Pottery Hand Building & Throwing Tools
When it comes to working with clay and throwing pottery on the wheel, using the right type of pottery tools can make all the difference in the world. There is a wide range of tools for this medium to choose from, and ultimately, the type you purchase will depend on user preference. But if you’re new to the world of pottery, there are some basic tools every potter uses, each of which is priced affordably and can be used for both hand building and throwing.
Whether you’re refining curves, adding profiles, or cutting work from the wheel, having the tools you need to get the job done can also have a major impact on the quality of your work and your progress.
Pottery Supplies Buying Guide
When you work with clay, it can take two main directions: throwing pieces on a potter’s wheel or building pieces of clay by hand. Many basic pottery tools can be used in both disciplines. Here’s a basic guide to the type of tools you’ll find commonly used in the pottery medium.
Creating pottery can be a very messy business. Having a cotton towel that’s highly absorbent on hand is always a good idea. Using a towel is also ideal for cleaning your hands when you’re working with clay. Placing a large terrycloth towel across your knees can help to significantly cut down on cleanup time when you’re throwing.
Another useful pottery tool is chamois scraps. Pieces of chamois leather or skin are perfect for smoothing and compressing the upper edges of thrown pottery. Chamois can also be used to smooth out ware that’s leather hard. The cloth should be lightly dampened and you’ll also need to make sure you wash it thoroughly after each use.
When working with clay, potter’s needles are a very useful tool. These heavy, long needles are set into plastic, metal, or wooden handles and are considered one of the most versatile tools in the pottery world.
These needles can be used for scoring coils and slabs when hand building or used to neatly trim the top edges of ware. The most common type of cut-off wires come with a couple of hardwood handles placed at each end. uncoiled springs and fishing line can also be used.
Cut-off wires have a very similar appearance to cheese wire. This type of tool is useful for cutting up large lumps of clay or it can be used to remove thrown ware for the pottery wheel. Fishing line and other types of very flexible cut-off lines are preferred when throwing off the mound.
Fettling Knife & Rib
A fettling knife is used to trim off excess material and comes in both soft-tempered and hard-tempered blades. This type of thin-bladed knife can be bent into any desired curve or angle. The fettling knife was first developed to remove fettle. They’re also useful for trimming thrown pots and slabs or for cutting across areas of hand built pots.
A tool called a rib is used for shaping and smoothing when you’re throwing. This type of tool can help smooth and shape pots as they form on the wheel. They’re also commonly used in the rib and hand method, which involves working with coiled pots. A rib can come in a variety of shapes and is typically made from rubber or hardwood.
Pottery Scraper & Modeling Tools
- A scraper looks pretty similar to a rib, but it’s lighter and often used to smooth soft and wet leather-hard greenware. Scrapers come in a wide variety of shapes are made from wood, rubber, or steel.
- Wire, ribbon, and loop tools are also helpful to potters. These tools come in handy for trimming greenware and are commonly used in hand building.
- Ribbon and wire varieties aren’t usually recommended for use when throwing because they’re so fragile. However, they can be used to hollow out handmade pieces. Some artists even make their own.
- Wooden modeling tools also come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, many of which are useful in all types of hand building projects.
- While called modeling tools, the triangular style variety is also perfect for trimming work when you’re throwing on the wheel.
Best Type of Sponges, Brushes & Calipers for Clay Work
Sponges are another type of essential tool that you’ll find in pretty much every pottery kit. Special synthetic or large natural sponges are used to distribute or absorb water while you throw. There are also plenty of potters who use elephant ear sponges as they throw, which is a specific type of natural sponge.
The best type of brush to use for pottery and ceramics are bamboo or Sumi brushes. These brushes can be loaded up with a large amount of fluid and can still come to a nicely pointed tip.
A Sumi brush is perfect for working with clay and can be used to carry water to certain areas of a piece. They’re also used to design and paint with underglazes, overglazes, and slips.
Calipers are commonly used in pottery to measure galleries and lidded jar openings during throwing. A potter will use a metal caliper to measure the outer and inner dimensions of a pot where it meets with other parts of a working set. As an example, calipers can be very useful when you’re measuring a lid for a jar or measuring a cup’s base to ensure it matches with the depression located in the center of a saucer. It can also be used to measure the base of a pitcher, ensuring it matches up with the interior of a basin. Calipers are made from wood, plastic, or metal. Metal is the most commonly used type.
Storage & Pottery Molds
Many of the tools used in pottery are very small and can be easy to lose. Most potters will use some type of box to keep their tools easily accessible and organized.
A heavy-duty tack box or artist box tends to be the best choices if you’re planning on transporting tools. Otherwise, your options can range from any type of waterproof box or utensil tray.
You should never use a cardboard box since wet clay and water can rapidly break it down. Of course, most potters have more than one box. One box is usually dedicated to hand building tools and the others will store essential throwing tools.
Molds are used in crafting pottery and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Molds consist of a hollow inner layer and a strong outer layer that’s molded into a variety of shapes. Clay is then formed inside of the mold or poured.
Potters who want to create a piece but don’t have the skill or time to do it by hand will often use molds. Because there’s a number of intricate designs involved, creating a design by hand can be very time-consuming. Ceramic molds are an essential tool for potters who create for a living. The ability to recreate pieces in mass quantities can be a huge advantage, especially if the item is in high demand.
Clay extruders are long cylindrical devices that resemble a frosting forming mold. Clay is placed inside the end and pushed through the interior using a press that’s typically operated by pushing a handle that’s attached to the end.
The tip of the clay extruder will determine the size of the material that’s formed. A variety of tips can be used to achieve different types of textures and shapes. A clay extruder is a must-have tool for potters because it allows them to make elongated, smooth pieces.
These pieces are often used for utilitarian or decorative purposes, such as making a handle for a pitcher or a coil pot. One of the biggest benefits that come with using this type of tool is that it can make a long piece of clay that’s uniform in depth, without any rough edges.
Pottery Kiln for Home Use
Probably one of the most essential tools is pottery is the kiln. Kilns are usually designed in a box shape and will use a high heat treatment to cook ceramic or pottery material.
Kilns can be used to store any finished pieces, allowing them to dry without heat and they can also be used to finalize the glazing process. Firing up pottery is typically the last step that a piece goes through and it isn’t uncommon for a piece to be fired more than once.
Tools Used for Throwing Pottery
Most potters get to the point where they’d like to throw multiples of an object. Getting a piece to look the same when you’re making more than one can take some serious practice.
In order to ensure that you get some sort of consistency on your next set of bowls or mugs, you’ll need to use a throwing gauge. The throwing gauge will allow you to keep track of the measurements from the first to the last piece.
There are many options for throwing gauges based on designs from both western and eastern cultures in addition to ad hoc solutions that utilizes different items around the studio.
Potters in America and Europe have been using gauges for hundreds of years. These typically consist of an arm that’s adjustable on a wooden or metal stand. The arm will adjust out and in and can go up and down for both height and diameter measurements.
The Japanese created a type of throwing gauge designed for making duplicates that measure the inside dimensions of a piece, unlike the western throwing gauge which focuses on measuring the outer dimensions.
The Japanese throwing gauge is called the Tombo, and it’s held by the top of the vertical stick. The vertical length below the stick measures the depth of the piece, while the length of the horizontal stick represents the diameter.
But a big disadvantage to this type of throwing gauge is the fact that it’s not readily adjustable.
If you’re only throwing a set or two, you can probably get by using an improvised throwing gauge. When the height isn’t a factor, a marked dowel, a ruler, and calipers work well to get platters and plates at the same diameter. If height is a factor when you’re making bowls, mugs, and cups, then you’ll need to take more measurements and keep track.
Buying Only The Basics
While each of these tools for pottery is relatively inexpensive, the initial cost can really add up. If you’re new to pottery, we recommend only purchasing the basics that we’ve mentioned here.
Once you delve deeper into this medium there will be several other tools you can purchase to perfect your art or achieve the look and feel you’re shooting for, but in the beginning, it’s more important to focus on basic techniques.
|Pottery Tools||Product Dimension||Quick Description||Price Comparison||See Lowest Price|
|Skilled Crafter Clay Tools Set||9.3 x 5.2 x 1.9 inches||COMPREHENSIVE PACK - Contains All The Core Pieces You Will Need - Perfect Selection for Many Techniques.||$||See Lowest Price|
|Makin’s Professional Ultimate Clay Machine||5.6 x 6.2 x 10.1 inches||Great machine for effortless mixing and blending colors, thin and even textures.|
Includes machine, table clamp, rollers, handle.
Machine features wide clay path, 9 thickness settings.
Stainless steel machine
|$$||See Lowest Price|
|US Art Supply LARGE 12″ Diameter Sculpting Wheel||12.3 x 12.3 x 5.2 inches||If you are a painter, sculptor or decorator working in ceramics, pottery, floral arranging, model-making, clay design, cake decorating and other artistic work you will find this wheel a perfect choice||$$$||See Lowest Price|
Skilled Crafter Clay Tools Set Review
This Skilled Crafter tool set comes packed with all the tools you’ll need to get started creating. This set includes a number of tools for throwing, detail, trimming and sculpting.
The manufacturer also includes a downloadable user’s guide that details each tool’s purpose. A set designed for beginners and avid potters, the high-quality ginkgo wooden handles make these tools comfortable to use and hold.
Makin’s Professional Ultimate Clay Machine Review
The Makin’s Professional Ultimate clay machine allows you to ditch the rolling pin and quickly produce soft sheets of clay, surprisingly fast.
The machine offers nine thickness levels, a solid steel construction, non-stick rollers and a steel and plastic handle.
US Art Supply LARGE 12″ Diameter Sculpting Wheel Review
The US Art Supply twelve-inch sculpting wheel is made from heavy-duty cast iron and features quality ball bearings that allow the wheel to turn smoothly.
The heavier base adds much-needed security and prevents the base from tipping over when you’re working on a larger project. The wheel itself features a fifty-pound weight limit and weighs in at just ten pounds.