To make a mug

Recently someone came into the workshop and picked up a mug, said it was nice but then told me that £20 was too much to charge for a mug. I think I might have mentioned it on here at the time. Anyway today I was throwing mugs and I got to thinking about why they are £20 and whether it was justified so here is what I thought about making a humble mug.

Where do you start? With beginning to learn to throw? Or with the ordering of clay? Clay that you’ve tried and tested previously and know will do what you want it to do? Well lets assume the clay is already delivered and a ton of it is stacked away in the barn awaiting transformation. So you open the bag and find that it isn’t the right consistency so either wedge it with some reclaim to soften it or leave it soaking in wet rags for a few days until it is at suitable mug throwing hardness. OK so knead it, weigh it, knock it into balls, to put it simply and because I haven’t got all night then you centre it, pull it up, belly it out, finish the rim, wire it off and remove it from the wheel. Leave it to dry to leather hard and then put it back on the wheel to turn a foot ring which I know isn’t essential but I happen to like one on this particular mug shape. Pull the handles, a few extra just in case, let them toughen for a couple of hours, put the mug on the banding wheel, score it, slurry it and join the handle checking the size and shape and straightness and join and general look at the same time.

Oh and all this while keeping an eye on it making sure at every stage that it isn’t too wet or too dry you know just having a quick feel each time you pass the shelves.

Let the body and the handle firm up together, probably overnight but in the summer they may need wrapping in plastic overnight to let the two parts even out. When the whole is leather hard, touch, check, touch, check again, stir a bucket of slip – previously weighed, soaked and sieved twice, dip the mug in the slip, shake off the excess, brush a swish of slip on the bottom. Mug heads back to the banding wheel to be decorated using a pre mixed and filled slip trailer with a design that may be completely individual or one developed for a range, trail the design into the wet slip, lift the mug, put it back on the shelf. Keep checking just in case the handle decides to part company with the body if you got the timing just a little out. When it’s back to leather hard sgraffito signature into the slip brushed on the base and then leave it to dry- anything from a couple of days to a couple of weeks depending on the weather.

Once dry check the mug for any sneaky burrs or other such problem that may need dealing with. place in the kiln with many other pots working the kiln pack jigsaw puzzle as you go. All this and at this point it’s nothing more than dry mud, add water and that’s what you’ll have left.

So kiln packed, slow rise in temperature letting the chemically combined water be driven off safely at around 600 degrees then up to 950 which takes around 15 hours in my kiln. Slow cool over a couple of days back to room temperature.

They survived? Good next stage, dust it, wax the foot ring, stir the glaze oh yes you got it already mixed and soaked and sieved at least twice, dip the mug and set to dry just the minute or so this time, wipe the foot ring, touch up where you held it and back into the kiln again. This pack though being more careful not to let the pots be close enough to kiss, and not too dense a pack and not having pots too near the elements. Up we go again to 1055 with an hours soak at the top and slowly slowly down again, a couple of days cooling and unpack the mug.

Finally you get to see if it has made it, is the glaze fully melted? Is it shiny? Smooth? Still on the pot? Not boiled? No debris dropped and stuck in it?

If it got through all that and I’m happy with it and it will work, it will hold liquid, you can hold it comfortably, drink from it and it looks good – marvelous!

And someone has the cheek to tell me my mugs are too expensive!
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13 Responses to To make a mug

  1. Anonymous says:

    A Master Class – who is the Mug now?

  2. paul jessop says:

    You should hang this on your showroom wall. I bet you will get two distinct reactions.1. quietly agree and walk away.2. Loudly agree and happily buy a pot.

  3. June Perry says:

    I addressed this on my blog a few days ago. Here's the text from the message:WHAT GOES INTO MAKING A SODA/SALT FIRED MUG? (I’m so glad you asked!!)1. Make shopping list and drive to Asheville to pick up clay (over a 2 ½ hour round trip).2. Unload and store clay in studio.3. Wedge clay.4. Weigh amount of clay needed for mug.5. Fill a bucket of water for throwing, put a bat on the wheel head, center clay and throw the body of the mug.6. Remove bat off the wheel,let mug firm up a bit and then cut it off the wheel, invert, and let sit several hours or overnight, depending on weather, till it’s leather hard and ready for trimming.7. Put mug back on wheel, center and attach clay lugs to hold it down, sharpen trim tool and trim as needed.8. Wedge more clay, and hand pull mug handle.9. Let the handle dry 1 hr or more; depending on weather.10. Attach handle to trimmed mug and sign mug.11. Re-mix previously made flashing slips,(which took an hour or so to weigh raw materials, add water, mix and sieve) and dip mug in slip, wipe any drips, sponge off the bottom, then brush, dip or spray second slip if using.12 Mix and sieve decorating slip and draw design on mug if needed.13 Clean wheel and bat, wash tools, and sweep the floor. Put clay scraps in bucket or into clay mixer for reclaiming.14. Let mug dry till bone dry (about a week, depending on weather).15. Vacuum and load bisque kiln and fire about ten to twelve hours to over 1800 degrees F.16. Let kiln cool a day or two and unload.17. Mix and sieve glazes.18. Wax bottoms of pots if needed. Glaze inside of mug and outside as needed.19 Wash buckets,sieves,mixer and sponges, and store.20. Let glazed mug dry thoroughly for a day.21. Weigh out a batch of wadding, add water and mix, then form individual wads. Glue several wads to the bottom of mug to prevent it from sticking to the kiln shelf. (This takes a whole day for a kin load of pots.)22. When ware cart is full, wheel it to kiln room. If glazes or slips get bumped on the way or while loading, set aside to redo later.23. Wedge clay and make draw tiles, and cone packs for the firing.24. Sprinkle and smooth alumina hydrate on kiln shelf before setting pots on shelves.25 Vacuum kiln and start loading.26. Brick up the door of the kiln.27 Mix up kiln mud and use large pastry bag and large tip to mud up the cracks in the door.28 Turn the pilot burner on low, and let it slowly warm up several hours.29 2- 3 am or so get up and turn up that burner. (I drink a big glass of water before going to bed to make sure I get up in a few hours to tend to the kiln) Go back to bed for a couple more hours if I can.27. Early next morning start firing, by slowly turning on the main burners. While kiln is firing so some studio cleanup.28. Monitor firing – check kiln every 15-30 minutes, adjusting burners and dampers as needed, and logging the firing as it progresses.29. Toward end of firing, get the soda solution weighed, mixed and strained, and set aside. Test sprayer to make sure it’s working OK.30.. When cone 8 is starting, put soda solution in sprayer and start walking around the very hot kiln, spraying in all the ports. Wait 15-20 minutes and repeat (this step is repeated for 1 ½ – 2 hours, until draw rings indicate the desired amount of soda/salt deposit).31. When kiln reaches temperature (around 2400F), shut off burners, push in dampers.32. Dump or save any ash solution not used and wash sprayer very well.33. Next morning sweep kiln room, tidy ware cart, put away unused wadding, kiln mud, and other tools used to prepare for and during the firing.34. 3 days later, when kiln has cooled to 300 F slowly start slowly un-bricking kiln during the day. When pots are cool enough to handle, start unloading. *Can check my blog from a few days ago for the rest of the list. :-) June Perryhttp://shambhalapottery.blogspot

  4. Good for you! Maybe you should have a print out with all sales? To your summary And you know the extra faff, I mean perfecting, time I put into mine…..

  5. Alex Solla says:

    This topic has been floating around quite a few potter's blogs this summer. I think your response was perfect. We make 5 different drinking forms. From soupmugs, to teabowls, diner mugs, footed mugs, tumblers… they all do the same job. But when someone mentions price as a deal breaker, I point them at something with a lower price point and then they start asking why the price difference. Sometimes they care that our footed mugs are stamped, sliptrailed and have added feet. Takes me an extra 10 min per mug. Tumblers dont take even 10 min to make in their entirety. But when they look back at the footed mug that caught their eye in the first place, they still want it. Some even covet it. Might not buy it, but they still want it.I'm okay with that. I think there needs to be some pots that folks covet. Nancy and I have been trying to design new work that would allow for MORE of that. Most of what we make is very affordable, so this would give us a higher tier for folks to aspire to. Would also provide us with some much needed intellectual breathing room and some opportunity to PLAY! I think in the end, as Tony Clennel says frequently on Clayart: " Potters have only so many pots in our hands" We can only make so many pots each year. I abhor the idea of making cheaper pots by making them anything less than my vision! So, I price them so we can make enough to live. Good luck with your endeavours.

  6. When people ask how long it takes me to make a mug (for example) I might say "ten minutes plus 26 years experience since I started…".I mean, do they sit down and argue over the dentist's work? The florist? The price of toothpaste?F##k 'em all! Oh.That sounds impolite….

  7. ang says:

    hehehehe some peeps never learn…..my usual response to that kind of comment is turn away and smile or verbally to send them to the $5 shop,……..(and stop wasting my time)……still smiling…..hehehehe

  8. I get the "how long does it take you to make one of those?" questions a lot. At least a couple of times each show. Now maybe I'll post a copy of Hannah's detailed explanation. I get $20-30 for my mugs, depending on size. People don't seem to object, but of course I have no idea who walks away silently thinking they're overpriced.

  9. ajsimmons says:

    such a good blog Hannah. The worth of something seems to have gone so wrong over the years. We seem to value 'entertainers' the highest and then we all fall into line way below….something on my mind a lot too….but so well put! Amanda x

  10. I read your account with a smile, but in truth it is depressing really the people just don't know how much effort goes into making anything. If I get a comment like this I go for the whole 25 years and two weeks argument or I get really deep and begin with God and the creation of the universe and all its bounty. I am offended when people say my work is too expensive and at the end of the day it is very rude, but then people are. Keep potting and don't let them grind you down.

  11. Linda B says:

    There is quite a good account of pricing herehttp://www.clayart.ca/00202My%20Library/00300Article_Pricing_Our_Work_Page.htm

  12. I was just thinking today that with the 'sports' mugs I make, on top of the years potting experience I also had to learn how to windsurf, sail and ride a mountain bike.HA, Maybe I should add that into the equation? PS Sorry about the first comment – I pressed publish by mistake as I was interrupted and I'm afraid that I didn't make sense. Never mind, others have made up for it with excellent sense.

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