Spiral wedging looks like a Nautilus cutaway. Source: Chris 73:Wikimedia Commons
To remove air bubbles. To make clay bodies uniform. To soften. For good clay karma? I mainly wedge clay to remove air bubbles…. If the clay you use comes in plastic bags, it has most probably gone through a pug mill. Sometimes, people don’t wedge pugged clay, but I do. I have only had one thing explode in a kiln…that was in the early 90s. But, when something does explode, it can break other things along with your own. Of course, we don’t want our own pieces exploding but it’s oucho! oucho! if we ruin other people’s. One of those pottery nightmares…bad clay karma! The reason I am writing this today is because I’ve been thinking about wedging clay. I’m not happy with the way I’m doing it and I want to learn spiral wedging. So, I’ve been studying a few sites to learn. I originally learned in the early 1970s and it’s time for a refresher course, as I can tell I have started wedging bubbles into my clay lately instead of removing them. So, it’s time to do something about it. At YouTube, I found a number of videos teaching people how to wedge clay. All of the names of the techniques are descriptive. The ram’s head style looks like the head and horn of a ram when viewed from the side, and spiral wedging produces the most beautiful waves. It looks like the Golden Mean found in nature, as with a nautilus section or the growing pattern of a sunflower… If you need to wedge a large amount of clay, learning the spiral method is your best bet. I think most of the guys in these videos are prepping clay to throw, but that doesn’t matter. Throwing or hand building, it all needs wedged clay. Three videos are up. The first one shows Bernard Leach’s grandson, Simon Leach, demonstrating cut and slap, then spiral techniques. (He also gives a throwing demo part way into it, but I stopped it when it got to that point.) His video is the only one that talks about leg placement and posture. While his video quality isn’t good, the info is excellent. The next one shows Michael Cottrell, a professor of sculpture and ceramics at Florida Community College at Jacksonville in North Florida. He is demonstrating the ram’s head and cone technique. The last one is a Japanese language video featuring Yoshio Nakajima of MONO FACTORY. and, while I don’t understand the language, the demonstration is so excellent, I am including it. You will have to bear with when he is pointing to his poster, but even it is helpful if you study it and watch what he’s doing. I think that if I watch these videos, then go over to my canvas-covered table and practice, practice, practice I will soon be wedging my clay in the spiral style. Good luck with your own adventure!
Simon Leach Teaches Spiral Wedging
Michael Cottrell Teaches Ram’s Head and Cone Styles
Yoshio Nakajima Teaches Spiral Wedging (in Japanese)
What we have here today are three fantastic videos in which Simon Leach converts a Skutt electric kiln to a downdraft kiln fired by propane. He is converting the kiln because he wants to do Cone 10 reduction firing and because he feels it is a waste to have these old kilns just sitting around unused. He shows you what to do and how to do it from start to finish. In the first video, he shows you the kiln and what he plans to do. In the second, he’s cut away ports for burners and chimney, added a carborundum shelf, and shows you the science behind how the downdraft will function. In the third part, the kiln is being used for bisque firing. He shows how he’s set up the propane tanks, how the firing is coming along, and how the chimney is working. For anyone who has unused electric kilns that have a bit of height to them, this experiment was a success and it is an economical way to fire. Please take a boo. Leach’s manner of communication is always engaging and you demystifies the process for us. Enjoy.
I have always had a fondness for hardware stores. For some reason, nail bins, hasps, and hammers have always thrilled. Probably because I was a bit of a tomboy… growing up with three brothers and having a Dad who always had a big workbench full of hand and power tools. Somewhere, there’s a photo of me with my leg up on a sawhorse sawing away…while I’m wearing my Easter suit! My grandfather had an enormous shop that I would walk through with reverence when we visited, careful not to touch anything. So, along the way, the importance of having and caring for tools became ingrained in me. Later, I went on to use tools professionally while working in technical theater, building sets and working as a light/sound technician. By that time, tools were friends that helped you get the work done and I knew how to use them well. I guess I was always handy and working with ceramic tools came easy. To me, a tool isn’t just an inanimate object with which I have no relationship. A tool becomes a friend through long use. I remember how upset I was once when I reached for my large pipe wrench and it wasn’t there. It literally winded me. I was attached to that wrench, had used it a good long while, and was stunned when someone told me it had been stolen. Then there was this Kemper tool I had gotten years ago…I lost it somehow and was never able to find again. Maybe they stopped making them, but I’ve never stopped looking for it because it was one of my favorites. I bought one that sort of looked like it last year, but it just doesn’t have the same feel. So, when I saw this video of Simon Leach sifting through a toolbox to show us which clay tools he liked best or to show how he uses them, well, no doubt about it: I was in hog heaven! So, without further adieu….
Folks, I just posted two new demonstration videos…the one below with Shoji Hamada and another (on the right side of the blog) which features of Simon Leach using Shino glaze. Last week, Dan, a fellow partner in crime at the studio, told me there were many Simon Leach videos bouncing around, so I’ve posted this, with more to come. He is Bernard Leach’s grandson and a master potter.