Introduction: Make a Ceramic Sphericon

A sphericon is a really cool shape, fun to hold, roll, or just look at.

You can find find more information on the sphericon shape from Paul J. Roberts

This instructable is designed for folks with some handbuilding experience in ceramics. If you have some pottery skills but are new to handbuilding, try to practice some of the basic skills of slab work before attempting to build your own sphericon. There is a listmania of recommended books for handbuilders on here

Some new photos added, including a view of the bisqued piece made in the course of this instructable. Hey, and now we have a picture of the final item after firing to cone 10 in gas reduction! I wiped most of the glaze off before it went in the kiln.

Step 1: Roll Out a Slab of Clay

Using your favorite tool (hands, large dowel, rolling pin, slab roller) roll out a slab of clay. The slab used in the example is about 1/4 inch thick. Aim for a consistent thickness.

Ideal thickness is influenced by the clay you're using and the size of the sphericon you are building. A larger shape requires a thicker clay slab. You can go much thinner with porcelain than with stoneware.

I'm using the house clay for this model, which is a high fire (cone 10) grogged stoneware.

Step 2: Mark Out Two Circles of the Same Size

Use a compass or trace something to mark your circles on the clay slab.

KEY: make sure you have the center point of each circle marked.

You only need about 3/4 of each circle, so it's OK if you include some thin spots or other defects. Just avoid these parts in the next step.

Step 3: Cut Out 4 Identical Wedges (127 Degrees Each)

You can get a paper template of the angles from here and here

Simply match the point of the paper wedge with the center of your circle, and extend the sides as long as you need them to so it will fit.

Why 127 degrees? Well, it's 90 degrees * the square root of two. Geometry.

Step 4: Bevel the Curved Sides to 45 Degrees

Bevel the curved edge only to 45 degrees. This is best done with one of the many nifty tools you can buy from ceramic suppliers.

I'm using a homemade tool -- maybe I'll get around to building an instructable on that someday. There are a couple of close up photos below of my homemade tool. Briefly, it's constructed of two pieces of aluminum holding a wire at the desired angle. The flat bottom of the tool rides on the work surface. The flat side rides along the precut slab of clay. The wire is extended out to slice into the clay edge at the proper angle.

Step 5: Measure the Straight Side of Your Piece

TIP: this is the radius of your original circle. Include the bevel in your measurement.

Step 6: Draw a Square With Each Side = Straight Side Length

One piece of the sphericon should fit perfectly onto two sides of the square.

Use scratch paper -- this is an excellent way to recycle unneeded phone books. A permanent marker won't leave unsightly ink on your wet clay. Any running ink will burn off, but I like things neat.

TIP: it is worthwhile to use a proper right angle to make your corners here -- it will improve the ease of matching up the pieces in the final steps. (Hint: you can use the corner of your scratch paper for this too.)

REPEAT to make a second square!

Step 7: Bend Each Piece to Form a 90 Degree Angle at the Point

You may need to pinch the tip carefully, depending on your slab thickness. The goal is to gently curve the piece, resulting in the straight sides creating a right angle.

Step 8: Score Curved Edge of One Piece

Score the curved edge on one piece, then put it down on the square you drew, aligning the straight sides on the clay piece with the drawn lines. We're just scoring this piece.

Step 9: Score and Apply Slip to Curved Edge of Second Piece

Apply slip to the second piece of the sphericon, after you score it.

Step 10: Carefully Match Curved Edges, Aligning Straight Sides With the Square Template You Drew Previously

Use the handy square that you drew in step 6 to align the straight sides properly. You may need to nudge the curved edges a bit to get them to line up nicely.

If you used plenty of slip, some should squeeze out. This is good!

When building a small sphericon, say 3" in diameter or less, you can get away with matching up the pieces in hand, rather than using the paper square for alignment.

Step 11: Repeat With Remaining Two Pieces

Now is a good time to take a break, and let the pieces firm up a bit. For large shapes and/or thin slabs, it's particularly helpful to let it get cheesehard or near leatherhard before continuing.

You may try gently paddling just the curved seam to strengthen it.

Step 12: Prepare the Squares Formed by the Straight Sides for Joining

Score one square's edges and put it down. Score and apply slip to the second square's edges.

Do you want your sphericon to rattle? Wrap a small ball of clay in some scrap paper before you mate the halves together.

Step 13: Mate the Two Squares, Offsetting the Corners Where the Curves Meet

This is the trickiest step. Fidget with it and you will get it to work. Align the pieces the way you want them. Make sure your seams are sealed. Try some paddling to refine the shape.

Here's one way to think about aligning the pieces properly. Hold the scored & slipped half in one hand. Hold the scored half in your other hand. Line up the corners with the curved seams without touching the two parts together. Then twist one piece by one quarter turn, so that the curves no longer align.

There's a nice 3-d image here}

Step 14: Finish Your Piece

Add some texture if you want, and don't forget to make one small air hole and add your mark.

If you don't make the one air hole, your piece will begin to bulge out as the clay dries and shrinks, and may eventually crack.

Let it dry carefully, and glaze/fire according to your taste and the type of clay you used. If you do choose to glaze your piece, be aware that it could roll in the kiln. It is a good idea to use some little shims of soft firebrick to stabilize it. Or, woodfire and let the ash take over -- the wadding will hold it safely.

Why make this? It is not functional, just fun. Although, you could use it for a math lesson perhaps.

I hope you enjoy it. Please share your results! Post pictures in the comments and send a link to me on flickr if you're a member there too.

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