A Lathe by any other name still goes round and round

Several weeks ago, Mary and I went to visit  my cousin, Tim, and his wife, Diane.  Tim and Diane are potters.  Tim “throws” big pots, while Diane does built up and molded work.  You can see more of their work at www.millerspondpottery.com .

Cousin Tim with one of the jardineres he “throws”

While watching Tim at his potter’s wheel, I was struck by the realization that it was very much like a lathe with a vertical axis.  Of course when someone mentions potter’s wheel to me and I immediately think of Demi Moore in “Ghost”.  But as Tim explained it to me the actual process of throwing big pots is very similar to bowl turning, especially segmented turning. First a block of clay is “mounted” on the wheel and the shape is “pulled” up.  Now you might think that the big pot above would be “pulled” all in one session.  As with so many things in life, what you think isn’t always the way it really works.  Remember, clay is a plastic material and subject to the rules of gravity.  Perhaps a fourth of the overall height is established in the first session, then the vessel is set aside until it reaches a state that potters call soft leather hard.  Why do call it that?  Because the material is still pliable but can support a greater load without deformation and feels like leather.  At this point the potter adds coils of clay stock to the top of the vessel and blends them into shape.  The process is very much like adding segmented ring sections. Another big misconception many folks have is that the potter does all of the work with his hands.  I noticed that Tim had a shelf full of tools, many of which looked vaguely familiar.  He explained to me that the final shape is really a result of  “trimming” , the part of the process in which tools are used to remove stock.   Trimming, I found, was very similar to turning.  The big difference being that Tim uses no tool rest.  He simply anchors his elbows into his body for support.  Finally, Tim said “sit down and give it a try”.   So I did.

Many of the tools Tim uses are like hook tools used by some woodturners. Note the four jaw “chuck” on top of the wheel

Of course Tim tried to convince me to go home and build a wooden framed “foot” wheel and take up yet another non-revenue producing avocation.  I must admit it’s pretty interesting stuff.  But I think I’ll stick to woodworking and let Tim and Diane take care of the pottery.  By the way, professional pottery making takes up every bit as much space as woodworking.  It’s probably not something you can do in a one bedroom apartment.

Diane in the glazing area

I’m sure Mary and I will be heading back down to Miller’s Pond before too long.  It’s an idyllic spot and there’s a lot to learn from fellow crafts people.  I’m always struck by the similarities between crafts and how good ideas universally impact almost every area of endeavor.      

Getting away from pottery for a moment, Matt (a fellow pole lathe devotee) is selling a Underhill style lathe at a very good price.  If you’re interested go to his Craigslist listing cedarrapids.craigslist.org/tls/2984451622.html

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