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Dipping Tongs

by Barbara Coultry

While busily working on 75 identical and very small bisque-fired objects, I whined to myself about the tedium of glazing them. Then I thought back to my jewelry-making days and went over to my pegboard where I grabbed the self-closing tweezers I’d kept with me all these years. These tweezers had once held tiny rings and clasps steady so they could be soldered.

What I wanted was a small version of dipping tongs. I noticed that these tweezers were made of wire similar to what is used to make cheap coat hangers from the dry cleaners.

After locating several wire hangers, I produced two pairs of three-pronged wire gizmos that could grip tiny pieces of bisque while leaving only small dots of unglazed areas. And I didn’t have to use any pressure to keep the object gripped!

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Step 1. Cut a 15-inch and a 10-inch piece of hanger wire. Tip: It’s easier to use the cheaper shirt hangers made of lighter-gauge wire; the heavier gauge normally used for hangers is tough to cut, twist and bend. Remove any paint with sandpaper.

Step 2. Grip the two wires in a vise, then twist the wires until 5 inches of untwisted wire remain.

Step 3. Remove the twisted wires from the vise and bend in half about 3 inches from the end of each wire, bend in as shown, making sure that the single wire slips between the doubled wire strands. File the cut ends to eliminate any burrs.

This article was adapted from the Winter 1998 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated.

Wedging Table

by Lili Krakowski

A wedging table is easily built because it’s basically a sturdy box bolted to legs. It can be made out of scrap materials, provided it’s heavy enough and doesn’t exhibit any breaks, rot, nails, screws, or other hardware. The box’s interior can be filled with plaster. Use 4×4s for legs, and avoid using treated wood where your body makes contact—as on the front edge of your wedging table.

When constructing a wedging table, use dadoed or half-lapped joints to add strength. And don’t use nails for any part of the construction—use lag bolts and/or wood screws instead. Wedging loosens a table, but lag bolts and screws can be retightened as needed.

Figures 5 and 6 show two variations of wedging tables you can build. A plywood board is cut to fit the frame; sand the board to make it smooth for wedging. Boards can be made for each color clay, or to permit the proper drying of the canvas after washing. The plywood board should stick up above the frame about ½ inch, so your wrists avoid hitting the frame.

Step 1: To establish the best height of a wedging table, stand with one foot slightly in front of the other, and rest the palms of your hands on the table (4). Arms and back must be straight, without any hunching of the shoulders. Rock your weight back and forth from foot to foot, checking that at no time you hunch your shoulders. Test several times, placing books under your hands if the table is too low, boards under your feet if it’s too high. Be sure to wear the shoes you typically work in.

Step 2: A wedging table may be made as a simple box, with ¾-inch sides (A) attached to a ¾-inch-thick exterior-grade plywood bottom (B); 2×4s (C) support the bottom, and 4×4s are used for the legs (D). The box can be filled with brick pavers laid flat (5) or filled with plaster—be sure to smooth the top to prevent any bumps that could chip off.

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Step 3: To make a wedging table that doubles as a clay storage bin (6), make the basic box (A) from 2×8s. The bottom of the box (B) is ¾-inch exterior-grade plywood or chipboard, with several 1-inch holes drilled in for ventilation. The top (C) is ¾-inch exterior-grade plywood. Note: The 1×1 cleats (D) hold the lid in the box. (You can also hinge the lid, but the strips keep the lid from jiggling.) The legs (E) are made from 4×4s. 2×4 braces (F) are attached to only three sides so buckets can be stored underneath. Using lag bolts to build the box allows you at some point to fill it with plaster.

If you do decide to fill it with plaster, a 6-inch-deep box is deep enough. Make no holes in the bottom of the box, fill it, and smooth the top surface. Lag bolting allows you to easily take the box apart if you need to move it or to replace the filling.

This article was adapted from the Summer 1998 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated.

Masonite Bats

by Barbara Coultry

I was sure that I could increase my production pottery, but a lack of bats slowed me down. So I went about figuring out how to make my own.

You’ll need a 4×8-foot, ¼-thick sheet of Masonite, a small can of polyurethane varnish, and a couple of disposable foam brushes. Make sure the brush width is smaller than the can opening. You’ll also need a saw for straight cuts (such as a table saw or hand-held circular saw) and a saw for curved cuts (such as a scroll saw, band saw, or hand-held saber saw). And, you’ll need a drill.

Step 1. Measure 12-inch intervals on all four edges of the hardboard, then draw connecting lines to create 32 squares (7). Saw these squares into individual pieces.

Step 2. Locate the center of each square by connecting diagonal corners to form an “X” (see 7).The two lines cross at the exact center of the square.

Step 3. Locate the placement of pin holes. Go to your wheel and measure from the center of one pin to the center of the other (8). Its likely to be either 9 or 10 inches.

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Step 4. To prepare for marking and drilling the location of the bat pin holes and cutting the perimeter of the bat, you’ll need a thin strip of wood or metal that’s at least 13 inches long. You’ll use this like a compass to create the marks for drilling and cutting. Make a hole in one end just large enough to allow a sharp nail to slip through (9). From this hole, measure half the distance between your bat pins (either 4½ or 5 inches). Make another hole at this point large enough to accommodate a pencil point, this will be used to mark the bat pin holes. Then mark a spot on the strip 6 inches from the first hole. Note: You might want to check the hardboard squares—they may be a hair under 12 inches because of the saw cuts. If so, mark a spot slightly less than 6 inches on your strip. Make a second pencil-point hole. This will create the perimeter cut line.

Step 5. Slip the nail through its designated hole and place it firmly on the previously marked center of the hardboard square as shown in figure 3. While holding it there with one hand, draw two circles on the bat. The outer circle is the cutting line and the inner circle is for the pin holes. Draw a straight line from one side to the other, making sure it goes through the center of the square as shown by the dashed line in figure 3. Where this line crosses the inner circle is where the pin holes will be drilled.

Step 6. Cut the hardboard along the outer circle of each square. A band saw does the job best, but a hand-held saber saw also works. Sand the edges just enough to remove the roughness.

Step 7. Before drilling, make a few test pin holes in scrap hardboard to ensure you’re using the proper drill-bit size. Pins are usually ¾-inch in diameter, but it pays to be sure. You don’t want to discover you’ve chosen the wrong drill bit after making the holes in all 32 bats. Drill test holes only in hardboard because a drill will bite differently in different woods. Before you drill, place a nail at the spot where you’ll be drilling and whack it with a hammer to create a small starter hole so the bit won’t drift off center when you start drilling. Tip: Place a piece of scrap wood behind the hardboard when you drill to prevent the drill from tearing the hole as it drills through.

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Step 8. After drilling the first bat, check its fit on your wheel. If the holes are only a hair off, see if scraping on one or the other side of the hole with a craft knife or small curved file allows the bat to slide down over the pins. If that’s all it takes, then proceed drilling the remaining bats.

Step 9. Lastly, find a well-ventilated area where you can spread out the bats on newspaper. Varnish one side of the bats, let them dry, then varnish the other side.

This article was adapted from the Summer 1998 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated.

Potter’s Apron

by Barbara Coultry

You know how it goes, the towel inevitably slips from your lap just before the slip drips from your elbow.  The answer, of course, is a split-leg potter’s apron. If you’ve never sewn in your life, find someone who has. This apron is very basic, someone with experience can make this apron in an hour or less.

I prefer heavy denim for this apron. It’s usually sold in 60-inch widths, which is perfect. It’s durable and easy to sew. Because this apron is composed of a bib and two sewn-on legs, you can easily get away with rifling through the remnant table in the fabric store. After all, must the legs match the bib?


These are the four necessary body measurements (10). Take measurement A at the spot on your chest where you want the top of the apron. A comfortable width for the bib top is likely to be the distance from armpit to armpit. Add ¼–¾ inch to this measurement for a seam allowance. Measurement B runs straight down from A to the spot where your leg meets your torso. Once again, add ¼–¾ inch for a seam allowance. Measurement C goes completely around your hips. Don’t add a seam allowance. Measurement D is the length from the point where your leg meets your torso to approximately 3 inches below your knee. Add 2 inches.

For the width of the leg, divide your hip measurement in half, then add a ¾-inch seam allowance. (Example: A hip measurement of 36 inches will require a leg width of 18¾ inches.)

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For the belt length, take a loose measurement of your waist and add 43 inches to it. The width of the belt is 2 inches. The neck strap is ½–1 inch wide. You’ll be cutting it 28 inches long, then, if necessary, shortening it later.

Making the Pattern

For the pattern, use a full-sized sheet of newspaper. The illustration makes it appear that the patterns are doubled, but they aren’t. It’s pictured this way to show you that the fold of the newspaper can be used as the center line for the bib and as a vertical guide for the side of the leg. Write “TOP” on the top of the leg piece to keep from confusing the top with the side later on. Once you’ve measured and cut out the pattern pieces, you should be able to gauge the amount of fabric you’ll need. Remember that you’ll be working with 60-inch-wide material. If you’re good with graph paper, drawing your patterns to scale is the easiest way to figure the required length of fabric.

Cutting the Pieces

There are many ways to place your pattern pieces on your chosen fabric (11). Do what you like best. The fabric is folded in half, selvage to selvage. The center line of the bib is placed on the fold, but the leg isn’t because you’ll need two of them. Since the neck strap and the belt are nothing more than strips of fabric, you don’t need patterns for them. Just cut the approximate lengths and widths required. Note: You’ll probably have to cut two strips of fabric and sew them together to get the proper length for the belt like I did. Mark the top of each leg. A simple straight pin will do the trick.

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Seams and Hems

All seams are ¾ inch and all hems are doubled so that they use ¼ inch of the raw edge. Before attaching the legs to the bottom of the bib, hem the inside and bottom edges of each leg piece, using a double fold and two lines of stitching (12A). With right sides of the fabric together, and making sure the leg pieces meet in the middle, sew the tops of the legs to the bottom of the bib. Stitch right across from one side to the other (12B).

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Putting It Together

As indicated by the arrows in figure 13, and using the same double fold and double stitching as shown in figure 12, start hemming at the bottom outside corner of one leg piece, continue up the side of the leg, the side of the bib, the bib top, then back down the other side of the bib, ending at the bottom outside corner of the other leg.

Zigzag stitch the long edges of the neck strap, making sure the stitches are close enough together to eliminate fraying. (Zigzagging is less bulky and more comfortable than hemming.)

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Pin one end of the strap 1½ inches down on the wrong side of one of the bib’s top corners. Hold the apron up against you so the bib is at the desired height, then swing the strap around your neck and pin it to the wrong side of the opposite top corner. If you can’t get it past your nose when you try to slip the pinned apron strap over your head, lower the bib top and pin the strap at this new position. You’ll probably have to trim the end of the strap. Sew each end of the strap to the bib. For added strength, you may want to use the X-in-a-box method (14).

If the belt was cut in two pieces, connect them with a ½-inch seam. Zigzag stitch completely around all four raw edges. If you don’t have such a seam to mark the center of the belt, fold it in half and mark with a pin.

Keeping the right side of the fabric out, fold the apron in half the long way, leg-to-leg and side-to-side. Place a few pins along the fold to mark the center front approximately where your waist will be. Put on the apron and pin the middle of the belt on this center line wherever it is most comfortable for you. Sew the belt to the bib at the pinned spot. Again, you may want to use the X-in-a-box method.

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If you find ties helpful, they’re easily added on. Just make sure you’re sitting at your wheel when you calculate their length and positioning because they won’t be the same seated as standing.

This article was adapted from the Spring 1998 issue of Pottery Mak-
ing Illustrated.

All original articles can be found in their entirety in the Pottery Making Illustrated archive at

Subscriber Extras: Archive Article

Click here to read the archive article, Simple Apron Making by Jeni Hansen Gard and Lindsay Scypta, which originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Ceramics Monthly.


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