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Published Jul 1, 2019

large clay potsHow many times do you find yourself wishing you had a giant vat of glaze to dip a large clay pot into because it is too big for your five gallon bucket? Of course, even if you had that giant vat, chances are you would have a piece that is too heavy and unwieldy to dip anyway. That's when potter Daniel Johnston's glazing wheel would come in handy. Johnston, a maker of very large pots (see exhibit A, left), fashioned his glazing wheel out of necessity. Preferring the look of poured or dipped ceramic glazes to brushed or sprayed, Johnston had to come up with a system of pouring his glazes that minimized waste and gave him the look he wanted.

Today, Daniel shares how he made his glazing wheel and discusses how he glazes large clay pots. Plus, he tells us a little about the large-jar construction techniques he learned in Thailand. - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

Savin Silakhom and Thongwan Sirwan coiling large clay pots in Savin’s workshop in Phon Bok, Northeast Thailand.My slips and glazes are applied to the large clay pots by pouring. The jars sit on a glazing wheel I built using a spindle from an old car. The spindle is welded to a metal frame and a wooden bat is bolted to the top of the spindle. It is surrounded by a barrel that catches the glaze as I pour it over the pot. The frame sits just high enough so that a 5-gallon bucket can slide under the barrel. A 2-inch hole in the barrel allows the glaze to drain into the five gallon bucket. There is very little glaze wasted using the glazing wheel. This is particularly important to me, because I process and refine my own glaze materials. It can take as long as five hours to sieve just a couple of gallons of my glaze.

The quality of the glaze application is important. I prefer the freshness from pouring slips and glazes to the surfaces attained by brushing or spraying them. Pouring glazes over raw clay also allows time to decorate by wiping through the slip or glaze.

How to Make Large Clay Pots (Phon Bok, Northeast Thailand)

Daniel Johnston using the glazing wheel.The pots in Phon Bok, Northeast Thailand are made using a coiling technique. For both large and small pots, construction begins with a ball of clay (approximately 15 pounds) placed on a wooden wheel and beaten into a slab using a short piece of bamboo to form the bottom of the pot. The wooden wheel is simply a large chunk of wood skillfully carved into a disc that rests on a wooden spike. The pots are made in sections and the potters work in pairs. One potter makes the pots while the other potter spins the wheel and rolls the coils. It is not uncommon for a pair of potters to produce ten large clay pots a day.

Large clay pot by Daniel JohnstonThe walls are built by using small coils that are 6 inches long and 1 3/4 inches thick and weigh about a pound. The first section is coiled to about 18 inches tall. The next step requires the help of another potter to spin the wheel. The potter uses a curved wooden rib on the inside of the pot and a large straight edge rib on the outside of the pot to compress and shape the coils. Once the first section is complete, the potter will move to the next wheel and start another base. This step is repeated ten times, giving the first pot a chance to dry enough for the second section to be added. Most of the large clay pots are made in three sections.

Do you make large clay pots? Share any tips you might have in the comments below!

**First published in 2009.