The beginning the new year 2018! Let’s review ceramic studio safety ideas. Whether you work in a community pottery studio, a school studio, or your home studio, clay safety is critical. We’ve gathered these ideas from friends and from expert sources. It’s easy to overlook ceramic studio safety as we get immersed in our work. Let’s recall the basics.
Ceramic Studio Safety
Clean, orderly work spaces and equipment are not only a pleasure, they’re important to avoid studio accidents and prevent fire or air issues.
Housekeeping in the Ceramic Studio
- Clean your work area at the end of each pottery session.
- Wash up tools and table tops. Plain water is the best cleaning solution. And remember that wet floors are slippery.
- Clean up should be done with a wet sponge or a squeegee -type wide blade bench scraping tool.
Avoid sweeping or vacuuming in the ceramics studio. You’ll raise a ton of tiny particles that remain airborne for days.
- Wash your hands frequently when you’re working with clay. Clay is organic. It contains microorganisms. You don’t want to end up ingesting some of them. I wash my face when I leave my studio. I would rather not have dust drift into my eyes and nose.
- Don’t leave clay scraps, clay debris from throwing, or broken clay pieces laying around to become dry. They’ll emit harmful dust. Put such material in water in a recycle container.
- Clean up your potter’s wheel after each use.
- Clean your tools after using.
- Dispose of clay water or sludge properly. Pouring it down a drain without a filtration system is not a good idea. You can pour it outside if you haven’t introduced heavy metals.
Ceramic Studio Safety with Equipment
Learn how to properly use any equipment you need for your work.
If you’re part of a group ceramic studio, find the appropriate expert and ask for training.
If your studio is at home, research the equipment or tools, read about them online, read the instructions, or ask an expert for help.
Review instructions and safety tips for tools from time to time.
Store sharp tools safely. Put them in a handle up position in a container like a cup or jar. Many potters stab sharp implements into foam forms like cut or slotted pool noodles. Some potters stick sharp tools into a ball of clay while they are working.
Very important ceramic studio safety — use a very sturdy work table of the proper height for your work habits. Make sure the table has no wiggle or wobble to it, even if you drop ten or fifteen pounds of clay onto it. For wedging, it’s critical that the table withstand your full weight, plus the weight of the materials you’re using, plus extra motion as you wedge. Brace the legs and be sure your table top is thick enough to never bow.
Other General Tips for Ceramic Studio Safety
Don’t allow children into a ceramic studio without close, skilled supervision.
If you work in a group studio, make sure you report any accidents, including minor scrapes or cuts so the studio insurance can cover what they need to cover.
Anytime you are doing a task that can create dust, flying particles, or shrapnel of any sort, take a moment to find your safety goggles and wear them.
Have an eyewash station available, even in a home studio. Potters work with a lot of caustic substances.
A studio is a bad place to wear any jewelry, neck ties, and floaty or draped clothing, including loose or billowy sleeves. Stick with closed shoes. Sandals and flip flops, even at home, can be problematic. Drop a sharp needle tool on a bare toe and you probably won’t wear flip flops again. Tie back long hair!
Wear a dust mask when you work with powders, make clay, or mix glaze formulas.
Know what’s in your formulas and what each component is made from. Wear plastic or rubber gloves when working with heavy metal ingredients
Toxic liquids should be stored out of reach of children in a closed cabinet. Bottles need to be labelled and capped.
Clearly label containers with the contents and date acquired. It’s a good idea to put the formula for colorants or glazes on the containers.
Put a first aid kit in your studio area.
Install the best ventilation system you can afford in your work area.
Have a working fire extinguisher in your ceramics studio workshop and near your kiln.
Logging details of each kiln firing is a great idea. KilnFrog.com suggests, that even identical kilns behave slightly differently in different situations. Plugging the same kiln into different outlets in your house may alter the firing schedule you need. Different size projects or different materials will react differently, necessitating changes to your firing schedules. Keep detailed firing logs whenever you do a new project or change any parameter in an existing project. As you gain experience using your kiln, you may find that you need to use the “add hold time” or the “skip step” sequences to get exactly the results you want.
Never locate any kind of kiln inside your home. The fumes and vapors are totally hazardous. Locate the kiln in a garage or outbuilding.
Keep long fireproof gloves handy when working with the kiln. Find a fire safety equipment supply store to buy the kind firemen use.
Inspect your coils regularly and replace worn coils.
Develop a thorough understanding of your kiln’s capacity and cycles.
Ventilate the kiln area — use a direct to outside fan vent as well as adequate room ventilation.
Keep flammable material away from the kiln.
Read your manual.
Ceramic Studio Safety for Glazes and Glazing
- Have a supply of good quality respirator masks. The ones used for painting are not sufficient.
- Keep glaze ingredients and mixed glazes in clearly labelled, tightly covered containers.
- Only work outdoors with powdered ingredients. Mixing chemicals in your home studio can cause severe health issues.
- When measuring or mixing powders, work in small movements. For example, don’t hold a cup way above the container you’re pouring into.
- Wear masks, gloves, eye protection when needed.
- Don’t glaze the bottom of your work. Keep the glaze at least an eighth inch from the bottom of the piece.
- Wash your hands after handling wet or dry glaze materials.
Helpful Resources: Safety eyewear can be purchased at most home centers or at online vendors like Uline.com
Respirator masks are available at similar places and at clay supply dealers.
Claytimes Magazine has an outstanding article on laws and common sense guidelines.
It’s nice to go back to basics once in a while and rededicate ourselves to a safe and efficient work environment. Take a look at your studio and see what you can tighten up a little.