I don’t know about you, but I love my collection of potter’s tools! Accumulated in my travels over the past decades, I have several brushes that fit my hand perfectly and a slip trailer I have been using for more than 17 years. You can develop a personal connection with your tools, and over time, they mold themselves to your purpose. If you are just starting out, there are several types of tools that you will need while glazing and some others that are nice to have. In this section, I’ve grouped them by category and indicated the ones I think are most important.
The Basics (1)
For any glazing session, I recommend you have the following tools and materials:
- Tongs: The red handled tongs are best for dipping vertical pieces. Channel lock tongs (blue handles) are best for dipping plates, platters, and other horizontal pieces.
- Buckets: It’s best if you can screen your glaze into a clean bucket before use. Glaze material can build up on the inside of a bucket, harden, and fall into the glaze as a chunk, which will invariably end up in the middle of your best piece. Also, go ahead and fill a second bucket with water to clean up spills and rinse off tools.
- Sponges: These are completely indispensable when glazing! Larger sponges, such as the automotive sponges you use to wash your car, are inexpensive and make cleanup a cinch. They can also be cut into smaller shapes for specific purposes, such as cleaning glaze off the bottom of your work.
- Brushes: Even if you are not big on decoration, brushes in a couple of sizes make it easy to touch up a piece—such as when you need to fill in those pesky tong marks. Floppy or soft-bristled brushes that hold water, such as sumi or bamboo, are well suited for glaze work. Stiff-bristled brushes are hard to use and leave more noticeable brush marks.
- Stirrers: Glazes settle out, so you need a way to remix them. A simple stir stick will get the job done, but some people prefer a giant whisk. For glazes that tend to hardpan in the bottom of the bucket, you may want to get a handheld power drill. A blunger or paint mixer attachment will make your life much easier with these glazes. An immersion blender can quickly mix up tests and reconstitute smaller amounts of glaze.
- Notebook: These are an absolute necessity. Take detailed notes! It’s difficult to remember the specifics of all of your glazing and tests. You’ll thank yourself when the pots emerge days or even weeks later from the kiln completely transformed. I find a certain beauty in tattered, clay-and-glaze-splattered studio notebooks. Although they remain my favorite way to document my testing, today’s smartphones can also store your results in the cloud and instantly recall them from just about anywhere. In either case, be sure to mark the physical work so it will line up easily with your notes.
Tools for Glaze Preparation (2)
If you want to mix your own glazes, you’ll need several specialty items.
- Safety Gear: Any time you are working with dry materials, you must wear a N-100 dust mask or a properly fitted respirator with similar filters. Some glaze materials are soluble, meaning they can be absorbed through your skin, so you also may want to wear gloves when mixing and applying glaze. I like nitrile gloves, which come in several sizes. When mixing your glazes, make sure that you are outdoors or using a venting chamber like a spray booth if you are indoors.
- Scales: OHAUS balance scales have been the standard for measuring glazes for many years. They are accurate and completely analog, but can be somewhat time-consuming to use. Digital scales, on the other hand, are quick and easy. You’ll pay less for units that measure to the gram or tenth of a gram than more sensitive models that measure to the hundredth of a gram. While many glaze recipes are measured to the hundredth of a gram, you will not notice much change if you round to the nearest tenth, and you will save considerable money on your scale. We do recommend that you get a model that can measure at least 2000 grams at a time.
- Sieves: Glazes should be regularly screened to homogenize them and remove any unwanted material that may have ended up in the mix: 60- or 80-mesh screens usually suffice. A Talisman sieve will screen a 5-gallon (19-L) bucket of glaze in a matter of seconds, but you may also want a smaller, handheld screen for sieving smaller batches of glaze for testing.
- Hydrometer/Graduated Cylinder: To measure specific gravity, you can use either a hydrometer, which is a sealed glass tube filled with lead, or a graduated cylinder, which can be used with the digital scale to measure specific gravity. A syringe can be helpful to quickly and accurately measure small volumes of glaze. Get one with a 50- or 100-milliliter capacity. Syringes can also be used to fill small containers such as glaze trailers.
Optional Items (3)
Although not part of the basic glazing tool kit, these items can come in handy in the right situations.
- Pebble Bowls: These large bowls are great for glazing wider platters that won’t fit into your buckets. You can find them at restaurant supply stores. They are inexpensive, easy to clean, and nest inside of each other.
- Trailers: Glaze, like slip, can be trailed in a running bead along the surface of your work to create a thin line of color. Trailers can also be used for other decorative techniques, such as polka dotting. They come in all shapes and sizes. You can also use other items to trail; some people like surgical bulbs, others prefer hair-dye bottles. Find a trailer that fits your hand and feels good to squeeze. You can cut the nozzle with a pair of scissors to get the diameter you want.
- Funnels: Funnels help you avoid a mess in many situations, from trying to glaze the inside of a narrow-necked bottle to refilling trailers when they run low.
- Banding Wheels: Banding wheels allow you to rotate your piece without touching it, giving you easy access to all sides of the work. You can also use a banding wheel to create bands of color on your work.
- Spray Gun/Compressor: Spraying glaze is a unique way to apply it to a piece, allowing you to feather, layer, and blend colors and textures. Wear a dust mask or respirator, and always spray in a ventilated booth or outdoors.
Excerpted from Odyssey ClayWorks Director Gabriel Kline’s book, Amazing Glaze Recipes and Combinations, published by Quarto Press and available at www.quarto.com/books/9781589239807/amazing-glaze-recipes-and-combinations and in the Ceramic Arts Network Shop at https://mycan.ceramicartsnetwork.org/s/product-details?id=a1B3u000009uz71EAA.