Mark Hewitt Pottery > Mark's articles > What is a ‘second?’


Mark explains the various causes in making, firing and unpacking pottery that he designates as a "second."

In a perfect world, every pot I make comes out exactly the way I want it to, or better! And luckily, after over forty years of making pots, that happens enough of the time – actually, more than enough of the time.

But then there are other times when the result is a pot known as a “second,” or sometimes even worse, when it becomes a “waster,” and ends up in the gully, broken for a variety of reasons (cracked, slumped, blistered, bloated, crawled, or dunted – great terms!), waiting for archeologists to discover them. The seconds, have less serious flaws, and can sold at greatly reduced prices and taken home and used and even enjoyed because of their flaws.

 So, what makes a pot a second?

Sometimes pots stick together in the kiln, they “kiss,” and the resulting blemish is minor, and may even add a beautiful unintended ornament.

Sometimes pots warp in a way that is awkward but not unpleasant, providing an irregularity than can become endearing.

Sometimes there’s a small pebble or piece of grit protruding from the surface of the clay or glaze which mars the appearance which could alternatively be viewed as a beauty mark. Similarly, there might be a slight crawling of the glaze which reveals a small patch of the clay beneath.

We put small wads (or balls) of refractory clay to elevate each pot off the shelves on which they’re stacked, or we use wads to separate pots from one another. When we knock the wads off the pot a small chunk of clay might be “plucked” off with the wad and leave a scar. Usually this isn’t severe, and hardly detracts from the use or beauty of the piece. NC folk potter, Burlon Craig, used to call these plucks, “snake bites.” Charming!

Occasionally I make mistakes when attaching a handle and there’s too much discrepancy between the dryness of the rim of the pot and the wetness of clay I’m using to make the handle. The result is a small crack, because the clays don’t bond, and sometimes the crack is severe enough to make it a waster, but mostly its mildly annoying but not structural, so it becomes a second.

Examining all these defects can be highly instructional in determining how I should proceed next time with material preparation, making techniques, and packing and firing the kiln.

Each firing there are some seconds (thankfully a small percentage) and we usually reduce the price somewhat. Sometimes we hold a one day sale and sell them then, or we put a table or shelf of them out on the last weekend of our Kiln Opening.

We are happy to show you what these examples look like if we have any on hand, or answer any questions you have!

Happy potting!