A Brief Introduction to the Pottery Wheel

Using a pottery wheel for the first time can be a challenge, but with the right materials, some preparation, and time to practice, you'll soon be able to make your own mugs, bowls, and vases.

Prepare the Clay

Even if you buy clay from a maker who promises it's ready to use, it's important to wedge the clay. Wedging is a process of kneading that brings the clay to the right consistency and removes air bubbles. Wedge the clay in one of two ways. For the table method, take a ball of clay and slap it down hard on a table. Use a wire clay cutting tool to slice the clay in half. Turn the top half upside down and slap it hard onto the bottom half. Slapping the clay with force helps prevent the formation of air bubbles. Repeat the slicing and slapping a number of times, until the clay is smooth, elastic, and bubble-free.

You can also wedge the clay with the spiral method. Slap the clay down on a hard surface. Press downward and forward with your palms, rotating the clay a quarter turn with each movement. Continue until the clay reaches the right consistency. You'll notice, if you've wedged it correctly, that the clay has formed a spiral shape.

Position Your Body

One of the keys to success at the pottery wheel is body position. Sit as close to the wheel as possible. Your head should be directly above the clay, with your elbows tucked in to your sides and your hands wrapped around the clay.

Center the Clay on the Wheel

Centering the clay on the pottery wheel is another key to success. Some potters actually throw their clay on the wheel, but as a beginner, you have a better chance of centering the clay if you take a fist-sized ball and press it, using both hands, to the center of the wheel. If you've pressed hard enough, the clay will stick. Start the wheel by pressing the pedal. Gently pat the clay toward the center as the wheel turns.

Form the Pot

Form a pot by pressing your thumb in the center of your clay. Use the fingers on the same hand to pull the wall out a bit. Experience will guide you in forming the walls and floor of your pot with the proper thickness. Like learning to ride a bike, you'll be a little wobbly on the pottery wheel at first, but patience and practice will help you master the techniques.

Where to Find a Pottery Wheel

Building a home pottery studio can be expensive. A pottery wheel can cost hundreds of dollars and you'll still need a kiln in which to bake your creations. Before considering such an investment, spend some time trying out pottery throwing. Many community colleges have pottery classes that are open to the public. Some high schools offer pottery courses as part of their evening continuing education programs. If there's a pottery studio near you, it's possible that an artisan will give you a demonstration--and perhaps even a turn at the wheel.