I have 37 needle tools. And, I’m not at all ashamed about it. All of them are metal, with a nice mix of thin sharp tips and wide blunt tips. Some of the needles are bent from attempting to saw through leather-hard clay, while others are noticeably shorter from being repeatedly sharpened. Most of my needle tools were recovered from abandonment by former students in community studios. A few were gifts from studio mates who laughed at, but indulged, my obsessive collecting. One is from my original set of tools from my first pottery class—a true treasure! I use a needle tool to do just about everything; cutting, piercing, incising, measuring, scoring, drawing, trimming, finishing, and even mixing settled glazes. It’s a very versatile tool for me and I wouldn’t want to make work without it.
That got me to thinking about our everyday reliance on the tools in our tool boxes. There are pros associated with relying on a minimal set of instruments: proficiency, efficiency, dependability. And, there are cons: one’s creativity may become restrained by a lack of tools needed to make a yet unknown mark or form. A throwing stick, rather than a wooden rib, may result in a new vessel profile; a pony roller, instead of a sponge, could alter the look of an attached seam, and a slip-trailing bottle, in place of a brush might change your whole outlook on glazing.
This issue focuses on the tools potters use to help them make great pots. Autumn Cipala takes a simple approach with a porcupine quill, a homemade bamboo carver, and some drill bits to create her ornate, carved surfaces, while Irene Lawson uses a plethora of slip-trailing tips to create a million or so underglaze dots on her large patterned platters. Jared Zehmer, a production potter by day, delves into the best uses of some of the many choices of ribs available on the market. Ann Ruel relies on a few household items to discover new salt and pepper shaker forms and Paul Andrew Wandless uses plaster and casting slip in a generally unconventional way with impacting results. Glynnis Lessing has a recipe for homemade kiln furniture, and Lindsay Scypta teaches us how simply placing a mirror in front of your wheel can help you throw better. We also take a look back into the Pottery Making Illustrated archive to learn how making a few of your own tools can make your studio life cleaner and more efficient.
Additionally, Sumi von Dassow returns to make a truly unique soy dispenser. Sumi’s favorite tool is clearly the potter’s wheel, as she again exhibits the perfect artist and tool symbiosis.
So, what’s my take away from all these tips on how to use any tool other than a needle tool? My new mantra is: change your tool, change your work. After reading this issue it may be yours too.