Mud Oven Progress

Over this long weekend, we spent a little time relaxing and visiting with friends which was really great. We also took advantage of the extra day off work to begin work on our latest project at the farm/studio – a mud oven (sometimes called a cob oven). My husband bakes amazing breads and is looking forward to baking in this primitive oven.

Kevin actually began the project last weekend by building a base for the oven. The base is on casters so we can move it around the kiln shed and tuck it out of the way while it’s not in use.

With the base completed, this weekend we began with construction of the oven by soaking a hundred pounds of clay shavings left over from trimming my pottery in buckets of water to rehydrate the clay to be used in the inner layer of the oven.

Once the clay was ready, we spread a layer of sand to level the next layer of insulating fire bricks. On top of the insulating fire bricks, we placed a layer of fire brick

Next, a dome of sand is placed on top of the fire bricks to create a mold for the oven shape


On a tarp we mixed sand with the mud (clay) we moistened earlier.

A four inch layer of the sand/clay mixture is pressed over the sand mold.

And that’s where the weekend ended. This layer on the oven will dry slowly for a while. Next it will receive a layer of clay and insulating material and followed by a third layer of clay. Check back in a couple weeks for the next segment of construction.

Throwing a Pottery Bowl

Lots of people ask how things are made so I thought I’d put together a little photo series on how I make a bowl. Everybody makes things a little different, but the general steps are similar. Notice through all the steps my hands are always touching each other, this helps provides added stability to fight the action of the moving clay. I also make every attempt to have my elbows close to my body and often on my legs to provide stability and to use my body as leverage when using large balls of clay.
I start with 1.5 pounds of clay which is kind of thrown onto the center of the wheel. Because the clay ball is oddly shaped and uneven, it must be centered which involves pushing down on the ball with my right hand and pushing in with my left hand on the side to smooth out the bumps and lop-sidedness of the clay ball. When you’ve centered the clay, it looks like the photo below.

Clay ball is centered when my hands don’t wobble as the clay spins

Next I press my fingers down at the center of the clay ball to a point about 1/4″ from the bat (wood piece added on the metal wheel head allows me to remove the bowl on the bat while it is still wet without distorting the bowl) I test the thickness by stopping the wheel and poking a needle tool through the bottom of the depression I’ve made until it touches the bat.

Once I have the appropriate thickness at the bottom, I pull out the sides by pressing my fingers outward and steadying the clay with the outside hand

I make the sides of the bowl taller and thinner by pressing the clay upward between my fingers on the outside and inside of the clay. Starting at the bottom and moving my hands upward while putting pressure on the clay moves clay upward and outward.

A second pull is done just like the first one

And a third pull brings it to the sides as tall as I’d like them and the clay is at the appropriate thickness. Many potters subscribe to the “three pull rule” when throwing. I’m not really a stickler for that, but generally after three pulls I’ve gotten my clay to the state I’d like. Occasionally more pulls are necessary, but my clay starts to get too wet and unmanageable after that.

Using a wood rib, I shape the bowl to a more pleasing curved shape and smooth out any lines left from pulling the clay.

A small piece of chamois is used to smooth and shape the rim of the bowl. This is an easy area to have rough spots so I like to make sure it is smooth.

After drying for several hours to the leather hard stage (you can touch it, but your fingers don’t leave marks) I place the bowl on a tool called a Giffon Grip. What you can’t see in this picture because the wheel is spinning is these little pads on the side of the bowl which hold it in place and centered while I trim the excess clay from the bottom and create a pleasing foot ring.

After trimming the foot ring it is important to smooth this area as my clay is a little rough and sharp edges on the bottom of pots could scratch surfaces like table and counters.

Once trimmed the bowl is left to dry, then it will be bisque fired and glazed. I’ll cover those stages in a later post.
Check back again. Be well.

Tall Vase

A while back I told you about a tall vase I’d custom made for a customer. She was looking for a tall vase to match the previous items she’d ordered and would fit in a perfect location in her home. I’d included a picture of the vase shortly after it had been thrown and while it was sitting drying. Well, that vase has been completed and it turned out gorgeous. Previously it was around 20″ tall, but after drying and firing, it is currently around 18″ tall.

Shrinkage is common in making pottery. When making an item, you always have to consider the size you want it to be when it is completed, know your clays shrinkage rate and then figure the size to make it while the clay is wet. This is also important in making pieces that need lids or other parts that fit together. Thanks for stopping by.

Oblong Platter

I unloaded the kiln last night and was very pleased with some of the results. It’s always a mystery which pieces will turn out as I’d hoped and I’m sometimes disappointed. This opening, I was please with nearly everything and very excited about a new design I’ve been working on. I’ve began making some oblong platters using clay slabs made with a handy piece of equipment called a slab roller. It works a lot like an old wringer washing machine. (Am I old or what?!). The clay slab is draped into a carved wooden bowl/platter shape I purchased while in Virginia a month or so ago. Here is a picture of the carved bowl. The wood draws the moisture out of the clay aiding in the drying process. When the piece is leather hard, I use slip to decorate the inside of the platter. And here is a picture of the piece I took out of the kiln last night. It is glazed in a rutile green glaze which flows nicely over the slip texture. I’ve got several other platters like this to glaze and fire and I can’t wait to see how they look.