[Clayart] What are you doing?

vpitelka at dtccom.net vpitelka at dtccom.net
Thu Jan 13 16:33:33 UTC 2022

Thanks for that, David.  Entertaining and informative.  You have created a good life for yourself, in collaboration with your exceptional wife.
- Vince

Vince Pitelka
Potter, Writer, Teacher
Chapel Hill, NC
vpitelka at dtccom.net

-----Original Message-----
From: Clayart <clayart-bounces at lists.clayartworld.com> On Behalf Of David Hendley
Sent: Wednesday, January 12, 2022 10:35 PM
To: clayart at lists.clayartworld.com
Subject: Re: [Clayart] What are you doing?

Hi, and happy new year everyone!
I was just thinking, before I read this question, that pottery students might be surprised if they had been following me around for the last few weeks.
Of course, I always clean the studio to start the new year. Yes, it's cleaned if it needs it or not (ha!)

It just happened that I also ran out of clay towards the end of the year, so I arranged to get a pallet of Blackjack clay after the new year. I don't know what other states do, but in Texas businesses are taxed for their inventory on January 1. The total amount I am taxed is trivial for my little enterprise, but, heck, why add to the inventory just to have it added to the tax calculation.

To make clay, I buy a pallet of 'filter cakes' from Blackjack. This consists of 60 30" diameter,
1 inch thick discs of clay stacked on a pallet in a big plastic bag. 
They weigh about 40 pounds
each. This is one pressing of their filter press. The clay is not really usable in this form - the outside rims are too stiff and the the center is too wet, so it needs to be run through a mixer and/or pugmill.

Before I picked up the clay, I mixed up about 1200 pounds of porcelain
(50 EPK, 25
feldspar, 25 silica), so I am combining about 2/3 Blackjack, 1/3 porcelain in my Peter Pugger to end up with my final claybody. The Blackjack alone is okay, but I prefer to lighten it up with the porcelain, and it is still plenty plastic and sturdy enough to have good working properties.

So, this yields about 3500 pounds of clay and will last me a couple of years at my slower 'senior citizen' rate of production these days. It has taken all week to get everything mixed and bagged.
This is the first time I have used my new (used) Peter Pugger for a big batch of clay. I have to say, I am disappointed in it. It's a nice machine, no doubt - well made and substantial, but I was hoping it would save me time, and it does not. My 50-year-old Bluebird mixer and non-deairing pugmill could actually do the job quicker. The hold-up is that the PP needs to run on 'mix mode' for 6 or 8 minutes before it is switched to 'pug mode'.
And, then each batch only gives you about 30 or 35 pounds. The old Bluebird did
120 pound batches.

My solution? Intermingle another job with the clay mixing. I went to the neighborhood pallet factory and got a pickup load of scraps for the wood kiln. So, the routine
became: Start a batch in the Peter Pugger, then unload and stack firewood for 10 minutes while the clay is mixed, then go back inside and pug and bag the clay.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.

So, it's been a solid week of working hard but not producing a single pot! Of course I would not want to do this constantly, but I have to say that I do enjoy ALL the jobs involved in being a potter.

Regarding prices, I have been a little shocked recently at some of the prices for materials.
$40 tin oxide, for example. I don't use lithium and use very little spodumene, but even the 'cheap' materials like kaolin and feldspar have gone up noticeably.
When I called to order the Blackjack clay, I had some concern that they would quote me a substantially higher price, or say that it would take some time to deliver the order. A 15% increase from 2 years ago seemed reasonable enough.

Fortunately, since I knew I was planning on being a potter for life, I bought 'lifetime supplies' of several materials. My fifty pound bag of copper carbonate was about $40 in the 1970s. I have about 5 pounds left. I ran out of my 1970's whole bags of rutile and titanium 5 or 10 years ago and repurchased 50 pound bags of each for less than half of what they go for now.

David Hendley
david at farmpots.com

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