Japanese Clay Tools

Written by ned millis
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Japanese Clay Tools
The potter's wheel (pottery image by Dubravko Grakalic from Fotolia.com)

If your hobby is designing and throwing objects on the potter’s wheel, you may be interested in the ancient tools used by Japanese artisans to create beautiful and utilitarian objects from clay. Over the centuries Japanese craftsmen have developed standardised tools for working the clay. The tools are grouped according to purpose and use.

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Throwing Tools

Your set of Japanese throwing tools will include gyubera, marugate and tsurunokubi. The gyubera is used in shaping the bottom and sides of bowls and may also be used to enlarge a cylinder into a bowl. A smaller version is used to compress the clay at the bottom of a bowl or plate. The marugate is used to create a sidewall curve once you have opened the cylinder. This tool has a curved surface that will not pick up clay while the piece is being turned. You will use the tsurunokubi to reach and shape inside tall objects or those with necks too small for your hand.

Japanese Clay Tools
A turned candlestick (pottery image by Avesun from Fotolia.com)

Decorating tools

Traditional decorating tools include takeburu, yumi, kushi and tobikanna. You will use the yumi to score one or more lines on a clay surface. A tobikanna is a tool that chatters when applied to a hardened clay surface. It skips up and down as the piece is turned, creating a rippled finish.

Decorated clay ready for firing
Decorated clay ready for firing (Traditional Pottery image by Debbie Rooke from Fotolia.com)

Trimming tools

The metal trimming tools, or kanna, you will use in the Japanese tradition are made of metal and have fine points and sharp edges for trimming soft and hard clay build-up. They are also used to create fine detail. An iron band with a wooden handle is used to scoop away clay rapidly It is called a tsuchikaki. Your set of Japanese clay working tools should include a wakanna, which is used to trim bowls or plates. It is an oval metal ring with no handle. An umakaki is a trimming tool used to smooth large flat areas like the bottom of a plate.

Trimmed pots ready for decorating
Trimmed pots ready for decorating (poteries image by daniel sainthorant from Fotolia.com)

Plate maker

You can create a plate maker like those used by the Japanese to produce a large number of small- to medium-size plates with a turned-up edge. Plates of this type are usually square or rectangular. Your wooden form is produced with a bevelled edge on all four sides of 45 degrees. The opposite side is drilled for a removable dowel handle. Clay is rolled flat like a pie crust, and then the clay is cut to the shape of largest form dimension. The wooden form is reversed to apply the handle and the cut clay is moulded to shape on the bevelled side of the form.

Japanese Clay Tools
Formed Japanese plates (china pottery 5 image by BlueMiniu from Fotolia.com)

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