Why a Clay Trap?
A clay trap is a vital tool for keeping clay, plaster, and other heavy particles from clogging your plumbing. If you are working with these materials, don’t just assume your plumbing will be fine; be proactive and come up with a solution! If you have a dedicated sink with plumbing that you can install a clay trap, that’s the way to go. However, a lot of new Potters trying to set up at home don’t have this as an option.
I’ve been working with clay at home in my apartment for quite some time now, and this was something I struggled with since the beginning. How would I effectively deal with my clay water/slop, knowing that I only had one kitchen sink in my apartment…. It wasn’t easy to figure out.
One of the integral parts of starting the clay warehouse was ensuring accessibility to working with clay at home, we strive to develop solutions for all who want to work with clay, and for me personally, I needed to develop something for my unique space. The fact of the matter is, in this day and age…. A LOT of us live in smaller spaces such as apartments or condos.
While my solution is definitely not the only option, I found that this stand-alone clay trap worked well for me. It could sit on my apartment patio, has a small footprint, and kept things clean and moving smoothly. This guide will help you understand why a clay trap is necessary, and give you detailed instructions on the parts and pieces needed and how to put your own together!
Can you put clay down the drain?
Clay should definitely not go down the drain. Clay particles are heavier than water, and while it may all wash down with no problem, the clay can settle and harden which will cause major clogs and damage to your pipes over time; we’re talking even water with clay particles in it, you may think “I’ll just wash the water down, and not put any clumps or scraps down there"…. You will still eventually end up with problems; so unless your significant other is a plumber…. Don’t do it!
If you have a dedicated sink, there are several solutions that can be installed in your sink’s plumbing. This is probably the most common and widely used clay disposal method. Clay sink traps — also known simply as clay traps or sink traps — are found in many pottery studios. They attach to your pipes and collect clay chunks and particles in a closed container to prevent clogs and damage to your pipes. For example, a Gelco sink trap.
While this definitely works, clay traps have to be emptied frequently and people oftentimes end up wasting a lot of clay in the process. For this reason, many potters still end up using buckets for rinsing before utilizing the sink with the trap, which is messy and inconvenient. And most small clay trap systems, like the Gelco trap, are fairly small capacity and are more apt to be used by part-time potters at home, but also require a full plumbing install in your pipes. If you rent an apartment, or just flat out don’t know how to plumb this into your drain, it isn’t realistic for many.
Using the “Three Bucket System” – very common among potters
Many use a multiple bucket system to deal with clay water. The first bucket is where throwing scraps and trimming scraps get thrown into. It doesn’t really matter whether they are wet or dry, though leaving the lid open and letting the contents dry out does make subsequent recycling easier. Keep throwing scraps into this until it’s filled to the brim, then reclaim the clay.
The second bucket is kept right next to your wheel. It starts off full of clean water, which you use when you throw. It’s where you wash your hands and throwing tools and get water (or slip) for hand building. After a week or two, the water level will have gone down somewhat, and the contents will be closer to slip than water. If anything organic got into it, it may be starting to go funky. A bit like yogurt, but like the rotten kind.
So, you are effectively using multiple buckets to throw with, clean your tools and hands etc. and lastly to dump slop, trimming bits and everything else. The problem with this system is, it takes up room, and you usually end up with three buckets of smelly water, if you have the room, this may be for you, but you have to stay on top of it!
My Clay Trap System
I tried several iterations of the clay trap I’ll explain below, and after many times scrapping them altogether or making fine adjustments, I found this to work best for me. Some folks don’t even have running water in their studios, and this presents all new issues. Even at high production times, this system would still last me a few months before I had to empty the clay slop inside, and we’re talking hundreds of mugs thrown!
I was able to build this trap easily at home, most that I have shown the design to also were able to create one at home without too much plumbing or building experience. You can do it too! But we are aware that many don’t have the tools or the patience to build themselves, which is why we aren’t only giving this step-by-step guide, I’m now building these to be sold at the shop. If you just want to buy one, the link is below.
Lets Get Started!
Below is a drawing of the trap. When it's all finished, you'll pour your clay water in the top wash pail/mop bucket, which will flow through the sink drain, down the tailpiece to the bottom of the bucket. As the bucket fills with clay water, the sediment will settle to the bottom, seperating the clay from the water, when you pour more clay water in the top drain, the tailpiece forces the new water to the bottom of the bucket; this in turn will cause the water level to raise. The clean water on top will dispense through the side port and out into your overflow bucket.
Tools You Need:
Below are the tools you need to get started. Some of them you can get by without, if you don't have these hole saws, you can try to cut the holds with another tool. The Vinyl cutters are for a small job, just to cut the drain piece, you could use a box cutter in a pinch. You may also use a box cutter or Xacto knife in a few other places, so if you have one of those as well, it will help.
- 3 1/2" Hole Saw Bit
- 1 1/8" Hole Saw Bit
- Vinyl Tube Cutters
**You may need a box cutter, and maybe a plumbers adjustable wrench
Supplies You'll Need:
Below is a list of the items you'll need to build your own trap. I've attached links to where I picked these up, but most can be found at any hardware store. **Numbers correspond to pictures above
- 5 Gallon Pail - You can pick these up at any hardware store, Home Depot, Canadian Tire etc.
- 5 Gallon Pail Lid - like above, these are usually close by
- Wash Pail/Mop Bucket - I have picked mine up at the Dollar store, usually fairly cheap, the wash bin is basically just a splash guard, so nothing special is needed
- Plastic 1-1/2" x 12" Flanged Tailpiece
- O-Ring - An O-ring to fit around the connector to ensure it is tight to the bucket
- Sink Strainer Basket Assembly
- Clear Vinyl Tubing, 1/2 Inch Inside Diameter - only approx 6" is needed
- 3/4 In. PVC Schedule 40 Male Adapter
- Pvc 90 Elbow (Soc X Soc) 3/4 inch
- 3/4 inch MPT X 1/2 Inch Barb Adapter
- 3/4 In. PVC Schedule 40 / 90 Degree Elbow FIPT
- 3/4 inches PVC - You only need a very small amount - approx 3"
Step by Step Build Instructions with pictures:
1. Now that you have all the pieces and tools needed, you're ready to start piecing your trap together! Start with the wash pail/mop bucket and the lid for the 5 gallon pail. We're going to install the sink drain, and at the same time, attach the bucket and lid together. Load your 3 1/2" hole saw bit into your drill. Using the hole saw bit, saw holes in the middle of both the bottom of the mop bucket and the 5 gallon pail lid.
2. Grab your sink drain. remove the 3.5" threaded ring from the bottom of the drain and feed the drain first through the bottom of the mop bucket. The drain should have come with a rubber gasket, place that gasket over the bottom of the drain (pictured below on the left) then feed the drain through the 5 gallon pail lid. Replace the 3.5" threaded ring to the drain. and tighten as much as you can. The mop bucket, lid and drain should now be attached as one piece with the gasket between the bucket and the lid
3. You'll now need the Plastic 1-1/2" x 12" Flanged Tailpiece. On the base of the drain there should be a smaller 1.5" or so ring with a plastic gasket, below you can see this brass coloured ring and the white gasket inside. Feed the tailpiece throw the drain ring with the gasket, then thread the pipe and ring onto the bottom of the drain. Tighten as much as you can. The mop bucket, 5 gallon pail lid, sink drain, & tailpiece should all be connected as one. Ensure both rings on the drain are tight, this whole lid contraption shoul feel solid.
Put your lid assembly to the side for now. We need to install the side port where clean water can drain off into your side overflow bucket.
4. On the side of your 5 gallon pail are plastic rings for most pails. We need to instal the port, and these rings are right in the way! decide where you want the port to be, you'll want this as close to the top of the bucket as possible, the higher it is, the more capacity your trap can handle. you'll need to cut away a piece of this plastic, approximately an inch or just more. You can use a sharp box cutter, or a pair of tin snips (pictured below) once you cut that section out, you can use the box knife to shave down the remaining plastic.
5. Insert your 1 1/8" hole saw bit into your drill and begin to saw out a hole in the notch area you just cut in the 5 gallon pail. As mentioned in the last step, you'll want this hole as close to the top as you can get it to increase overall capacity.
6. To piece together the drain port you'll need your 3/4" threaded male connector and the 3/4" threaded elbow. To ensure this joint is tight, slip an O-ring over the threaded side of the connector. Sometimes you can find single packs of O-rings at a hardware or plumbing store, at home depot there was an O-ring kit, as long as then ring is big enough to fit tightly over the male end of the connector, it will work. This will ensure when you screw the two pieces together on either side of the hole you just made, it will have a firm connection.
7. Connect these two fittings through the hole you sawed out. the male connector will feed through the hole from the inside, and the threaded elbow will be on the outside. Put your wrench on the inside fitting and turn to tighten to ensure a solid connection.
8. to piece together the drain hose, you'll cut a length of the vinyl tubing, in my case I cut a 6" length, you can use vinyl tube cutters, if you dont have those, you can VERY CAREFULLY cut a piece with a box cutter or other sharp object, this vinyl can be as long as you want, its purpose is to have the overflow water drain into your side bucket. Take your 3/4 inch MPT X 1/2 inch Barb Adapter and insert it into the vinyl tubing. You can then screw the other end (3/4" thread) into the threaded elbow on the outside of the bucket. It should be pointing down.
9. As mentioned earlier, you'll need a small piece of 3/4" PVC. It kind of sucks that most of these come only in 10 foot lengths, which is a shame because we only need a 3" length, so maybe you have some kicking around, or know someone you can grab 3" from. However you end up getting it, you will cut a 3" piece of pipe, insert it into the female slip connector on the inside of the bucket. Then you will attach your 3/4" 90 degree slip elbow to the other side, which will point out toward the inside of the bucket. Worth mentioning, the length of the tube here is important because when you affix the lid, the tailpiece will be in the middle of the bucket, if the pipe is too long, you wont be able to put the lid on. 3" worked for me, so thats about as long as I would go. You dont need any glue here, just make sure the pipe is pushed all the way into each fitting.
10. Thats it! you can now put your lid assembly on the top of the 5 gallon pail. All pieces should be firm and have no movement. You can start to use your new Standalone Clay Trap! just make sure to have a bin or bucket on the side under the vinyl tubing, thats where your clean water will come out as the bucket fills. Doesn't it feel good to build it yourself!
Yes, your trap needs to be manually emptied and cleaned out when you start to see sediment coming out into your overflow bucket, but it's a straightforward job. You can reclaim the clay slop in the bucket when its full, although it's most likely that this slop has been sitting for a while, and doesnt smell too great. I have a few tricks that I use to get rid of unwanted clay slop, which perhaps I'll share in another blog post soon!
When I finally got the design that worked for me, I was throwing A TON of pieces, and this bucket still lasted me a few months before it needed to be emptied. I live in an apartment, and this was a super non-intrusive way to manage your clay water.
If you've been dumping clay water down the sink, and think "This is fine, I haven't had an issue" its not a matter of "If" you'll have plumbing issues, only "when". So this trap, or something similar will be a huge help to your studio!