April 7, 2009

Just in Time for Spring Break

Old tools die hard

With the snow falling pretty much all day it's hard to think that it's time for Spring Break! But as I prepare myself for my very busy week or two leading up to the firing(s) my calendar says "spring break" and that means alternative day care/activities for the gals as they wile away the days. Ah, the life of the student.

Well for us life long learners, there is no rest. But there was some relief for my twenty year old needle tool this week. In Saturday's mail came the new Mudtools that Michael Sherrill has designed and just before he and his crew headed out for Phoenix and NCECA, they mailed these beauties to me for a little test drive. What good timing!

As you can see the old needle tool broke (again) and there's not much left of it. It started out much, much longer as a piece of mahogany that I whittled away while firing Mark Shapiro's wood kiln back in 1990. I then drilled a hole in one end and inserted a snipped off nail and super glued it into place. Then I needed a bottom scraper kind of shape and sanded a pencil-like point on the bottom. I have replaced the nail a few times and sharpened the end a few times. But as I said, there's not much left of it. And, like a lot of tools we make, it's going to be hard to part with it. Basically all the pots I've made for twenty years had this tool in their making! Wow.

the MudTool needleknife, opened and closed,
looks like a shark? no coincidence.

But just in the nick of time Michael Sherrill and MudTools has provided this fine update of one of the most basic tools of the potter's trade, the needle tool. This one is called the Mudtools NeedleKnife. Michael told me about coming up with the design and how it resembled a fish in it's shape. The needle tucks under the handle for safe transport to class and or, in my case, teaching gigs. The other end is a sharp knife that is handy when undercutting you new masterpiece just before you cut off. Speaking of cutting off... oh no, not yet, remind me in a minute... I found myself using the knife end as a rib not just because it was so handy, but most of all because it was doing the job I needed.

making pots with MudTools.
I love that long metal rib!

[It's nice to keep your "quiver" of tools for any given pot to a minimum, otherwise you're always digging through a pile of wet, clay-covered tools.] The tool feels great in my large hand, and is easy to hold. The cross section of the hard resin fits nicely. The knife end will hone with use, and can be sharpened mechanically if needed. If only the needle end were spring loaded!
I've been using the Needleknife, along with my other MudTools all week and it's a fine addition to my sponges and ribs. I think Michael is doing a great job of reinventing all of the basic tools a potter needs. From ribs, to sponges (one of mine lasted a year, and with my clay that's pretty tough, and they float!), and now needle tools, the updates are smart , extremely functional, and lead the way to better pots. Given Michael's understanding of the making of pottery and it's mechanics, it's just a matter of time until he reinvents the wheel.

[pun intended]

Tomorrow: MudTools new Mudwire cut off tools!