Making an oval pot - A potters tale

pjkatich

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I liked what boondock had to say over in his thread on posting greenware and I liked the responses that he received. It's good to see the interest shown in making domestic bonsai containers.

I had decided last week to start a photo documentary covering the process (how I do it) of making a bonsai container from start to finish. Since I have been working on oval pots as of late, I decided to demonstrate an oval. So, in the spirit education and entertainment, I would like to share this process with the fine folks here at BonsaiNut.

At any given point, if you have a question, please feel free to ask.

At any given point, if you have something constructive to add, please feel free to do so.

I encourage active participation. In fact, I will be looking for input from the peanut gallery on how to finish the pots.

That's right, pots. Rule one in making ceramic bonsai containers. If you want one great pot, you should make at least three. There are a great many variables in this proccess and complete or partial failure is never that far away.

So, here we go.

I decided that I would show you how to make a 14" oval bonsai container. This project was started on 02/26/09 and will probably take another 4 to 6 weeks before we have a finished product.

The process begins with the selection of the clay body. I have chosen a commercially available high fired, clay body made of 50% porcelain an 50% buff grey stoneware which comes in 25 pound blocks as shown in photo #1. I like this particular clay body when using blue and green glazes, it really makes them pop. However, the final colors have yet to be determined.

The next thing you need is a good scale as shown in photo #2. I weigh all my clay before I start any project, that way I stand a better chance of maintaining a high level of consistancy in the finished products.

Next, you weigh out the correct amount of clay for the parts and pieces needed to construct the oval.
We will need three lumps of clay for each pot. One for the rim, one for the foot, and one for the bottom of the container. I have determined through trial on error that it takes 1.5 pounds of clay for the foot ring, 3.5 pounds of clay for the rim ring, and 5 pounds for the bottom as shown in photo #3.

Next it's off to the wedging table (photo #4). Here the lumps of clay are worked in a wedging motion to homoginize the clay and help release any trapped air bubbles. At this point, we are ready to get messy.

In photo #5 are a few tools of the trade: an electric potters wheel, a stool, a bucket of water, a couple of bats, a couple of bat pins, a few sponges, and an assortment of throwing tools.

Stay tunes for the next installment it only gets better.

Cheers,
Paul
 

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JasonG

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Hi Paul,

Thanks for sharing with us.... I look forward to following this thread! I am in line to join a pottery class but space is limited and filled up. Hopefully soon someone will skip out so I can go twice a week. I took ceramics in school and have a real basic understanding of pottery. I would love to get my hands dirty and start out making pinch pots for accents and some larger pinch pots that resemble more of a natural lava looking uneven dish of sorts....if that makes any sense, lol!!

Anyways, thanks for taking the time to do this!

Jason
 

ketoi

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Paul,
This is great! Tried again today to do an oval, and again more a mess than a shape. Can't wait for the next installment.
 

pjkatich

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Hi Paul,

Thanks for sharing with us.... I look forward to following this thread! I am in line to join a pottery class but space is limited and filled up. Hopefully soon someone will skip out so I can go twice a week. I took ceramics in school and have a real basic understanding of pottery. I would love to get my hands dirty and start out making pinch pots for accents and some larger pinch pots that resemble more of a natural lava looking uneven dish of sorts....if that makes any sense, lol!!

Anyways, thanks for taking the time to do this!

Jason

It's my pleasure. I hope you find the information helpful when you get started in your class. By the way, it is a hand building class or a wheel throwing class?

I understand completely, I have made pots similar to what you are describing. I will post a few is a different thread when I get the time.

Paul
 

pjkatich

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Day one, installment 2

Now it's time to throw the rim of the first pot. However, before we get started, there is one important thing that must be taken into consideration. Remember, we are making a 14" oval. The clay we are using will shrink during this process (approx. 12%) so we must allow for this shrinkage or our pot will be to small.

The first photo in this installment shows the 3.5 pound lump of wedged clay placed on the bat. The bat is attached to the wheel head by two bat pins. The bat will allow me to remove the thrown piece from the wheel head without causing damage during this inital phase.

Now we need to center the clay on the bat. This is done by spinning the wheel, using some water as a lubricant, and a lot of elbow grease to get the lump of clay perfectly centered on the bat. Photo #2 shows the clay after it has been centered. If this is not done correctly, the thrown piece will not have a consistant thickness and can lead to problems as we progress.

After the clay is centered, we need of drop a hole in the middle of the lump of clay and pull the clay out to the edge of the bat as shown in photo #3. What we have now is a bottomless ring of clay which is ready to form into the wall of our pot.

Next we pull the clay up to the required height and into the general form of our finished pot. This is shown from above in photo #4 and from the side in photo #5. At this point, we have a bottomless ring of clay approx. 14" in diameter and approx. 2.75" in height with the general profile of our finished pot.

At this stage of the game, the clay is very soft. So, I will remove the bat from the wheel head and set it aside to begin the drying process as I make the remainder of the pieces.

Any questions?

More to come.

Paul
 

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ketoi

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Aah, bottomless...I see now...you do it 2 pieces...Haven't seen it done this way but it makes sense! I do one piece, split the side to make the rectangle.

So you remove the ring while it's still soft? how do you get it off with damaging it?
 
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Paul is saying that the ring he threw is actually attached to a disc that can be removed from the wheel head so that he doesn't have to touch the finished product until it gets a little firmer.

Paul, what are your bats made out of? We used to use plaster that we stuck to the wheel with clay globs. Not very elegant, I must say. Yours look very nice. Thanks for sharing this process.

Chris
 

Bonsai Nut

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Paul, this may be a stupid question, but I assume you are doing all of your forming with your hands(?) Ever thought of using a template (at least for the outside) to get a consistent profile? I don't do any potting, but I do a lot of routing with wood. This would be like routing, but instead of moving the blade across the material, you move the material across the blade. There could be tremendous advantages in consistency and efficiencies of scale - especially if you were making more than one pot at a time.
 

pjkatich

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Paul is saying that the ring he threw is actually attached to a disc that can be removed from the wheel head so that he doesn't have to touch the finished product until it gets a little firmer.

Paul, what are your bats made out of? We used to use plaster that we stuck to the wheel with clay globs. Not very elegant, I must say. Yours look very nice. Thanks for sharing this process.

Chris

Chris,

You are correct. At this point the rim is still attached to the bat. The clay is still to soft to handle without making a big mess.

The bats are made of plastic and keyed to fit over two pins that are inserted into the wheel head. I will take a couple of photos for clarification.

Paul
 

pjkatich

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Paul, this may be a stupid question, but I assume you are doing all of your forming with your hands(?) Ever thought of using a template (at least for the outside) to get a consistent profile? I don't do any potting, but I do a lot of routing with wood. This would be like routing, but instead of moving the blade across the material, you move the material across the blade. There could be tremendous advantages in consistency and efficiencies of scale - especially if you were making more than one pot at a time.

Bonsainut,

Please keep in mind that there are no stupid questions.

Yes, the clay is formed by hand and I do use a variety of ribs to help shape the pot profiles. These ribs are similar to templates. I will take a photo of some of the ribs that I use for clarification.

The use of templates in making ceramic pots is not uncommon. I know they are used in Japan to help the potters do exactly what you indicated. However, at this point in time, I am still learning about the pot making process and I like the idea of each pot being different.

Thanks for you input.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Cheers,
Paul
 

pjkatich

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B-nut,

The first photo shows a selection of ribs that I use for forming the clay. They are made from a variety of materials and are used for a number of different functions.

Chris,

The second photo shows some of the bats I use. I mainly use the plastic type and have them in sizes from 12" to 22" in diameter.

The third photo show the wheel head along with the bat pins. The fourth shows the pins inserted in to wheel head and the last one shows the bat attached to the wheel head via the bat pins.

Hope this helps.

Paul
 

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pjkatich

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Day one - installment three

The process explained previously is repeated to form the rim rings for the other two pots we are working on. Photo #1 shows the three rim rings side by side.

Then we repeat the process for each of the three foot rings using the 1.5 pound lumps of clay. Photo #2 shows the three foot rings along with the three rim rings.

Next, it's back to the wedging table to start on the bottom slabs. After the 5 pound lumps of clay are wedged they are layed flat on the table and with the heal of my hand I start to shape the slab.
As shown in photos three, four, and five. The clay is rotated and turned as this process progresses.
 

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pjkatich

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Day one - installment three

Once the oval slab in roughed out I will continue to work the slab using the flop method. Basically, I pick up the slab and flop it back down on the table. The slab is turned and flopped in a different direction each time until we get the approximate size we need. This is shown in the first three photos below. This is repeated for each of the three slabe we will need.

Now it is on to the slab roller. Photo 4 shows the slab roller ready for action.

At this point, I take one of the slabs I roughed out at the wedging table and place in between two pieces of canvas on the bed of the slab roller. This is shown in the last photo.
 

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pjkatich

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Day one - installment three

Photo one shows the slab roller in action. What I am trying to accomplish at this point is to finish off the slab to an even thickness.

After the first pass, the slab is turned, another layer of canvas is layed on top, and the slab is rolled again. I normally roll the slab a minimum of four times. The slab is rotated 90 degrees and another layer of canvas is added between each roll. Photos 2, 3, and 4 shows this process.

Finally, as shown in the last photo, I end up with a even slab of clay approx 3/8" thick and large enough to accomodate the rim ring.
 

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pjkatich

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Day one - installment three

This process is repeated for each of the remaining slabs which are shown in the first photo.

At this point, we have all the parts and pieces needed to move forward with this project. Unfortunately, the clay is to soft to continue so it's time to bag up the pieces and start the drying process.

I start this part of the process by placing a large piece of plastic on top of a ware board. Next I put a layer of newpaper, the rolled slab, more newpaper, the rim ring, the foot ring, and more newspaper. This is shown in the last four photos.

The news accomplished two things, it draws moisture from the clay and it helps control the moisture content of the clay. It is extremely important that all the pieces reach the same moisture content before they are put together.
 

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pjkatich

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Day one - installment three

Finally, the whole lot is covered with plastic (as shown in photo 1) and placed on the shelf for safe keeping.

This process is repeated for each of the other two pots which are placed on the shelf along with the first set.

Photo two shows the pots tagged, bagged, and ready for a rest.

That concludes the work for day one. The three pots will stay on the shelf for several days to allow the moisture content of the clay to even out and the individual pieces to firm up.

Are there any questions at this point?

Stay tuned, more to come.

Paul
 

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Dale Cochoy

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That is some studio there!
Everything you could want , including plenty of room to work and storage, without a cent of investment!
What type of facility is that, college, community ctr, ?

Please tell that you have to AT LEAST clean up your own messes?

Dale
 

bonsaibiker

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Paul, great construction sequence you are posting. I look foreward to following along and seeing the end results. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing your work
 

pjkatich

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That is some studio there!
Everything you could want , including plenty of room to work and storage, without a cent of investment!
What type of facility is that, college, community ctr, ?

Please tell that you have to AT LEAST clean up your own messes?

Dale

Yes, as far as studio facilities go, it is about the best in this area. This studio happens to be at one of the local colleges.

Unfortunately, it is not without cost. There are no free lunches.

Yes, I do have to clean up after myself but it's worth it.

You going to BSF this year?

Paul
 

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