Instructions for Throwing on the Potter's Wheel

1. Your Body Position

Adjust the height of the potter's wheel if necessary so you can work without undue strain.

Position your chair in a good spot to easily reach the clay and lean your body weight forward to increase leverage as you press on the clay.

Place clay tools, clay, and the water close by.

As you sit at the wheel, situate your feet for comfort and stability. Perhaps elevate one or both of your feet on wooden blocks so your thighs are level with the wheel's splash pan.

Brace your forearms against the splash pan or your body for added steadiness. Also brace your hands together when feasible.

Breathe, center yourself, and maintain a gentle strength that is decisive yet flowing.

2. Basic Cycle of Touch

Get the wheel spinning at a "fast" speed for centering the clay. Use "medium" speed for raising the pot's wall and a "slow" speed while the pot is being shaped and finished.

Apply water frequently to lubricate the clay. Forego excess water that weakens the clay. Let "slip" (clay plus water) accumulate in the palms of your hands and coat the clay like frosting. The "slip" should be moist enough for the clay to glide through your hands.

Approach the clay gently. Press on it and hold your hands steady. Before the clay dries out, gently release your hands. Apply more water. Repeat this cycle. Gradual applications of pressure aid symmetry. Abrupt presses are likely to dent the clay.

Coordinate and harmonize three aspects of the process:
  1. The rate of speed the potter's wheel spins
  2. The rate of speed your hands travel on the clay
  3. How firmly you press on the clay.

3. Hands and Centering

Three centering motions are:
  1. Up
  2. Down
  3. Neutral

The hand positions that make the clay taller or shorter are equalized in "neutral." The clay does not change shape much.

For your first centering motion think, "down before up" and press the clay downward instead of lifting the clay up and possibly off the wheel.

In the "up" position, press your hands together towards an imaginary midline. Neither hand should dominate and lean the clay sideways. Think "pressure and counter-pressure" for the balance that helps the clay move straight up.

Going up: "stop at the top" and cradle the top of the clay in your hands until it becomes even. A common error is to sweep one's hands up the clay and into the air. This is likely to create uneven spirals and neglect the top.

Cone shapes optimize centering and help you keep the clay under control.

4. Opening the Pot

Choose the desired width for the clay's base: Wide for a plate, narrower for a cup.

To "open" the pot, use your thumb(s) or fingers to create a small dip in the center of the clay. Then dig deeper until the pot's "floor" or bottom is about one-half inch thick.

Decide if you want pot's floor to be curved or flat. Widen the floor and walls. The walls should look like a cylinder rather than extending farther beyond the base at this stage.

Use a sponge to smooth, compress, and finish the pot's floor.

Shift your focus to the rim. Is it level or does it need to be trimmed to become level? Trim if necessary. Compress the rim. Re-center the clay if necessary.

Establish an efficient and stable cone shape before raising the walls.

5. Raising the Walls

Remember the naturalness of making a pinch pot where the pot's walls are easy to reach, pinch, and shape? On the potter's wheel strive for a similar ease of positioning while the clay rotates through your hands.

Use an imaginary clock face as a reference point. With "6" closest to you, place your hands near "5" for raising the walls. If your hands extend forward towards the "3" your wrists are probably too bent.

Your hands must work together as a unit. Even a moment's lapse where your hands drift apart can cause your pot to twist.

Increase or decrease pressure to achieve the thickness you want. As a general rule, decrease the pressure halfway up to avoid tearing off the top. Occasionally pass your hands lightly over the walls to evaluate thickness and evenness.

Copyright 2003
Cinda Mefferd