13 January 2012

Pug Mill Blues

Pug mill blues

I have been tripping over 2 buckets of black firing stoneware clay for the past 4 months. As I am trying to convince myself that I am back in the workshop properly and full time after the festivities of winter I thought I would start by dealing with the black stuff. I like the fired colour and texture of this clay, dense blue/black, not as soft as the raku blacks but has the advantage of being stoneware and therefore will take water. Except that after my treatment of it, namely stretching bashing and wood firing, it tends to crack, dunt and leaks like a sieve.
I’m hoping that I can cure this rather fundamental flaw by mixing it with a more fine grained and plastic stoneware. I don’t mind losing a little of the black if I can produce a useable pot. I happen to have a large bucket of white St Thomas scraps, dried and soaked to a nice mush waiting to be reconstituted into throwable clay, and also a bag of unidentified firm stoneware which could be mixed with the black in carefully measured and documented handfuls until it looks about right. A couple of hours work by which time I will be ready to be Creative.
The black clay, anagama fired

I always leave a note of the last batch in the feed hole. I removed the plastic covers from the pug mill and turned it on to check the motor. Working but not happy.
I started to scrape out the nasty crusty iron stained scraps from the safety grid in the feed hole and discovered a nasty crusty iron stained safety grid. Better clean it up before putting more white St Thomas through to push out the remains of the last pugging, won’t take long. I think I have never taken out the grid since I bought the pug mill 2nd hand 3 years ago.
This grid is clean   

The intestines of a pug mill
The bolts were seized so Non Potting Partner was called in to wrestle them off and pull out the grid. Whilst I cleaned that he dug out the hard clay underneath and found yet more hard clay.  


 16 bolts later the top came off, yet more hard clay and crusty corroded metal. Fortunately the screw which pushes the clay along, mixing and conditioning it was bright shiny brass (or bronze?) under all the nastiness just like the propeller of a ship. NPP, the old sea dog, carried on until all was ship shape and Bristol fashion (what?) as you can see from the dazzle in the photo.

With such a clean mill I had to pug the entire lot of white St Thomas before shoveling in the dirty stuff. So a little job to get me in the mood to unleash a storm of creativity ended up in dry dock for nearly two days to complete, and I am still scrubbing splashes of the black clay from decks.
(It won't stay this clean for long.)

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