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Hayley Rauhut at Sunset Hill Stoneware

Who’s in Charge of Quality Control for Your Stoneware?

There is more to being in Sunset Hill Stoneware’s shipping crew than you might think. We send thousands of mugs across the United States and the globe each week. When we ship out our wholesale mugs, our shipping crew is the last set of hands to handle each piece. One member of our crew is Hayley Rauhut. Hayley has worked with us for almost three years and become a key player in maintaining our quality standards.

Leading Our Quality Control Team

The shipping team’s job goes beyond just boxing up the mugs and shipping them out. Hayley and the rest of the team are experts in quality control. By her estimations, Hayley inspects about one thousand mugs every day. These inspections are thorough, too.

When she’s inspecting every unique coffee mug, Hayley looks for everything from sharp burs left behind on handles to pits, or tiny holes, in the glaze. She also might drill off excess glaze that dripped onto the bottom of the mug during firing so it has a clean finish. Lastly, she applies sandpaper to the bottom of every mug that comes to her station. Doing this smooths the bottom of the mug and keeps it from leaving scratches on surfaces like tables and desks.

Any mugs that don’t pass this inspection are not shipped to the customer. In the past, Hayley has had to pull entire orders of stoneware mugs because they didn’t meet our quality standards.

“It’s not very often that we have to pull a full order, but we do make 10 percent extra usually,” Hayley said. “There’s a lot of times where I still have to short them by 10 percent, even.”

Sunset Hill Stoneware has a policy of making 10 percent more mugs than our customer ordered. It’s mostly an insurance policy—if a mug shatters in the kiln or if somebody happens to drop one during production, we’ll still have enough to send. While in some cases enough mugs get lost that we have 10 percent fewer, this is incredibly rare.

“People don’t realize how much we’re really looking for,” Hayley said.

The Glaze Equation

Every once in a while, there are bigger problems that Hayley catches on pieces that come out of the kilns. This is where she really has to bring out her quality control expertise.

Stoneware mugs in four colorsThere are certain factors that cause more medallion cracks than others. One of the biggest is the medallion’s shape. Where mugs and steins with circular medallions rarely crack, rectangle-shaped medallions are at higher risk. So are more unusual or narrow shapes. Although they’re unique and have a striking finish on the mug, stars and oblong shapes are more likely to encounter these problems.

“We get a lot of circle medallions, and those don’t crack as often,” Hayley explained. “If it’s a perfect circle, that’s usually good. Anything out of the ordinary is more likely to get cracks.”

The other most common issue is with our glazes. Because the main ingredient in every glaze we use is natural minerals from the earth, there is a lot of potential for variations. Much of it depends on the mineral composition of each color, though there are also issues stemming from how thin the glaze is once it’s dry. We’ve had to remake mugs due to problems with the glaze before. Although we sometimes develop solutions if there are minor changes in the glaze composition, we’ve even had to retire some glazes.

“There are just so many things they can’t control with it, so it causes a lot of problems,” Hayley said. “Whether it just looks a little off, or there spots of glaze missing on the mug itself, or anything like that.”

Packing up our mugs and steins for shipping has changed some of Hayley’s preferences toward our different styles. Because they are easier to pack up, smaller steins like the Portly Pint are some of Hayley’s favorites. She also likes the shape of the mug, with its wider bottom. Others, like the Valley Pint and the Renaissance Voyager, are easy to pack because they’re set in our custom cardboard inserts upside-down.

Come On Feel the Illinoise

It’s easy to spot Hayley the day before a football game. Where most of our team will work in their favorite Green Bay Packers jerseys or T-shirts, Hayley will wear her favorite Chicago Bears jersey. While some of her coworkers might tease her, most of it is in good fun. At the end of the day, no matter their team allegiance, everyone on our team supports each other and helps out where it counts.

“Everyone’s really awesome here. You can’t beat it,” Hayley explained. “I was in between places for a little while and I actually stayed with Linda. That’s how close people are here.”

Since most of her family still lives in Illinois, Hayley spends many of her weekends visiting them in her hometown of McHenry, Ill. However, having moved up to Wisconsin as an adult, she’s noticed just how different things are on the other side of the state line.

“I’m from maybe two hours south of here, and even the accent is so different,” Hayley said. “I grew up maybe a half hour from the Wisconsin border, so it’s not that far away.”

For as close as Hayley was to Wisconsin growing up, a lot of the more distinctive parts of Wisconsin’s culture were a shock when she came here. Some parts of ice fishing, namely driving a truck onto a frozen lake, were odd to her. Even odder was the local custom of sturgeon spearing.

“I was like, ‘You’re telling me you take a truck out on the ice, and cut a big hole in the ice, and try to stab fish?'” Hayley recalled, laughing. “I could not believe how seriously people took it up here.”

Chances are, if you have one of our stoneware mugs, Hayley inspected it. Hers is one of dozens of sets of hands handling your mugs, making ours a truly handmade product from start to finish. Learn more about the other team members who make your stoneware through the link below.

Meet Sunset Hill Stoneware's Artisans