The Number One Thing to Improve Your Pottery at the Wheel

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When you’re working at the wheel, you’re probably pretty happy with the results thus far, but did you know that you could take it to a whole new level? There are a few ways to markedly improve your pottery at the wheel, but there is one thing that stands out from the rest, and here, we’ll tell you about it.


Understanding the number one thing to improve your pottery at the wheel will change the way your pottery feels in your hands, and it can help with a lot of other problems as well.



So what is it?

The one thing that can change your pottery, si understanding your clay and understanding how much water needs to be on the clay itself.


Why is this so important? Well, it’s because, in order to accomplish anything, you must know these two things.


Here are a few reasons why you must become familiar with both the clay and the water you use:

  • It can help you form more objects
  • If you’re not using enough water, it can become a problem
  • The type of clay plays a major role in your ability to throw
  • Understanding this will help you do it right, leaving you at less risk for injury or strain at the wheel

But how does knowing this change your pottery immediately? Well, let’s talk about the different factors that go into each of these, and why they’re so important.



The Water Content

The water content is actually incredibly important to understand, and if you want to make pottery easier, or make it look better, you’ve got to know the relationship between the cay, and the water that you need.


Here are some tidbits to understand, and why it’s important to know the water that you’re using:

  • For starters, you need water on the wheel in order to eliminate the friction
  • If you plan on doing any pulls, you need some water
  • If you want smooth, tall walls, you need to have water
  • However, when you use water, it’ll get absorbed by the clay
  • Too much water leaves the piece at risk for damage

Have you ever tried to throw a piece, and when you add water it just becomes a mushy mess? Well, that’s what happens when you have too much water


You need to figure out the happy medium of having water to help with shaping and mastering it, but also not waterlogging your pottery.


There are a few things that you can do to get better with this, and they include the following:

  • Use the least amount of water possible
  • Instead of using a full sponge, just squeeze a small amount
  • Add a little bit each time
  • Hold the sponge with your outside hand so that the clay just above where you apply pressure is getting it
  • Watch the pressure that you use with your sponge, for too much can cause water to come out of it

When you’re using a sponge on the pottery wheel, you need to make sure it has that happy medium between having enough water on the piece, and not having enough that makes it a mess.


So do I need Water?

Yes, you need water. don’t think that just because it says that you need less water than you should fully forgo water period

To have water on your sponge and on the pottery piece means the following:

  • Smoother walls
  • Less likely to stick
  • Easier for pulling

Many beginner potters, make the mistake of not putting water on there at all. They read that too much water is bad, so, therefore, no water should be used.


And your pottery will suffer if you think this way.


The best way to really make sure that you get the right amount of water on your pottery piece is to make sure that you do the following:

  • Be slow and steady with adding it
  • If you’re shaping walls, don’t hesitate to use more water
  • Use your sponge to help shape the tool, don’t be against using it
  • If the pottery becomes hard to manipulate, do look into the water you’re using

Remember, while too much of a good thing can be bad, not having any of that at all is also not good for your pottery either, so don’t do that.


Clay Considerations

When you’re working with pottery, you may actually realize that your clay plays a bigger role in pottery manipulation than you think.

Some things to keep in mind include the following:

  • The less clay you use, the shorter the structure
  • Not every single clay is super stiff, nor is it super soft
  • Some clay is better for beginners than others

With that in mind, you may see how this plays into how you do at the wheel. The right kind of clay can actually affect the following in your pieces:

  • Your pulls, or lack thereof
  • How high the piece ends up going
  • How thin or how thick the clay piece is
That’s why, when you’re looking to improve your pottery, it isn’t just the water that you’re working with, but the clay as well. Below, we’ll go over how each of these plays into how you do at the wheel.


Not using Enough Clay

So you have spent all of this time working on this piece, but you can’t seem to keep it upright. Well, look at how much clay you’re using.


A single pound of clay is not going to be good for a super-tall vase.

What you need to do, is to understand the following:

  • The bigger the piece, the more clay
  • You should try out different ways, and see how much clay you need
  • On the flip side, too much clay can also be a problem, since it can take forever to make things

Both of these are important things to understand. If you’re making a small pottery bowl, you don’t need ten pounds of clay. That’s just going to make it a chore for you to do.


The best way to figure out how much clay you need is to do the following:

  • Trial and error
  • Follow the recipe
  • Go with the averages usually used

The right amount of clay matters and it is something that you should consider if you’re looking to fix your pottery.


The Clay Stiffness

Now, clay stiffness is a big part of throwing pottery. That’s because the following works with it:

  • Taller pieces work better with stiffer clay
  • Bowls and other small structures can use clay that isn’t as stiff
  • When you throw stiff clay, it will be stronger at the wheel

When you’re throwing stiff clay at the wheel and making tall structures, it makes it much stronger. The strength of clay in tall mediums is important, because of the following:

  • It can support more weight
  • Even if you make it thin, it’ll hold up better
  • It won’t flop all over or collapse on you

So, if you start to notice that you’re struggling with throwing items easily, it might be the stiffness of the clay itself.


However, this doesn’t come with its downfalls. There are a few downsides to stiffer clay, and they include the following:

  • Stiffer clay is harder to move
  • For newer potters, this can be awkward to manipulate
  • You may think you need to add more water, which you don’t and creates the issue beforehand

The stiffness of clay is incredibly important to understand, and if you notice that your clay keeps falling, or you’re not able to make structures as high as you’d like them to be, then look at how stiff this is currently.


Another consideration is that stiffer clay is harder to center too, which means that the first step is going to be a bit harder for you to begin with.


Using Different Clay

Knowing what different clay does is very important. One of the biggest changes and one of the most important things to know when throwing clay is that different clay generates different results.


Here are some factors that you should consider when choosing a clay body for throwing:

  • Porcelain clay tends to hold up better on the wheel
  • Stoneware is good for medium-sized pieces
  • Earthenware is good for bowls and smaller vases and media
  • You should understand the plasticity that you’re working with on the clay too
  • The higher the grog, the stronger the clay will be, which means it’ll be stiffer on the wheel
  • Clay with more plasticity means that it can be workable, and ball clay and porcelain are the best cause they’ve got higher plasticity
  • However, the higher the plasticity, the more likely it is to shrink and warp
  • The water absorption rate needs to be low for higher objects

These are some of the important aspects that you need to consider with a clay body. Usually, plastic clay is ideal for you to use at the wheel, but it can play a major role in how it handles in your hands, and how much time it takes, so you need to make sure this is balanced.


The best way to figure this out is to work with different kinds and understand the best one to work with.


How This Prevents Strain and Makes You Better

Knowing these two factors will help you with your throwing since it can help with the following aspects:

  • The pull, and make sure that you go full with it and not partway
  • Your hands will be steadier
  • You won’t have to worry about your hands hurting as much
  • You’ll have a much stronger point of contact
  • You won’t be relying just on your fingers for pulling

A lot of potters struggle with trying to pull pieces because they use their fingertips, or strain when they are trying to pull the item. That is actually a result of an improper clay body or too little or too much water.


If you start to notice that throwing is straining your hand, you should do the following:

  • Check the water content of the piece
  • Check the plasticity of the clay itself
  • Look at the clay body and determine whether or not it’s suitable for throwing
  • Look at how much water is left on this, and whether or not you have good placement of your hands
  • Look to make sure you’re fully pulling the clay as much as you can, and working with it in a state that’s as malleable as possible

When you work with clay, you are working with a medium that can be a little hard to get used to initially, but the best thing for you to do at this point is to figure out the best clay medium to work with.


How to Master This at the Wheel

The best way to master throwing and get better at it is to do the following:

  • Throw pottery more
  • Experiment with different throwing media, and water content
  • Make notes of what you do and change
  • If you notice one thing works well, try to adopt that
  • Experiment with different clay types

When it comes to pottery, the best thing to do is to practice it. After all, if you practice, you’ll be able to become better and understand your clay medium better.


If you begin to notice that your pottery is stagnating for whatever reason, and you need a little bit of a boost to get better, look at this. It is probably the one thing that you could change at the wheel that will help you for the better.


But here is a good wheel to get your pottery going.

For many potters, finding the right place to throw pottery can be hard, but, I tried out the Speedball Portable Artista Tabletop Pottery Wheel, and I immediately noticed a difference. This is one of the best for practically any throwing surface you choose to work on.


Out of all of the tabletop spaces I’ve tried, this one allows for comfort, and flexibility that I didn’t even know you could get with this.  It is really good for potters that want everything, and are still trying to master the best position for throwing.


Click Here to View it on Amazon.






Hopefully, with just this simple change, it will get easier to throw pieces.

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