The potters could make objects shaped on rotating discs - such as plates, saucers, cups, round bowls and trays. The principle of wheel thrown pottery is that one side of the objects is given shape from a plaster mould that the clay is shaped within, while the other side of the object gets its shape from a steel stencil. During production, the mould is constantly rotating at high speed. Centrifugal forces allow the material to achieve a uniform thickness, without joints.
The potter worked as part of a team, together with an assistant or apprentice. The potter led the work. The assistant was usually a young boy from 13-14 or 16-17 years old. The most common way to recruit new workers was from the pool of apprentices.
Legislation banned factory work for those below the age of 16, but none reacted to the ban being broken. From the 1930s, it was common for children to go to school in the morning and work at the factory in the afternoon. When factory inspector Betzy Kjelsberg came to visit, the children hid from her. The local community knew well that children below legal age were working at the factory, but did not take any action against it.
The potters worked on teams with their assistants. The potters all stood in line alongside one of the walls in the production room. The assistant would cut the clay into suitably sized pieces and place them on the right-hand side of the potter. The potter would slam it onto the centre of the rotating potter’s wheel. The wheel had to be kept moist to avoid the clay sticking to the wheel. The potter had a tub of water to keep both the potter’s wheel and stencil moist.
With the aid of a flat steel stencil, the clay was shaped to resemble a pancake. After this, the potter removed the clay and placed it in a plaster mould, located to the left of the potter’s wheel.
Plates were shaped by hand first, and then further shaped by a steel stencil to form the inside of the plate. The plate stencil was regulated by a handle above the mould.
Cups were made in approximately the same way. The stencil could be manoeuvred with a foot pedal. A long cord stretching throughout the production room powered the machines. The cord was connected to an electric engine. The machines were operated through remote transmission. During production, the potter had to use arms and legs. He started the machine using a knob activated with his thigh. The stencil was lowered with a foot pedal or handle. With his other hand, the potter added water to keep his stencil from tearing up the clay.
When the potter had finished an object, his assistant took the object on its mould in one hand, and placed a new mould on the machine with his other hand. The finished object was placed in a cylindrical carousel, provided with several shelves. There were steam pipes at the bottom of the carousel, to ensure that the objects would start to dry. After a while, as the shelves of the carousel were filled, it was rotated to make room for more objects.
A third part of the potter's team worked at the back of the carousel. This was usually a young girl, who removed objects from the carousel when they were sufficiently dry. The moulds were sent back to the workshop to be reused.
In addition to removing objects from the carousel and their moulds, the young girl had to smooth out any marks from the production process and fine-polish the objects with sandpaper.
The work team had a shared piece rate pay that was paid to the potter. The potter was left with 50 to 55% of this. The rest was shared by the two young assistants. The work took place at high speed and the assistants had to work hard to achieve the desired piece rate.
The apprentice watched the potter closely to learn the handicraft through observation. When the potter left his wheel, the apprentice was quick to take his place and practice shaping objects from clay. It was especially important to practice how to adjust the machine correctly. The boy would have mastered the handicraft after 2-3 years of apprenticeship.
Although many started work as a potter’s apprentice, they were not necessarily destined to work as potters. The apprentices served as a pool for general recruitment, and most were transferred to other departments within the factory. The factory manager decided who should be given which kind of work.
Prior to the last war, between 80 and 90 people worked in the potter’s workshop. This was the biggest department handling raw materials. When the objects were ready to leave the workshop, they were taken to a room close to the ovens. This room had steam pipes in the floor to further dry the objects before firing.
Production of moulds
Plaster moulds play an important role within ceramic industry. The moulds were made at a dedicated workshop, the plaster workshop. The starting point was a model of the finished object. Models were made by a modeller. The modeller made the original model, the core, by hand. A mould was then cast using the core as a vantage point. The resulting mould was a negative of the finished product. It was tested several times to correct its form. After this, a new mould was cast, called a block. The block was a positive of the finished product. The final clay mould was cast around the block. At the factory, four men worked making plaster moulds for slip casting and throwing clay.