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Space for the Potter?

Oct 1, 2016   //   by wvanbusk   //   Potter  //  Comments Off on Space for the Potter?

I have an area in my backyard that I had set aside long ago for a separate pottery studio. My pre-planning included underground utilities; water line, gas line, electrical lines and a drain field. It’s been many years and now I have a pile of peeled fir logs next to the spot. Some of those logs are now a few years old and move into position last fall. The largest were felled from a diseased tree last year in my neighbor’s yard and sat unpeeled due to copious pitch pockets, but now peeled, pressure washed and bleached after the work of fungus, bark beetles and termites eliminated the inner bark. So now it’s October and getting late for foundation and timber framing work time. It’s raining as I write and I have a feeling of lazy procrastination once again.

In my garage sit a Brent electric wheel, Skutt kiln, and raku kiln with boxes of tools and supplies. On the side yard sit cement siding and stacks of fire brick for the project and many subtasks. So what’s the holdup? I suppose it’s time to work on the architecture design. In my head I have sketched a few different plans over the years, some were not practical now that I don’t feel like storing stuff in an attic space over the studio, due to reduced physical activity with age. I don’t mind things evolving organically as various furnishings and equipment might get moved around a room until the optimal workflow layout is achieved, assuming that there is just one room for performing all pottery related tasks. Not necessary the way it should go.

I believe in strategic planning, a concept derived from government waste analysis and resulting increasing intelligence in coffer erosion and fund preservation. My scottish clan blood boils when money is wasted due to poor planning. In the bible is a description of a potter who has a discard pile and ability to reform the clay in his hands. So some of those plans in my head need to be discarded, run through the pug mill, or shaped into something tangible and likely made of concrete. For health, environment and safety reasons, I am thinking of more than one room. There is no reason to needlessly inhale fumes, powders and dust most likely know to the Golden State as a carcinogenic, according the the conceptual label on the project.

Most projects begin with a brainstorm of words and ideas from the management team on the whiteboard, hopefully with dry erase markers since this phase often leads to silliness and leaps in logic, faith and creativity. So a list of process flow, tasks, and spacetime requirements is proposed first as a way to define the scope and resource requirements for the studio project.

The most basic flow is: materials > processing > product. Materials are multiple and enter into manufacture at different points of the processing. Products include waste and recovery and are factored in with cleanup and reprocessing tasks.  Pottery involves intermediate steps with different storage requirements for each product phase; wetware, greenware, bisqueware, glazedware, and firedware. Storage time is variable and dependent on environmental factors of temperature and humidity, which often need control.

Tasks are numerous in creating each phase of the product from clay preparation to storage and distribution of the final product. A basic task list would be:  mold > dry > bisque fire> glaze > high fire.  So the main tasks deal with clay, glazing and firing:


  • ingredient storage
  • manufacture
  • clay storage
  • preparation for use
  • slabbing
  • casting
  • throwing
  • trimming
  • drying works
  • used clay storage
  • waste disposal


  • ingredient storage
  • manufacture
  • glaze storage
  • preparation for use
  • dipping
  • spraying
  • brushing
  • waste disposal

Firing – for each kiln type

  • fuel management
  • heat management
  • fume control
  • monitoring
  • loading
  • unloading
  • furniture storage

Other tasks outside of basic product management include creative endeavors such as clay and glaze formulation and testing, manufacture of tools, casting forms, and templates and jigs. Glaze calculation, artistic design, painting, sketching, photography, packing and shipping are also possible tasks that might desire ideally a separate clean dust free space.

An important ancillary task is cleanup and disposal of clay and glaze residues that otherwise dry, become airborne and permeate everything, including your lungs. Large amounts of water, many rags, mops. buckets,  sponges, rubber gloves, paper towels should be available for cleanup. Wet surfaces, equipment, used clothing and rags need heat and ventilation for drying out.

The environment needs comfort for the potter and any guests, including furniture for sitting, good lighting, fresh air, heating and cooling, food and drink, music and video, as well as a place for taking breaks or relaxation, like a patio and a toilet for nature calls.  Other physical properties of a good studio include a smooth level easy to clean floor. Smooth easy roll floor and wide doors between studio and kilns. Separate kiln sheds and dry outdoor storage.

It is beginning to read like I need a separate house just for the potter to work in given all the possible work and storage spaces. However, some tasks can be done sequentially in the same location even by the same potter; for example dip and pour glazing can take place in the glaze bucket on almost any available table. Furniture with wheels can accommodate use for multiple functions and wares in various stages of production can move on carts through convertible task stations. A cart or shelf can become a ‘damp closet’ with proper design and plastic coverings. Other tasks can be performed, such as sketching, if a table can be adequately cleaned or the surface covered. Heights and mobility of tables and carts or shelves depend on the task, such as wedging on a low wheeled table is not feasible nor is transfer of heavy wetware from a throwing bat to a high fixed shelf particularly enjoyable.

Furniture can be defined as mobile or fixed based on use and preference. Work areas might be considered non-mobile due to their component weight or the necessity to be immobile. A potter’s wheel is pretty heavy and should not move while in use. Kilns generally don’t move either. So to define the studio the location of the major task and storage areas should be defined in the floor plan, while space is allowed for mobile furniture to move about and be parked for use and not in the way when parked. The size of the mobile carts can be a function of the size and number of items in production. A studio the produces many huge items is bigger than the studio that makes a few small items and fires in a wee kiln.


  • wheeled ware carts / shelves
  • wheeled task chair
  • rigid throwing stool
  • rigid table for wedging
  • material storage shelves
  • wheeled glaze buckets
  • glazing table or counter
  • damp closet

Fixed position task areas

  • throwing on wheel
  • clay & glaze manufacture
  • glaze spraying booth
  • wedging and hand building table
  • sink and wash counter
  • slab rolling
  • low fire kiln
  • raku kiln
  • high fire kiln

Task areas generally need tools and storage of items and supplies nearby. An efficient work area doe not require the worker to have to frequently get up and go to another area to get something to complete the task, or move a long distance to put things away. It’s best to have a supply of bats handy when throwing several duplicate items or have buckets when needing to mix a glaze. Putting things in reach is a great time saver. A storage area for throwing and trimming tools around the wheel is a great idea. Fixed position task areas should consider making space for storage access.

Tools Storage

  • clay mixer and clay materials
  • glaze mixer and glaze materials
  • slab roller and slab building tools
  • weight scale and spoons
  • measuring cups and buckets
  • throwing and trimming tools
  • floor and counter cleanup tools
  • pug mill and clay recycling
  • potter’s wheel and tools
  • bats and ware trays
  • shop vac and cleaning items
  • compressor and hoses
  • glaze sprayer and funnels
  • castings and textures
  • plastic sheeting

With some ideals in mind, each fixed area task and it’s associated logistic needs can be given a space allowance. For example, one side of the potter’s wheel can be a vertical space for hanging tools, a horizontal space for throwing water and trimming tools. The other side can be a wheeled cart with throwing clay, bats and space for finished wetware. A faucet, small sink, bucket and drain can be included for slip recovery, cleaning tools and clean water refills.