Articles | Basic Methods | Throwing

Throwing

Here is a quick guide to throwing on the potter's wheel. Throwing is one of the basic making methods used in pottery.

Throwing is mainly for production of domestic wares like cups, plates, bowls, jugs and vases but has also been used for storage jars, chimney pots and flower pots. What these things all have in common is they they are round.

Throwing can be thought of as semi-automated pinch-potting and the steps are similar. There are many variations to this technique, as you'll see from the video at the bottom of the page, but this is my version.

These instructions are for right-handed throwers with the wheel going anti-clockwise. If you are left-handed then you may wish to have the wheel turning clockwise and to swap hands.

Step 1 - prepare your clay

Throwing is most successful if the clay has a smooth and even consistency without any air bubbles. Wedging and kneeding are used to get the clay in a good condition for throwing. Next the clay is divided into balls of equal size.

Step 2 - throw the clay onto the wheel

A metal wheelhead should be dry or tacky. A wooden wheelhead should be damp but not wet. Throw the ball of clay into the centre of the wheel ensuring that it is well stuck down.

You may need to slide the lump a bit if you missed!

Step 3 - centring

The objective is to get the clay lump perfectly round and centred on the wheel. Centring is hard to describe so these notes are just reminders. This YouTube video is a good guide:

Have the wheel going fast and your hands and clay well wetted. Use the left hand to control the side of the lump and the right hand behind the clay to push into or on top to control the top.

It shouldn't be a matter of strength. Instead, wedge your left elbow into your body and lean into the clay, pushing the clay forward into the centre of the wheel. If you do this and then progressively release the pressure, most of the work is done already.

Bringing the clay up into a cone and then down again helps mix the clay and reduces the force required to bring the clay under control.

When you've finished you should have a squat cyllinder of clay on the wheel.

Step 4 - make a hole

Push your thumbs or fingers into the centre of the clay making a narrow hole in the centre and leaving a good thickness of clay at the bottom for a base - maybe 1cm.

Step 5 - open out

Open out the hole and establish the base of the vessel. Be clear whether the base is flat or rounded. Compress the clay in the base to help avoid s-cracks in drying. You now have a very short pot with very thick walls but the inside diameter (at the base) is now set.

Step 6 - pull up

Again this is hard to describe so the following are just reminders. This video contains some good advice.

Have your left hand inside and right hand outside the pot, at a '20 past 4' sort of position. Work so that the wall of the pot is sequeezed between the fingers of your two hands and forced to become thinner. By starting at the base and lifting slowly to the rim, you increase the height of the pot. For most shapes, aim for something taller and straighter than you want the final shape to be.

Repeat this 2, 3 or more times until you have acheived the desired height and thickness. If its taking more than 5 pulls then try making the pulls more effective. The most important thing to watch is that you get the clay at the very bottom up into the wall.

Step 7 - shape

Having got the height and thickness you can refine the shape by doing very gentle pulls to ease the shape inwards or outwards.

Step 8 - wire-off

Tidy-up the base with a rib or turning tool and then cut under the pot with a wire. If both your hands and the pot are fairly dry you can try picking it up but most beginners find it easier to slide the pot off on a film of water. To do this, draw water under the pot using the wire. You may need to repeat having cleaned off the wire. The pot should then slide off and onto a waiting board. If the rim is slightly oval, give the base a squeeze to true it up - don't touch the rim.

Step 8 - firm-up

The pot now needs to dry to a leather-hard consistency so that you can handle it without distorting it. Make sure the drying is even otherwise the pot can distort.

Step 9 - turning (trimming)

The pot can be returned to the wheel, upside-down, and the base and bottom of the wall turned to refine them. You can also cut a recess into the base so that a foot ring is left around the edge for it to stand on.

More advanced methods

Thrown pots can also be very large when throwing and coiling techniques are combined. This youTube video of Svend Bayer illustrates such a technique and here is a Sudanese potter doing something very similar