Earthenware vessels were wired and stapled by tinsmiths. Wiring a vessel consisted of lining it with a type of closely-woven wire fabric, to give it greater solidity and resistance. Stapling was a means of repairing broken or cracked vessels using staples made out of a type of wire which was rather stronger than that used for wiring.
Domingo Olabe of Vitoria, who was a tinsmith before the Civil War, wired and stapled many vessels. It was he who patiently explained the process to me.
To wire a stewpot they began by making a wire ring in the neck of the vessel. Then they made "branches"-in other words they prepared some wires that were more than twice as long as the height of the vessel, and passed them through this ring, bending them in the middle and leaving the ends free for braiding. The number of branches depended on the density of the mesh they wanted to make. A normal stewpot might have about 10 branches. They then braided the wires a little (one or two turns), at the level of the ring, and traced the weave around the vessel. Each wire-maker had his own method, making different combinations with the wires to be joined and braiding different ones. Once the fabric had been braided across the entire surface of the vessel, the ends of the branches were finished off with a ring of wire at the bottom.
Pliers were used for this work.
Before it was applied to the vessels, the wire was smoothened and annealed to make it more malleable.
In 1934, Domingo Olabe charged 1.25 pesetas for wiring a normal stewpot, an operation which normally took about 20 minutes.
For stapling the vessels he used a drill, pliers, wire and paste to seal the cracks in the vessel. The drill, which the tinsmith made himself, was an ingenious instrument. The one Domingo Olabe explained to me was made with a brass bed knob, with a strick running through the hole and protruding about 2 or 3 cm out one end. Into this part of the stick he drove a piece of umbrella-rib reinforced with wire. A flat rib was more effective for making the hole in the vessel. At the other, longer, end of the stick, above the bed knob, they fitted a small board at right angles with a hole in it. This board was placed a bit closer to the knob, and the two ends were secured using strings to the top of the vertical stick. When the tip of the drill was applied to the vessel, the stapler twisted the strings, thus turning the board on the stick. He then took the ends of the table and, by moving it up and down the stick, turned it about five times on each side, depending on the length of the strings.
We have seen a couple of these drills, both of which had a piece of wood the size of a fist instead of a brass knob. Several nails had been driven into one of them to give it more weight.
Using this drill they made two holes, one on each side of the crack, which did not go right through the walls of the vessel. They then made a staple out of wire. This involved bending a piece of wire, placing the two halves very close together, sharpening one end and fitting it into one of the holes. They then sharpened the other end and pushed it into the other hole. The back of the staple, which was slightly curved, was pressed down with a finger to ensure that it fitted better along the full length. They then proceeded to fit the other staples in the same way. After this, they applied a quick-drying paste to the entire crack. The ingredients used in this paste were kept secret. It was made of fattened pig's blood (which they got from the abattoir), and quicklime. Domingo can't remember the exact proportions as he mixed them without measures, using his own experience. The surface of the paste hardened over in the vessel in which it was kept, but underneath it remained in good condition.
Sometimes the tinsmith accidentally drove the drill right through the wall of the vessel: he would cover this small hole with cork, and then coat both sides in paste.
On occasions, the vessel might have a large hole in it. In this case, they would repair it as follows: first they would cut two small round plates somewhat larger than the hole. Then they would turn up the edges of these platelets and make two holes in the middle. One of the platelets was positioned inside the vessel, covering the hole. First though, they would pass a wire through the holes in the plate, so that the ends of the wire protruded out the other side through the hole. They then fitted the other plate and passed the wire through the holes in it. The wires were then braided and twisted to secure the two plates firmly to the vessel. To make sure it was absolutely watertight, before putting the plates in place, they put paste on the inside and outside edges of the hole.
1 All mentions of "tile-makers" and "tile-making" in the text refer exclusively to the manufacture of roof-tiles
2 The writer draws a distinction between "vidriado" (glaze, here generally lead-based) and "esmalte" (tin-glaze or tin-enamel). To maintain the difference these terms have been translated throughout as "glaze" and "enamel" respectively.
3 The Spanish term "engobe" may be translated either as "engobe" or "slip" in English. Strictly speaking, in ceramics terminology, slip is essentially just clay or claybody thinned with water, and perhaps with flocculants or deflocculants added. An engobe is somewhere between a slip and a glaze, and is formulated for application to bone dry and bisque-fired wares. Engobes generally contain some calcined clay to reduce shrinkage after application. They also usually contain additional fluxes to ensure adhesion, often a little borax to assist adhesion early in the firing. However, the term "engobe" is more widely used in a general context in the US, while "slip" is used in the UK. Here I have used "engobe" throughout.