6 Feb 2013

Egg slicers and lessons learned

Whilst sitting here contemplating the embarrassment of yet again feeling it necessary to apologise for my blogging tardiness, something caught the corner of my eye – it moved as I did, forming the impression that whatever it was, was stuck in my hair.

Hoping that it wasn’t a spider or something else with more legs than me, I grabbed a mirror to check it out.  Thankfully it didn’t have any legs; it was a tomato pip.

I think I showed this pendant in my last blog as raw clay awaiting firing.

Now I just know that the first thought you had was that I must be an awfully messy eater to get one in my hair, especially at eye level – and that’s an accusation that the state of the front of my shirt would undermine any efforts to deny – but there is a story as to how it found its way to end its days in my hair – and I’m glad I got my hair cut this morning and not after my lunch.

I’ve no doubt posted here before about how I value washing up time.  Whilst washing up is rather a chore, I do think it’s an important part of my day – especially washing the breakfast pots.  It gives me a buffer of good thinking time.  I often plan what I have to do that day and often do my best thinking whilst elbow deep in soap suds.  I can think through the stages of how I’m going to make something, work out the order for processes etc.

Another finished flowery clay pendant

I think that I must have quite a visual brain as I can actually virtually make something without picking up a tool – I mentally work through the stages and often overcome snags and can see in advance how I might have stumbled somewhere along the line had I not done a mental dummy run.

But today my breakfast-pot-thinking wasn’t quite so constructive.  As I washed the egg slicer my husband had used in preparation of his lunch, I contemplated if it could be used for other items you wanted slicing – or if the texture of a hard boiled egg was unique in its suitability for slicing with wire in that manner.  I could see that the wires were too flimsy for something hard like a raw carrot, but it struck me that it might have additional uses that I’d not considered before.

A rosebud knot bracelet I made as a Christmas commission, to match one of my rosebud knot necklaces.

Skip forwards to the next meal of the day and as I started shredding lettuce and rocket for a cheesy salad wrap for my lunch, I felt the texture of the cherry tomatoes in my hand and my eye drifted to the egg slicer still on the draining board. The tomato didn’t feel dissimilar to a hard boiled egg.  It was worth a try.

Just at the very point where my brain was forming the thoughts that it didn’t appear to be working and that maybe I should stop before something gave way – I was worried about the slender wires at that point – it was already too late.  A great spurt of cold juice and pips hit me straight in the side of the face.  It had spread from my forehead, into my eye, down my cheek and neck and all over the front of my clothes.  I reckon that sub-1″ diameter tomato – most of which still appeared to be trapped in the egg slicer – had shot its pips over at least an 18″ diameter cone of fridge-cold messiness.

A flower variant of my previous twiddle and bud earrings.  I’ve modded the methods a little and think it works rather better.

I am so glad I was alone, it must have looked hilarious, it sure as heck made me laugh very hard – after the initial squeal of exclamation.  You wouldn’t believe the velocity those pips gained, or the area they covered.  So I can’t say I was that surprised to find one last one lodged in my hair – and there’s bound to be one down my bra – it’s always a little disgraceful that food falls out of my undergarments when I get undressed for bed.   And don’t tell my husband that I then had to spend several minutes with pliers re-tensioning, straightening and re-aligning the wires in the bloody egg slicer too – I wasn’t the only one that tomato did harm to.

So, in short, it looks like egg slicers should be reserved for the slicing of hard boiled eggs and nothing more.  Another life lesson learned the hard way.

My batch of bronze clay pieces ready for firing.  I kept to simple pieces initially as I was testing some new techniques (hand drawing my own textures and photopolymer plates etc.) as well as kiln firing it.

Another lesson learned of late was that kiln firing of metal clay is a whole minefield of new discovery too – torch firing isn’t ideal for a multitude of reasons, but it’s certainly more predictable.

I ventured into some work with bronze as well as copper.  It transpires that bronze has a whole different set of issues that copper doesn’t – its alloy with tin for the most part.

I made a batch of relatively simple bronze pieces to do as my first batch.  Because kiln firing takes a decent amount of time and uses quite a chunk of electricity, I rather arrogantly fired a whole batch as my first ‘bronze’ firing.  I knew that I should have done a ‘test’ first – but I’m not keen on testing, I prefer to do what I call ‘working tests’ in that I use real-world pieces as my test pieces.  If they fail, a test piece would have failed too, but if it’s a success, you do at least have something to show for it.  I should however have left the better pieces out of that first batch and only fired the most simple whilst I ascertained what worked.

Thankfully I took some photos of them before firing (see above), otherwise you’d never believe me.  It’s actually a habit I’m going to get into with my kiln work – taking a before and after photo of each batch I fire, to tie in with my kiln diary – so that I can check retrospectively which brand of clay I used and the firing schedule for any particular piece.

Ouch!  A big chunk of me is embarrassed to even show this.

The first piece I removed and quenched hissed and the firescale popped off, as it does, but then the piece largely disintigrated in the water – and that it certainly shouldn’t do.  I knew I couldn’t do anything to change the outcome of the remaining pieces, so hoping that as I’d removed the front-most item in the kiln which was in the coolest spot, those further back might be in better shape.  They weren’t.  They crumbled like a Jaffa Cake does when you dunk it in hot coffee – not that I’d do such a crass thing, but my husband does have a penchent for both Jaffa Cakes and dunking and I’ve seen the messy results many times.    The bottom of my quench bowl looked much the same.

So having taken advice, I’m certainly going to have to carbon fire in future and possibly adjust my temperature up a smidge and lengthen hold times too – I suspect that my kiln runs a little cool, as I’d followed the manufacturers directions for that batch and they clearly weren’t even close to being sintered.

So maybe now is the time to embrace the concept of proper testing.  I’ve invested too much time into my current waiting-to-be-fired batches of work to want them to end up like the contents of Mr Boo’s empty coffee cup.  Thankfully, since writing this initially, a second [test] batch of bronze, fired in carbon, were rather better.  Not perfectly sintered, but at least they came out looking like bronze.  I know what I need to do to correct the remaining issues.

Half of me felt like giving up on base metal clay work and the other half remained more determined than ever.  Boy in this process frustrating.  I love working with the clay itself – and I’ve already learned gob-loads in 2013 – but the firing process just plain gives me the willies.  Thankfully, I’m doing rather better with copper:


7 thoughts on “Egg slicers and lessons learned

  1. I find testing so tedious and time (and material) consuming that I’ve paid the price by skipping more of it than I perhaps should. I need to be more methodical about it in future. But where’s the fun in that!

    I was concerned about the tomato skin and the tension in it as I squeezed. But my brain drew the correct conclusion a fraction of a second too late!

  2. I totally sympathise with the kiln… I am working my way methodically through my glass firing programs and rather enjoying the process but it can be frustratingly slow!

    I could see what was coming with the tomato though… it’s the skin, it needs a different action to break it 😉

  3. Thanks Nana – must try the mushies in the egg slicer as we do use them frequently – thanks for the tip.

    Pat at Pajed has given me a huge amount of help, I’m very grateful to her – I might have given up without her encouragement and support. I was going to mention her when I do my next, more detailed, blog about firing.

  4. LOL that story made me laugh. I can tell you that I have had the exact same thoughts about an egg slicer, but thankfully my experiment was mushrooms, which works fantasically, so if you ever used sliced mushies I can recommend it as a winner :o)

    I can also recognise the woes of firing bronze. I don’t test properly either and have paid the proce with many a bracelet and ring gonw to wast. You’d think I’d learn.

    I can recommend this lady’s thorough work as a starting point if you do want to test:

    Good luck :o)

  5. Thanks Gale. I did intend this blog to be a more detailed one about my early kiln experiences – largely because with copper and bronze especially, it’s pretty new and I want to add to the pretty limited pool of available information, just in case it helps someone else. I’ll do something a bit more technical next time.

  6. And here I was feeling envious that you’d got a kiln! Thanks for injecting some reality into the initial process. I’m sure you will figure it all out, just as you did with the egg slicer.

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