by Doug Peltzman
Before purchasing my pugmill I did a bit of research and tested a few different brands and sizes for the volume and pace I work at, I determined that Peter Pugger was the brand for me. The VPM 7ss is the smallest model available and costs around $4000. All larger sizes are pretty similar in design and function, they can just process larger batches of clay and they cost more. The VPM 7ss can mix and pug around 15 pounds per batch.
Capabilities and Features:
*Auto safety shut-off
*Mix wet and dry scrap
*Adjust moisture of clay
*Mix from powder/water
*Virtually eliminates wedging
*Recycle without slaking
*Variable speed control
*Blend clays at all consistencies
*Stainless steel auger
*Powder coated castings
*Stainless steel work surface
*Sealed chamber for moist clay storage
*Simple to clean
One of the major selling points for me is this machines ability to free up the operator during the mixing process, the vacuum de-airs the entire chamber and empties the entire chamber. I pug all of my boxed clay as well as my scraps. I find that this extra bit of mixing and pugging makes the clay so much nicer to throw with. I find it helpful to have some moist clay in the chamber before you add scraps and harder chunks. I typically will add my reclaim (I try to keep my trimmings moist) and mix for a few minutes. Once its pretty well homogenized and broken down I’ll take a read on the consistency and use a spray bottle to add water. I’ll spray water, mix, check, spray, mix, check….. until the clay is at a desirable moistness. Since purchasing this machine its kept me on top of my reclaim. As I trim, the scraps go directly in the pugmill, when the chamber isfull, I mix and pug, so I don’t really ever let the trimmings/scraps get bone dry or pile up around the studio. The de-airing models are designed and air sealed with o-rings, so leaving moist clay in the pugmill chamber indefinitely is not an issue, my clay has never dried in the pugmill. It helps to completely fill the chamber for an adequate mix and I typically mix for 5-10 minutes. When the clay is nice and consistent I turn the de-airer on and continue to mix for another few minutes, then I turn the speed down to slow and switch to the pug option all the while leaving the de-airer “on”. This now begins to exude the batch out of the pugmill, when it stops extruding, you know that your chamber is empty. I release the vacuum pressure and clean out the de-airing chamber in-between every batch.
This mix/pug design eliminates the issues surrounding vacuum screens and pugmills that de-air via the hopper door, no clogged screens or hopper doors, no time spent cleaning and racing to keep a proper vacuum. A mixing pugmill is designed to rotate the auger in both mix and extrude directions. While in mix mode, the clay is being forced up against the rear wall of the mixing chamber and thoroughly homogenized. Peter Pugger’s de-airing vacuum chamber creates a barrier between the clay and the gear drive system. The placement of the de-airing chamber not only protects the gear drive from clay but also allows for the entire batch to be de-aired. No other pugmill on the market will have this feature.
Stainless steel should also be a major consideration, especially if you are working with porcelain. Stainless will provide protection against corrosion and undesirable iron spotting.
Cleaning is pretty simple, especially with the 7ss (because of its size its the lightest of all Peter Puggers). Switching to a darker clay or to a lighter clay (in my case, white porcelain to black porcelain) will take about 30 or so minutes to remove 4 bolts and clean the auger and chamber. Because of the sealed chamber their is no dried clay, simply sponge out and your good to go.
In conclusion, I know this is a huge investment and I had my reservations about the cost, but once I put it to practice on a daily basis, I forgot all about the cost. I knew it was well worth it and could see immediately how it pays for itself over time. I purchased mine at NCECA in Providence. It’s a great time to explore your options/prices, compare many different brands/designs, talk to a rep, and potentially get a little discount off the full market price. I hope this bit of insight helps make your decision a little easier when the time comes to invest in a pugmill. Good luck!