Pottery is one of the oldest human technologies and art forms and remains a major industry today. Pottery is made by forming a clay body into objects of a required shape and heating them at high temperatures in a kiln to induce reactions that lead to permanent changes, including increasing their strength, hardening and setting their shape. Places, where such wares are made, are called potteries.
Basic tools to start the business
A potter’s basic tools are his hands, but many additional tools have been developed over the long history of pottery manufacture to include a potter’s wheel and turntable, shaping tools (paddles, anvils, ribs) and finishing tools (burning, stones, rasps, chamois). Pottery can be shaped by a range of methods that include handwork or hand-building, the potter’s wheel, jiggering and jollying, roller head machine, RAM pressing, granule pressing and slip- casting. Pottery may also be decorated in a number of ways, including incising patterns on its surface, under-glaze decoration, in-glaze decoration, on-glaze decoration and enamel.
It is believed that the earliest pottery wares were hand-built and fired in bonfires. Firing times were short, but the peak-temperature achieved in the fires could be high perhaps in the region of 900 degrees Celsius and were reached very quickly. Clays tempered with sand, grit, crushed shell or crushed pottery were often used to make bonfire-fired ceramics because they provided an open body texture that allows water and other volatile components of the clay to escape freely. The coarser particles in the clay also acted to restrain shrinkage within the bodies of the ware during cooling which was carried out slowly to reduce the risk of thermal stress and cracking. The earliest intentionally constricted kilns were pit-kilns or trench-kilns; holes dug in the ground and covered with fuel. Holes in the ground provided insulation and resulted in better control over firing.
One of the potteries we have in Lagos city is owned by Mr Chidi Onyekosor, Managing Director of Modern Pottery Centre that specializes in pottery craft and ceramics. He is a Business Administration graduate from Auchi Polytechnic. According to him, “I did my National Youth Service program in a ceramics industry at Ibadan, Oyo State and picked interest in the production process especially for the fact that I was very good in arts and crafts right from youth. And so after the service year and finding it very difficult to secure a paid employment, I had to fall back on the experiences garnered from the company to start off something for myself. I started developing my unique production process gradually until I got to these stages that we are present”.
What are your different types of products?
“We produce different types of items like flower pots, tablewares, serving plates, vases, tiles water closets and so on. What we produce is based on what a customer wants. Our customers come from all parts of the state because we have been able to meet their need. However, the major challenge we face in this business is the problem of power supply which is giving us a lot of headaches. One only hopes the government will solve the energy crisis we have in this country as soon as possible so that small scale industrialists like us can survive the heat because we spend so much money on the power supply to run our machines which have reduced our profit margin”.
Challenges of the business
“When we started this company, a 50 kg of gas was sold for N150:00, but today the same 50kg of gas is sold for as much as N12,000.00. You can imagine the astronomical difference. It is suicidal. To remain in business, we must be very careful in passing the extra cost to our customers especially now that we have stiff competition from imported products from China that are sold at very cheap rates or else we might close shop”.
“Another area we are facing some challenges is in marketing. It is our desire to take our products to all parts of the country, but have been hindered from doing that due to ineffective marketing strategy. We are usually very careful about the way we handle our products because of its fragile nature. However, that problem too will soon be over. All broken items purchased by our clients can be brought back to us for repairs at minimal cost instead of throwing them away”.
Opportunities for new entrants
“For new entrants, there are a lot of potentials in the business and I would encourage anyone who is interested to come in. The training period could be between 3 months to one year depending on the system of production the trainee is interested in either by using the moulding system or the potter’s wheel system. The potter’s wheel is better and faster as it offers the opportunity to cast different types and shapes; while the moulding system limits one to only the shape of the mould one has. Another area is to teach the new intern how to produce the refractory insulating bricks which are used to build the kiln that houses the oven for baking the ceramic wares. They are special bricks. New ones are very expensive, but we have devised a means of producing cheaper ones with good quality”.
“Our production capacity now enables us to produce about 40 pots a day depending on the size Above all, the business requires minimal capital outlay to start off and very lucrative which is good enough for anyone seeking self-employment.