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192 Jim Boone Rd
Bakersville, NC, 28705
United States


The central information hub for Michael Kline Pottery, a small one man shop of pottery making in the mountains of western North Carolina.

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The Best of Sawdust and Dirt

A record of the goings on around Michael Kline Pottery!

Filtering by Tag: throwing

Capping and Throwing a Big Jar

Michael Kline

Today I made jugs. (or maybe you call them bottles?)

Anyway, it made me think of one of my favorite posts from the early blog days of 2007. I still make pots in the same way, except the cordless headphones are long since gone and I don’t have the ball opener installed (yet). ;-) [See original post here.]

Enjoy. If you have questions or comments, leave a comment, below. ;-) I would love to answer them!

thanks, Michael

Here are the tools on my bench...

Centering about 8 lbs of home clay

Opening the bottom with a ball opener/bottom maker.

Here I open the bottom of the pot with ball opener in my left hand and sponge in my right hand. I forgot to take off my geeky wireless headphones for the photo shoot!?#@!

I am measuring the bottom section to match it to the previously thrown cap. I usually throw the cap ever so slightly smaller than the bottom section.

Here I am adding the "cap" that I actually made before I threw the bottom section. I measured the cap before I took it off the wheel with my calipers, then set it aside. The cap is slightly smaller than the bottom section. One advantage to capping is that the clay is still wet and can still be stretched and thrown. The other advantage is that the torque in the clay, or the throwing lines are in the same direction in both sections.

The two sections are "welded" together. With my left(inside) hand I move at the same time as the right (outside) hand and in the opposite direction.

Then I make the opposite move with the weld. This "cancels out" the marks so that when the pot is turned you don't get caught in the ruts of any makes you have made.

The section is ribbed and thrown.

After the sections are thrown together and consistent, the rim is measured for the next cap.

A new cap is thrown. The cap has no bottom and the ball opener rides on the wheel head.

Measuring the cap. Throw the cap wider at the base then you think you may need. Its always easier to narrow than widen. When I cut the cap off, and set aside I always make the table wet so the cap doesn't stick to the table when I need to lift and put into place later.

The cap is set in place. I really don't score the sections, but I make sure that the section below is scraped of slurry.

The second cap is thrown into place and the rim is set.

The whole pot is ribbed and thrown into shape. At some point I rib from the inside only , but I find that the "line" of the pot looks stronger if you can thrown the shape in rather than just ribbing it. I didn't photograph the 5 inch stand that I have to get up on while doing these final reaches for the bottom. Also either roll your sleeves up or wear a cut off shirt and mind your apron. These can snag your pot and ruin it.

Here we see our geeky potter hamming it up after the work is done. Handles will go on the jar in the morning.

When The Mud Meets The Bat

Michael Kline

I listened to The Potters Cast #116 with Connee Mayeron and heard the most wonderful way of describing the excitement of throwing.

At 49:10 Connee explains,

I don't want to measure what I'm throwing with a caliper, because I want the tension of when the form is kind of at it's most significant moment, when it's the most alive. I want to stop throwing at that point. So whether it's an inch in or an inch out, I don't really care. I'm always looking for that vibrancy.
Connee also has great answers to a couple of Paul Blais's slightly canned "mud meets the bat" questions, at times taking him by surprise with her directness! Paul has a great sense of humor and laughs with pleasant surprise to her fresh attitude. It made for a lively convo!

It's a great episode and I totally recommend it and all of Paul's shows. If you don't already, you should subscribe [here], whether you are a potter, a sculptor, or someone who loves to get insights into the creative process.

I look forward to meeting Connee next year at the Minnesota Pottery Tour. [and talking to Paul on his podcast! ;-)]


Michael Kline

marks made with serrated metal rib and wooden ribs in freshly thrown clay

First my apologies with the above photo experiment. It's just that I wanted to fiddle with the picture and clicked this and clicked that until I discovered that I could mask around this freshly thrown plate with a click of a button in iPhoto. The only reason I am using iPhoto in the first place is because I asked Ron how I was supposed to get all of those damn pictures off my iPad, he said "iPhoto!" I said, "Duh!" Sometimes the most obvious things elude me.  That's right, I'm not the geek you might think I am. I haven't used iPhoto much, mainly because I thought it was awful, but maybe it's because I screwed up ALL of  Simon's pictures on his laptop at NCECA 2 years ago using iPhoto (take my advice, never borrow someone else's laptop)

Back to the blog: Just thought I would share the above quirky-wheel-deco-exploration. It seems like too much to me at the moment, but it's early yet. We'll see. I'm firing the kiln soon, need to keep making! Later!


Michael Kline

from Facebook
Hi Brett,

It all depends. Some weeks I'm very productive and some weeks things go slowly. At the beginning of my session before a firing, I may make a handful of pots a day. Closer to the firing deadline, I'm filling up tables, checking off my make list. Ironically, when I'm at the top of my throwing game (like now!) it's time to stop making! I should have stopped making pots last week, but my make list says that I still need so many of "x, y, and z". The compounded effect of this deadline kind of thinking is that the last minute making steals from the time I need to paint and glaze the existing pots and then steal again when they, too, want to be decorated. The image in my mind to describe this is one you might be familiar with. You know when there is an traffic jam on the interstate and everybody politely is waiting, then somebody decides that they are more important than the rest and passes  in the breakdown lane to get to the front? That's what the pots that I made yesterday will be doing to get into the kiln by Friday.

So to answer your question (or not) it varies. I try to average about 20 pots of various sizes a day. I also try to balance pots that require trimming and post-wheel work with pots that just have to be turned over to dry.

I'm not very good at making pots and decorating at the same time, so I tend to "stockpile" my bisque ware and sit down for a week before the loading and firing of the kiln surrounded by stacks of plates, jars cups, etc. All of them waiting for some sort of decorative treatment. Once I get rolling the intimidation of that many pots melts away and the exhilaration of painting patterns  becomes exciting.

So, Brett, I hope that approximates a good answer to your question.

Here are a few pots I've made in the last couple of days. 

Monday Plate Day

Michael Kline

Today was a fine day, not exactly normal, but a good day. Not normal because intern Adam MacKay was here working which meant we were actually going to do some pottery work!

The day began with the unfortunate and untimely demise of our Holly Walker bowl which we have used for many years to hold all sorts of things. It was a favorite salad bowl and held many a Monday night's Broccoli Pasta. It's last passengers seem to be a stale bag of oatmeal bread, a family of smarties, and a lone pixie stix. All the occupants  survived the six foot fall from the top of the fridge, but the vessel was totalled. We will miss you Holly Walker bowl, but now you will suffer random and disparate foods no more.

The showroom remodel was put off for a day and Adam and I cleared away the debris that had occupied my shop to make room for some freshly thrown pots. We ridded the sub level of the work table that had a couple of years worth of random clay bodies never used and dried up.  It's time to break the monopoly of floor space this table takes by splitting this table in two and adding some casters, which will lend some flexibility to the work space.

As I do so often, I threw plates to start the session off. Adam and I discussed spiral wedging and after a few balls he was settling in to some unselfconscious wedging. It's nice to have someone weigh and wedge.

Suppertime brought some confidence back to handling some nice pots from our cupboard. Here is a corner of our domestic real estate, a very nice neighborhood, you could say, with a few Sam Taylor pots with an adjacent Rick Hensley. Pesto with locally produced goat cheese, carrots, and of course fresh seltzer from my SodaStream. The girls like it very much and we have some flavor testing to look forward to in the morning. Evelyn made a simple syrup with fresh mint that sits cooling on the stove.

Life is good.


Michael Kline

I hope that this will be the last numerical cliche I will use this year, but I kind of doubt that I will be able to show such restraint. But this blog had to restart somewhere after a successful, restful holiday without blogging!

So, why make 12 by 12 when you can do 11 by 11 in '11? The sharply pointed winter light of the morning combined with the whiteness of this clay made it very difficult to work with my shades, but I fought through the visual pain of seeing/not seeing.

The clay is good, the hands a little forgetful, and the eyes squinting. That's how I began the first Monday of the year. More thoughts and ramblings will follow, but there are more pots to make today and I hope you will be along for the ride.

Until then...

Cylinders and Spheres

Michael Kline

As I was chasing after a relatively basic shape, the cylinder, I thought that I should cover some other archetypal shapes. So I thought that I would make some closed sphere and "thought" of the possibilities for scrolling patterns on these round forms. But when I got to actually closing the forms, I couldn't get myself to do it. There's something about the vessel. Even with such an impractically small opening, these are still pots and within the realm of what I do. But I think that the spheres will actually be "rounder" when they are closed. I'll be able to rib them completely over the top and once the form is closed the air is trapped and the shape can be made round with ease (I hope)

I'll go for it tomorrow and let you know how my theory plays out.

More then...night night...


Michael Kline

georgette is coming!

Evelyn and I were up in the shop the other day and she asked me to remake a funny mug that I had made a while back. It had a twist in the middle and I had put a handle on it to make a joke. But she really liked it. I don't remember if it broke, as a lot of pots do around here eventually, but here is that one's twisted cousin. I made this one a vase as the mug was hard to clean (for obvious reasons).

It just so happens that Don Pilcher is coming this week. Don is one of my new contributors to Sawdust & Dirt and hopefully we'll hear from him soon!

More fun ahead this week, I'm sure. This is "crank it up" week! Time to get BUSY!


Michael Kline

Just finished the yunomis. I'm not that excited by them. If I had more time I would go back to the wheel where I could take the info from the trimming session and work that into new forms. It's a chicken and egg situation. But here they are. What do you think? I know it's all about holding these cups, and without that info it's tough to assess. Then think about all the pots you've ever seen in books, even in museums, that you haven't touched or picked and think about how biased we are to surface because of that. It's crazy! To me this form is so much about holding.

These feel a little heavy in places and some feel too thin/light


Michael Kline

Across the table point of view

To finish up the big pots for the kiln I made six matching 3 gallon jars. Usually when I make these pots, they're all a little different, necks smaller/larger, height, width, etc. but these are for an order I took last month for set sets of lamps! They're pretty close. This was a first for me to try to match up large pots. I thought that as long as they're about six feet apart they'll be perfect.


Up late again last night and feeling it this morning. I guess you can only cram for so long before your body starts screaming back at you. Unfortunately I caught a flu bug from Stacey a day or so ago and have been dealing with sore throat and achy muscles and now sneezing and runny nose! Consequently I don't feel up to making pots. But at this point it's not my decision. The firing can't be pushed back any further.

Last night I think the fever broke after the third jar. I guess working at this fever pitch is taking on more than the usual meaning.

Coffee Break vol. 24

Michael Kline

Wow! Guess what came in the mail the other day?! Yes it's a beautiful piece of Rascal ware by the notorious Georgette Ohr! It made for a most interesting coffee break. No doubt Georgette would have blended some chicory in her brew, but I am currently into the new Eight O'Clock Dark Italian Roast, yeah! This fine piece of rascal ceramic is made with a dark black porcelain which went well with the mud I drank from it. Also featured is this delightful super crawly glaze. You may be able to tell from the photo, but it has a great angle of repose. The tip of the lip gave me a pause before filling the cup all the way up, 'cause you know a full cup is hard to carry (without spilling!) Not that I was walking around during this here break. No, No, I sat outside to squint at the sun that graced the afternoon in all of its bright whiteness! After yesterdays rain it was a glaringly welcome sight.

Another obvious feature of this cup is it's bulge near its base. This "sit-down" bulge poses something of a secret. You can't really see under the bulge and that makes me curious. Maybe I'll need a dental mirror! Just last night, I was throwing a big 12 pounder when, just before I was finished with one last ribbing, the top dropped at a very thin place in the clay wall. It collapsed so evenly that it just hung there as I tried to correct it. Well, you can imagine who won that wrestling match. This cup masterfully exploits a similar structural circumstance and gives the pot it's distinct presence. Fozen by fire is this almost dilapidated flop of a pot that leans proudly in a defiant swagger!

Boo Hoo and The Effects of Pottery on Hamsters Guinea Pigs

Michael Kline

Briefly, Monday wasn't that great, nothing to report except a bunch of "poor. poor, pitiful me". I continued to correct my clay mixing that began it's ill fate on Saturday. The red dirt that I had blunged and screened, turned out to be more wartery than needed to add to the dry mix. My calculations were a little off. I guess I never thought about how much liquid I actually had. After drawing as much water off of the red dirt slip, I still had a twenty gallon garbage can and a 15 gallon tub. That's quite a lot of liquid for 350 lbs. of dry clay. So I threw up my racks and poured the red dirt slip in the racks to drip overnight. This morning I added the slightly thicker slip to the dry mix and ran the mixer most of the day trying to get the right dryness. Finally I put half of the bungs in the sun to dry out before I pugged. This firmed up the blend quite a bit in the breeze and sun. There's got to be a better way. The mixer is very slow when the clay is so wet. I think it was designed for much stiffer clay. With my very soft mix, the tines just "spun" and didn't really "push" the clay through...oh, well.

I did manage to trim the bowls from the other day, although, woe is me, I trimmed through several. Some real rookie moves. It wasn't my trimming that I was having trouble with, but the bottoms of the bowls were really too thin to cut a foot. It was a case of design not matching the circumstances. I left a couple with flat bottoms, but they just didn't seem right. [sorry, no pictures to illustrate this point] In the end, the bowls seemed too light and will probably become potatoes in the firing, if I keep them at all.

I finished up the day with some more bowls. I made a few of this style of bowl aprés Rock Creek Pottery. I used to have several of Douglass and Will's cereal bowls, but they all eventually met their Waterloo. I made a handful of these last firing and got one or two right while the others missed their mark. It's a tricky pot made particularly tricky when made from memory. But the memories of those bowls is maybe better for the hands in the making. After all, I hand washed those bowls for years and must retain some memory in the way they felt in weight and shape!

I'll end this sob story with a couple of funny pictures. I'm sure you can guess who's pot this is?! Ron probably doesn't know the effect his pottery has on hamsters guinea pigs!!

one hamster guinea pig

two hamsters guinea pigs

Jar the Memory

Michael Kline

There was something nice about this tiny jar that I found compelling. I'm not sure what is is, maybe proportions, maybe handles. Pottery is a subtle game. The trick will be to remember this pot and be ready to recognize it when it appears on the wheel again.

Ahhh Shucks

Michael Kline

The fact that there is only about 200# of red dirt clay
may be effecting the scale of this a.m.'s pots.

It's lunch time and while I'm down at the house and near the Tower of Power, I thought I'd share with you the cozy scene in the shop this morning. Just imagine the clouds outside breaking into blue after two days of sogginess. The air is crisp and breezy. Inside the woodstove is keeping things warm . Jack has found a cozy place on the floor near the stove and breaks into a pant from time to time. The clip clop of the treadle wheel sounds as I throw these 10 oz. little pots. It's a good day to be making pots.

Muddy Shoes

Michael Kline

"Did you hear about the midnight rambler?
He'll leave his footprints up and down your hall"
-The Rolling Stones
rainy muddy walk with jack.

This post started out a little whiney and pitiful. After all, today was a wash, inside the shop and outside, as it rained all day. It's still raining. That's good! It's been so dry and there have been some fires on the mountain.

But I deleted all that talk about flopped pots, about my clay being too soft, about the clay not cooperating, about too much coffee on a rainy day making me too uptight, too wound up to throw properly.........oh! [reprinted with permission from the author's subconcious]

After I figured out that the clay was, indeed, too soft for the 1 gallon jars that I was trying to get right, it was too late for any more potting. I had a bunch of pots that still needed to be handled before I hit the sack. They'll have to wait till tomorrow!

Blog Secret: When you haven't made a lot of work to show off at the end of the day, post a bunch of pictures, taken from different angles!

the midnight rambler

Running with the Ball

Michael Kline

Just wrapping up the day with a brief post, here. I couldn't stop making the little jars and working out the handles. When you're on a roll, keep spinning. It probably doesn't get better than the moment when you're in the flow of a certain shape.

The tools are there, the clay is just right, and most importantly you've made thirty already! It's like going that extra mile, or firing that second chamber of a wood kiln. It's the gravy!

the table at the end of the workday

the first series

Another pot that I worked on today was one based on the one that Kyle gave me last spring! I had to smuggle this one out of the cupboard because Stacey has been keeping it in her car! Anyway, what is there about the desire to copy? It is an interesting process, one that we as potters do instinctively, as a way to understand pots, our own pots. I think it's a necessary part of our process. Where would any potter be without mimicking the pots that have come before her or him?

detail with impact driver and Carpenter cup

We build on the history. It's like getting passed the ball and deciding what to do with it. Run? Yes!! So the process works like this for me. I start out with calipers, er, no, just kidding, although I have used calipers to measure and put down on paper a pot's proportions, but that is rare for me. I set out to make a lot of the pot in question. I rarely throw one out, but keep them all to help figure out and compare line, weight, details...Then I make a bunch! Each one in the series is a reaction to the one that came before. I do this until I forget that I'm trying to make a replica and get to a good flow where I'm accepting the way the pot wants to be made with my hands, my thoughts. The original and it's nature are all the time in my mind. The uncountable times I've used this cup weigh in on some subconscious plane. Out of the twenty five that I made this evening, about 2 or 3 were right on. At least for now. The other part of this pottery riddle is that I'm comparing all of my attempts on a finished pot. There is information that I'm picking up from the fired weight, the texture of glaze and slip, the pattern, color. I can only speculate on the way my copies will fare by the time they are decorated, glazed, and fired. Yet I have to start somewhere. Generally features that I pick up on in the original are exaggerated. So tomorrow the riddle of the Carpenter cup will continue and I'll mull over some more thoughts about this process.

Hiding in the Process

Michael Kline

the tools used to make the jars

Whenever I'm throwing a series of pots, say, these 2 # jars, it seems it takes a few flops and a few bad ones to get to where I'm wanting to go. Self conciousness, the right firmness of the clay, the tools needed, the ability to focus all play their role in the beginning. Then a flow happens in the repetition, a kind of hand jive with the clay and the whell.

Hopefully next week will be more of a flow. I'm sure these little jars will be fine. One of the saving graces of pottery making is its redemption through repetition. It's my constant hope that there will be one or two out of this bunch that will really shine, that's all I can can hope for. Of course from a business standpoint, there will be many more that are just fine and will appeal to the folks who support my work at my upcoming sales. But what I'm talking about are the ones that have a little extra. That little extra is what Christopher Alexander and his team of architects called "the quality without a name" in their work, The Timeless Way of Building. The poetic combination of clay, glaze, firing, handling, that adds up to a greater sum than it's mere parts. Maybe in my lifetime of making pots this will happen a few times in each kiln load.

the table "at the end of the day"

Tech Talk: Short Clay, Big Jars

Michael Kline

The clay I use is a little bit short.

To counter the openess of the clay I turn the pot in the opposite
direction a few turns to "close" it up.

The flakiness near the bottom is from over drying with my torch and also shortness of clay, but it's a nice texture. After more ribbing, though, it goes away.

From last night. These jars range from 15-18 lbs. (6.8-8.2kg) in clay. Thrown in two sections using caps. I'm going to make a few more of these today. I need to fill a kiln up!