Glazing Wheel: A Resourceful Potter Makes the Ideal Tool for Glazing Large Pots

How many times do you find yourself wishing you had a giant vat of glaze to dip a pot into because it is too big for your five gallon bucket? But, 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, at 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 his glazing technique. Plus, he tells us a little about the large-jar construction techniques he learned in Thailand. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


The Glazing Wheel

My slips and glazes are applied to the large jars 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.


Savin Silakhom and Thongwan Sirwan coiling water jars in Savin’s workshop in Phon Bok, Northeast Thailand.

Large Jar Construction Techniques from Phon Bok, Northeast Thailand

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 jars a day.

The 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 pots are made in three sections.


This post was excerpted from the October 2009 issue of Ceramics Monthly.

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Comments
  • Thanks for sharing! Great way to catch glaze. I am left wondering how he does the inside of those large pots?

  • Sharon J.

    Daniel,
    I love this idea. I hate the waste and pollution of spraying my crystalline glazes. How does the wheel spin? Do you turn it by hand, or is it motorized?
    ShaJa

  • I tried to subscribe to your magazine, but it does not allow for a canadian city, province or postal code on the order. Do not sell the magazine in Canada? Eva

  • How does Daniel pour the glaze on the bottom part of the pot and how does he control glaze thickness resulting from the drips?

  • Claudio L.

    Nice tip but, I often wonder why you don’t show the finished pot on many of these great tips!!!

    Claudio, Japan

  • Great tip. I love to make large pieces and this method of glaze application would work well for me. However I am also interested in how he glazes the interior of the pot. I often leave a wide opening that will allow me to spray the interior.

    Thanks
    PPD

  • Jennifer H.

    Claudio – I posted an image of a finished Daniel Johnston pot above. It is not the one he is glazing in the pictures but it can give you an idea of what his finished work looks like. There will be more images of his work in the upcoming October issue of Ceramics Monthly too!

  • i love the idea. it would be so nice to see a video of him in action!

  • @Sharon & Paoletta: I’m certainly no expert, but I’ll bet he doesn’t glaze the interior of those pots. At that size, they’re probably not being sold to hold liquid (despite what the originals in Thailand are used for.)

  • Patrick C.

    I can’t get a sense of how the Thai pots are actually built and shaped? The pictures don’t show what the text describes. A video would be great – but alas – I know that might not be practical. In fact, I don’t see many videos of large hand built pots. Time lapse would be cool. Thanks, Pat

  • Pat- go to youtube and put large coil pots or Thai potters or (I think) Korean potters. There are all kinds of videos. I teach high school ceramics and my students are fascinated by all the videos you can find for pottery making on youtube.

    Big thanks to Ceramics Daily and CM mag. They make my life as a teacher sooo much easier!

  • Great idea !…it would be super to have an instructions kit on making a glazing wheel !

  • It would be interesting to know the finished thickness of such a large coiled pot, the joining method, and how in the world did he glaze the inside? Thanks, Baba

  • Can devitrification of a fired pot be re fired to success Thanks David

  • Denise K.

    I wonder how he glazes the inside of a piece this size?

  • Is glazing started at the bottom or the top and how does that affect the narrow bottom being covered evenly?

  • Bonnie S.

    I waited until I was about 85 yesrs old when I was asked to show a friend how to throw large pots. I had observeed the process but in my over 60 years of potting, had never attempted doing it. I went to his studio and we worked for three weeks. I wound up making 25 in that time period and finished them by pit firing. I never felt as exhilarated as I did when I got to the top of each pot, standing on boxes as I am rather short, and closing up a nice narrow neck. Mine were limited to 25″ tall because of the electric kiln size. I was able to lift and handle each of my pots no matter the size as I threw the wall about 1/4″ thick. A collection of the bisque fired pots is shown in the VaseFinder website in my album. The large pitcher shown on the first page of my website http://webpages.charter.net/bstaffel/ wss published in the Lark Book 500 Pitchers. My pots were not glazed except for a few that I brought back to my own studio and poured the glazes in the process shown in this video.

  • Michael G.

    Bonnie, I love your post. People ask me what I am going to do when I get old. I’m 63 now and I make big pots. I tell these people that I will make big pots when I am older. Now I can direct them to you and say: “See, it can be done.” Age may present its own set of challenges, but we don’t have to stop doing things because of our age. Thanks for that story, Bonnie.

  • Meu Deuse incrível e maravilhoso, impensável que alguem tenha tanta gana.
    “My God it is umbelievable and awesome, unthinkable that some one has all this dispositon”
    Muito obrigado.
    “Thank you.

  • can u’ll give me info about pouring technique?

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