East Fork Red Clay is custom blended at STARworks Clay factory in Star, North Carolina. Raw clay is dug from mineral rich clay beds in the North Carolina Piedmont. This minimally refined clay contains a variety of particle sizes - making for a more workable clay and more dynamic final product. East Fork clay is rich in iron, a quality responsible for the distinctive brown speckling that appears on our glaze surfaces. During firing, the gas in the kiln pulls iron molecules through the glaze to the surface of the pot, resulting in the brown speckled surface characteristic of many East Fork pots.
Pugging The Clay
To prepare the clay to be formed, it is next processed through a pug mill, which homogenizes the clay body and removes air particles, increasing the clay’s plasticity and giving it an internal spiral structure ideal for forming.
WEIGHING UP THE BALLS
Before the potter begins forming, freshly pugged bolts of clay are sliced into wedges of equal weight according to the pot to be made and roughly formed into egg-shaped balls.
East Fork Pottery is currently produced using three different forming methods: jiggering, RAM pressing, and wheel-throwing.
Developed in the mid 19th century, the jigger press is a hand-powered machine that uses mold technology to simulate throwing. A pre-weighed ball of clay is pressed onto a plaster mold that corresponds to the bottom of a form (the foot and rounded bottom of our Shallow Soup and Salad bowls, for example), and a metal tool is then lowered by lever and the molded clay is rotated beneath it so it can carve the lip of the bowl and create walls for the bowl that have a uniform thickness. As of now, our Shallow Soup and Salad Bowls and our Medium Potter’s Bowls are made with the jigger press.
The RAM press uses a mechanical hydraulic pressing system and plaster dies (molds) to shape clay into dinnerware. Used now to make our Bread and Butter, Side, and Dinner Plates, the RAM press will eventually be used to form all East Fork plates, as well as our mugs, vases, and jars.
Watch the video below for a glimpse into our RAM Press process and to get to know Jessie, East Fork's mold designer.
East Fork vases, tumblers, mugs, jars, smaller bowls and larger serving ware are thrown on a potter’s wheel. Our potters make work in “runs”, meaning that they will throw anywhere from 30 to 300 of the same form at a time. This production-style of throwing allows for greater consistency in product and allows for new potters to improve their hand skills most efficiently. Although we are transitioning the production of our dinnerware collection to mechanized forming methods, the wheel will continue to be integral to East Fork production.
The wheel’s beauty - as well as its indispensability to our process - lies in the flexibility it offers. Our new workshop will still have wheels among machines; potters will continue to throw on the wheel to prototype new forms, to make collaborations and commissions, and to produce limited runs of special forms available to East Fork Inner Circle customers.
All The Details
Formed pots are then placed on ware boards and set on racks to dry. When the pots reach a “leather hard” stage, excess clay is trimmed away, revealing a more harmonious profile and accentuating the footed base. Mugs receive handles. Wheel-thrown pots are stamped with the East Fork Makers’ Mark, while jiggered and RAM pressed plates and bowls received this mark during the forming process.
Firing + GLAZING
Up to this point, the process for pots in the East Fork Collection and pots made for the wood kiln by the East Fork Guild have been mostly identical. Glazes for both kilns are formulated and mixed exclusively in our workshop using materials mined in North Carolina and the Southeast.
East Fork pots are fired twice in our gas-burning Blaauw kiln. Once the raw clay pots have dried for about two days and are “bone-dry,” they are fired in a lower temperature “bisque” firing overnight, ready to unload the next morning.
After bisquing, pots are glazed to order by our team of potters. East Fork glazes are formulated and mixed in small batches exclusively in our workshop by our glaze chemist, Kyle Crowder. Our classic collection contains five mainstay glaze colors - Eggshell, Soapstone, Morel, Blue Ridge, and Thistle - and features seasonal limited edition glaze colors. While many commercial potteries use industrial glaze sprayers, East Fork pots are dipped by hand into buckets of glaze, piece by piece. This glazing process often results in small variations in surface or streaking, small idiosyncrasies that we find lend our dinnerware depth and character.
After glazing, we fire our pots in a higher temperature (Cone 10) glaze firing. Firing at such a high temperature gives our glazes a vitrified surface and results in pots that are consistent in color and quality from firing to firing, allowing us to collaborate with other makers and designers and to work with chefs to create uniform, stackable, highly-functional dinnerware for their restaurants.
After a glaze kiln cools, we unload and inspect each pot for flaws before sanding away any roughness on the exposed clay body - typically on rims, foots, and the lower quarters of vases and mugs. Pots receive a final rinsing to rid them of any extra clay dust and are left to air dry before they’re packed and shipped to your home sweet homes.