In both my functional and sculptural work, I use very thin slabs of porcelain and I find that a pasta machine allows me to quickly roll out a very thin, even slab. Pasta machines can be purchased from kitchen stores, hobby stores, and even clay suppliers. I purchased mine at a hobby store for about $25.
Prepping the Roller
To begin, secure your pasta machine to a stable worktable. I use a couple of large C-clamps (1)—the small bracket that came with my roller isn’t deep enough to accommodate most tables. You will also need a strip of thin canvas or other fabric as wide as the pasta machine’s rollers and twice as long as the desired length of your final thin slab. It’s very important to use canvas or fabric when rolling clay with a pasta machine, as the clay will otherwise stick to the metal rollers. I use cut up canvas dropcloths, and keep a couple different lengths on hand. Fabric thicker than this will have trouble rolling through the machine.
To begin, roll out a ¼-inch-thick slab by hand or on a slab roller. The pasta machine may struggle with slabs thicker than ¼ inch. Cut a rectangle out of the slab and place it on your canvas strip with the left side of the rectangle at the halfway point of the canvas (2). I make my starting rectangle of clay just about as wide as the machine’s rollers and about a quarter of the length of the canvas strip. This allows for the slab to get longer without running out of canvas. Fold the rest of the canvas strip over the clay so the clay is sandwiched between the halves of the canvas strip, right near the fold (3).
Set the pasta machine’s dial to the thickest setting. Feed the canvas strip, folded edge first, through the pasta roller with one hand while turning the crank with the other (4). As the canvas and clay begin to feed through, you may have to use one hand to guide the canvas out from under the rollers and onto the table.
If you need a thinner slab, turn the dial on the machine down one setting at a time and reroll the clay. Before feeding the clay through again, peel the canvas back from the clay then replace it. Flip the canvas and clay over and do the same to the other side. It’s very important to release the clay from both sides of the canvas before rerolling the slab, as this allow the slab to get thinner without sticking to the canvas and binding up through the rollers (5). If the clay sticks to the canvas, when you attempt to remove the slab, it will pull, stretch, and become uneven in thickness.
The ultimate thinness (6) you can achieve will depend on your specific clay body and how much moisture is in the clay. If the clay is a little too wet, it’s helpful to switch between different strips of canvas as you thin the slab, so the canvas strips can dry between uses.
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