by Bryan Hopkins
About 5 years ago I began slab building a good amount of my work. Until that point 95% of my forms were made on the wheel and altered, so I had no use for another big piece of expensive studio equipment. But the new forms required large, consistent slabs, and rolling slabs by hand is labor I would wish on no one, so I started looking into buying a slab roller.
There are a lot of great options out there, but I quickly settled on a Shimpo Slab Roller. (Of note: it is not made by Shimpo, but by a company in Taiwan who makes the identical machine (in different color schemes) for Axner and Clay King.)
It is inexpensive, has a good warranty, and is a decent color (yes, it matters).
-steel gears . some other brands use nylon gears. does it matter? to me, yes- steel makes more sense.
- up to 3” thick slabs
- can roll in either direction. other brands only go one way.
- 30” wide rollers.
- 2 handle choices. I like the round wheel, but also comes with a crank arm style
- comes with one set of canvas blankets
- cost is about $700 delivered, as of this writing, through Clay-King.com
Thickness gauge is large and more easily read than some other brands. I hate putting on reading glasses just to tell how thick my slabs are.
Thickness is adjusted using either top-mounted wheel- they are linked by a chain. And the handle mounted on the adjustment wheel (like a “suicide knob” on a steering wheel) makes adjustment fast and easy.
A nice feature is that the table tops are easily removed by quick release tabs. That makes it possible to attach different length in and out-feed tops for longer slabs, then remove them when not in use, saving valuable studio space.
There is no such thing as wasted space in most clay studios, and the height of this machine is perfect for lots of storage. I fit my storage bins and clay scrap under mine.
The rollers are “direct drive”, meaning the wheel you turn is mounted directly to the lower roller. Each wheel turn equals a turn of the roller. Other brands offer “reduction gearing”, where there is a mechanism between the wheel and roller, and each wheel turn equals less than one roller turn. This makes it easier to turn the wheel, and the additional force required with a direct drive model is noticeable. The up-side to direct drive is there is no additional mechanism to wear out or service.
Table height is 36”, table and roller width is 30”
Overall length is about 51”
Overall width, including wheel, is about 40”
This is a close up view of the roller height adjustment bolt. One issue occurs when rolling stiffer clays through- that bolt end is ball-shaped, and moves around in the socket a little, and will rise up when under load. This requires me to roll the slab through twice at the final desired thickness to obtain exact, repeatable results. Not a big deal, but notable.
Pluses: All steel construction.
Ease of use.
Minuses: Direct drive, as opposed to reduction gearing, requires more force put in by the user.
Verdict: I have been using the Shimpo Slab Roller for over 3 years, about 1 hour of use/week on average. Not a lot of usage, and I have had absolutely no issues. The clay I am using is very stiff- almost too stiff to wedge, so there is more stress being put on all moving parts than a typical clay. But again, no issues. I would recommend this slab roller to anyone who is looking for a quality piece of studio equipment that will last for years.