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giffin grips, gimmicks, & tools (long)

updated mon 17 may 04


Bonnie Staffel on sat 15 may 04

Hi Clayarters,

I have to confess that I am a gimmick user. My idea of fun is to have a wad
of money and access to a fully stocked hardware store. As each new tool was
advertised in CM or elsewhere, if I felt it would be useful to me, I bought
it. One of the earliest ones was a trimming tool someone made out of a
curtain rod and strap steel. When these wore out couldn't get any more, so
then the idea of using the pear corer came up. That was a great tool with
the round end, a flat side and a small rounded point. Great tool. Then
Kemper came out with their tools, so I tried a number of them. A trip to
the hardware store gave me the Surform tool. Still use these to this day in
addition to the loop tools. When I was in production in the 60's we hand
wedged our clay all morning to prepare for an afternoon of throwing. Since
I paid my apprentices to learn as well as produce my designs, felt this was
a lot of lost time. A potter friend, Frank Ettawagesik (sp?), showed me his
Bluebird Extruding Pugmill. Wow, that was an answer I had been looking for.
I still have mine as it was one of the early ones with the big hopper. It
must be about 34 years old. When I first started to make pots in the late
40's and 50's, I was a purist and wanted a wheel like Leach used. But then
Norm Schulman started to build an electric wheel which I promptly purchased
as I was tired of standing on one leg for 12 years kicking that wheel.

When I was married, my husband had the talent of building whatever tool or
piece of equipment we needed out of something else. He devised a nice
slicing thingamajig for making slabs for hand building. My first slab
roller he made from an etching press. Then we bought a cement mixer where
he altered the inside and made a wooden cover for dry mixing the clay
bodies. Had to raise it up on pallets so it could dump into the Walker
pugmill. This was a wonderful upgrade from my first days as a potter
cleaning clay from the field tile manufacturing plant across the river where
we soaked, sieved, and hung up in old burlap bags to let the water drip out.
That was hard work as commercial clay wasn't an option at that time.

As my pottery life went on, new ideas, tools and equipment became available
to make things easier. After my marriage dissolved, I found that these
"gimmicks" would allow me to continue to produce my work. One of the
special purposes of workshops is to spread knowledge to those who want to
learn. Learning new techniques was always exciting to me. Just the simple
operation of throwing off the hump and using the string cut off taught to me
by Norm Schulman, opened up a new process of production. Then I also
learned the tap centering after years of doing it all by eye and finger.
Next came the Giffin Grip. I felt I could not afford this "gimmick" but
friends were raving over its use. Finally bought one of their early ones
where moisture would swell the slots. So then bought the new plastic type.
And on and on. I love my equipment and tools. However, I learned the
instinct way first so that the use of the tools was an understandable help.

We all come from different backgrounds, work in many different ways, so our
approach is suitable for each of us. I am thankful for these tools
especially the extruding pugmill which saved me from developing wrist
problems until I was 81 (whew, that young already???) My work certainly is
hand made and bears no resemblance to the use of a tool. I still throw, but
again have devised ways to make it possible at this stage of my life by
using my pugmill and the slab roller, hence my video. (My wrist problems
may have developed from using the computer )

Hope you enjoy these reminisces of my early experiences. I certainly don't
believe I am at the end of my career if I have anything to say about it, but
the handwriting is on the wall. So I want to pass on information to those
who want to continue to work even though "up in years" but find their bodies
are rebelling. LONG LIVE TOOLS, GIMMICKS AND STUFF!!!!!!!! and me.

Love you all,

Bonnie Staffel

claybair on sun 16 may 04

I so love you Bonnie!!! You are one of my favorite heroes.....

Great posting!

Last year I bought your video "Throwing with slabs and coils".
I watch it frequently.... last week while working in the studio..
I played it over and over....picking up tips I had missed before.

With your tips I actually decided I didn't need a new tool
(Axner's jigger system) to make plates. Your system slightly
modified ( I don't have a pug mill) works great!

So I'm thinking though I am not exactly a beginner (8 yrs)...... I should
have your beginner tape.... my clay career has not be a formal one
so I know I have holes in my education. Now I didn't see that video
on your site. Do you still have it available for sale?

I'd love to see a throwing BIG pots video too!!!



Gayle Bair
Bainbridge Island, WA