Topic: Articles

(Un)round After Round

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As a production potter who works for several different pottery shops in Seagrove, North Carolina, I’ve grown accustomed to the mass production of round after round of round pots. So when I take the time to work on my own pieces, I like to make something a little different. Lidded faceted jars bring me a lot of joy through the making process. The form is a conglomeration of different techniques I’ve learned through watching a variety of other skillful potters’ instructional videos. The torqued, bold edges of the form’s facets are great for a variety of glaze effects, especially the way they can catch wood ash, salt, or soda during vapor firings. I’ve been working with runny, reduction-fired ash glazes to see if I can’t influence the direction of the flow. I feel the squared, inserted lid goes nicely with the angled yet round body of the pot; however, I also make round flanged lids that compliment this same form just as well.

Creating the Jar

To get started, center a 4-pound ball of clay to a diameter of about 7 inches wide by 2–2 inches high. Open the inside of the foot to about 3 inches wide while leaving a good 1-inch thick bottom.

Using a large wooden rib, shape the cylinder straight up and down to a very simple, thick, and vertical form. An ideal cross section of the cylinder before faceting has begun would show a 6-inch tall by 5-inch wide cylinder with walls that are no more than 1 inch thick. Undercut the base of the cylinder and notch a groove into the wall about an inch below the rim using the edge of a wooden rib. This is where the faceting will begin (1).

Faceting

I use a common cheese slicer to facet my jars. The gap between the roller and the wire is less than inch thick, which is an ideal measurement for faceting. Start by resting the wire into the groove, then slice straight down from top to bottom in one smooth, steady stroke (2).


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1 Undercut the base and notch a groove into the wall 1 inch below the rim.


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2 Use a cheese slicer to facet the jar. Start at the groove and cut down to the base.


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3 Dry your hand and press out from the inside to shape and torque the jar.


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4 Press the 90°-angled edge of a wooden rib into the thick rim to create a gallery.

 

There is a pattern to getting an even number (eight in this case) of vertical cuts from top to bottom around the whole cylinder so each edge meets with little overlapping. Looking down on the cylinder from above, imagine the round rim as a compass with points indicating north, south, east, and west, and make lines on the top of the rim at these four spots. Make your first faceting cut at the south mark. Turn the wheel around so the north mark is facing you and the south cut is opposite you, then make your next cut. Now that you have two cuts on opposite sides (the north and south marks) go ahead and repeat the same process on the east and west marks, giving you a total of four alternating cuts. Next, slice out the remaining northwest, southwest, northeast, and southeast sides. If done correctly, you should have an even-sided, octagonal vessel.

While turning the wheel again at a moderate speed, sponge out all the water from the inside and up the walls. Dry the inside as much as you can. I use a soft rubber rib to remove as much moisture off of the inside walls as possible.

Adding a Twist

This next step is torquing the pot to get a twisted look. Dry your hands completely with a towel, turn the wheel at a moderate speed, then press out from the inside of the pot. The friction created by your dry hands dragging on the inside walls twists and torques the vessel (3). Since you can’t touch the outside of the piece anymore without marring the facets, use your other hand to support and hold your inside hand steady. As I’m a right-handed potter, my left hand is inside the pot.

Once you’ve achieved a decent level of twist in the pot, continue to do more shaping. With the wheel turning again, throw a splash of water inside the pot for further shaping. Now that the inside has been resaturated, press even further out, moving your fingertips up and down across the area you want to expand to achieve a rounder form.


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5 Start to square the rim shape by pressing out with your fingers in each corner.


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6 Define the squared rim by gently pulling with equal pressure on all four corners.


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7 Throw the lid shape right side up to create a squared lid. Leave enough clay at the rim, open to the base, and pull up the center.


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8 Collar in the central cylinder on the lid using pressure from your fingertips to create the knob.

Shaping the Rim

Now that the main shape has been accomplished, it’s time to work on the thick rim that has been left. Splashing a bit of water onto the rim, pull it slightly inward and upward and level off a flat top while maintaining its thickness.

Using the edge of a wooden rib, press down about midway into the rim’s flat surface, creating a deep flange for the lid to nest in (4).

There are eight equal points around the rim where the edges of each flat-sided facet meet. Pick one point and press out into the upper edge from the interior while pressing, supporting the point from the exterior to form a corner (5). This temporarily warps the rim of the pot, but once you repeat the same move on the rest of the corners it will all even out. Now that two opposite sides have been pressed into corners, repeat the process in-between those two corners to end up with four. Using the compass analogy again is helpful as corners are formed in the north, south, east, and then west edges, respectively.

Using your index fingers and thumbs, gently lay and pull out each corner of the rim to form a square (6). Repeat these steps around the rim until the square looks equal. Note: It’s important not to over work the piece. If you’re unsure then let the piece dry a bit before working on it further.


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9 Close off the top of the knob, refine the shape using your fingers and a rib, then define the bottom edge using a wooden rib.


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10 Make four marks on the edge of the lid rim in preparation for altering it into a square shape.


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11 Use the tapered edge of a wooden rib to lift the rim from one mark to the next. The marks become the corners.


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12 After cutting the lid from the bat and allowing it to reach leather hard, shape and thin the interior with trimming tools and a rasp.

Making a Squared, Inset Lid

Using calipers, take a measurement of the inside distance between two opposite corners. After this, cut the pot off the wheel with a wire tool and put it aside to dry to a leather-hard stage.

To form the lid, weigh out pound of clay and center it on the wheel, leaving the bulk of the clay as a thick mound in the middle. Measure the diameter of the lid and make sure to keep it about inch wider than the original caliper measurement on each side. Press into the center all the way down to the bat, then hook your finger and drag it outward to get underneath the bulk of the clay while stopping about an inch from the edge. Then, using the hefty amount of clay that was left in the center, begin slowly pulling a wall up and in (7).

Start collaring in the wall below the tip to begin forming a knob (8). Roll the top of the knob inward to close in on itself. Once this move has been completed, the air trapped inside the lid will keep it from collapsing, thus more shaping can be done to form a knob (9).

To form the square lid mark out four equal points on the rim using a needle tool (10). If you’re using a bat with bat pins, it’s helpful to line up the pin holes with the lid’s rim for the first two notches then estimate the other two in-between marks.

Using the sharp edge of a wooden rib and holding it at a slight angle, drag it under the rim from one notch to the next, not all the way around, thereby lifting the rim into four straight sides (11).


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13 When the body and lid both reach leather hard, fit the lid onto the jar and make adjustments.


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14 Trim the foot ring starting a third of the distance out from the center to define the outer edge, then trim the interior.


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A Thin and raise the jar rim so a flanged lid can sit on top. Measure the opening.


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B Throw a flanged lid off the hump starting as a bowl form with a thick rim.

 

Measure with the calipers again from corner to corner. You’ll want the lid to still be slightly larger than the actual measurement to ensure a snug fit after more trimming. Once you’re comfortable with the measurement, finish rolling over the sides of the lid rim with a wet sponge, one side at a time, keeping all sides equal. Cut the lid free from the bat with a wire tool, but leave it on the bat. Poke a hole into the surface with a needle tool to let the air and moisture from the inside escape while the rim dries and shrinks.

Once at the leather-hard stage, trim and smooth out the inside with a trimming tool, rasp, or a fettling knife (12). The hole in the lid left by the needle tool can be easily smoothed over at this stage.

Using a rasp, round off each corner until the lid fits snugly into the pot, then clean up the rough marks with a wet sponge.

When both the lid and the pot are at a leather-hard stage it’s a good time for final cleaning and smoothing with a sponge before trimming (13).

Trimming a Foot

Trimming a foot is pretty straight forward. Start a third of the way out from the center to the edge and trim down into the bottom surface to define the outer edge of the foot, then move out toward the side wall to finalize the shape of the bottom curve and remove any excess weight from the pot. Leave about a inch surface width for the foot, define this inner circle, and trim in toward the center from that line to form the foot ring (14).

 Making a Round Lid

To create a jar with a round lid that fits over the rim and has a flange that drops down into the jar, begin after figure 5 by pulling the leftover thick rim inward and upward, reducing the thickness and creating a thin, rounded edge with a slight upward sweep. Take a measurement of the inside (A), cut the jar free from the bat with a wire tool, and then set it aside to dry to the leather-hard stage while keeping it on the bat.


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C When you reach the right diameter, use a rib to create the flange.


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D When the lid is leather hard, place it on the jar and trim to shape.


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E Add a small piece of clay to the top and throw it into a knob, then define the edge.


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The finished, flange-lidded jar, with ash glaze layered over other glazes and fired to cone 10.

 

I prefer to throw flanged lids off the hump, and start with about 3 pounds of centered clay, and use smaller portions of the top of the mound to create the lid. This is basically forming a small upright bowl while staying within the parameters of the lid’s measurement (B).

Create the lid’s flange using the corner of a wooden rib (C). The outer diameter of the flange itself should equal the measurement.
Use the tip of a wooden rib to undercut about an inch below the lid, turn off the wheel and cut through the undercut with a wire tool and set the lid aside to dry to the leather-hard stage.

Once both the jar and the lid are dry enough, fit the lid on the jar. Since the jar is still centered on the bat, it acts as an already centered trimming chuck for the lid. Put the piece back onto the wheel, get the wheel spinning, and trim the lid to an even curve (D). The downward pressure of the trimming tool as well as the moisture of the piece will keep the lid attached to the jar through the trimming process.

Score and slip the very top of the lid with a needle tool and a little water and attach a clay ball about the size of a large marble. Press down and give it a good wiggle to ensure a bond.

Get the wheel turning again and gently shape a knob (E). Only dip your fingertips into some water for this process as you don’t want to resaturate any other parts of the pot.

Jared Zehmer is a production potter living in Seagrove, North Carolina, where he works with a number of different potteries. He received his BFA in ceramics from Virginia Commonwealth University. To see more of his work, visit www.etsy.com/people/zehmerpottery, or follow him on social media: www.facebook.com/jzehmer and www.instagram.com/jaredzehmer.

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