Here at East Fork, our Quality Control team asks the following set of questions for every single pot we make to determine its quality: Is it functional? Is it safe? Is it beautiful? Does it reasonably meet the expectations we have established for customers? The answers to these questions determines which of our two quality levels each pot is assigned: Firsts (for first quality) or Seconds. Our team’s first and foremost concern is making sure your pots will be safe and functional to use day in, day out. Like Firsts, all Seconds will be safe and functional. We only sell pots that are food safe. The primary differentiation between Firsts and Seconds is their aesthetic quality.
What is beautiful, though, is a matter of opinion; what’s pleasing to some might be off-putting to others, but we do our best to codify these variations. Our pots are glazed by hand and made from dynamic materials from our earth so you can and should expect to see evidence of the interplay between human touch and natural material. If you are not a fan of variation and prefer a uniform look from piece to piece, our pottery is most likely not for you—and that is okay!
We currently have six categories by which we define our standards and use to determine a pot’s quality: what can either pass through QC and out into the world as First Quality or what gets pulled and sold at a discounted rate as Seconds. These categories are Material, Forming, Trimming, Glazing, Firing, and Handling. A pot can be deemed Second Quality for failing to meet one or more of our expectations within each category. All of the categories are connected! Here are a few examples below about what constitutes a Second.
Flaws in this category are caused by uncontrollable issues that we can only solve by changing the materials that we use, as compared to other issues that can easily be resolved by process improvements. Material is the clay body itself, as well as all components of the glazes that we make in-house. A couple of the Material flaws we look out for are Open Craters and Glaze Crawling.
Open Crater on the edge of a plate.
Open crater refers to an opening in the unglazed surface area. This is simply a result of material movement with the physically large clay components—the grog, aka tiny sand or rocks in the clay, can tear openings in the form when our team forms or trims the pots using our current processing tools. This is inevitable at times because we have to form the pieces to transform that gorgeous raw clay into something you can safely put your grub in. An open crater’s frequency, size and location can deem a piece a Second.
Glaze Crawling up-close. Please note the other spots on the surface are first-quality.
Glaze crawling causes an open area on the glazed surface, where the glaze did not fill in all the way. This is often completely safe and functional, as the clay body is fired at a temperature that makes the pots safe, so any raw clay underneath is vitrified! Our glaze is so thick that small glaze crawls are inevitable, so location and frequency determine whether glaze crawls constitute a Second. For instance, if a glaze crawl is not smooth in texture, if it’s smack-dab in the middle of the surface, larger than 2mm in diameter, or it creates a constellation pattern with other glaze crawls, that pot will be deemed a Second.
Forming flaws are a result of human error or tool malfunctions during the forming process. Noticeable variations alter the intended profile of the form, whether that be from a worn-down tool or improper amount of pressure used by the person making the pot. These pieces become Seconds!
Extreme Warping on a Weeknight Serving Bowl.
If a pot is out of round or the rim is not a consistent height all the way around, it’s considered a warped form and a Second. All warped Seconds will be able to sit flat on a table and are still entirely functional, but they might not stack as well with your firsts—as they say, variety is the spice of life.
Folding on a Juice Cup.
Folding occurs when clay is pressed into a mold but not enough pressure is used to completely fill the mold cavity. These folding lines can sometimes create visually distracting patterns, causing the pot to be a Second.
We primarily use roller tools, jigger and jolly machines, and RAM presses to form our pieces; all must be cleaned up and trimmed to ensure perfectly smooth pots. As with forming issues, Second qualities under our trimming section often come down to human operator variations with our tools.
Chattering on the edge of a plate.
Chattering shows up as evenly spaced stuttering marks, or scalloped edges, caused by a trimming tool improperly hitting the pot’s rim as it spins on the trimming wheel. If the chattering is visually disturbing or it physically changes how the surface of the pot feels, then it is considered a Second.
Messy handle attachment on a Mug.
The Mug-making process is a feat of precision, handle included. After the Mug body and handle have been formed and smoothed out, a member of our Mug Team attaches the handle by hand. They take the handle, a metal wire scoring tool, a little paintbrush, and some slip—a liquid clay mixture—and score the body and handle where they can meet in an everlasting union. Sometimes there’s extra slip around the handle that didn’t get cleaned up, or the handle attachment is a bit off kilter. When this happens, a Mug is now a Second!
East Fork does not promise total glaze uniformity on pots! The dynamic, hand-crafted nature of our pieces promises variation. We want to make sure that any glaze movement on our pieces speaks to the beauty of our process, rather than causing visual alarm. Our larger serving pieces—the Popcorn Bowl, Mixing Bowl, and Weeknight Serving Bowl—have a bit of wiggle room for glaze variations due to their size; with more surface area comes more room for fluctuations! Streaks and water marks are the primary glazing issues we deal with in our factory.
Streaking on a plate.
Major streaking with splotches on food surfaces deems a piece a Second. Streaking on non-food surface areas can be taken on a case-by-case basis with the discernment of the QC Team, who evaluate discoloration and texture. As noted above, our QC team gives our larger serving pieces a bit more leeway for glaze variations due to their size. If the streaking on these larger pieces creates a spider web pattern, is raised, or runs straight through the middle of the pot, the serving piece is considered a Second. Variations caused by tong marks, which often present themselves as “snake bites” with slight streaking, will occur on nearly all serving wares due to the larger size—truly a mark of the maker!
Water marks on a Morel plate.
That signature raw, brown foot ring and rim? We use water to wipe these surfaces! Sometimes, though, water makes its way to places it knows it shouldn’t be. Water marks present as clear, shiny areas on top of the glazed surface; they can also outline glaze drips, or present in clusters or actual outlined shapes of the sponges used while glazing or wiping.
Water marks on the food surface of a pot, or outside of a drinking vessel, can make a pot a Second if they are large or look like a sticky substance that cannot be washed off. However, smaller water marks on less visible areas of a pot or that blend in with the glaze surface make the cut as Firsts.
We have to pop our pieces into a hot, big ol’ kiln to transform them from pliable clay into proper, durable pots. Any firing variations occurring within the kiln can typically be traced to either how the kiln was loaded prior to firing or to the kiln itself (incorrect temperature, uneven heat ventilation, etc.). Two flaws from firing issues that we encounter on occasion are Plucking and Bloating.
Plucking on the bottom of a cup
Plucking refers to small fragments that chip away at the base of a pot; plucking will often look like little holes and can be a little prickly to the touch. Plucking occurs when the pot sticks to the kiln shelf during firing. If the area affected by plucking is very small and can be sanded down and made less noticeable, then the pot is a Second.
Bloating on a Mug
Bloats speak for themselves: they’re large, round lumps that can occur on any surface of the pot! Any bloating renders a pot a Second.
Did you know that the average East Fork pot touches 12 different pairs of hands through its creation process? Lots of opportunities for slip-ups caused by handling! While we do our absolute best to make sure we use our hands, aka our most important tools, as carefully as possible...mistakes happen: mishandled greenware and scratches can result.
Mishandled Greenware on a Mug
Greenware is unfired clay pottery that’s mostly dry, but has not been fired yet in a kiln. Greenware can become a little scuffed up as people touch it, leaving marks, indentations or fingerprints behind; any of these variations could make a piece a Second! The exceptions to this are scuff or trimming marks that are mild, casually visible, and concentric in nature.
Scratches on the glazed surface of a bowl
Scratches in Glaze
We have to sand down all of our pieces to create the smoothest rim and foot ring possible—no sharp pieces around here! Scratches in fired glaze are often caused by over-sanding but they can also pop up when stacked pots scrape against one another. Darker, more saturated glazes (like Lapis or Molasses) will show scratches more easily than neutral, brighter tones (like Eggshell and Panna Cotta). Scratches will make a pot a Second!