If you have ever damaged a freshly thrown piece moving it off of the wheel, you know the value of a wheel throwing bat. This handy accessory not only helps preserve your creative efforts, but allows you to move large pieces or delicate pieces from your wheel to free it up for the next piece. They also make it possible to return a piece to the exact center to work on later.
In this post, Bill Jones, gives the low down on the wide variety of wheel throwing bats on the market today to help you figure out which on is right for your needs. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
If you’ve ever damaged a freshly thrown piece moving it from the wheel, you know the value of a bat. This handy accessory not only helps preserve your creative efforts, but allows you to move large or delicate pieces from your wheel to free it up for the next piece, and they also make it possible to return a piece to exact center to work on later. Because bats play such a critical role in ceramics, and so many potters have different needs, it’s no wonder there are a lot to choose from.
Throwing Bat Basics
Most wheel manufacturers pre-drill wheel heads with bat-pin holes that hold 3/8-inch (or 10-mm) bat pins on 10-inch centers. Just about every bat maker produces bats that fit this standard so your options are wide open. Bat pins are not necessary because you can stick bats on the wheel head with clay or slip, but bat pins allow you to quickly add and remove bats with ease.
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Throwing bats can be made from most any rigid material but wood, wood composites, plastics, and plaster are the most common. Except for plastic, these materials are all porous so your pots will release from them easily as they absorb water from the clay. If the material is not porous (e.g., plastic) you’ll need to wire off your work before it sets up too much or it will crack as it shrinks. Here’s a rundown of materials you’ll find as you search for bats:
Duron® (aka Masonite® or tempered hardboard) is a resin impregnated hardboard that’s water resistant and smooth on both sides. Medex® is a fiber board material made with a formaldehyde-free adhesive that’s waterproof yet porous.
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Plastics of several different types are used for bats. These bats are nonporous and waterproof, so they require wiring off pots. Plywood is a durable bat material but must be exterior- or marine-grade to avoid delaminating. The more plys the better.
Plaster is one of the traditional materials for bats and is one of the best as far as porosity. Hydro-Stone, a USG product containing cement and crystalline silica, is similar to plaster but 8 to 10 times stronger.
Care and Use of Throwing Bats
Bats will last almost indefinitely if well maintained. For best results, sponge a little water onto dry, porous bats before use, but don’t let them become water logged. Scrape off clay before it dries to avoid creating a lot of dust, and store bats on edge to avoid trapping moisture.
Assessing Your Throwing Bat Needs
The number, sizes, and types of bats you’ll need depends on what type of work you’re doing. For public studios, long-lasting, inexpensive plastic bats are probably best because they can stand up to abuse. If you produce a lot of small items, check out the bat systems shown here with interchangeable 6-inch bats. Another thing to consider is storage. If you get only 12-inch bats, they take up a lot of room when throwing mugs or small items so that’s where 6-inch square bats would come in handy. Most every manufacturer makes a wide range of sizes so you can adjust your supply to the range of work you make. You should also remember that you do not need bat pins for bats or a drilled wheel head. If you don’t, consider having it done because being able to move work to and from the wheel to the same centered position will make it possible for you to try more techniques. If you can’t make a decision about which bats you’d like to try, purchase one bat of each material, which can usually be done from a single supplier. The company bigceramicstore.com offers a “Bat Pack” containing a selection of Speedball, Northstar, and Amaco bats of various sizes and materials. Whatever you do, make sure you have enough bats to carry you through a production cycle or creative spurt—you won’t regret it.
Most ceramic supply stores carry a variety of bats and even the products shown here are available from many distributors. Before ordering, verify the make of your wheel and the pin size and location.
Thanks to Rocky Mountain WoodMasters, Bailey Pottery Supply, Amaco/brent, The Ceramics Shop, and Great Lakes Clay for providing images.