many of you have done something similar? You’d think I would’ve learned. However, even more recently, as I was about to leave for a lunch date, I couldn’t find my keys. Turns out my husband had accidentally taken both sets to work and he was a good half hour away. My neighbor wasn’t home and yada yada. Lunch date cancelled and a stay-at-home kind of day. That night, my husband brought home two newly cut house keys! We’ve placed an extra key in the house and one outside, but I’m leery about where we’ve placed the outdoors key. So, today, I thought I’d cover hide-a-key containers. This weekend, I’m starting to make one of these little puppies. The ones I’m featuring in are not made of clay and they aren’t key hiders, however, they can be altered to create one. This Frog Key Hider from amazon.com is a box. Other key hiders have little nooks or, if plaques, have an indentation on the back for magnets.

My Cunning Plan: I’ll use these statues as a starting point for mine. My containers will be one piece, as I intend to carve out a little ledge or area for magnets or a nook. The key will eventually hide on or in that space. I also want my key hider to blend into the environment, so it will look like a stone or garden ornament. I am going to make two or three containers:

  1. Pinch pot. I’ll make a tiny slab for a ledge, securing it with slip.
  2. Carving. Will sculpt from a chunk of clay, then make a little ‘cave’ in the side of the ‘wall’ of the container. Plaque. This will be easy for a tilemaker like me. Will make a well in the back for a magnet that will hold a key.
  3. Glazing. The whole key hider must be glazed, inside and out, as it will be an all-season container.

I will use the garden ornaments below (from the Garden-Fountains site) as a model for mine, though I will alter the design to fit what I want. Of course, glaze will add another dimension. The key hider container must be a design that can be easily recreated in clay. I don’t intend to get locked out again anytime soon!

Four Seasons Obelisk

Hedgehog Plaque

Japanese Mudman

Blackbird’s Revenge

Cattail Oblisk

Zen Frog Statue




Dancing Spirit


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Our DIY greenhouse takes shape!

I’ve been posting about the little greenhouse we’re putting up to use as a season extender. We live in the shadow on the north side of a hill in a temperate rain forest. To date, there hasn’t been a long enough growing season, enough sustained light or hot weather to produce a decent tomato. My Mom graciously gave us a greenhouse kit for Christmas and my husband started putting it up last week, during our first patch of sunny weather this spring. It’s a 4′ x 6′ Exaco EasyStart that we bought through WoodlandDirect.com. It was shipped from Texas to Washington, then I dropped down below the border to pick it up, thereby saving myself cross-border brokerage fees and shipping charges. We are setting it up pretty much opposite our front door, which faces west. This spot gets the most light, except for where my raised bed lies. I promised Mom I’d get a dwarf lemon tree and, besides that, I intend to grow tomatoes and peppers, red, orange, and yellow. Will start seedlings to transplant outdoors, too. It’s small and in proportion to our tiny cottage. The greenhouse has a heavy-gauge aluminum base, coated aluminum frame, and polycarbonate panels. It will have louvred windows for cross-breeze and is embellished with Victorian-style finials across the roof ridge.  We’re happy and thankful! After this project, a new covered porch is next….

Exaco EasyStart Greenhouse


Filed under Fun, Home and Garden, How-to-do-it