I think if you talk to enough good people, good things happen. This was the case in speaking with a friend I hadn’t seen since we had both taken the same pottery class with Michael Connelly outside Philadelphia the year before. In a discussion about wheels, I happened to mention that I was still looking for a motorized Randall wheel and he came right back with, ‘hey, I’ll sell you mine – I’ll even deliver it’.
Now I know Randalls aren’t for everyone, but the moment I sat down at one to work, it immediately felt like ‘home’. It was a mini revelation for me in that I thought, ‘oh, this is the way it’s supposed to be!’. As a brief disclaimer before I start, should any reading this think I’m extremely clever in figuring this out, I assure you, I am not. Although there are various subjects in which I think I’m probably smarter than the average bear, carpentry and mechanics are definitely not in my skill set. I need to thank potter, Bill van Gilder, for explaining to me how to modify this wheel and work station, in very patient detail, and made it so, I can pass this information on to others, who may have a Randall that they would like to modify in a similar way.
The first issue I needed to tackle was getting the bucket head off. It seemed to be stuck on there for good. Aside from the fact that I wanted to use a regular wheel head with it (issue #2), I would never be able to clean out the splash pan properly without taking the wheel head off. I first turned to Google, scanned the Clayart archives for everyone who has ever had this problem (and there were many). I tried literally all the solutions on there from rubber mallets, to heating the bucket head with a propane torch, to ‘Liquid Wrench’ and beyond. Still stuck. In speaking with Bill, he said he only ever had that problem once with a Randall and he had a mechanic come in with a bearing puller to get it off. And so, I went over the hill on the other side of the creek to a small garage owned by a nice man named, Sam Keiser. I walked in and informed him that I thought I needed an auto mechanic but not for any type of motor vehicle. He was intrigued. So, Sam came down the next afternoon and in less than a minute and a half, the bucket head was off!
Next, I took the now free bucket head to a guy at a local machine shop. I needed the new wheel head to be approximately 2″ above the surface of the bucket (allowing for the height of the plaster bats usually used with it). Joel at the shop came up with this idea. It centers the top of the new wheel head over the old bucket head, locking it in, but can be removed, should I ever need to use the bucket head again. Works out pretty well and much less the cost of a machined head.
And finally, the workstation. Without a spot to put water, tools and finished pots, the wheel still wasn’t very usable. I purchased a $30 solid wood table on Craigslist, measured the height of the wheel, just below the roll of the aluminum splash pan, then cut the legs a bit shorter on the table to accomodate that height. I used the splash pan as a template, came in 1/2″ from the edge, then traced a semi circle, 9″ deep, and cut that piece of the table out with a jigsaw.
You’re probably thinking, ‘lovely, but that’s way too clean.’ It wasn’t that way for very long. I added some removable ware boards to the side of the workbench table, and a rolling cart for bat storage and pots (a $10 Craigslist find) and I’m off and running! Plenty of room for everything and easy production without getting up from the wheel.