Pottery for beginners: the basics. Tools.

posted on September 23rd 2019 in Arts & pottery with 0 Comments

Woman wheel throwing clay

There are many different methods of producing ceramics, but the main three options out there are handbuilding, casting in molds and wheel-throwing. Whether you want to be an all-around potter and master both or you just want to get a bit of knowledge about things you could explore, this is the list of tools that you may want to be familiar with.

The kiln

Probably the most vital piece of equipment you’ll need if you are interested in making any tableware, vases or other robust pottery.

The smallest kilns will be more mobile and can plug into a standard mains socket. Larger kilns may need to be wired into the mains by an electrician.

The potter’s wheel

Assuming you are interested in the throwing method of production, you will need a wheel. For a beginner potter even the smallest electric wheel would be sufficient. It’s only when making really big pots that a high powered wheel is needed for more torque. 

Pottery wheels can be electric or powered by the potter kicking their leg, but I will be working only with electric wheels.

The slab roller machine

If handbuilding is what appeals to you, you will probably want to get one of these. You can roll out slabs of clay (as if you were making homemade pasta). Slabs can be formed into cylinders or slumped over molds to form plates or bowls. 

The molds

Pottery can be cast in molds using a runny wet mix of clay called slip. Molds can be bought from ceramic supply stores, or made from plaster if a special design is required.

The smaller tools

Collection of tools used on a daily basis pottery studio. Photo by Patt Judez.
  • If you throw pots on the wheel, a cut off wire is needed to remove the pot after it is complete. The wire is usually nylon or metal with wooden toggles at each end to grab hold of.
  • A sponge is used to wet the pot with water while throwing to provide lubrication. A sponge on a stick is handy for removing water from inside narrow necked forms.
  • When making plates or shallow bowls a wooden rib is useful for smoothing the base.
  • Pin tools are great for cutting the top from wobbly pots, or popping air bubbles. Thin pin tools are better than the fatter ones.
  • A throwing stick can clean up the outside of pots, and make an undercut bevel at the base. A bevel makes cutting the pot from the wheel easier.
  • A trimming tool is needed if making pots with footrings. This tool is used to refine the shape when the clay has firmed up.
  • Glazing tongs are used to dip your pieces into your chosen glaze.
  • A grater will be useful to grate any extra clay from a piece when it’s still leatherhard.

The glazes

Some pottery such as flowerpots may be made without being glazed. Most other pottery items are glazed. Glaze can be gloss or matte finish, with many levels between.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, there are many other tools you can find and use when making pottery, but you should be able to have a good head start knowing the mentioned above.

Now it’s time to start getting the feel of the wheel! 🙂

Photo by Juliet Furst on Unsplash

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