When you run a large-scale studio or classroom that goes through a lot of clay, recycling the scraps by hand is often not an option – the work can be laborious and time-consuming, not to mention hard on the wrists and hands. This is the reason that pugmills are such coveted pieces of equipment for programs where there are large amounts of clay to be reclaimed and recycled. They truly are the potter’s best solution for transforming scraps into workable clay. These industrial machines, with their large internal mixing blades, can be used to thoroughly reconstitute clay to a desired consistency and, in some cases, additionally remove air from, or ‘de-aerate’, clay bodies. Clay that has dried out or become too stiff to work with can be run through a pugmill with some water, which helps to evenly add moisture to the clay body and bring it back to life! Again, this can be an ideal alternative to wedging clay by hand, particularly if this motion could cause discomfort in your wrists or arms. In this way, pugmills can save both time and money.
Some pugmills have an additional vacuum mechanism that acts to remove air that inevitably becomes entrapped in the clay during mixing. This makes the motion of a pugmill similar to the act of wedging, except you can go through much larger volumes of clay. Clay that has been de-aired is preferred by many people, particularly those who throw on the wheel. By removing the air bubbles, you can cut back on production mishaps, such as pottery breaking during firing due to trapped air pockets. Even without this additional vacuum feature, most pugmills do a great job of cutting back on the amount of air that has been folded into a clay.
If you are interested in mixing clay from scratch, or recycling scraps of clay at various stages of drying, then you may consider a combination clay mixer/pugmill. These machines combine the pugging ability of pugmills with the mixing properties of traditional clay mixers, allowing you to add bone dry scraps in with water to create evenly mixed and wedged clay. You also have the option of working from a recipe based on dry materials alone. This method is particularly great for artists working with finicky clay bodies such as porcelain – you will be able to easily make a homogenous claybody with a specific consistency on a regular basis!