Tuesday 8 September 2009

Stibbington Potters Wheel - Stick or Kick?




The case for classing this as a stick wheel:

Firstly I Note that radii drawn through the holes that I have marked as 1, 2, 3 on the image above (Fig.1), divide the wheel into three roughly equal segments, this would be a very sensible placing for stick holes. Furthermore holes 1 and 2 are shown in drawings, to be elliptical at the upper edge, and also appear to be so in the photograph in 'The Pottery Kilns of Roman Britain' Swan (1984), the long axes of these ellipses are at an angle of approximately 50 degrees to the radius of the wheel, descending left to right when the hole is at 12 o’clock on the wheel. The fracture of the stone at hole 3 has removed the upper surface but it too seems to exhibit an elliptical shape in approximately the same direction. When operating a stick wheel, the stick is inserted into one of the holes and force is exerted in the direction of spin, anticlockwise in the case of a right handed potter. Once the required speed is achieved the stick is withdrawn and the natural position for this to happen is when its hole is at approximately 2 o’clock, the stick is then naturally brought back to the right hand side of the potter. When the hole is at 2 o’clock the direction of drag will be approximately 50 degrees to the radius. As the stick leaves the hole it drags slightly on the trailing edge of the hole and over time this slight drag will cause the hole to wear into an ellipse. I note that some of the other holes also exhibit this same elliptical form. My own stick wheel (Fig.2) has started to exhibit exactly the same type of wear even though it has thus far made only a few hundred pots. Other, apparently random, holes may be the result of balancing, attachment to a frame, a prior existence as a mill wheel (quern), or additional stick holes when the original ones became too worn. The fact that small stones are jammed in two of the holes may be accidental but could, depending on the depth, be a device to prevent the stick sitting too deeply into the hole and becoming jammed or difficult to remove at high speed, once the holes had become excessively deepened through wear. The large central hole in the flywheel would readilly accomodate a raised wheelhead in the form of a solid log with a hole bored up the centre in which the fixed central shaft would pivot (Fig.4).


It is possible that the wheel has seen service as both a stick and a kick wheel. The worn band on the upper surface of the stone at approximately the midway point between the inner and outer rims corresponds almost exactly with the wear pattern that is developing on my own kick wheel (Fig.3). This type of wear could also develop from using the foot, or even a piece of wood, as a break, something that I do on a regular basis when using a stick wheel. A flywheel of this type could easily have provided the motive power for potters’ wheels for several generations and been required to serve different purposes for different masters. Equally it may have been used under different circumstances by the same potter. A stick wheel has several advantages over a kick wheel; not having a cumbersome frame it is inherently more portable suiting the purposes of an itinerant potter ideally; a far higher speed can be generated with a stick than can be achieved with the foot, making the production of fast, cheap ware far more attainable; its low wheel head is almost essential to the making of very large storage vessels or amphorae. The kick wheel on the other hand has the following advantages over the stick; being fixed in a frame makes it far more stable and therefore better suited to the production of finer wares such as Samian or Nene Valley colour coated wares; its setup allows for a seat and therefore much more comfortable working conditions

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