I often get asked, “how long does it take to make a pot?” My usual perhaps somewhat flippant reply is a “couple of minutes.” This of course isn’t really true and is somewhat misleading.
Annually at this time of year I make Commemorative Mugs for the year six pupils leaving Teilo Sant, the primary school in my home town Llandeilo. Unlike my standard mugs though this particular batch are personalised with names and a date, they also have an additional transfer firing. I regularly throw a board of mugs at a rate of about twenty an hour – not excessively fast for a repetition thrower but never the less quick enough. It is this throwing twenty in an hour that I am referring to when I casually remark “a couple of minutes.” Here I will explain in more depth what the whole process actually entails.
How long does it take to make one of these special mugs?
- Throw the mug: 3 minutes
- Trim the mug the next day: 1 minute
- Impress a name and the date around the base of the pot: 2 minutes
- Add an extruded handle: 2 minutes
It seems it actually takes 8 minutes to make one of these personalised mugs. I didn’t include weighing the clay and all the carrying back and forth, so that should really take it to at least 10 minutes so far.
The mugs are made and they’re drying on the pot rack – they need to be bone dry before being biscuit fired to 960°C, drying can take a day or as much as ten days depending on the temperature and humidity and as such demonstrates extremely well the kind of variables and complexities running a working pottery can encompass. Once the pots are dry, it’s time for the glazing and firing.
How long does the glazing and firing take?
- Once the mugs have been biscuit fired the impressed letters are highlighted with a small brush dipped in watery red iron oxide: 1 minute.
- Band over the letters with a resist of paraffin wax: 1 minute.
- Flop dip (technique for glazing inside and outside of a pot at the same time) mug: 1 minute.
That’s another three minutes, but this time I haven’t included the time it takes to pack the pot into and remove the pot from the kiln, for both the biscuit and the glaze firing. Realistically it must be getting close to 20 minutes per mug by now!
Normally the pots would have now reached their final stage, the glaze firing. I glaze fire to 1260°C in a gas kiln and apart from packing the pots and delivery that is normally the end of it. But these mugs are special and writing this is clarifying for me how time consuming they are too. They need one more firing yet.
Ceramic transfers are applied rather like the decals that are stuck on Airfix models. For one last time the mugs are fired, this time to around 800°C to permanently fuse the transferred logo to the glazed surface of the pot.
It is interesting to me that as a result of being asked how long does it take to make a pot, I have been prompted to write this and in doing so I’ve noted for the record all of the parts of the process that I take for granted on a daily basis. I haven’t really included all of the in between bits and can only conclude that just one of these special mugs must actually take about half an hour to make.
Here I’m just concerned with the making time and other considerations such as the cost of raw materials and fuel for firing aren’t even being given a thought.
All of the above should never be overlooked and it is worth me reminding myself and my customers what a complex process and indeed a labour of love making high quality handmade pottery really is. This has got me thinking about a few issues:
- How much should mugs like these sell for?
- What is a fair wage for a skilled artisan maker?
- Is it always worth pursuing ones vocation in lieu of a more lucrative career?
Next time somebody enquires “how long does it take?“, I will think twice before I say “a couple of minutes.“