Creating beauty in clay!
MKM Pottery Tools was established in 2003 by Rick McKinney. Rick’s initial set of tools was developed in his studio for his personal use and weren’t available for sale elsewhere. It was the development of the Decorating Disk, the innovative Throwing Tools, and the broad range of wood ribs that really launched the business. Rick thought the Decorating Disk, a universal pottery template, was a good idea, but didn’t have the ability to screenprint or work with acrylic sheets. So he had some made up for him, thinking he would sell what he didn’t need. Years later, Rick is still selling his Decorating Disk and many other tools, as well.
From the beginning, MKM has specialised in bringing innovative tools to the market that were not readily available to the potter.
Why MKM stamps and rollers work so well with clay
All MKM stamps and rollers are carved at the company’s own factory and not contracted out to second parties. New designs are continuously being worked on, making prototypes that are then tested, both at the factory and at Fired Earth Pottery (the company’s local community clay centre), adjustments are made, and then they are ordered for production. It’s a continuous cycle. Some designs are realised very quickly; others need a lot of work to get them right, with many trips back to the prototype machine! There is no set time, but it typically takes a lot more work to get a design ‘right’ than one would suspect from the final product. This is especially true for rollers.
Rick is very committed to quality. Quality in the original wood blank material, quality of design, and quality of carving, quality of wood finish (tung oil), and, of course, quality service to all of the company’s customers. But what exactly does quality mean in the context of a simple wood tool?
At the design level, it’s a bit of a personal choice. “A design that you like is a good one,” said Rick. “Physical texture communicates a wide variety of things on a pot, but an ideal design would have emotional content, as well as perhaps historical references to the millennia of graphic design tradition in so many of the cultures of the world. So we have designs that reference the quilt-block traditions in the US, Middle Eastern tiles, western mythologies, cartoons, pop culture, and so on. Connecting all these traditions with our own design aesthetic is what makes this business so much fun!”
At the carving stage, the meaning of ‘quality’ is very specific: the edges of the debossed (cut-in) stamps all have bevels that compress the clay around the stamp and prevent cracks at the corners. All the stamps are cut with cutting blades that leave a bevel for all the lines and patterns. This means that when the stamp is pulled away from the clay or the roller is rolled over it, the tool releases perfectly without pulling up any edges. This is why these stamps work so much better than laser-carved stamps. The designs on the stamps and rollers are also scaled to work well in the realm of functional pottery. All the tools are designed and made specifically for clay workers.
The wood used for the stamps and rollers is fine-grained and carved very precisely. “It’s left over from the furniture industry and is ‘recycled ‘by us to make our small tools,” Rick explained. “It also takes the tung oil well.” And why pure tung oil, which is expensive? “Because it’s one of only two naturally occurring oils that are self-polymerising (that harden when exposed to the atmosphere). This means that these tools will be much more durable over time than tools that are bare wood or finished with other oils.”
A note from Rick:
“I hope you enjoy our tools. They are developed and tested in my studio and among my studio mates and potter friends. Your comments as to their design and usefulness are more than welcome. We listen to any and all comments regarding design, tool size, etc. Quality is an incremental process, and we always strive for better designs, by which I mean designs that communicate what our customers want and that work for them over many, many years of use. There is no way to achieve some kinds of quality without customer/user input.
“Our tools are intended to be innovative and of high quality, and we’re very open to suggestions and comments. Please feel free to send me your comments by email via our website’s Contact page. If you have a great shot of a wonderful pot or sculpture made with our tools, send that along, too. Or post them on the MKM Facebook Page.
“Tools are solutions, sometimes elegant, sometimes not, and they arise from makers of things, which all of us, as potters, certainly are. They are not a repudiation of human instinct; they are human instinct. In their own way, tools are art, too. If you share the problem, then you might be interested in sharing the solution. Art is as much about problem-solving, as are most things in this world. I hope that these tools will help you solve problems and allow you to spend your time making beautiful pots, or other objects.”