In Search of Purity (ongoing saga)

by Bryan Hopkins

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It not look like much, but the object pictured above might change your life. It is a neodymium bar magnet made by Eriez Magnetics (www.eriez.com). 

Those of you who know me might know I go on rants about porcelain. “it’s not white enough, not plastic enough”, and the worst offense: “it has iron spots”.

I fucking hate iron spots, or whatever they are. Spots, specks, whatever. They are flaws that make a piece a second quality piece, and I don’t sell seconds so they are given away or crushed in to bits, wasting valuable studio time, not to mention money.

Out of necessity I have been making my own porcelain for maybe 5 years now. (No company wants to deal with my insistence on a lack of spots in the fired product.) And for years I have dealt with spots and specks ruining maybe 10% of my production. Not so bad, you might say, but when a great piece (my standards) is destroyed due to spots I get pissy.

Someone told me once about bar magnets being used to extract very fine particulate from dry clay materials. Particulate so fine it passes through a 60 mesh screen, and not super magnetic particulate (like steel filings), but attracted to a magnet none the less. So  for whatever reason I remembered this conversation last April and started looking around. I contacted Eriez and eventually got a 6” x 6” neodymium bar magnet from them.

It.Is.Fucking.Amazing.

I pass by the magnet all dry material and the amount of stuff it extracts (attracts) is amazing. Can I also add this comment about my raw materials: the amount of impurity I am able to easily extract is quite disappointing based on how much I pay for those materials. I have found almost all the magnetic impurity to be found in silica, but feldspars are also a culprit.

Now you might say this is excessive: you don’t need a magnet- you like specks! Well, I don’t find anything attractive or romantic or wabi-sabi about specks, and my career is partly based on my neurotic behavior about purity of porcelain.

Having this magnet has made my clay cleaner and whiter, and allows me to be more confident that pieces I spend hours and hours on will not go to waste due to some spots.

Below are images of my set up and how I use the magnet.

Thanks for looking!

Bryan Hopkins

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Overhead view of my “hopper”. Plywood coated with corrugated PVC. On the right is a side view of the hopper on a keg bucket. Materials are poured in to the hopper and all passes by the bar magnet.

Overhead view of my “hopper”. Plywood coated with corrugated PVC. On the right is a side view of the hopper on a keg bucket. Materials are poured in to the hopper and all passes by the bar magnet.

After rinsing the magnet, this is what it looks like. And that is after just 100 lbs of dry material!

After rinsing the magnet, this is what it looks like. And that is after just 100 lbs of dry material!

A close up of the accumulation on one single bar. Maybe 500 potential specks?

A close up of the accumulation on one single bar. Maybe 500 potential specks?

The contaminants are easily picked off with a piece of moist porcelain.

The contaminants are easily picked off with a piece of moist porcelain.

Here is what those look like after going through a reduction firing, cone 11. Yuck.

Here is what those look like after going through a reduction firing, cone 11. Yuck.