Pottery for beginners. The basics: handbuilding.

posted on October 1st 2019 in Arts & pottery with 0 Comments

A clay stained hand of a potter engaging in a craft work of pottery or molding

As you may have heard, there are two main ways of working with clay. One is the great wheel-throwing technique (you can read my article for a step-by-step guide on how to wheel throw for beginners); but maybe more accessible to the wider public because it doesn’t require from any big investment is handbuilding. We will discover together in this article what handbuilding is, what tools are you likely to need, and some tricks to give your pieces a good finish.

Handbuilding is the most primitive form of pottery making. It tends to look more rustic and rough around the edges than pottery thrown on a wheel. There are three basic techniques to hand build pottery: pinch, coil and slab construction. Let’s explore these.

Handbuilding techniques

  • Pinch construction: it’s the simplest way to begin working with clay. You start by kneading the clay into a small lump and then you’ll want to “open” the pot, which creates the middle portion. You can then play with how thick or thin you want the walls, etc.
  • Coil construction: you basically make circles of clay and stack them on top of each other. To begin, roll the clay into a long narrow cylinder a little thicker than a pencil. Once it’s rolled out, join the ends in a circle and stack the coils on top of each other. To join them together you smooth out the insides with your fingers or a wooden rib.
  • Slab construction: creating the slab is similar to rolling out dough for baking cookies or pasta. You take the lump of clay and spread it out on a smooth surface. Then roll it out with a rolling pin. Using a ruler and a knife, cut pieces out of the clay to form the objects you wish.

To join different parts of pieces (i.e. a handle for a mug) or to join parts of a same piece together you have to use a sort of glue called slip that’s also coming from the clay. It’s basically very watery clay with the consistency of yogurt. You apply this slip in the edges where the pieces need to join together, having made some cuts in a sort of criss-cross pattern with a pin or needle, with will help the slip to settle and bond the pieces together.

It is important to let all handbuilt pottery dry slowly to minimise the potential to crack.

Handbuilding tools

If you are using the slab technique you may want to get a slab machine, but you can get similar results using a rolling pin.

You should get some modelling tools (made of wood and/or metal), a cutter or scalpel, a needle tool, sponges, rubber rib, a shredder…

I’d advise to get some other objects as well to impress some patterns and textures on your pieces. These may be shells, fabric, stones, leaves, etc.

Photo by Alex Jones on Unsplash

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