At any point throughout the year, Sunset Hill Stoneware’s delivery time for your custom mugs can vary by a range of several weeks, especially during our busiest season around the holidays. There’s a reason for this—just like a glass of craft beer or a fine cheese, our process takes time. Let’s take a look at the breakdown of how long the process can take, using an order of 48 mugs as an example.
From Clay to Mugs
Removing all other factors in our production schedule, like demand and manpower, our process takes roughly a week to go from start to finish. Why is that? Some of it comes down to science.
Each of our potters throws hundreds of mugs each day. The process starts with a puck (called a “slug”) of clay, which the potters shape on pottery wheels using just water and their fingers. When they do this, each mug takes a few minutes to make and match to our size standards.
At a rate of about three minutes spent on each mug, an order of 48 mugs would take around two hours to create. However, the process is worth the w
ait. This tried and true method of making pottery sets your custom stoneware up to be durable and have a quality that you’ll feel when you hold the mug in your hands.
Handle and Medallion Team
After the mugs have a body, they must next get their handle and medallion. Timing is everything in this step. If our mugs stay out in the open too long while they’re waiting for their handles, they could dry out too quickly. Letting this happen puts your mugs at risk for broken handles and medallions later on.
We have a few top-secret tricks up our sleeves for keeping the mugs workable while they wait. Luckily, our handlers also work quickly to apply each handle and medallion with a layer of slip to bind them together into one piece. Overall, it typically takes our handle and medallion team just under two hours to complete both phases on your 48 mugs. However, if you decide to order SwirlWare or want two medallions on your mugs, it might take a little longer. That also doesn’t consider whether your mugs have to wait while other orders receive the same treatment so production keeps running smoothly with no bottlenecks.
Here’s where the first long waiting period comes into play. Before your mugs go through the first firing in the kiln, we have to let them dry out completely. There can’t be any moisture left in the clay at this stage, or your stoneware coffee mugs might explode and shatter in the kiln’s hotter-than-lava heat.
The drying process usually requires us to wait overnight, if not longer. That being said, we are lucky enough to have a custom HVAC system in our shop that takes all the guesswork out of the drying process. At most smaller pottery studios, the process completely depends on mother nature. Depending on the time of year and the weather outside, it could take days for these studios’ mugs to dry out enough for the bisque firing process. Sometimes, they will use standing fans to make the mugs dry faster, but this can cause uneven drying.
Like with earlier steps in the process of making your promotional coffee mugs, timing is everything with glazing. Even when we’re dipping the mug into the glaze with a pair of tongs, spending too little or too much time in the liquid glaze can cause strange things to happen later on. When we’re working with double- or triple-dipped glazes, we also have to make sure the first layer of glaze is completely dry before adding the topper.
Why do we need to be so mindful of all this? Certain glazes slip off the sides of the mug during the final firing if we miss that window. The act of glazing 48 mugs in itself doesn’t take very long, but the variety of needs for each glaze can throw in a lot of extra challenges. Multiple glaze colors compound this timing.
If you were to walk into our production facility first when we start work first thing in the morning, you’d notice that we don’t crack open our kilns right away. This is another part of the mug-making process that takes a little extra time in order to do it right.
We have to open the kiln in stages. In the bisque firing stage, it prevents the mugs from cracking in the sudden shock of room-temperature air. During the final firing, that same shock of air that’s hundreds of degrees colder can discolor the glaze and give it a matte finish, among other things.
All told, it takes more than two hours to fully open the kilns, let alone make sure the mugs are cool enough to be considered finished.
The Common Thread
You’ll notice a common theme for each of the steps in the process we just described. The reason our custom pottery mugs take so long to make is because quality is the name of our game. All of the extra time we take goes into making sure your American-made coffee mugs last a lifetime.
Could we potentially find shortcuts to making these works of art? Sure. Would the quality of your coffee mugs suffer because of it? Absolutely. That’s just part of the reason why we don’t like to cut corners though: The rest comes from our inherent passion for getting the job done right, every time.
Priority in Production
All this isn’t to say that Sunset Hill Stoneware can’t work around a tight deadline. In a pinch? Our Priority in Production program allows you to receive your mugs in a matter of weeks, for a nominal fee. We can make promotional coffee mugs for your event with plenty of time to spare, so you won’t have to think about placing your order six months in advance.
As the old saying goes, good things come to those who wait. That is definitely true of your American-made coffee mugs. Our pottery takes time to arrive at your door. Once it arrives though, you’ll have a custom promotional product with quality you can see and feel and the durability to last a lifetime.