Pottery Lessons – The Wheel | Clay

For my first time on the pottery wheel, I made two clay pots and a whole lot of mess.

Um, so the pottery wheel turns out (har har) to be a lot of fun and quite messy.  Dee demonstrated how to turn a cylinder on the wheel. She says it’s important to learn how to make a cylinder first as it allows you the freedom to make a lot more objects such as jugs, vases etc. She reckons as soon as you start making bowls that’s all you’re going to do.

Clay Pot made on the wheel before firing
The final product before firing

How To Turn a Small Pot on the Wheel

1) Wedge the Clay

This goes without saying for every item. As mentioned before it helps to remove any air bubbles from within the clay that will ultimately ruin your item. Two out of my four clay pots were ruined as I felt huge air bubbles within the wall. As it was my first time on the wheel I was told to wedge four balls whilst my hands were dry.

2) Prepare your Wheel

You’re going to need A LOT of water. So I put two tubs close by. I then also grabbed a sponge, the wire and one or two tools. Oh, and wear an apron.

3) Centre the Clay

This is the trickiest part actually. If your clay is not centred it will warp as you start making the bowl. The walls will be an uneven width. To centre your clay you throw it down hard in the centre of the wheel. Dip your sponge in the water and just splash it all over the clay. You then push down on the pedal as hard as you can as you need it spinning really fast. Water will fly everywhere. Wet your hands and cup them around your clay. Slowly and firmly push the clay away from you. We tend to pull the clay towards us naturally so you have to counter-act this. Lift your hands just above the base otherwise the granules within the clay with scratch your hands a bit.

To centre your clay you throw it down hard in the centre of the wheel. Dip your sponge in the water and just splash it all over the clay. You then push down on the pedal as hard as you can as you need it spinning really fast. Water will fly everywhere. Wet your hands and cup them around your clay whilst resting your arms on the edge of teh weheel for support. Slowly and firmly push the clay away from you. We tend to pull the clay towards us naturally so you have to counter-act this. Lift your hands just above the base otherwise the granules within the clay with scratch your hands a bit.

Wet your hands and cup them around your clay. Slowly and firmly push the clay away from you. We tend to pull the clay towards us naturally so you have to counter-act this. Lift your hands just above the base otherwise the granules within the clay with scratch your hands a bit.  Then firmly push your clay into the perfect position within the centre of the wheel whilst holding your thumbs firm on top. Use both your eyes and fingers to judge if the clay is wobbling or stable. Keep adding water when needed.

4) Make a Hole with Your Thumbs

Lower the speed of the wheel to something much more comfortable. Add water. You then very slowly press both thumbs into the centre of your clay. Make sure you are working directly over the top of your clay. Push your thumbs down and then slowly open them up to widen the whole.

5) Shape the Walls

Place two fingers on both inside and outside of the wall. Working at 3 o’clock and starting at the base of the pot slowly apply pressure and move your fingers upwards. The walls will thin out and get higher. Keep moving your fingers back to the base and repeat the process. You can use a sponge on the outside if you want smoother walls. Neaten up the lip as you work. You can add pressure at different points to give your pot some shape. Make sure you keep the clay very wet.

6) Neaten up the Base

Once I was happy with the shape of my clay pot I used the one tool (it had a flat triangle at the edge) to just neaten up the base.

7) Remove the Pot From the Wheel

First, use the sponge to wipe away the excess water from the wheel. Then using the wire, pull it tights and press it against the wheel with your thumbs. Slowly pull it under the pot. Be sure to keep pressing it against the wheel so you don’t slice through your clay. The pot should begin to move with your wire to the edge of the wheel. You can always repeat this process until the pot is right at the edge. Use your hands to gently lift it off the wheel and onto a board to dry.

Two Clay Pots made using the Wheel
Two Clay Pots made using the Wheel

Turning your Pots Once Dry

I wrapped my little bowls up in plastic and let them dry out a bit. Two weeks later they were ready to turn. Once the clay has reached the leather hard stage you place your pot upside down in the centre of the wheel. You secure it in place using three pieces of fresh clay. Then slowly whilst the wheel turns you use a scraping tool to neaten up the base and sides of your pot. At this stage, you can add quite a bit of shape to your pot and then add decorations such as ridges, and lines.

The final product waiting to be fired:

My completed clay pots made using the pottery wheel
My completed clay pots made using the pottery wheel.
My completed clay pot before bisque firing.
My completed clay pot before bisque firing.
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