This bird bath is a challenging project that will test your skills, but to make it a little easier and avoid having to throw large amounts of clay, we’ve designed the form in three parts. For this to work, you must pay very close attention to making accurate measurements
You will need:
Clay weight total – 7.7kg (17lb) plus 2.3kg (5lb) for batt pad
Finished height 40cm – bath dish width 35cm
Clay – stoneware (best for outdoors)
Note – softer clay will be easier to work with on this larger scale than hard clay so maybe start with a new bag
Tools for throwing – water bowl, sponge, ribs
3 large wooden batts
IMPORTANT – it may seem obvious, but the given proportions only work if your kiln can accommodate the size of the parts (the dish being the largest). You may have to scale the size down to fit your kiln if it won’t accommodate the given sizes. Read all the instructions before you begin, to check for scale
Throwing a pad for a batt – a reminder of the process
Before you begin:
Items thrown from larger amounts of clay or with open bases can’t be lifted off the wheel head. Therefore, you must throw on a batt, which in turn requires a very substantial clay pad to secure it and support the weight.
Begin by preparing a 2.3kg (5lb) block of clay and form it into a cone.
Place the cone as close as possible to the centre of the wheel head.
Dribble some water over the clay and position your left hand on the side, resting your arm on the wheel pan rim to hold your hand firmly in place.
As the wheel rotates, push the clay to centre with opposite force from your right hand, maintaining the left-hand position.
Now change the position of your hands to apply equal pressure from both sides of the clay as you force it up into a cone shape.
Flatten the cone down again, reverting your hand position so that the left is held firmly at one side while the palm of your right hand pushes the clay to centre with your fingers over the top to level the mass.
Maintaining the position of your left hand but hooking your thumb over the rim, open out the centre of the clay with the fingers of your right hand. You don’t have to worry about the depth of the opening or thickness of the base; the bulk of the clay should be pulled out to within 2-3cm of the edge of the wheel edge, leaving a thick rim.
Run your sponge over the central surface of the pad to flatten and widen it, then briefly over the rim to remove excess slurry.
Using the sponge to mop up excess moisture as you work, create a series of suction rings radiating out from the centre of the pad to the thick rim with your forefinger, as shown.
Place a batt as centrally as possible on the clay pad and tap it gently from one side until it runs to centre.
To test the position of the batt, hold a finger rigidly against one side as the wheel rotates. If running true, your finger will touch the side the whole time, but if not correct, it will miss the side in places.
When you are sure the batt is centred, give it a firm whack a couple of times with the side of your hand to secure it on the pad.
Section 1 of the bird bath pedestal
Moisten the surface of the batt but don’t flood it.
Prepare 2.3kg (5lb) of clay by kneading to remove all possible trapped air, then form it into a cone shape and place it at the centre of the batt. Pat the cone down with both hands.
Centre the clay following the same procedure as used when forming the pad – first cone up, then, keeping your left hand at the side, thumb over the top of the mass level the surface and bring the clay to centre with your right hand.
Change the position of your hands so that the left is steadying the right as you press down into the centre of the clay with your fingers to open out the base.
Continue to open the base right down to the batt – this is an open cylinder.
Now, draw the clay back towards your body until 17.5cm wide or thereabouts. The clay should look like a thick ring doughnut when finished.
Carefully remove excess clay from the batt inside the ring.
With your left hand at the side of the ring to keep it to centre, slightly pinch and lift the clay with your right hand to establish a short thick wall.
Now position your left-hand fingers inside the ring with your right-hand fingers (or knuckle) opposite on the outside, then beginning at the very base of the clay, lift the wall to a conical cylinder – narrower at the top than the bottom.
This first lift will look quite chunky.
Lift the wall again, positioning your hands in the same way and making sure you begin from the base, but this time straighten the wall a little more so that it is less narrow at the top but still not as wide as the base.
Lift the wall one more time to create more height and fully straighten the sides.
Flatten the rim of the cylinder by pinching the clay between the finger and thumb of your left hand, then compacting the surface by gently applying pressure to the rim with the forefinger of your right hand.
Starting approximately ¼ inch or 6mm up from the base of the cylinder (to establish a flange at the base), begin to remove the throwing lines and surface slurry using a rib.
Support the wall from the inside with your left hand as you draw the rib up from the base to establish a perfectly straight wall.
Repeat the procedure as many times as required to ensure the wall is straight and all surface moisture removed from the exterior.
Quickly run the sponge over the rim again to fully compact the clay, then carefully over the wall if required.
Finally, holding the sponge in the position shown, work around the flange to remove excess moisture and establish a rounded shape.
Now work around the flange with a rib to remove excess clay from the batt surrounding it.
Carefully sponge out all excess water from the inside of the cylinder, including the walls.
Using a sturdy, preferably metal, tool, gently release the batt from the wheel head.
NOTE: DO NOT underwire the cylinder at this stage because the shape will distort as it’s an open form.
Pedestal section 2
Fix another batt to the wheel head as you did the first.
Moisten the surface of the batt, then position the second 2.3kg (5lb) of well-prepared clay at the centre and pat it down to secure it in place.
Centre the clay again by coning up, then bring it to centre with a flattened top surface as you did for the first section.
Take a calliper measurement of the diameter of the first section to determine how wide to flatten the centred clay of this second section to.
NOTE: take the measurement from the rim of the first section – NOT including the flange.
Now check the measurement against the centred mass. If it is not wide enough, flatten it out a little more, then recheck the measurement.
Open out the base completely, as you did for the first section, until you have the ring doughnut shape, then pinch and lift the clay to establish the wall.
Now check again that the base of the cylinder is the same measurement as the calliper.
Do this regularly to ensure the size remains the same as the first section.
Lift the wall as you did for the first section, making sure you pull up from the base.
Don’t allow the shape to flare outward, wider than the calliper measurement. If it does begin to flare, collar it in again between both hands to maintain control.
Raise this section to a straight-sided cylinder that narrows inwards a quarter of the way from the top, leaving a slightly thicker rim.
AGAIN – check the base measurement with the callipers, then lift and extend the width of the wall evenly from base to rim.
Straighten the sides with a rib, at the same time removing the throwing lines and excess slurry. This time work to within approximately 3 inches or 7.7cm of the rim supporting the wall from the inside with your left hand as you did before.
Repeat the process as many times as required to establish a clean, straight wall up to the given point.
Measure the diameter at the rim – this is going to fit inside the first section, so it must naturally be narrower than the calliper measurement – 15cm maximum.
With your left hand supporting from the inside to prevent collapse, create a shoulder from the point you have straightened the wall to, by easing the clay inward with a finger.
Using the rib, re-establish the sharp angle at the shoulder.
Now return your left-hand fingers to the inside of the rim and gently press into the clay with the forefinger of your right hand again until the angle is sharp and the shoulder is about 2cm wide.
NOTE: this top end of the section is actually the bottom – and the part you are working on here should eventually locate inside the first section to make an extended cylinder.
Lift the remainder of the wall at the centre of the shoulder until straight, neat and even.
Recheck the measurement to be sure the section will fit inside the base.
Sharpen up the angles one last time with the rib, including the locating section.
Sponge out the interior of the section carefully, then remove the batt from the wheel head.
Both sections must firm up before wiring off and removing from the batt.
Making the bird bath dish
Fix the third batt onto the wheel head – the pad should still be in good working order and indeed would allow for many more batts to be attached before needing remedial attention.
Dampen the surface of the batt, then form 3.2kg (7lb) of well-prepared clay into a cone and place it at the centre. Pat the clay down to secure it in place.
Centre the clay by coning up as before between both hands, then supporting the side of the clay with your left hand and pressing down and inward with your right hand until the clay runs true with no wobble.
Supporting your right hand with the left, as shown, press down into the centre of the clay with your fingers to within 1.5-2cm of the batt.
To open out the base, draw the clay back toward your body until almost as wide as the batt. You are aiming for a wide base with a thick doughnut-like rim.
Compress the clay in the base by running your fingers or thumb over the surface several times, beginning at the centre and working outward.
Check the width of the dish – it must obviously be wide enough to sit on/over the pedestal, but the proportions of the parts must look balanced when they are fitted together.
If working to the proportions given, when fully thrown, the diameter of the dish should measure approximately 27cm.
IMPORTANT – it may seem obvious, but these proportions only work if your kiln can accommodate the size of the parts (the dish being the largest). You may have to scale the size down to fit your kiln if it won’t accommodate the given sizes.
If the base isn’t wide enough to fit over the pedestal, open it out a little further. Remember to compress the base again when finished.
Place the middle finger of your right hand in tight at the base on the outside edge of the dish, with your left-hand fingers opposite on the inside, thumb over the rim.
Lift the wall upward and slightly outward, but not so far that the wall will collapse on itself.
Repeat the procedure to stretch the rim outward and create a shape that curves gently upward and outward from the centre.
Measure the diameter again to check on the proportions.
Sponge out the interior of the bowl, then compress the clay at the rim by gently squeezing it between the finger and thumb of your left hand while briefly but firmly running the sponge over it.
Carefully supporting the underside of the rim with your left hand, work over the upper surface with a rib to remove the throwing lines and excess slurry.
Score a couple of lines with the tip of the rib to delineate the inner section of the dish from the rim.
Now create a spiral in the bottom of the dish with a finger, working from the centre to the scored lines.
Quickly run a sponge over the scored lines to remove any burrs of clay.
Remove the dish from the wheel, in situ on the batt.
Place the dish with the other parts for all to firm to soft leather hard.
TRIMMING & FINISHING THE PARTS
When the parts are firm enough to hold their shape without distorting, underwire the base section carefully, then turn it over onto another batt.
Position the base section upside down on the wheel as centrally as possible, then run your finger around the outside edge of the flange to smooth and round it off.
Using a pin, carefully cut away the excess clay inside the rim of the base until it’s level with the wall.
Run a finger around the cut back edge to smooth and neaten up the clay, then turn the section upright again on another batt.
Underwire the upper section as you did the first, then repeat the last three steps to finish it off in the same way.
Run a damp sponge around the cut rim to gently soften the edges but make sure the top remains flat.
Having finished the pedestal, now underwire the dish carefully.
Centre the upturned dish on a batt. This should not be too difficult if the dish is almost the same size as the batt but for details, see our ‘How to’ guide here
Now begin to trim away the excess clay around the outside edge of the base using your turning tool of choice.
Measure the base to determine where the locating groove should be positioned. The dish will locate over the pedestal, so allow a 2cm excess from the groove to the outer edge and lightly mark the spot for the groove with a pin.
Now cut a groove with the tip of the turning tool where you made the mark so that you can clearly see where to position the locating ring.
Replace your turning tool for one with a squared-off end if possible, and continue to cut a groove, deep and wide enough for the rim of the pedestal to sit inside.
BE AWARE of the thickness of clay you have to cut into in the base – it’s all too easy to cut through if not careful, but if you followed the earlier instructions closely, you will be aware that the dish was thrown with a thicker than average base to accommodate this groove.
Test that the pedestal top will fit inside the locating groove and make adjustments if required.
Trim a small circle at the centre of the base to even up the stresses of drying and firing.
The throwing part of the project is now complete.
The bird bath can be decorated using your method of choice or just simply glazed, but here we used one half of a bird mould we made in Issue 9 ( as a hollow sprig to add dimension to the surface. Alternatively, you can use solid sprigs. Details for both can be found here
You will need:
Clay as used for main throwing parts (amount will depend on the size of your sprig)
Rolling pin, 5mm thick roller guides, plastic sheet
Working on your plastic sheet and using the roller guides, roll out a small slab of soft clay.
Smooth and compact the surface with a metal rib once rolled.
Cut a section of slab, large enough to fit your sprig mould, then gently ease it into place using a barely damp sponge instead of your fingers, to avoid distorting the clay.
Using the side of a batten, carefully remove the excess clay surrounding the sprig.
Work in small sections at a time to prevent pulling the sprig out of the mould.
While the sprig is still in the mould, very carefully score the edges, taking care not to cut into the plaster.
Carefully lift the clay out of the mould with a wad of soft clay then impress an eye in the head using a suitable tool – (old pen top used here).
Measure the circumference of the lower section of the pedestal at the midline and divide the space into equally sized sections, large enough for each one to accommodate your sprig.
Delineate each section with a pin mark.
Position the first sprig on the pedestal wall, within the first delineated area and score around the shape with a pin.
Remove the sprig and score around the outline on the pedestal.
Slip the scored outline on the pedestal and the rim of the sprig.
Fix the sprig onto the pedestal pressing gently but firmly to ensure it adheres fully.
Neaten around the join with a wooden tool to tidy up.
Make and apply the remaining sprigs in the same way, then turn the base upside down and make a discreet pinhole in each of the sprigs to allow for the release of air in drying and firing.
Working in exactly the same way, apply a series of sprigs to the upper section of the pedestal.
Assemble the parts of the birth bath to test how it looks then disassemble them again and allow them to dry out thoroughly before bisque firing.
Beginning with the underside of the rim of the dish, apply your chosen colour of glaze in as many coats as recommended by the manufacturer, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next.
Leave the foot and underside of the dish unglazed.
When the underside of the dish has dried, turn it over and glaze the upper surface with the same number of coats.
Glaze the pedestal sections in the same way, working carefully around the birds with a finer brush to avoid getting the glaze on them.
You can glaze over the upper rims of both sections but be sure to leave the underside of the base and the lower rim of the upper section unglazed to allow for placing in the kiln.
Glaze the birds in a contrasting or complementary colour of glaze – again applying as many coats as recommended. Avoid brushing the glaze on the pedestal wall.
Finally, using a fine brush, glaze the eyes and beak in a bold colour so that they stand out well – black used here.
We used Amaco Potter’s Choice Indigo Float for the base glaze, with Mayco Frost blue for the sprigs. Bisque-fired to cone 04 (1060°C, 1940°F) and glaze-fired to cone 6 (1222°C, 2232°F).