A particular method and technique for throwing a pot on a circulating wheel head, developed and practiced by the author oh so many years ago.
1. To throw a clay pot one needs a potter’s wheel, either kick or electric. An important technique especially for beginners is to use or adjust the wheel so that one can work the spinning clay, with the hands in conjunction with the knees and thighs so that strength is applied to the hands by squeezing the legs together.
2. After obtaining clay, which should have a vitrification temperature correspondent to the kiln for firing, the clay is kneaded or wedged to get out air bubbles on plaster, which absorbs moisture from the clay at the same time. Red or iron rich clay is easier to work than white porcelain clay. The softer the clay the easier to throw but less strength on the wheel. The finished wedged clay is ball shaped.
3. Add the clay to the center of the wheel head. Throw it on there, or use moisture on the head, flatten the ball on one side, score and secure to the head with a plunk and some back and forth motion. Spin the wheel fairly fast. With a bowl of water wet hands and clay, which is in the form of a ball. The object here is to cup it in the hands, squeeze it using legs for extra strength, and raise, the object being to make a cone or vertical wall tower. Keep spinning and keep wet and slippery.
4. While the first hand is cupped around the top of tower, to hold it up and center, the second hand is placed on the top with elbow straight above. In conjunction the clay is pushed back down into a perfect cylinder with a flat top. The object of this step is to further wedge the clay and align the clay throughout in a more or less swirl pattern.
5. The next step is to center the clay so that its outer edges spin perfectly smooth with no bumps or wobbles. This is the hard part. Different people use different techniques. The softer the clay the easier to center, for practice. The method described here always uses the arms in conjunction with the legs. Press forearms onto thighs. Hands and clay slick with water and good spin. Place the thumbs together across the center of the spinning clay with hands cupped around the sides, and index fingers pressed together in front, or furthest away from the body. Pull wrists back slightly pressing down and hold them rigid. Dig fingers into the clay beginning toward the bottom. This is like a lathe. Do not allow fingers to move, and feel perfect smooth spin of the clay. Slowly raise fingers keeping thumbs and palms pressing on the top, in hinged trap door like fashion, feeling perfect steadiness, and slowly raise off the top with no sudden moves. Clay should be spinning perfectly centered. Repeat until satisfactory. When one learns can do it in one pass. For practice the softer the clay the easier.
6. To make hole in the center, brace the forearms on the legs. Place the first hand against the top spinning clay cylinder, so that the indent of the thumb is directly on the center. Press the forefinger of the second hand against the indent of the thumb tightly, with the thumb of the second hand braced against the top of the back of the first hand. Slowly push and guide the forefinger straight down into the center of the spinning cylinder to about an inch from the bottom and then slowly remove.
7. To enlarge hole place the elbow of the first hand into the stomach or hip. Put the palm of this same first hand against the side or wall of the spinning cylinder. This will hold the wall of cylinder in place while the index or two fingers are placed in the center hole with the thumb braced on the back of the first hand. The fingers are then pulled outward into the heel of the first hand, until the hole is enlarged to the size of the desired pot, or large enough to get four fingers in. This created wall would generally be about an inch to two inches thick. With the wall created, the cylinder should spin perfectly symmetrical. In all these steps always remove hands and fingers and take the pressure off slowly. No sudden moves.
8. The next step is to thin and raise the walls. Usually the index finger of the first hand is braced against the inside wall toward the bottom, with the thumb braced across to the second hand or wrist. Because by now the clay is thoroughly soaked with water, a very small, say one inch sponge is held between index finger and thumb of the second hand The index finger and sponge are pressed against the outside wall exactly opposite the finger(s) on the inside. They are squeezed and raised together, thinning the wall and raising the pot. This is done a little at a time from say 6 to 12 times, until the desired thickness of the wall is achieved, from an eighth to an inch depending on the type of pot or plate. The object is usually to thin the wall to the point where it still has the strength to stand up. The sponge is used to control the wetness and strength of the clay, the more wet the weaker, the less the stronger.
9. The top often becomes uneven and can be cut off at any time, but especially after the walls are finished. With a pin projecting from a wood cylinder bought at a ceramics shop, with the first hand press the pin into the spinning clay near the top, or cut off where desired. Press into spinning clay until it reaches the index finger of the second hand on the inside. When completely cut all the way around, simply lift up and off. This is a basic cylinder.
For shaping and finishing see: “How to Shape and Finish a Wheel Thrown Pot” below
- Always use lots of water.
- Keep a good speed of spin especially when centering.
- The walls of the pot in the cylinder stage are thinned to a thickness that is suitable to the type of pot being made, usually thicker at the bottom to hold outward curves, or even up and down for cups. Keep excess water sponged out of the bottom.
- The diameter of the original ball of clay is determined by the type of pot to be created. Wide or larger for flat bottomed bowls or plates and narrow and smaller for cups or vases.
How to Shape and Finish a Wheel Thrown Pot
Things You’ll Need:
- A bowl for water
- A small sponge
- A shamy cloth
- A stickpin
- Triming tools
1. The walls of the pot in the cylinder stage, are thinned to a thickness that is suitable to the type of pot being made, usually thicker at the bottom to hold outward curves, or even/steven up and down for cups. Keep excess water sponged out of the bottom. The diameter of the original ball of clay is determined by the type of pot to be created. Wide or larger for flat bottomed bowls or plates and narrow and smaller for cups or vases.
2. To shape a pot, secure forearms on thighs or knees. The index, middle or both fingers of the first hand are placed inside the pot, starting at the bottom, with thumb if possible, braced across to the second hand wrist or forearm. With the thumb, index finger and sponge of the second hand, starting at bottom directly opposite the inside fingers, both hands are raised together pushing out or in to produce the shape. This can be done in one or a succession of passes.
3. For concave inward shaped pots, especially the creation of narrow necks, the thumbs and fingers can be place around the cylinder and squeezed inward in choke like fashion. The fingers can be placed on opposites sides of the top of the cylinder and pulled out for enlargement. Where a very narrow neck is required, a stick can be used inside instead of the fingers. To finish, cut top with a stickpin. To thicken lip, index finger and thumb are placed both sides of top edge. With the thumb of second hand, apply downward pressure until desired thickness is achieved. Drape a small piece of wet shamy cloth over the edge and press slightly both sides. This will round the lip.
4. Remove pot from wheel head by pouring a little water on the wheel head. Drag water under the pot with a wire. Float the pot off the wheel head unto a wetted plaster bat. Also can throw the pot on a removable bat attached to the wheel head. Also special spatual like implements for the purpose can be purchased.
5. To finish bottom of pot, let pot harden overnight or longer until it gets what is called leather hard, or strong enough not to bend, but soft enough to cut. Drying may be done in conjunction with plastic. A thin lip may dry very fast while a thick bottom will dry slow. To prevent uneven drying use plastic sheet and bags sometimes tied sometimes not. Secure pot upside down on the wheel head so that it is centered with pieces of clay. Use trimming tools purchased at ceramics shop. Bracing forearms on legs and using both hands, trim excess clay off the bottom of sides. Flatten bottom. Starting in the center trim out indent to where the foot begins. Trim width of foot and level.
6. Pot should be completely dry before kiln fired. Large things should be dried slowly in conjunction with plastic to prevent cracking. Two firings are generally required. The first is to harden called ‘bisque’, but still leave porous to accept glaze. The second or glaze fire should correspond to the vitrification temperature of the clay design.