Sunday, February 15, 2015


Recently I purchased some large cones used to check the temperature the kiln is firing at.  Because I have a kiln that uses a kiln sitter and doesn't have a temperature controller or a thermocouple, I am relying heavily on the little mini cone that bends when it reaches a certain temperature to turn off the kiln.

I've had my suspicions that my old sitter kiln may be firing higher than what I wanted it too. Some of my glazes had been starting to run a little too much, it never used to be too much of an issue.

I had the opportunity to purchase a used portable thermometer that could be used to measure temperatures up to 1300degrees Celcius.  While it needed the end replaced, it was still useable and appeared to have a reasonably accurate temperature.

Firstly the end is placed in the kiln peephole while the kiln was firing and after a fairly short wait it comes up with the temperature at the end of the wire.
(just a demo to show how it works, kiln already emptied)
The kiln had been loaded and had been on for 8 hours already.  When I put the probe in it came right up to 1094degrees Celcius.  Because this was a bisque firing I only wanted it to go to cone 04 (approx. 1000degrees Celcius)  Already it was 100 degrees over according to this thermometer.   The kiln turned off shortly after.

This is a pic of the little 04 cone that bends when it reaches the correct temperature.  When it bends the middle bar falls down when triggers the cut  off switch. The number of the cone correlates to the temperature it bends at.
I thought with end probe being a little burnt off that perhaps it wasn't that accurate anyway.
However when I unloaded the kiln I found that the two large o4 cones that had been sitting on the top and bottom shelf had well and truly fallen and were resting on the kiln shelf.  This had confirmed the over firing.
 A closer look at the fallen 04 cone that was on the top shelf
Normally the cone wouldn't bend right over to touch the shelf.  Unfortunately I don't have any 03 cones to see just how far the temperature really did get.
The pots from this load all looked a little duller in colour than the normal pinky bisque shade.  Just slightly though.
It will be interesting to see how well they absorb the glaze. I'm also wondering just how long this has been happening as usually I don't put cones on the shelves to check.
The large crescent that I talked about in the last blog was bisque fired with this load as well.
The top overhang did drop quite a bit, I had a feeling it might.  It will be interesting to see how much more it drops in the final glaze firing where the temperature is another 260-80 degrees above the bisque.

The lesson I've learned is to regularly check the firing temperatures with cones on the shelves.  Not too important with the glaze firing as most of my clays/glazes will withstand a little higher temperature without any negative affects, but the bisque firing temperature can affect how much glaze can be absorbed as the clay has already started to vitrify and is not so porous.

Things would be much easier if I had a new kiln with a temperature controller and a thermocouple, then I'd know exactly at a glance what was going on.  It looks like I'll have to sell a heap of bonsai pots to afford one of those!



Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Here 'tis.
Its dimensions are: 37cm high x 43cm long x 9cm deep(at lowest point)  30cm wide at bottom
or in inches:  14inches high x 17inches long x 3.5inches deep(at lowest point)  12 inches wide at bottom.                       
Someone a few months ago had asked if I could make one approx. 40cm high and long.  Unfortunately I think this will be as large as I can make without having an extra pair of hands to help handle the sometimes awkward process.
After a bit of head scratching, hunting and innovation I managed to make a larger crescent bonsai pot.  The final shape was a little hit and miss as I had to more or less "hang" it upside down until it got to the leather hard stage.
Its supported by a stick and two big globs of clay at each end.  Its the only way I could think of for supporting the convex part of the pot.  I leaned a piece of gib offcut against the outer wall as well.  Even though its leather hard, there is a lot of stress on that curve. Gravity is saying it should be bending down, and I'm saying "stay up there until you're dry!

There is only a small flat area on the bottom.  I've added lots of small holes instead of large drainage holes.  When I remove the support I'll add one large hole in the middle.
This is the view looking into it.  Its not the view that the pot would be displayed at, so I'm not too bothered about the excess clay on the right side.
  I have a few questions and would value the opinion of some more experienced bonsai enthusiasts. Especially those that have used this type of pot before and have come across problems.

1.    Does it look deep enough for a reasonable sized  trees rootball?

2     I'm worried that it may tip backwards unless there's more weight put on  the front end, (addition of a rock at the front to counterbalance the weight of the top curve?

3.    I haven't added feet as I feel it would spoil the sweeping flick shape. I know it needs to be off the ground slightly for drainage, would a few pebbles/stones placed underneath be enough?

4.    The drainage holes in the bottom, would these small holes and one larger in the middle be enough?

5.    What do you think of the proportions, should it be higher and less long, or longer and more sleek looking?

I personally am really pleased with how its turned out so far, but still a long way to go before its finished.  A bisque and glaze firing to get through first.  Which makes me wonder if I am going to need to support the upper part of the pot in the kiln as well, especially in the glaze firing when the clay gets quite soft at the higher temperatures..... perhaps someone can help out with a suggestion to that wee problem.

Will keep you posted on how she turns out.  Fingers crossed!!

Friday, January 16, 2015


There had been a few bonsai pots sitting on the shelf unfinished for the last couple of months.  Mainly because I had decided to play around with the recipe for the ivory crackled pots.

3/4 of this small load was the result of  "cross your fingers and hope it works out!"

I'll sort through them over the next day or two and put some of them on my "Bonsai Pots for Sale" page

 These were the pots that came out.  I was really pleased with them, especially the large round one on the end.
 The bottom of this pot was quite dark, as I realized when I applied the wash to it.  A lot of the darkness fired out, but the lower area is still quite dark compared to the middle and top.
 This pot is one that I've labelled as special.  Sometimes a pot will come out of the kiln and it has that something special. Nothing you can pin point in words, it just has that X factor.  Everything has come together.  This one is quite honey coloured.  The crackling is just amazing on it.  I suspect it may be a "keeper", may have to think about it for a day or two.
 This one is a little lighter in colour and the crackles are quite vertical, a feminine type pot.
 Instead of making a crackled texture on this one, I decided to accentuate the throwing rings on the outside.  The wash picked up most of them, but I'll try making deeper grooves with either my fingers or the end of a chop stick to make them stand out a little more on the next one.

 This pot reminds me a little of a light timber floor finish,  very nice though, and a little different.
 This was the corner of the pot in the previous post with the attempted wasp nest on it.  I unfortunately had to scrape it off before firing (in case it melted), but you can see where a little bit that remained has melted into the pot (the lighter colour in the corner)
 This was the pot that I'd made from a mold that had been sitting in the shed for ages.  To be honest....there was no enjoyment in making it.  I knew how it was going to turn out shape wise, there was no room for creativity, apart from the opportunity to play around with a glaze.  All I can say about it is that its finished and out of the way!
 Another one of those special pots......Its 43cm diameter, round and has the most beautiful crackled texture. The pictures don't do it justice.  Its one of those pots that you just go "wow" when you see it.  It looks like its been around for hundreds of years, through all sorts of weather etc.  Perhaps this one is a "keeper" as well.

It's funny how you can get so attached to the pots you make,  its a bit like having a small seedling that you've nursed along for many years and now its a beautiful looking bonsai tree. You would never dream of selling or giving it away.  The same goes for some starts as a lump of clay, you shape it, carefully and slowly let it dry, you then bisque fire it, then you have to decide how to finish it before the final glaze firing.  All along you may have an idea of what you want the finished pot to look like, just the same as you have an idea in your head of what you eventually want your mature bonsai to look like.  Granted, it doesn't take years, but the same love, care and attention goes into it.
 Enough waffling I think. The glass of water is for gets stinking hot in the garage when the sun comes out, like sitting in an oven at times, even with the doors open.  Such is the weather down here in Southland, the best in New Zealand I have to say.  

Don't forget to look in my Bonsai Pots for Sale page over the next few days, as I'll be updating it with more new pots.

Monday, January 12, 2015


I was quite happily unloading the kiln last week.  My usual routine....turning each pot over...tapping for that lovely ringing sound, scanning the surface looking for cracks etc.....then I found this.
This pot had been sitting on the shelf since about October last year, I never seemed to have the right amount of room to fit it in.

When I loaded it into the kiln I remember there being some dead spiders underneath on the shelf, but never though too much more about it, just flicked them off the shelf and carried on.

With a little research it appears that a lone female MASON WASP (native) decided that the underneath of this drying pot was a nice spot to build a nest and lay its eggs.
These wasps are loners, they don't have a hoard of worker bees looking after them.  They do it all on their own.

The female stuns/paralyzes spiders and puts them in these mud/clay cells and then lays an egg in each one.  She seals it off and then leaves.  When the egg turns into a larvae it gobbles down the food left for it (spiders) and then exits the cell.

The thing that amazed me was that the clay cells this little wasp made had withstood the bisque firing temperature of 1000degrees Celsius.  Anything that was in them had burnt out,  but the mud/clay walls remained intact......absolutely amazing!

I don't know the chemistry/biology of how the MASON WASP constructs the mud cells...but obviously with it being a red colour after firing it had a lot of iron in it, as does earthenware clay.  

Does it secrete this mud like substance?
Does it go hunting and collect the clay?
Does it stick to its legs like pollen on bees?                        Who knows?????

I would have dearly loved to have left it on the underneath of the pot, but there was a high risk that when it goes into the next firing that reaches temperatures of 1270 degrees Celsius + it will melt and stick to the kiln shelf.

Reluctantly, I scrapped it off this afternoon, but left a couple of small bits in one of the corners just to see if it would melt and turn into a "wasp glaze".

I'm in absolute awe of this cleaver little wasp, just incredible!  


Saturday, January 3, 2015


A great way to start the new year was to finally finish off recycling all the unfired clay that had been "squashed, collapsed, dropped, warped and rejected" from my bonsai pot making.

I'd accumulated 5 buckets full and wasn't even going to attempt wedging it all up by hand.

After getting permission from the President of the pottery club, I came home with their clay pug mill......nothing flash, but it does the job.

For those of you unfamiliar with how it works, basically you put the sloppy, lumpy clay in the top and squish it down with the leaver.

There's a round mixer type blade "thingy" in the bottom that mixes and combines the clay all together. Love this squishy clay bit, great for the skin!!

 Once the rectangle box is loaded up with clay, the lever is pressed down onto it and the clay is slowly pushed through the mixer.  The slower you press the lever down, the more the clay is mixed.

Hey presto..... out the other end comes the mixed up clay!

 I cut the clay off into small lengths.
Usually I put it through about 2 or 3 times, it really depends what the consistancy is like.  If it's too firm, I shosh a little water over the clay before it is put through again and it soon softens up.

Its also a good way to combine extra grog to a large amount of clay.  Also sometimes its handy when combining different clay types.
After a couple of hours doing this, all the buckets were empty and I had quite a pile of clay ready to be used.
My daughter (the photographer) was totally bored with the whole process and wandered off before I'd finished everything.  Not something that excites young teenagers!

From here, it was bagged up, labelled and put in an old fridge in the shed until I'm ready to make it into a few bonsai pots.

I had to pull the pug mill apart to clean it up and scrape all the clay out of the inside.  Usually you can stuff a damp cloth in the top and at the end to keep the clay soft for the next time you use it.  I've heard on the grapevine that its "desperately needed" at the clubrooms again, so its all clean ready to be returned... great not to have to get the hubby to fix it before I could use it this time too!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Coloured Aged Looking Bonsai Pots

I've been on a mission over the last 6 months to try and replicate a pot that had been made a year or two ago.

Unfortunately I don't seem to be in the habit of writing down my concoctions of washes and glazes.  It came back to bite me in the butt with this one.

You think at the time of making, that you'll remember......but it just slips away over the months, never to be remembered  again.

This is the pot, the large oval on the bottom.

Several people have tried to pry it away from me. Unsuccessfully I might add. 
The pic doesn't do it justice, it has that aged antique hard life look about it. 
I've made a few much smaller pots that have been close in appearance to it, but it wasn't until the last glaze firing that I think I've finally cracked the right recipe.
Its now written down!

 The other 4 on top of this oval are the results of the last firing - close enough I think.
Slowly but surely the shelves are getting stocked up again, they were looking a little bare after the spring repotting.

There still aren't too many ovals amongst them as they're quite time consuming to complete successfully.
You'll probably notice that I have a bit of a thing for pots with textures. So I had a bit of a play with coating clay and stretching it.

 This reminds me of the fissured bark on some bonsai trunks as it ages and stretches the outer layers of bark over the years.  This red colour will turn dark brown when fired with the recesses keeping the white colour of the clay.
This pot had a little white/buff slip mixed in while making the "crackle", it'll be interesting to see how this one turns out.

Some little accent planters with a stretched texture.  Its a shame you don't see much of it when they are turned up the right way, still enjoyable to make though.
 Finally, a few pots waiting to get their first bisque firing.   The kiln isn't big enough to hold too many of the larger pots, so it has to be a mixture of sizes to get it as full as possible.  Some pots can wait for a couple of months to get fired, it all depends on having the right space for them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Golden Cedar Bonsai Needs a Bit of a Thin Out

I decided to have a bit of a break from gardening and making pots a few weeks ago.(Nov 2014)

My Golden Cedar needed some of the foliage thinned out a bit.  Well actually, more than a bit.  The moss seems to have taken hold on most of the branches and branchlets.  Very little light was getting into some areas as the foliage was that thick.

It would only be a matter of time before some would get smothered and start to die off.  Truth be told, it should have been done last year.

As usual I'd already started before deciding to grab the camera.

 Its a little hard to see the silhouette of this cedar.  She is really quite wide at the moment. After struggling with the near drought conditions last year I just let it grow without nipping off or thinning any growth at all.

She is looking really healthy now, but all of the foliage is getting quite congested and untidy.  I started by thinning out the foliage quite a bit.  Very time consuming and slow work, as I was rubbing the moss off at the same time. 

 I probably  took a little too much off, but I'm in no doubt that by the end of summer (if we ever get one) it will have filled out again with just as much foliage.
 The foliage then really needed to be wired into the correct position.  However little wiring is done with this cedar as usually shaping is done mostly by pruning.
 This is the tree after I'd finished with it.  The trunk and branch structure is a little more clearer and there's plenty of room for the sun to get into most of the foliage.  The pot is way to big for it, but its the healthiest its ever been since it was potted into it 5 years ago.  Best to have a healthy tree in the wrong pot, than a sick tree in a "correct" pot!
Half a bucket later.....

Its usually a much brighter golden colour at this time of year, but because of a lack of sunshine over the spring it really hasn't coloured up as much.
She is one of my favourite trees. I salvaged her from a rubbish heap at the nursery I worked at as an apprentice many(many many) years ago.  I was just 17 at the time.  We've been though thick and thin together, sometimes I thought it was on its way out, but then it would spring back into life. 
30+ years later.....and we are still together! 

Friday, November 7, 2014

OOoops....The Glaze was a bit Runny On These Bonsai Pots!

Now, don't go getting the idea I have failures all the time!  Mostly things do go to plan.
It's just I'm one of few that will admit to them publicly, hoping that by sharing my mistakes/failures that someone else will learn from them.
Some potters give you the impression that everything they make is perfect....all the's so not true.
My latest excitement came when I opened up the glaze firing yesterday and had another ooops moment.
There was only a few inches of glaze left in the bucket.  It was a little thick, but I thought it would be ok.  I've put it on a little thinly in the past and ended up with a disappointing glaze colour.
This time it went on too thickly.  When the glaze melted in the high firing kiln, it decided to run off the side of the saucer and pool around the bottom.  It didn't look to bad at first glance until I went to lift it off.
There was plenty of silica sand as well as kiln wash on the shelf and it managed to stick to both wouldn't budge.  So with a bit of a yank, it lifted off.  Unfortunately the pooled areas stayed on the shelf, not the saucer.

The glaze colour was quite beautiful though, there was pinky coloured crystals on the thick area inside the saucer.

This saucer is ruined.  On the next shelf down the same thing had happened to a small bonsai pot.  It too pooled on the bottom of the pot.  To selvage this pot will take a lot of grinding, hardly worth it I suspect.

The glaze, silica sand and the kiln wash all came off with this one.
My daughter and her friend made a couple of wee pots and I also glazed them with the same colour.  Although I did put these on a bit of broken kiln shelf just in case. They stuck as well.

Of interest is the fact that they all ran on the white clay.  The one heavily grogged clay pot didn't have any runs at all on it.  Which makes me wonder if the white clay body had a flux that reacted with the ingredients in the glaze to make it run a little more than usual.  Could be a combination of both I suppose. 

I must make a note of that for the next batch of glaze that needs to be made.  Along with all the "extras" I've put in that weren't in the original recipe.  I'm sure there's a note somewhere......just got to find it!