I quickly steal a bit of time in the workshop. I want to make some pots out of my aged porcelain stone bodies. I’m supposed to be building gas burners and silver soldering copper gas manifolds, but the lure of the potters wheel is just too strong. I manage to get 30 or so pots made from 3 of my specially prepared and aged porcelain stone clay/stone pastes. It’s a good feeling to be back on the wheel again after a week of brick laying and kiln building. I can only take just so many days of wearing the dust mask, goggles, ear muffs, gloves and all the other OH&S paraphernalia. It’s socially isolating and almost disorienting in its exclusion of the tangible world.
A day back in the pottery grounds me and alows me the fuzzy pleasure of thinking creatively again.
Some of these ground stone pastes of mine are so short that even after 25 years of ageing. I still can’t kneed them by the usual spiral kneading technique. One is just so short that it cracks apart under the rolling stress. I return to the tried and true ‘cut and slap’ wedging method. This has be proven to me to work much better than spiral kneading where finely ground porcelain stone bodies are concerned. The cut and slap method compresses and activates all the clay particles that can respond to this kind of wedging. The rest of the fine, non-plastic stone particles are firmly encased in the weak plastic matrix. It develops a tight workable putty that is almost throwable on the wheel, as long as I take a lot of time to coax it along slowly into the final shape, without expecting anything to happen quickly. The essentially non-plastic, porous, surface sucks up water and dries out very fast, making the whole soft and floppy, so I have developed a technique of re-using all the wet slip from my fingers to lubricate the paste, thick slip doesn’t absorb so quickly, so that it doesn’t become too floppy, and extends the working time. Still, I have to work fast to get the form into a suitable shape and lift it off the wheel before it collapses.
It’s clumsy and slow, but it eventually delivers a workable open bowl form. Very heavy at the base and only just thrown thinly enough at the rim to pass muster. I rely on doing a lot of turning to get the shape to emerge eventually from the clod of stone paste.
Turning can only be done on bodies like this when they are almost dry. Any time before this, the soft, loosely bonded coagulate of mineral granules, just tears itself apart into crumbly chunks, making the whole pot unusable. Australian readers will recognise this particular torn and crumbly texture if I mention the name of Mersey Valley cheddar cheese. It’s impossible to cut this cheese without it tearing and crumbling against the knife. My milled stone paste porcelain bodies act like this if I try to turn them leather hard. I wait until there are significant white drying rings all over the surface before attempting to start turning.
The stoney grit in the matrix takes the edge off the turning tools in minutes. I have to stop and file the edge on my hardened steel turning tools very regularly. This involves getting off the potters wheel and walking some distance away, where it is safe to create iron filings by filing the edge sharp again, that wont end up in the clay.
Since my last trip to Japan to study single stone porcelain making, I returned with a cluster of tungsten tipped turning tools specially made for turning porcelain. These tools stay sharpe for a very long time. But even they eventually go blunt under constant use. I have found that I can recover the cutting edge back to its pristine sharpness by using a diamond dust impregnated file. This is the closest that I get to bling! I do apparently own quite a few diamonds. It’s just that they are invisibly small and encased in some sort of amalgam. Not sexy, almost as expensive but very useful!
I treat us to a dinner of gyoza, Japanese style pork and vegetable dumplings. I use lots of our garlic along with prime minced pork with very little fat. I get our local butcher to mince up some prime lean pork for me specially. I add in sweet corn niblets, finely shredded cabbage and green onion shoots. I fry it all up to make sure that it is all well cooked through and then work it into the tiny wanton wafers that I buy from the Asian supermarket section. These are pan fried in sesame oil, then when well crisped on one side, turned over and a cup of stock added to the pan with the lid on to steam them for a couple of minutes more.
They are beautifully rewarding, both crisp and yet soft and juicy at the same time. Wonderfull!
A real treat.
from the stone aged (aged stone) man and his wanton Wilma
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