Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rolling a Thick Slab

I remembered my old process of how I compress and roll out a thick block of clay to get a large slab the other day, so I thought I would show you. To make a large piece, I need a big slab of clay. If I put the rolling pin directly on a thick block of clay, it will fold off the edges and there will be air pockets. So my technique is to compress the block of clay with my hands first. I do have a slab roller, but it's buried in the garage somewhere.

I cut off about a three inch thick slice of clay from the block with my wire. I stand up and use the palm of my hand to start pressing the clay down across the block in rows. When I finish across the block, I rotate the block of clay and flip it over and start with the palm compressions again. I keep doing this till I get to a little less than half an inch thick for the block of clay. If I work in a rhythm across the clay with my palms I can get the block pressed down in a short amount of time.

I don't rush though, I really like to take my time. While I am compressing the clay my mind is free to wander. I find myself relaxing and getting calm pressing on the clay. I can feel myself getting into almost a trance like state, letting the cares of everyday living drift away. I guess this process for me is a lot like meditating. I work alone in silence and I enjoy that. Many potters work with music, but I don't. I sometimes hum a tune to myself either out loud or just in my mind. I may glance out the window and see a bird or a squirrel or one of the tortoise munching on blades of grass.

If the block of clay is particularly thick or dense I use both hands while standing over the block of clay. I let my body weight exert force down through my arms into my hands and into the clay. I don't try to press down too much or all at once, my method is to slowly press the clay from all sides and directions to get it flattened out. Sometimes I have an idea of what I'll make and sometimes I don't. Sometimes after I roll out the clay, the clay tells me to make something. In this way the clay speaks to me and I to it.

Once I get the block of clay down to the thickness I want, less than half an inch, I can use the rolling pin to roll the clay to the final thickness I desire, perhaps three-eighths or a quarter inch thick. I did a post about how I roll the slab with the rolling pin, please check it out. It's all in the rotating and flipping the slab over and over that compresses the clay and aligns the clay particles. Well I guess I'll go roll out my slab the rest of the way and make one last piece with the sculpture clay. Then I'm out of clay and need to start firing after tropical storm Bonnie passes by. Have a good weekend.


  1. I add a little slamming in with this and sometimes a rubber mallet.
    Dig out that slab roller- I don't know what I would do without mine.

  2. Thanks for this, I drool over slab rollers but they are not in the budget just yet. I don't think I've ever commented here before, just anted to say your blog is one of my favorite pottery blogs. Love how playful and experimental you are with your work, it is a great reminder to have fun and try new things.

  3. Hi Meredith, thanks, I've always wanted to make a slab and texture it and then throw it on a table and let it get askew, one of these days. I do have a meat tenderizer. the mallet would work good if my hands get tired. I've actually been enjoying rolling the slabs, but the roller makes much more even slabs which might improve my pieces a bit and prevent some cracking.

    Hi Amber, thanks for your kind words, I often wonder about folks who visit and I hope my posts are helpful. A friend of mine made my slab roller since I couldn't afford one of the store bought ones. I added your website to my blog roll, thanks again for visiting. Rolling by hand isn't half bad though.


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