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Firing Log

ancient kiln | 21st century logbook

July 17, 2006

Bamboo Trimming Knives

Filed under: Studio — odin @ 12:01 am

Hands and mind are a potter’s most essential tools. Despite this truism, I feel that my most interesting pieces have been those I touched least; those which grow from vague direction rather than wilt under intense control. In contrast, pieces I dote on — picking and poking and prodding — those typically become uglier with each stroke.

Trimming is a task which lends itself to excessive manipulation and indeed, I have committed much potricide in my day. It would be best to not trim at all, but I have yet to discover whatever dark art is needed is to accomplish such making. Till then, I must settle for restraint of my tendency to keep working a piece over. Restraint is one of the most difficult skills to master (I’m barely an acolyte), though I have found some tools help me touch less, in particular: wooden knives. While I still sometimes use loop tools in hard to reach areas, I find that with knives I can touch less and thus allow more of the clay’s personality to show through. Sometimes I get a better result. Mostly, it’s still simply a different result.

Wooden knives have a couple disadvantages. They dull quickly. They wear down and change shape. They’re breakable. But they have some distinct advantages. Clay doesn’t stick to them as readily as it does metal. They are easy to make into custom shapes and there is no waiting — simply grab something from the woodpile, chop, cut, and carve. No ordering, driving, or shopping. Just instant gratification.

As a subset of wooden tools, bamboo knives are quite interesting. A nearly razor sharp cutting edge can be made simply by splitting a bamboo tube with a hatchet. The edge is surprisingly long lasting, and the semi-tube shape of the bamboo slat is very rigid thus resisting chattering. Long metal knives chatter far too easily.

In the picture below, note the thin shavings from the base of this coiled and thrown tsubo despite the fact that the clay body is full of large chunkies (clicking pictures leads to medium sized shots for better detail):

tsubo trimmed by bamboo knife

I usually hold the bamboo stick a little differently than shown in the picture above — more like a knife (either politely or Henry VIII style) but I couldn’t really manage that and operate the camera at the same time. I also sometimes hold both ends.

In the picture below, note that the bamboo knife is actually more akin to a chisel:

end of a bamboo pottery trimming knife

Bamboo knives are easily made and when they get dull, easily refurbished with a metal knife (a small block plane works best when renewing the edge). As for expense, an 8 ft (2.4 m) length of bamboo is about $3 around here and each section yields many knives:

splitting bamboo for pottery trimming knives

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