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bats & batpins & splashpans and more

updated thu 24 mar 11


Rimas VisGirda on wed 23 mar 11

Wow, I never realized there was such ceramic controversy over bats and pins=
... So I might as well add my practices (that's practices, not rules) to th=
e fray.

In college I learned on plaster bats which we stuck to the wheelhead with a=
slurry of clay. The problem with that when we built our first studio was t=
hat they were bulky, they grooved from cutting the clay away at the bottom,=
and were susceptible to chipping which caused lime pops if the chips got i=
nto the reclaim. The (kick)wheels in the classroom also didn't have splash =
pans, so we learned how to throw without leaving with a wet crotch...

At our first private studio I learned to throw on the wheel head and pick p=
ieces off with my hands. For large plates and large bowls we made 3/4 inch =
plywood bats and used them unfinished. To attached them, I threw a wide, ce=
ntered, leveled, slightly concave clay "disc." The bat was attached by plac=
ing it over the disc and giving it a downward thump in the center.

At my first teaching job, I found a pair of pot lifters. I gave them a test=
drive and then threw them out; they were ungainly to use and they made a t=
errible mess of the bottom of the pot... So, I set the studio up with plywo=
od bats for big things and taught the students to pick clay off the wheel w=
ith their hands for normal sized pieces. As a supplement to picking clay of=
f the wheelhead with one's hands, I felt that it was a valuable experience =
to understand the behavior of clay directly with your hands vs through an i=
ntermediary device and carried that philosophy through my teaching career. =
For me, hands are an amazing tool and can make fantastic things if one lear=
ns how to use them to their advantage, but that's another story...

When bat pins appeared, I thought the concept useful but my old Shimpo wasn=
't pinned. I went to the hardware store and bought a couple of socket-head =
bolts and matching wing nuts; I measured and drilled a couple of holes for =
the threaded portion of the bolt in a diameter of my (aluminum) wheelhead e=
quidistant from the center. To make the bats, I took the wheelhead off the =
wheel and simply centered the (plywood) bat, by eye, and marked the centers=
and drilled holes the size of the bolt head about 5/8 of an inch into the =
(3/4 in.) bat. I found that this was not the best way as the smallest out-o=
f-tolerance would make the bats not fit the pins; (my) solution for this wa=
s to drill the hole in the wheelhead a little larger. This gave the pin som=
e wiggle room with the wingnut loose and I could locate the bat onto the pi=
ns and tightening the wing nut secured the bat snugly to the wheelhead -I s=
hould say here that I got used to no-splash pan when I learned and
continue to throw without the splash pan, that makes getting under the whe=
elhead to reach wingnuts a breeze... In general I don't care for a splash p=
an to stabilize my forearms, I use my knees and find that a much superior m=

At the school studio I also drilled holes in the un-pined wheelheads; but I=
had found a better way to position the holes on the bats to eliminate havi=
ng to loosen and tighten wing nuts. After finding the diameter of a bat I c=
ould mark exactly the center to center dimension for my holes simply by mea=
suring and marking with a punch rather than using the wheelhead as a templa=
te and having to guess the center of each (small circle) mark...

When I was able to buy a wheel that came with bat pins, I found that the ba=
t pins were much smaller than what we were using and, needless to say, at d=
ifferent locations from the center of the wheelhead... I resolved that by d=
rilling new holes in the (new) wheelhead to fit our existing studio bats...=
Yes, Vince, I know everything I'd done so far is ass backwards, but someti=
mes that's how I do things...

In my teaching, I taught my students how to throw without a splash pan but =
keep their crotch dry, I taught them how to pick work off the wheelhead wit=
h their hands, I taught them how to use bats with and without pins. We had =
unfinished plywood bats in the studio, I don't care for plastic bats, I lik=
e the slight absorbency that unfinished wood has. When throwing directly on=
the wheelhead, we placed the picked-off work onto unfinished plywood wareb=
oards (now I use sheetrock (wallboard) in my studio). I also tried to have =
examples of as many different brand wheels as I could in the college studio=
, I'm sorry to see ads in the ceramic publications of schools with rows of =
just one type of wheel...
Once a student learnd the basics, I could care less if they used bats for o=
r threw of the hump or used a splash pan or not used a splash pan or used p=
ins or not pins... I kept splash pans and pins accessible in the classroom =
The pins invariably either became lost or the students neglected to remove =
them from the wheelhead when done, my solution was that a set of pins becam=
e part of a student's tool kit, much like a needle tool or cutoff wire...

In conclusion, I think that bats, type of bats, pins, splash pans, no splas=
h pans... are up to whoever is using or not using them. I feel it is import=
ant for each person to learn or at least try different ways of doing things=
. I was very fortunate early on in that different wheels were available in =
my formative years... I learned to work on the old Western box frame kickwh=
eels and had opportunities to try Lockerbies and later Soldner and Brent ki=
ckwheels. I tried the old Skutt electrics with the string to the footpedal =
speed control, 2 speed AMACOs, Denver Fireclay growlers, 1st series box typ=
e Brent (from Robt Brent), Shimpos, current Brent's and more... I remember =
my first experience with a modern Brent I was throwing a large bowl and twi=
tched the footpedal a bit too much and wound up with bowl pieces scattered =
accross the studio. I learned to adjust to it as it was the only wheel type=
available... My conclusion was that it was way too powerful and the
footpedal way too sensitive, I was used to an old cone drive Shimpo (still=
my preferred electric wheel). I used to make the analogy that the differen=
ce between a Brent and a Shimpo was like the difference between a Corvette =
and a Lotus -one had brute strength and power, the other had finesse... I o=
wned a Lotus Elan when I was a rocket scientist and ran in autocrosses, man=
y times against Corvettes as they were in the same class...

Not that it matters, but currently I have a 1027 computer Skutt kiln, a sma=
ller (2 brick high) computer AMACO kiln, a kiln sitter AIM test kiln, a com=
puter AIM test kiln, an Olympic gas kiln (not hooked up yet), a Shimpo cone=
drive electric wheel, a Lockerbie kickwheel, a bakery cart with sheetrock =
shelves, 3/4 in pinned unfinished plywood round bats (14-30 in dia), 3/4 in=
pinned unfinished plywood octagonal bats (11 in diag), 2 pinned bats with =
1/2 in foam glued to the top for trimming, asst size unfinished plywood war=
e boards, 12x18 in sheetrock wareboards, 2 AMACO cast iron banding wheels (=
8 & 12 in), a Laguna banding wheel, a Brent SRC cable driven slab roller, a=
Brent Mini SRC (table model) slab roller, an 18 in unfinished wood pastry =
rolling pin, slats for the rolling pin, sandbags for white and for iron bea=
ring clays, cloth of various sizes for white and iron bearing clays, 2 Bail=
ey non-power extruders (1 regular, 1 with an expansion box), a
pneumatic (Nils Lou) extruder, plaster wedging table set up with wire for
slap wedging (good for drying slop or roll wedging with wire removed, I pr=
efer slap wedging), 2 wood work tables, metal (linoleum top) office table f=
or lustering, small metal office table for grinding, a collapsible photo se=
tup... and probably some things I've forgotten as I'm at the computer and n=
ot in the studio...

Regards, -Rimas