How to set up a Pottery Studio-the Salvaterra Pottery Way


U-shaped shelves around wheel

U-shaped shelves around wheel

Setting up a pottery studio isn’t that difficult.  We have set up a studio in four different houses over a 20 year period.  Three were in the basement and one was on ground level.  The one thing I have learned is no matter how much space you have it is never enough.  So here are some tips for being in a tight space.

First of all, we have always been on concrete floors with drains in the floor and block or concrete walls.  Although it can be tiring to stand on concrete all day it is great for clean up.  We spray or mop the floors to keep the clay dust down.

My first studio didn’t have space for a separate kiln room.  Not something I would recommend.  Since then we have always taken an area in the studio and walled it off for the kiln room.  And it always had a window and vented out fumes.  Our best set up included an industrial exhaust system in the ceiling that exhausted out the roof of the house.  The first studio, that didn’t have a separate kiln room  I bought a direct vent that attaches to the bottom of the kiln and I wouldn’t recommend it.  We still had fumes and when I used it with a cone setter it vibrated so much it rattled the cone out causing the kiln to shut off prematurely.  And if you use kiln wash, which I no longer do, the kiln wash would come off of the shelves, float around during the firing and find the most valuable pot and stick itself in the glaze.

We mix all of our own glazes, so we store several different chemicals.  I keep all of my chemicals in one area in large plastic draw systems stacked on heavy duty steel shelves.  We buy most of our chemicals in 50 pound bags, so large drawers are necessary.

When space is an issue and it always is for us, if something can be put on wheels, it is put on wheels.  Specifically we buy shelves, tables and carts meant for industrial kitchens.  These were bought at Sam’s Club.  We also have pastry racks we bought from the local kitchen supply store.  We bought sheets of plywood and cut them to fit the racks where backing sheets would go.  All of these get rolled around here, there and everywhere and are multi-use pieces.

As for the wheel, I have alway created a U-shaped space of shelves around the wheel.  This way, I can throw many pieces of pottery with out getting up.  My clay, tools, water, everything is in arms reach.

Of course there is a sink near by with counters around it.  This is the area I do my glazing.  Glaze buckets with glaze in them are under the tables and counters.  For the glazes we use everyday, they are in oversized tubs and the tubs are on wheels. We bought some heavy duty wheels and built a platform to put the wheels on.  You can find similar items at places like Harbor Freight for a reasonable price.  Smaller buckets of glaze are kept on shelves above the large tubs of glaze.

Since we are production potters, making hundreds of pots each week, we have pots at all stages of the process.  Keeping everything organized and moving through the process can be challenging so here is how we keep things going with the set up we have created.

The piece is formed, usually at the wheel and is set on the U-shaped shelving around the wheel.  Piece that need handles, etc. get covered and added the next day when the piece is stiffer and placed back where it was.  We throw on double tempered masonite and most pieces are not trimmed nor cut-off with a cutting wire.  As the piece dries it pops off the bat.  At this point, we sign the piece and place it on one of the pastry carts to dry completely.  When pieces are dry the cart gets rolled to the kiln room and loaded for the first firing.

I presently fire two kilns, one larger than the other.  My older and smaller kiln is the bisque kiln.  The larger, professional level kiln is our glaze kiln.  We fire them alternating.  When I unload a bisque kiln it pieces immediately go to the near by counters for glazing and the next firing is a glaze firing with these pieces that just came out of the bisque kiln.  The eliminates moving bisqued pots on and off shelves and keeps things rolling.  When the glaze kiln is cool piece get unloaded onto a bakers cart and rolled into the other section of the studio where we store, finish and pack work.

Sometimes when we are packing large orders we roll one of the glazing table over to the packing side for more counter space.  It is nice to have that option.  I also have a arbor press and drill press on a rolling table.  We don’t use this equipment daily so it is nice to push out of the way when not needed.

For many year, we didn’t have a pug mill, but a few years ago we did buy one when we found ourselves throwing out more and more scrap clay.  Since we do very little trimming, it didn’t seem worth our time to manually reclaim clay.  We also have our pug mill on wheels so it is easy to pull out when needed.

Besides an extruder we have mounted on the wall and use daily, we have a slip mixer that I use for mixing glazes.  It is a real time saver and makes mixing glazes much easier.  Especially when we are mixing 40 and 50 thousand grams of glaze at  a time.

We spent 20 years collecting equipment and stream-lining our production process.  My first piece of equipment I bought was a 16 year old wheel for $300.  I bought the wheel from money I earned selling my first pots at a student pottery sale.  My next purchase was the kiln, again from proceeds of a student pottery sale.  And the purchases continued from there.

Every potter sets their studio up a little differently.  This is what works for us.  I hope this information is helpful for you.

 

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