Wheel-y Happy Potter Girl!

Well – as you may be able to tell from the title… I did it. I bought a wheel!

I didn’t just go out and grab the first thing I saw – oh no. As you may expect if you’ve read my blog – I’m a bargain hunter! Pottery equipment can be ridiculously expensive, but it doesn’t always have to be. We don’t have tons of money spare each month and perhaps because of my prolonged student days, I am determined to get value for money. So, I did my research.

From reading online, having extremely limited space (home potter, no studio, everything needs to be tidied away!) and having a small budget, I had been monitoring Gumtree and eBay for weeks. The wheels that came up were often kick wheels or very old electronic wheels, very large, very heavy and very far away. Only once did I see a smaller, new Brent wheel come up on gumtree, but that was about 4 hours away and still had a hefty price tag and again – was too large for the space I have available. I mentioned in an earlier post that I had been looking for something like the Shimpo Aspire table top wheel, but was initially reluctant to pay the £500 price tag. I had looked at having one shipped in from overseas as they are significantly cheaper in the USA and other countries, but there was always going to be an issue with voltage. I didn’t want to spend a few hundred quid on a tiny, flimsy model, or risk shipping one over and it blowing up the first time I pluged it in! Slowly but surely it became clear that if I was going to spend the money,  that it was worth going for a reliable, well made wheel. 

Initially I had decided on the Shimpo Aspire table top hand lever model, which was a little cheaper than the foot pedal model. However after talking it through with Beloved, he made the point that this was going to be ‘my wheel’, not one I will be looking to upgrade. The foot pedal was £50-100 more, depending on the site, but in the big scheme of things, if I had a hand lever wheel I might want to upgrade to a foot pedal in a few years, which would cost £500-1,500. Whereas spending an extra £100 now, would mean no need to upgrade. He makes sense my beloved. Foot pedal it was then!

I have found consistently that Scarva.com is the cheapest retailer online. I always check the Potclays website and Bath Potters, as well as many others. However the price of the wheel I had decided on, the table top Shimpo Aspire RK-5TF, the lightweight table top machine with a foot pedal, varied massively on UK sites:

  • Bath Potters: £606 (including VAT, but not postage)
  • Potclays: £648 (including VAT calculated at 20%, not including postage)
  • Scarva: £530 (including VAT and just £12 postage)

So buying the wheel from Scarva saved me perhaps £100! (The hand lever Shimpo Aspire is currently £469 incl. VAT – again, more than £100 cheaper than similar sites). I don’t know why they are able to sell it so much cheaper, perhaps it has something to do with being based in Northern Ireland or because they have extra stock (?!), whatever the case, I was happy I was investing in a good, sturdy wheel at the best price I could find online.

As I was buying a wheel I realised it would be important to invest in a few more tools. Again I looked around online and found that Scarva was cheaper or equal to the cost of the same items on other sites. I decided on a sponge on a stick, a rubber kidney and two other sponges I thought might be useful. Scarva’s “own brand” of sponges/kidneys were the best price on the Web and so I went for them all except a blue mud tool sponge which has gotten rave reviews. (I’m not entirely sure the items are their own brand, the pieces doesn’t have Scarva branded on them, but they are listes on their sites as Scarva). 

I thought that adding them to my wheel shipment would save on postage but actually the combined postage for the wheel and tools was £20, whereas if I separated them into two orders the postage was £12 for the wheel and around £3 for the tools – saving myself around £5!
I ordered the wheel and the tools at the weekend and they had arrived by Wednesday!! Scarva did not disappoint!

I also picked up some chamois cloth on eBay – it was £10+ on Scarva and only £3 on ebay for two. Although it is synthetic, I think for the purposes of pottery and especially at my level, it won’t make too much of a difference! I also bought a new book (on sale on Amazon.co.uk) which had gotten great reviews and had step by step guides to different techniques, ways to make your own tools and answers to common problems! I’ve pretty much read it cover to cover and it’s been very useful already.

I finally got to have a go on my wheel this morning! I spent last night watching Simon Leach videos on centring clay, making basic cylinders and bowls and so this morning, while Little One was at the childminder, I had a go myself! This was my set up, Shimpo on a stool, clay and tools on the floor and myself on wooden chair.

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I saw that Simon Leach used 400g balls of clay to make small bowls with so I weighed out some balls of clay and tried to centre them! Initially the clay wasn’t sticking to the bat at all, when I tried to put pressure on the clay to centre it, it simply stayed stationary rather than rotate with the wheel. After a few failed attempts, I did a quick google and read that with plastic bats this can be an issue. I read that drying the plastic bat, throwing the clay down with force and then pressuring the clay downwards before trying to cone it or bring it back together seemed to do the trick. The clay dried a lot faster than I realised as well! I also realised there is an awful lot more wastage with throwing – I’m used to keeping all my scraps with hand building! So I I emptied my splash pan into a bowl once I was finished, to reclaim the clay at a later date.

I don’t have any photos because I was covered in slurry! But it was really, so, so much fun. I’m so grateful to Simon Leach for putting up those videos and it was well worth reading through some books before having a go. I managed to centre the clay a few times, make cone shapes and then begin to make cylinders and bowls, but at that stage it all went wobbly! But for now I will concentrate on just getting centring down, coning and compressing. EXCITING!

One WHEEL-y happy PG!! x

Chess pieces take 2

Morning! Monday is here again.

Over the weekend while beloved was watching the Euros I was busy with my first attempt at making my chess set. I used my 6mm rolling guides to roll out a slab and then cut out rectangles for the pawn pieces. 6mm was far too thick so I rolled down to 4mm which was much better and went on re-cutting my shapes! I used the handle of a wooden spoon to shape the pieces into cylinders but after getting 10 or so done, the difference between the pieces was far more than the uniformity and so I scrapped them. I actually thought at the time that I will have to change my design as little cylinders were proving very tricky to get uniform. (I’m not aiming for perfection but there does need to be some continuity in height / thickness).

I thought about making solid pieces or hollowing out lumps of clay.. nothing really seemed more effective. Then I thought – I can make one long cylinder around the wooden spoon and cut pieces from this! And..  It worked!

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I’ve made a few spares but these are my pawns and rooks (rooks need some shaping still) but I’m well chuffed!

There is a fair bit more to do but now I have a method that works, creating the basic forms isn’t too bad!

PG x

Scarva & eBay delivery: New tools!

My much anticipated delivery from Scarva arrived today. It looks like not a lot, and you’d be right, I didn’t buy copious amounts, but what I did buy I selected carefully.

Inside you’ll see a 80 mesh sieve, a white storage container and lid (with some free haribo thrown in?!) and two sets of rolling guides – 6mm and 9mm. The sieve was just shy of £10 (expensive and more than I wanted to pay, but I’m happy with the quality ) and was the perfect size to fit into the white container to finally, FINALLY finish off making my first batch of slip!

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I will get to the roll guides in a moment, but I also wanted to show the two acrylic rolling patterns I picked up off eBay! The two are actually sugarcraft rollers for icing and together were less than £4 including postage – very similar things are sold on Scarva and other sites for £11+. I have to say the indentation isn’t very deep, but they make a reasonable impression in the clay and were dirt cheap. Over all I’m really happy with them!

To test out my new rolling apparatus I used my rolling guides to roll out a slab (still a lot more hard work than a slab rolling machine!!) and cut the shapes required for a mug from paper templates I’d made earlier. I then left the clay to dry short while before using the acrylic rolling pins to add the design.

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The rolling guides from Scarva were £3.14 each, which I think it an awful lot considering they are quite literally two tiny pieces of wood. To be honest for the price I would have at least expected some sanding down or something, but the wood hasn’t even been smoothed down – I nearly gave myself a splinter! If the B&Q near me hadn’t just shut down, I would have made a trip there to pick up the pieces of wood for hardly anything. If I want different thicknesses in the future, that is certainly where I would go. But as it is, I paid for them (lesson learned) and they did the job fine.

So. I have my rolling guides… let the fun begin!!

PG x

EU Referendum: A sad day for the Arts

Today has been an exhausting rollercoaster ride of emotions. I woke at 4am to the unthinkable – the Leave campaign was in the lead. Today I feel heart broken, disappointment, shame but most of all anger. Anger that my little one wont grow up with the same opportunities that I have had. Today I am ashamed to be British.

Now this is a blog about pottery and ceramics and so I’ll leave this with a final comment – what will Bexit mean for the arts? The Arts have benefitted enormously from EU support whilst domestic funding has been slashed and burned by successive Tory governments. What impact will this have on local and community art groups, art departments in schools, support for emerging and existing artists, and the continuity of British artistic skills and innovation that were once celebrated? Today I feel utter despair.

Patience is a virtue (that I struggle with)

I have a morning free and to myself and of course, my thoughts turned to clay.

But. To progress any further with what I want to make, I need to roll slabs.

But. I am still waiting for my order from Scarva.

I ordered the package at the weekend (5 days ago) and it is now Thursday… and I’m still waiting. It should be delivered Royal Mail… I paid nearly £4 for shipping, from within the UK…

I don’t want to waste clay by making something I don’t want to make. Maybe I’ll try and think of a pinch pot thing I can make.

Patience is a virtue I am struggling with.

PG x