I don’t mean to dis rolling pins in this post. They have their purpose. In fact, I have a fondness for them because of their crucial “roll” in the creation of one of my favorite things – pie (there I go again, talking about baked goods). Of course, they are also quite useful in the ceramic studio.
But if you have decided that slab building is your favorite method of making stuff out of clay, and you plan on making a lot of it, it might be time to consider a slab roller. There’s nothing better at cranking out lots of consistent slabs than a slab roller. But with about thirty different models on the market, how do you choose.
Today, Daryl Baird gives some guidelines on determining if a slab roller is right for you, and explains some of the different options available. Take it away Daryl. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
Currently, there are a handful of manufacturers and dozens of distributors who offer thirty models of a machine designed to help you do one thing: turn a mound of clay into a flat slab.
Slab rollers are sold alone or in a complete package with legs and a table. With some, the mechanism for moving clay under and past the drum is hand operated using anything from a simple hand crank up to a large “wagon wheel,” while others are motor driven. Some have one roller, others have two. They come in a variety of widths, from 16 inches up to 40 inches, and the tables are anywhere from a 18 inches all the way up to 7 feet in length. Some are designed for portability while the rest are floor models designed for use in a larger studio. Some are light-duty while others are “industrial-grade” and built to work under heavy demand, day in and day out. Prices range from under $200 to more than $2000.
WHO is going to use the slab roller?
Will the slab roller be used by one person, or a group of people? Answering this may help you determine whether or not you’ll need a model designed to sustain heavy use. Some light-duty models carry limited warranty coverage, explicitly stating that they are not intended for commercial or institutional use. If several people are going to use the slab roller, get input from them as to what they want to do with it and how often they plan to use it. Also, consider if anyone has physical limitations that might interfere with his or her ability to operate the slab roller. If so, test the equipment before you buy it.
You’re going to roll out slabs of clay, of course, but what will be the width and length of most of your slabs? Will most of your slabs be around one square foot and 1/4-inch thick or will you be doing larger projects that require slabs two to three feet wide, several feet long and a 1/2-inch thick? Amaco/Brent’s SR-36 Slab Roller (shown at left), is a large floor model designed for heavy-duty use and comes with variable shims to roll slabs of different thicknesses. But bigger isn’t always better. If it looks like you’re going to do mostly small-scale projects, requiring slabs no wider than sixteen inches, then a portable model or a light-duty floor model may fit the bill.
WHERE will the slab roller be used?
Space is precious in many studios so careful planning is required when adding a floor-model slab roller. It’s sort of like deciding to put a billiard table in a guest room. The space has to be big enough to use the table, not just fit the table. Ideally, you should have an area in the studio equivalent to the dimensions of the slab roller’s table plus an additional two feet of walking space all around. However, most of the floor models on the market can be located against a wall and still be conveniently operated. Some models come with locking casters and others can be outfitted with them so the slab roller can be used in an open area, then moved aside when not in use.
Bear in mind that slab rollers equipped with tables also make excellent working surfaces for other studio projects. You may find that the table or bench you’re using now can be replaced with a slab roller without losing work space.
If you need to travel with your slab roller, there are six portable models currently on the market. Bailey’s Mini-Might 22-inch Table Roller with Mini Leg Set and Bailey 16-inch Mini-Might Table Top Roller (shown at left) both offer portability without giving up function and quality. Amaco/Brent also offers a portable model.
WHEN will the slab roller be used?
This also relates to how often you’ll use the slab roller. Will you use it on a daily basis or just occasionally? Your answer here will help you determine if you should invest in one of the heavy-duty models. These are often equipped with ultra-strong gearing and 4-inch rollers. Look for lifetime warranties when purchasing these types of machines.
HOW MUCH money are you planning to spend?
While this may be your dealer’s opening question, it may not necessarily be the first question to ask yourself. By evaluating your needs before you budget, you can do a better job of getting the appropriate slab roller.
Amaco/Brent has five slab rollers in its product line, Northstar Equipment seven, and Bailey Pottery Equipment has thirteen. Axner and Shimpo offer similar models.
Be sure to download your free copy of the Slab Roller Techniques and Tips: A Guide to Selecting a Slab Roller and Making Slab Pottery. This handy studio reference includes valuable technical references to help you use your slab roller to it’s greatest potential!