ABOUT PUGMILLS AND CLAY MIXERS
I've been getting a lot of questions lately about pugmills, so I thought it would be a good time to discuss them. Here are the frequently asked questions and my answers. Please keep in mind that not everyone might agree with every part of each answer. I have talked to many people about pugmills, and I hear a lot of different opinions. Even getting someone who makes pugmills to explain exactly how they work is not really easy; there seems to be an element of black magic involved. So my answers are based on talking to a lot people and blending the many opinions.
Many people who buy pugmills do not mix their clay from scratch.
Some run their clay through the pugmill to make it easier to throw. Their clay may be a little hard and they soften it some in the process. But even without adding water, wheel throwers in particular say the clay becomes easier to work with after running it through the pugmill. When clay sits in a bag, it tends to dry out unevenly, and re-pugging evens out the moisture levels. It also realigns the clay particles which makes throwing easier.
Of course this can also be accomplished by wedging the clay yourself. You have probably seen that experienced potters usually wedge their clay when they take it out of the bag. Basically, running the clay through the pugmill takes the place of the wedging process. And it is much easier on the wrists. This is particularly important for those who throw a lot of clay or are older.
Another very common reason people purchase pugmills is to recycle scraps. (More on that later)
De-airing pugmills use a vacuum to suck air out of the clay. When you buy pugged clay (anything you buy which is pre-mixed in 25# bags), it has been de-aired. It seems that only wheel throwers want clay that has been de-aired. And many of the non de-airing pugmills on the market today mix the clay with very little air even without a vacuum.
Vacuums do tend to dry the clay out a little. And some potters don't like them because the vacuum is one more thing to break. But if you have a de-airing pugmill, the vacuum can be turned on and off as desired.
The majority of pugmills we sell do not have vacuums. However, we do sell a number of Shimpo PM071's which can have the vacuum added later if desired.
I remember asking this question to someone who has made clay commercially for many years. I asked if I should get a pugmill with a vacuum or not. My main complaint was that I didn't use my clay fast enough and it was too dry. So I would usually re-wet it, re-wedge it, and throw with it (see Tip #1). He told me that if I was happy throwing with clay that I had re-wet and re-wedged, then I did not need a vacuum because non de-airing pugmills were certain to be better than what I was doing myself. Good advice!
I want to recycle scraps. Do I want a pugmill, or a mixer/pugmill like the Peter Puggers or the Shimpo PMX-060?
All pugmills will recycle scraps to some degree. The benefit of a mixer/pugmill like the Peter Pugger and PMX-060 is that it allows you to recycle scraps more easily.
Most pugmills require you to "pre-process" the clay to get it to a relatively tight range of consistency before going in. Not too wet and not too dry. If this isn't done, then the clay can go right through the pugmill without really being blended. With a mixer/pugmill, you can add scraps of many consistencies, wet, dry, etc. into the hopper, mix, then add water, more clay, or dry clay as needed until you get to the right consistency, then initiate the pugging process.
Some people do want to mix clay from scratch, especially if they have a special recipe. Usually this is fairly high volume and you would have a separate Clay Mixer and PugMill. For smaller batches it is possible to use a combination mixer/pugmill.
A pugmill is not one of the first pieces of equipment a studio potter or even a school gets. But if you are throwing a lot of clay and want your body to last longer (especially the wrists), or if you generate a lot of scraps that you would like to recycle, then you may be ready to add a pugmill to your studio space.
Browse our selection of pugmills and clay mixers.