Sarah McLeary

Ceramics and Architecture

tools of the trade

We had a visit from a talented craftsman and all round top raconteur; Arthur. Our pottery group met in the studio to hear Arthur talk about his time apprenticing and working at the Buchan Pottery in Portobello. He started when he was  teenager, straight from school (as in, he walked in, asked if they had any jobs, and started straight away) apprenticing for five years before he was working making whisky bottles.

Throwing is now hardwired into Arthurs’ brain. He threw two wonderful bottles while talking to us, even though he’d not been at a wheel in a few years.

He brought a lamp, of the type that used to be made at the Buchan Pottery


Here are some of the tools that used to be used every day in the factory. Workers could make their own throwing and shaping ribs.

These are for the decorative bottoms and tops of the various ware that was produced. This spike was for making the hole in a hot water bottle, ready for th erubber stopper.

Tools were made of whatever was handy and durable, so there were odd pieces of metal, slate and this really old tool made from bone.

You can see here the shaping tool for the tops of bottles.  It was really interesting to hear Arthur talk about the factory, and the working conditions, as well as all the different jobs there were. We all do every part of the process, from wedging to glazing, but of course that’s a very inefficient way to run a business, so each person would have a very repetitive day. I’m amazed Arthur’s spine doesn’t resemble a coat hanger, he has fantastic posture considering the years spent at the wheel, and no workplace health and safety assessment for your individual work station!

The idea of leaving school and walking into your local factory to look for a job… and there BEING A JOB is really incredible to me. It’s the story that my Granny tells me, that jobs just EXISTED and a kid could walk in and get trained up. I can’t imagine that at all. I feel that I’ve been lucky to have worked through the last recession, and I don’t know if I’ll live in a time where jobs are easy to come by, especially unskilled labour.


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This entry was posted on November 16, 2015 by in pottery.
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