Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spinning

It was just a ¼ pound of clay. I cut it off of the corner of a big lump of clay and absent-mindedly kneaded it in my hand for a minute or two as my mind wandered. Then it began to dawn on me just how great this small ball of clay felt in the hollow of my hand. It was somewhat stiff yet still yielded easily to my thumb. Pleasantly dense with a fine tooth.

I walked over to the wheel and slammed it down on the wheelhead and got the wheel to whirring ‘round. Ah-h-h, this feels really good. Too small to really center it two-handed, but in seconds it virtually shoved itself easily to mid-wheel with nary a wobble.

So I started to pull it.

I’d been making 18” shallow bowls most of the day, so my mind was still set to that shape. First I pulled it up just a mite so’s my outside finger would have some ledge for purchase. Then I gave it a good pull.

The clay just came along and came along and like a song that verse after verse keeps building on a theme, the process drew me in. The rhythm of the wheel speed seemed perfect to grow this huge flattened cone and so I just kept working it. Every time I reached to the center to pull another ring of clay outward, there was more clay to pull. And so on, and so on, and so on, I returned to the root note and played another chorus.

Just a quarter pound, but I passed the 36” diameter after just five minutes of work. The wall of the bowl was getting so thin by 60” in diameter that when I bent low beneath the wheelhead and looked up, I could see the shop lights shining through the bowl wall.

Still, as thin as the wall had become, it showed amazing strength. It didn’t seem inclined to sag. At all. Once I’d pulled it out to 24 feet, I ran to the garage and fetched my bicycle. To my amazement, the clay proved to be so sag-resistant -- even pulled out to that diameter -- that I could ride my bicycle around the rim without distorting the bowl.

I got off the bike and got back to work. I had to see just how far I could throw this ¼ pound of clay.

When the outer rim reached somewhere around Wapakoneta, Ohio, I finally had to face the fact that I was coming close to maxing out the clay in that ¼ pounds. The wall of the bowl was, by then, only at a molecular thickness. And with a few hundred miles of diameter to the rim, I feared that, given the immense speed at the outer rim, centrifugal force was finally going to take its toll on my bowl.

But I had to try one more pull.

You may not believe this – after all, at that wall thickness, it’s almost impossible to see the bowl now – but the bowl now spans all of Indiana, most of Ohio, lower Michigan, and Eastern Illinois. I’m guessing this is probably a record diameter for a wheel-thrown bowl.

6 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. It will probably fire itself as it gets closer to the sun.

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  2. Hey John, thanks for an entertaining read! Towards the end it reminded me of a project that I've been working on. I posted the first image here: http://www.potterymakinginfo.com/news/pottery-wheel-galaxy-wallpaper/

    So much potential for such a simple process and substance.

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  3. Now would that be what they call a yarn bowl? :-)

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