D.I.Y. Tile Bat System

A couple months back, I was fortunate enough to be featured in Ceramic Monthly’s first installment of their “Studio Visit” section. Since then, I have been getting a steady stream of inquiries about my homemade tile bat system, so I thought I would share a detailed explanation of it for all to see.


I conceived of and built this tile bat system nearly 10 years ago while an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater. At the time, I had a few major problems to solve, and as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. I needed bats, and lots of them. The studio at UWW did not provide bats, you had to get your own. I had a few plasti-bats and a few other assorted brands and materials. I didn’t really like any of them. The Plasti-bats would jiggle on the pins, slowly growing the holes and making elliptical pots – unacceptable. The Creative Industries injection molded ones were better, but had deeply grooved undersides that would latch on to any sort of studio debris, and as a porcelaineophile working in a mixed-clay studio, that didn’t work so well. Little chunks of stoneware kept finding their way into my clay via the undersides of these bats. I had a couple masonite bats. I shouldn’t even have to explain why those weren’t working. The particle board bat I had develped a lump of waterlogged swollen fragile wood right in the middle. I did not want to pour plaster bats, as they would be very hard to keep from wrecking my and everyone else’s work from the inevitable lime pops associated with plaster dust finding it’s way into the clay. So anyway, from all these bats I had purchased, I knew what I DIDN’T like. Then I started thinking about what I wanted out of my bats.

Having limited space, as all students do, I wanted maximum shelf utilization. How often to we really need the full 13 inches of diameter? I wanted a material that would not have the possibility of warping or flexing. Even way back then, I had already lost many pots to the bat flexing as it was removed from the wheelhead and thereby warping the pot on top of it. I wanted to be able to have more bats than I would ever need to use, so that I would never be forced to stop working early or be tempted to flip a pot too early just so I could keep making work. I also was quite poor, so couldn’t afford to shell out a few hundred bucks to make that happen with 10 dollar bats. I finally decided to throw on tiles, which have all the things I want, and none of the problems I had experienced with other bats. I used a couple of my old plasti-bats to make the holder.

I started by purchasing the tiles. I simply drove to the Menard’s store in Janesville to see what was on hand. I found VersaTile 8 inch unglazed quarry tile. These are the kind of tiles you would do a patio in, not a kitchen, as they have a textured and porous surface, not the easiest thing to clean. For my purposes, however, they were perfect. The texture helps the clay grab on. The porosity sucks the clay on, and even promotes even drying through absorption while the pot is still attached, although not as effectively as plaster. At the time, they were a mere $.50 each. I purchased 30 of them to start, all for the price of one or maybe two other bats.

Then I had to figure out how to mount the tiles on the wheel and keep them centered.

I noticed that the thickness of one tile was almost exactly that of two plasti-bats, so I went ahead and epoxied the two plasti-bats together, planning to cut a tile-sized hole in them to accept the tiles. I put the new 2-ply bat on the wheel and then centered a tile on top of that. Once it was perfectly alligned, I carefully traced it with a scribe, and cut out the middle with a jigsaw. I cut the hole slightly too small and then filed and sanded it to fit perfectly. I then cut a notch into it so that I could use a screwdriver to pry the tiles up to get them off the wheel.

I use these tiles to throw pretty much everything except plates and platters. For those I use my stockpile of Creative Industries plastic bats. Even my largest bowls have a footprint smaller than 8 inches across, so this works perfectly even for those.

When throwing, I use 4 small chunks of soft clay to level the tile with the bats. I place them in the corners and then smack them down. I do this once per session. The clay will hold until it becomes either bone dry or waterlogged.

In the decade since I made this system, I have had no problems. The tiles are now perhaps a bit jiggly, but I’ve learned to apply the right kind of pressure while throwing so that they do not wiggle any more. I have only broken a few of the tiles over the years, and have been able to buy replacements at Lowe’s and Home Depots in Indiana and Kentucky as needed. It has proven to be a worthwhile investment of one afternoon, a long, long, time ago.

Questions/comments?

Comments

  1. Maria says:

    Congrats on the feature, Jeff!

    Thanks for posting this. I just bought a used wheel and kiln to start up a studio space at home. As you can imagine, that ate up a good chunk of my “Christmas bonus” so any money saving/headache saving tips for the little things I need are gold to me!

    I have a couple of plasti-bats that are starting to wiggle on me, so I’m definitely going to try your system before purchasing more!

    Thanks again, o wise man. :)

  2. [...] See the original post: D.I.Y. Tile Bat System | Jeff Campana [...]

  3. Brian says:

    Very cool system! The studio I use has those aforementioned wobbly plastic bats. Never been able to put up with them, and just throw on the wheelhead. That works mostly ok, since I throw pretty dry, but sometimes it limits what forms I can do. Low, wide forms are difficult to remove.
    Your system also eliminates my other pet peeve, dirty wooden wareboards. I have to attempt to wash all the red clay off them so they don’t stain the bottoms of my white stoneware. ugh.
    Looks like I have my first DIY project of 2010!
    Q: Do your bat pin holes still wobble? How do you keep them tight?

  4. Jeff Campana says:

    Q: Do your bat pin holes still wobble? How do you keep them tight?

    That was the tricky part. I drilled new holes that were slightly too small and for the first year or two, had to pound the tile holder on with a mallet. Now they are a bit wobbly, but the torque from the slightly loose tile-hole seems to take care of it. Also, if you leave it all in place, the dried clay fills in all the gaps and takes the wiggle out entirely.

  5. Jeff Campana says:

    Another fix for the bat jiggle is to cram moist clay down into the pin holes. I learned that one by teaching in a studio that has stacks and stacks of worn out plasti-bats.

  6. Paul Randall says:

    Jeff;
    Thanks for this idea, Emily Murphy posted a link on Facebook and I took it up. Yesterday I purchased 20 6×6 tiles and made a system for tea bowls and small bowls. I am worried that my hole is slightly large for the tiles but looks like you have a couple of suggestions that ease my worry. Today I will purchase some 8×8″ tiles and make the next size. Thanks again, would you mind if I put a video of how to make this on YouTube? I’l give you credit for the invention.

  7. Thomas says:

    What is the tile manufacturer line? I have had problems finding these at Lowe’s.

  8. Jeff Campana says:

    The brand was VersaTile, It’s been a long time since I’ve tried to purchase them, so don’t know the manufacturer. The beauty of making your own holder is that you can just find whatever is available to you and make the holder for the tiles you find.

  9. Joe Servais says:

    Jeff, Thank you so much. I implemented your bat system. I bought 35 saltillo tiles for $8.00 and now I can throw to my heart’s content. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge. Best regards, Joe

  10. JR Page says:

    We use a tile bat system with Masonite. Its been great for our small studio you can store thrown items so much easier. Great post Jeff, we love to read about your studio and process.

  11. Amanda Maule says:

    Hi Jeff, I am a beginner potter. I LOVE IT!!! I was given a home made wheel and the plate does not have any pins? Can I buy a new plate or drill in pins to accommodate your bat system? What do you suggest on a limited budget. Thanks for any assistance.

  12. Linda Wright says:

    I’ve just stumbled on your blog….really interesting topics, and i love your work! I’ve been a full time potter for over 25 years and have used bisqued tiles as bats, for most of that time, I love them, but have only ever used small ones. So now i’ll go on a hunt for larger ones. I’ve always found that throwing a pad, slightly smaller than the tiles, onto the wheel head works really well, and i can keep it going for a few days by covering it with a plastic bag when i’m finished for the day! I never liked the pin system, so making a pad is quick and easy for me!
    cheers, and i’ll be checking in again soon!
    Linda

  13. [...] other day I cut out bats via the Jeff Campana method using quarry tile for the actual throwing surface.  Luke and I spent a lot of time fitting the [...]

  14. Tabatha says:

    It seems to me since the plastic bats won’t be stored with work on them, you could probably epoxy some bat pins right in the holes to stop wobbling. Can’t think of a reason that wouldn’t help.

  15. Anne says:

    I made my first tile bat out of marine plywood and masonite and used a 6″ commercial tile. I like using the bisque tiles so much better than the plastic bats out there on the market, as they don’t bend, i can flip pots over much faster, etc..

    When I moved down here to the States, I wasn’t able to bring my bat system, but i did later discover that Pottery Supply House in Oakville Ontario, made one virtually identical to what i had, for only $11. It takes the same 6×6 bisque tiles and works great. I use Daltile bisque tiles which are a little thicker, durable, and cheaper than the tile that comes with the bat.

    I like yours in that you use an 8×8 tile. I haven’t been as lucky to find any that size around here.

  16. These are fantastic pieces of art. You really do a fantastic job! All of your pottery projects and posts are great. You are very talented!

  17. jlh Pottery says:

    I saw the article in Ceramic Arts Daily about your bat system and implemented it using a plastic cutting board instead of a bat. I found it easier to cut. I did cut it smaller than needed and trimmed it larger with a
    Dremel tool, to get the exact size I needed. I’ve been using it for about 2.5 years since that time, and it is tremendous. Thanks!

Reply

All Past Writing