How to Make Pottery - How to Make Ceramics – Potter’s Wheel and Wheel-Throwing

Invention of the Wheel

Having covered pinching, coil, and slab handbuilding techniques, its now time to look at wheel-throwing techniques in building pottery and ceramics. The invention of the wheel by man was during the Neolithic Age which was 9400 BC in Tell Qaramel in northern Syria. The invention of the wheel marked the end of Stone Age and the beginning of technology development by humans. During Stone Age, man could only build clay pots and figures using pinching, coil, and slab handbuilding techniques. The invention of the wheel was such a significant invention that man must have immediately tried its use on clay. Man must have found it very fascinating to watch clay pots being made on the wheel. This has remained so even today where a potter wheel-throwing clay pots will not fail to fascinate you – if you are looking for a fascinating hobby to do, then try throwing clay pots using potter’s wheel.

Learn and Practice Wheel-Throwing Everyday

Watching someone else making clay pots using a potter’s wheel is fascinating but learning the process of wheel-throwing is a practical process that need you to learn and practice everyday, at least for a number of weeks. The best way to learn how to work with the potter’s wheel is to seek guidance from an experienced potter or a teacher.

A Treadle Pottery Wheel - a potter wheel-throwing clay pots will not fail to fascinate you . Image Credit: Pearson Scott Foresman, Wikipedia Commons
A Treadle Pottery Wheel - a potter wheel-throwing clay pots will not fail to fascinate you . Image Credit: Pearson Scott Foresman, Wikipedia Commons

Pottery Wheel

A potter’s wheel can be a kick wheel, a treadle wheel or an electric wheel. Today, unlike in the past when electricity was not in every place, potters should buy electric potter’s wheels rather than trying to build manual kick wheels or treadle wheels on their own. But still, some potters and ceramists still believe its better to build one's own tools arguing that by doing so potters gets deeper and more intimate connection with the pottery they create.

A Potter’s Wheel Should Have a Strong Motor

As a beginner in pottery, you may want to get yourself a pottery wheel. You may decide to buy a used potter’s wheel in which case you may as well be inheriting someone’s problems, or you may decide to buy a new potter’s wheel. Whatever you decides to do, make sure your potter’s wheel meet the following conditions:

  1. The potter’s wheel should be an electric one
  2. The potter’s wheel should have a variety of speeds
  3. The potter’s wheel should have a smooth flow which turns easily and is quiet.
  4. The potter’s wheel should have a strong motor for heavy lumps of clay
  5. The potter’s wheel should be clean and presentable if you are buying a used one.

A Modern Pottery Wheel - Electric. Image Credit: Amazon.com
A Modern Pottery Wheel - Electric. Image Credit: Amazon.com

Focus On Learning the Techniques

Learning the process of wheel-throwing is a practical process that needs you to learn and practice everyday, at least for a number of weeks. The trick to learning how to throw with the pottery wheel is that during the first lessons you should focus yourself more on learning the techniques rather than on the final pot/figure. Never mind repeating the same thing over and over again for several times.

Different Clay Bodies Behaves Differently On the Wheel

The plastic clay that is used for wheel throwing is a little bit softer that the clay you use for handbuilding pottery items. The clay should not have any lump and should have a smooth consistency in its particles. Bear in mind different types of clay bodies behaves differently on the wheel. As a beginner, its better you specialize with one type of clay body before moving on to another different clay body. And when you work on the clay with the wheel, the subject clay should always be lubricated with a clay slip or water which you squeeze out from a sponge.

The Three Basic Forms

There are three basic forms that a beginner will need to learn to wheel-throw first. They are:

  1. How to wheel throw a bowl – rounded open form
  2. How to wheel throw a cylinder – vertical form
  3. how to wheel throw a plate – the flat form

How to Center Clay on Potter’s Wheel

Centering the clay on the centre of the wheel head is one thing you have to learn, otherwise your clay lump will be thrown off by the centrifugal force that is created by the spinning wheel. By centering the clay on the wheel head, you are actually allowing the clay to spin on the same axis as the wheel head. Below is a video on how to center clay on potter’s wheel which will teach you how to centre a lump of clay. Watch it.

Video on How to Center Clay on Potter’s Wheel

How to Open Up Clay to Make a Figure

Your clay is now centered. You will start by making a cylindrical form as it’s the easiest. You already should have in your mind that the thickness to the base wall of your cylinder should be equal to thickness of its vertical wall upon completion. Using a potter’s needle, estimate the thickness of the base wall to about 1 cm. With your thumb 1 cm to the base, from center top, and the wheel spinning at slow speed, cup both hands around the clay and push the clay away from you until you form the appropriate width of inner base. You can learn this better by watching the video below on how to open up clay which has all the practical details.

Video on How to Open Up Clay on Pottery Wheel

How to Lift or Pull-Up the Walls

You have now opened the clay and the base is ready. Between the fingers and thumb of your right hand, hold the walls at the base. And with the fingers of your right hand applying pressure directly opposite the fingers of your left hand, lift the walls in a continuous motion. At no one time should you hesitate and adjust the position of your hands for this first pull. And then the second pull is achieved by slightly changing your hand position. This is continued until the cylinder has grown sufficiently tall to what you want.  You should be able to understand how to lift a wall by watching the video on how to lift or pull-up the walls of clay figure as shown in this video.

Video on How to Lift Walls on Pottery Wheel

Trimming the Base of a Wheel-Thrown Cylinder

The first thing you do is to cut any excess clay at the base. Then remove any water at the base using a sponge when the wheel is spinning, then trim the cylinder from the base using a wire held at the base and pressed by index finger of each hand. To cut the cylinder free from the wheel, pull the wire towards you, and you are done.

Look For Pottery Classes in Your Area

Once you are through with making a cylinder, you should then practice again and again on making different cylindrical figures. You can practice with 75 cylinders and then after that go and practice with 75 of each of the following - a bowl, a vase, a plate, etc. Remember that if you apply more pressure from the inside, the cylinder will curve outward like a bowl and if you apply more pressure from the outside, the cylinder will curve inward like a neck. You may not be able to train yourself alone, in which case look for pottery classes in your area and learn wheel-throwing. Wheel throwing can be very enjoyable if you have interest on how to make pottery and ceramics.

The next article is on Slip Casting and Plaster Mouldings.

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Comments 4 comments

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Wow, that was absolutely fascinating. Thank you.


vydyulashashi profile image

vydyulashashi 6 years ago from Hyderabad,India

What a beautiful guide.

God bless you.


Song-Bird profile image

Song-Bird 5 years ago from Michigan

This hub was full of good information. I love to buy pottery and would love to try making something sometime. One of these days I am going to take a class and see how I like it.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 4 years ago from sunny Florida

Nquerco...This was like a walk down memory lane. When I was in college I took pottery making for two years and loved it. It was challenging and frustrating but once I got it, I felt a real sense of accomplishment.

I have shared this hub in one I wrote, How to Decorate Clay Pots for Fun and For Gifts. I have also pinned it.

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