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Basic, Easy Steps to Throw On a Wheel- Part 2- Trimming

Updated on January 7, 2017

Easy and Basic Trimming

One can see where this would be one of the most common bottom trims to go with. once mastered...use your imagination and expertise!
One can see where this would be one of the most common bottom trims to go with. once mastered...use your imagination and expertise!

TrimmingTools in the Basic Set of Tools - Picture 1

In this basic set, there are enough trimming tools when you are first learning to trim.
In this basic set, there are enough trimming tools when you are first learning to trim.

Have a Good time

Rule number 1 in pottery: Have fun!
Rule number 1 in pottery: Have fun! | Source

Most Common Technique Used in Stabilizing Pot Before Trimming- Picture 2

there are many ways to trim the bottom of the pot - many techniques depending on style, thinness  of wall and stability
there are many ways to trim the bottom of the pot - many techniques depending on style, thinness of wall and stability

Various Pictures of Trimming a Basic and Attractive Bottom - Picture 3

I used this picture again to demonstrate a common but sturdy and visually appealing base.
I used this picture again to demonstrate a common but sturdy and visually appealing base.
Here is a larger bowel and uses the same but larger type of bottom.
Here is a larger bowel and uses the same but larger type of bottom.
Here is an example of the artist fine-tuning the base.
Here is an example of the artist fine-tuning the base.

Testing for Thinness of Bottom and/or Wall- VERY IMPORTANT.- Picture 4

After some experience, on can ta the pot to 'hear' how much clay is there to be trimmed. If not sure, use the needle to go through the unknown thickness and one then as an exact idea how much clay is there.
After some experience, on can ta the pot to 'hear' how much clay is there to be trimmed. If not sure, use the needle to go through the unknown thickness and one then as an exact idea how much clay is there.

Examples of Making Your Piece "Different"- Picture 5

Here is an example where one needs a fine techniques to cut out designs. Takes some time to learn to do it correctly but well worth it.
Here is an example where one needs a fine techniques to cut out designs. Takes some time to learn to do it correctly but well worth it.
This is "nice" example of adding character to a pot. Too commercial for my taste but it is very pleasing to the eye and practical.
This is "nice" example of adding character to a pot. Too commercial for my taste but it is very pleasing to the eye and practical.

Trimming and Adding Decoration to Your Ceramic Creation

Every aspect of throwing on a wheel from kneading the clay to removing the finished glazed piece from the kiln is fun and a learning experience. Some of my favorite finished pieces were unexpected and wonderfully pleasant surprises. Having to take copious notes in chemistry and pharmacy, it is natural for me to take notes of my 'experiments' whether they are traditional science based or during the process of creating a ceramic piece. I do that so that if I like a finished piece a great deal, I have the notes to review on what I did though as I was to find out, that was not and is not 100% reliable which again adds to surprises, most of which are pleasant..... some of which are not! That's life and all part of the learning process. Some of the greatest discoveries of this world were the culmination of many failures. You may be the type that note taking is boring and too laborious. You decide what is best for you!

There are many trimming techniques. I will go over the most basic and when you accomplish this one, you will have carte blanche in finding what works best for you and to be honest, each and every piece with it's individual shape and thickness will determine it's own trimming need. This is where we artists work 'with' the pot and not against it. This reminds me of the story: During Renaissance Italy, there was a magnificent piece of marble that was quarried, brought to Florence but on close inspection, was found to have a flaw causing the "then current" sculptors to stay away from utilizing it. Caravaggio saw this piece of marble, saw the flaw, was not daunted and created one of the greatest pieces of sculpture in the history of art - his "David".

The trimming we are going to look at is the trimming of the foot or bottom of the pot. One wants to wait until the pot has a leathery finish to it so that when you manipulate it, you do not misshapen the pot or leave fingerprints on it though these are usually easy fixes. I would suggest not finishing your pulls of the clays with too thin a lip or thickness of the walls as the technique we are going to look at could easily damage/crack the top. You also do not want the piece to be too dry as this makes the trimming difficult.

As illustrated in Picture 2, one places the pot upside down and then one centers it as much as possible. If the pot is not centered, the trimming will not be even. If you end up taking too much off on one side while trimming due to the piece being off-centered, it is a difficult if not almost impossible to fix. You can easily eyeball the piece as it slowly turns to look for centeredness. I will use a my forefinger or 'needle' devise and hold it stationary near the bottom and as the pot spins, it is easy to observe if the pot is centered or not. Once you feel it is centered, then take 4 pieces of clay and delicately place them at 12-3-6-9 positions. I usually place the opposite pieces on at same time to reduce the chance of moving the piece off center. Next I gently but firmly press the clay pieces so that it seals with the pot and wheel. Do not worry about having trouble getting the clay off as they come off easy when the rimming is complete (unless the clay is too wet).

One can see in the kit I have pictured that there are trimming tools with wide openings and others more fine. The wider ones are usually what works best for the beginning of the trimming. It is best to slowly trim as once you trim away clay, it is not easy or advisable to try to make it bigger again. I tried once and it was not worth the time. I have learned to use the 'over-trim' as a learning tool and almost always made the result work. Our imaginations and inventiveness are great tools also!

As you begin to trim, you have to try to visualize what the inside curve looks like. You should have a firm rasp of the tool you are using but sometimes the tool will catch on something or 'bite' in too much so one must instinctively learn to let go before there is too much difficult damage to correct. If the clay is the right dryness, the clay should come off in curls.

It is better to make more shavings than too few. This way there is little chance of trimming away too much. You are trying to trim down to where you are getting the outside curve to match the inside. One may trim up and down but I prefer to always start where I began- closer to the lip, which is now the bottom. It is what works best for me.

Once you have the majority of the clay trimmed off, one can now focus on creating the actual foot as pictured in Picture 2. Once you have the vertical foot as you want it, it is preferred to then shave off the inside of the diameter/foot so that the actual base is a ring. sometimes for something a little different, I will end up with a relatively small base/ring for a bigger bowel to accentuate the bowl. It can make the bowl a little unstable but for aesthetics, I will at times go against mother nature. This kind of bowl can be visually appealing but chancy to actually use it to be functional. I often leave a thick bottom when I make the piece so that I have extra material to be creative when I trim the base.

Once I feel that I have trimmed off enough, I will take a fine dampened sponge and smooth out what I just trimmed. I will usually date and put my personal insignia inside of the base/circle. If a gift, I will add a personal message. I use the needle tool to inscribe.

It is at this point that I will either leave the pot in this position or replace it centered, right side up. With bowels, I usually allow the glazes to be my final finish. With more cylindrical pieces, I like to add original markings. As the piece SLOWLY spins, I will take some tool and make indentations as the pot spins. I will either end up with little fairly even scallops or if I go in deeper, it will take out bigger pieces, sometimes a little jagged. Remember, if someone wants some homogenized, 'perfect' pot - I would advise them to go to K-Mart or Wal-Mart and buy a common, characterless pot. I like my pots to be individualistic and one of a kind. Sometimes, if the pot is damp enough, I have various sizes of 'whisks', used to beat eggs, for some remarkable designs. Sometimes I will make markings as the pot turns. Other times I will gentlely tap the stationary piece for some interesting designs. Sometimes, I will take a tube and use an end to make some intersecting circles. Again, you are only limited by your imagination and the fact that you are thinking of learning to throw on a wheel shows that you have lots of imagination.

It pains me and makes me said that Chase Bank, Fannie Mae and the Property Manager destroyed all my pots so I could use them as examples. In Picture 5 there are 2 examples of cutting out a design which requires a fine hand and patience but well worth the effort. The second example is one that would be more for the traditional types. Not my personal taste but all designs are beautiful in their own right.

I wish I had one of my favorite pots to show. It was a rather tall flared out vase. While the pot was fairly workable, I took my needle tool and created two 1-2 inch bands as guides. Then I made MANY small, scale-like dabs of clay and pain stakingly made bands that resembled the scales on a fish. It look a long time. Each "scale" had to be incorporated into the vase and overlapping the previous scale. I worked non-stop for over 15 hours but it was well worth it. I had to use a fine glaze that did not run but all the work was well worth it.

Another recommendation I have is to make pots/bowls for experimentation pieces. Use them to gain confidence and come to the realization there is no end to what design you can add. Sometimes, I came up with an unintended design but then made it work with the right type of glazing.

This is where I will end this article. Future articles- not necessarily my next- will take on things like the making of handles , teapots and lids for pots. This list is practically endless.

As I have said before and will again - have fun and let your imagination be your guide and in the end.... be your best teacher!



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    • Peter Grujic profile image
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      Peter Alexander 19 months ago from Pittsburgh

      Thanks Mr Monroe! When you are making sets, throwing off the hump is pretty fabulous. Good luck in your classes and let me know how you are doing. Thanks for reading and your feedback!

    • profile image

      Sam Monroe 19 months ago

      Hi Peter- I have been taking Ceramic classes for a few years. Liked you article on trimming and throwing off the hump. Never tried throwing off the hump but I can see where it would be a time saver.

      Thanks for the article.

    • Peter Grujic profile image
      Author

      Peter Alexander 20 months ago from Pittsburgh

      It took me a few months to trim well! Trimming the bottom can be tricky not to get it too thin otherwise the base cannot support the weight of the pot above it. Let me know what you think of the other articles I have on pottery. thanks for reading this and your feedback.

    • profile image

      Sam Thornton 20 months ago

      I have been taking pottery classes for several years. I agree with you that trimming is an important step and is so important in the final shape. Thanks for the article. Will read your other articles.

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