My Favorite Tools

By Karen Wise

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Tools turn every potter into a hoarder. We have to have a ton of them for some reason even if we only use a third of them. I’m not ashamed to admit that I am one of these people. I have tried tools from all over the country, some hand-made and some manufactured at factories, however, I keep returning to my old faithful collection of tools I use every day. I’m a part-time potter who grew up in the Chicago area and relocated to Seattle two and a half years ago. I remember the first time I visited Seattle and saw a beautiful three dimensional world complete with mountains and water, wowzah it was amazing compared to the flat land that I came from! I was in love with the city and the nature that was so very close. My pottery is inspired by my Native American heritage, the earthiness of clay, line and design. I’m a carver who likes the flow of line and the raw feel of clay (this began as mud pies in beer caps when I was a kid). The magical process of turning a lump of wet gooey clay into a utilitarian something is still a thrill to me when opening the lid of the kiln on the last firing; patience is my biggest battle.

Tools, tools, and more tools. I get asked all the time what are the tools I use to carve and how do I glaze my pieces. Well my WCA friends, I am going to share and you didn’t even ask yet! My most favorite bat in the whole wide world is the WonderBat Bat Adapter set (1). The outer bat fits on your wheel head’s bat pins while the 6” squares fit inside snugly. Most of my wheel thrown pieces do not have a base larger than 6” (mugs and such) so it’s not necessary to use a 12” bat. I can line a ton of these up on my shelves while waiting for the leather hard trim stage unlike a 12” bat. The inserts are so inexpensive too so I have 2 adapters and a ton of squares. The material is nice to throw on too. It’s a compressed board but not like the Masonite type, it's way nicer and feels really good when throwing unlike the plastic bats. What’s the main difference between the WonderBats and other bats you ask?

Well the bat pin holes have rubber grommets in them so the holes don’t wear out (you never get that annoying “shooka shooka”). Cut off wires, yeah I’ve gone through a few of the ones with the wooden handles in my time. My preference are the Mudtools wire cutters (2). They come in different gauge wires with nice plastic handles in different colors. I have had mine a long time and the handles have never broken free from the wire and the wire has yet to fray so I’m liking this brand’s wire cutter quite a bit.

The Shimpo banding wheel (3), what can I say? It was a total investment, can’t live without it now that I have it and it does not compare with any other banding wheel in the market. It has double bearing action so it spins effortlessly forever, well almost. I use the triangle and square mini ribbon tools (4) to do all my carving; I cannot go without these and usually buy them in bulk.  Since I carve so much, the wire thins and eventually  breaks. So far I cannot find a replacement for these! Dolan tools (5) are another favorite of mine. I can sharpen them, they last forever, and they are individually made by one of my close friends, ( girl power) Sue Dolan! I recently started using the tool shown which has a triangle tip for the bottom of pots before I wire them off of the bats when throwing. This gives me a nice edge to work with when trimming, wiring off or if im not going to trim, I can leave the bottom as is. Then there is the bitty red Mudd tool rib that is super flexible. This is great for smoothing out my surface while throwing or hand building and won’t cut me like those metal ribs.

The Mudtool ribs (6) come in all shapes, sizes and flexibilities; the color indicates the flexibleness. The best wooden rib for the inside bottom of bowls or mugs would be the wooden rib from Shimpo (7). It has a tiny point which is just enough for where the wall meets the floor of the inside of a cup or vase and has the perfect roundness for any inside bottom form when throwing. To do my glazing I use these needle tip see through bottles by Falcon (8). They are inexpensive and come in different gauge size needles and you can see how much glaze you have left in the bottle when using them. I inlay my glaze when I carve and spending money on wax that just burns off seemed like a waste, it smelled, and left lots of room for error if I did not get the wax where I wanted it. I started using the squeeze bottle instead! The last tool on my list are my foam pads(9). I use them all the time when carving so that my pots don’t get dented from the table or to flip big platters that need a soft landing, it’s a necessity for any studio!

Those are my favorite tools in my studio today…ask me tomorrow, it could change!