Time is Money: How to Maximize Efficiency and Profits in the Pottery Studio

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Not only is Daniel Ricardo Teran's studio (at left) large and light-filled, but it is well organized so that he can make the most of his time. My new year's resolution is to make my studio more efficient and organized so I can be more productive with the precious few moments I get to spend in it.

In today's feature, Jeff Zamek presents some ideas for improving the efficiency of the pottery studio in order to save time, which in turn saves money. Hopefully the ideas presented today will help you make new year's resolutions to maximize efficiency and, therefore, maximize profits! - Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

 


 

The old adage that time equals money is especially true in any labor-intensive activity. Making pottery is certainly an endeavor that requires direct labor to produce pottery for sale. Handmade pottery by definition requires physical attention from the potter during many stages of the operation. There is the forming, trimming, drying, bisque firing, glaze making, glazing and glaze firing.

Additional tasks include studio cleanup, ordering raw materials, sorting and packaging ware, and the list goes on. Indirect labor is also required in different amounts, depending on how the pots are promoted and finally sold. Many potters do not fully realize the number of individual hours necessary to produce and sell pottery.

 


 
Back by popular demand!
Clay: A Studio Handbook, by Vince Pitelka, one of the foremost authorities on studio pottery, is now back in print!
 

 

When looking at the true costs of making pottery, the cost of clays, glaze materials, and even equipment, is marginal compared with the time and labor involved. Whether thrown on the potter’s wheel, handbuilt, slip cast, jiggered or pressed, labor is in fact the largest percentage of cost. The potter should always use the rule that decreasing labor costs will have the most direct effect on increasing profits. In many instances, there will not be one large labor-saving element, but several small labor-saving steps will add up to a significant reduction in costs.

 

studiospaceprofits_supp01Where a potter works is logically the area where the most time is spent. New studio construction offers the best time to plan and set up an efficient workspace. However, an existing studio can be rearranged for greater production and increased efficiency. Whether the studio is located in a large commercial space or a residential basement, the efficient layout of equipment and individual workstations will greatly reduce wasted energy and redundant motion. The potter has a finite amount of time and energy to make pots, and studio layout greatly affects how much time is spent on the actual making of pottery. Moving one piece of studio furniture, such as a wedging table, closer to a potter’s wheel will save steps and time. Placing tables, glaze buckets and storage containers on wheels so they can be easily moved will offer greater flexibility and utility of studio space. Often, the inflexibility of equipment or supplies within the studio limits efficient production of pottery. Minor details in the production operation should not be overlooked, as pottery making is made up of small, labor-intensive, manual operations.

 

Follow the Clay

Think of how the moist clay will physically move through the studio in every stage, from forming through packing. A large studio does not necessarily mean a profitable operation. It is quite possible to have a cost-effective pottery in a relatively small studio. One area of production should flow logically to the next. For example, clay delivery should occur near the clay-storage area, which should be near the wedging table, which should be near potters’ wheels and other forming equipment. Moist clay is heavy. One cubic foot of clay weighs about 50 pounds. When the potter has to carry 500 or 2000 pounds of clay into the studio, it can suddenly become very expensive clay. If moving a few boxes of clay seems like a small point, it only illustrates how tight the profit margins have to be calculated in the enterprise of making pottery. Ideally, the potter should take the clay out of the plastic bag, place it on the wedging table, then onto the potter’s wheel or handbuilding table. Casting-slip operations should have the slip storage tanks and the mold-pouring tables within close proximity.

The aesthetic quality of the pottery produced is only one factor in the eventual sale of the pottery. Often, more economically significant factors, such as the effective placement of equipment and supplies within the studio, affect sales of pottery more than the actual look of the ware. Since time and labor are the largest costs in making pottery, it makes economic sense to design all activities within the studio to reduce these two largest factors in production.

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**First published in 2012.
 
Comments
  • I would put the sinks closer to the wheel. Having to walk around that shelving to get water and clean up will add a lot of walking.

  • What perfect timing for this article, I have been in my studio all day cleaning, throwing “stuff” away and trying to come up with a better layout and “poof” here is the perfect article. I plan on wholesaling this year and felt like I needed a better flow so this is great. Thanks everyone at CM and Happy New Year to all you potters out there.

  • I agree there should be multiple sinks or hose bib connections if one really wants to reduce movements in the space. I have 2 in my small studio and wish I had 2 more!

  • Taking a few days off from the studio got me thinking about this very scenario… could not ask for a more timely and concise article. Pitelka just sold another copy of the book! Many thanks!

  • I enjoyed this article. It makes sense. I also agree with the above comment on the sink being closer to the wheel for the sake of clean up. It can shave alot of back and forth clean up time off.

  • Often overlooked, is an efficient way of dealing with pugged clay. On standard production pots, always start with the same amount of clay. The best way to do this is, instead of determining how much the clay should weigh, determine how many inches of the uniform pugged extrusion is needed. Once known, it’s a simple matter of measuring. I have taken this one step further. I have constructed multiple frames with wires evenly spaced for the most common measurements I use. In that way I can lay the pugged log of clay on the frame, as it is cut it from the pugmill. Lift the frame, and wiggle it a bit, as you do. In doing so, you have just portioned clay for 5 to 12 pieces at a time (you mileage may vary depending on frame size). For the smaller amounts, I also have a wire that can be quickly strung across the exit of the pugmill slicing it in half. I can then lay the split log on the frame, cut it, and have portioned 18 or 20 mugs at a time.

    Another one of the most productive things I have done in the studio, is to set up a dedicated trimming station. A lot of unnecessary time is spent switching the wheel from one activity to the other. The trimming station should have relatively high walls to contain all trimming scraps. I fashioned one from a sturdy cardboard box, cut like a splash pan. In front is a movable catch guard. I have cut a slot/chute in the side of the box. Under this chute sits a 5 gallon pail to sweep the scraps into with my hand when I finish trimming a batch of pots. The trimming station is next to the wet boxes (which any production studio should have) and close to the (optional) extruder, and green ware drying rack.

  • I like to keep a gallon of water next to my wheel. So, I can dump out the mucky slip in my water bucket and refill with out getting up!

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