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How Does a Pottery Wheel Work?

Dale Devries

A pottery wheel is really a spinning round table. There is a splash pan that goes around the wheel to catch water and clay as it spins. Pottery wheels come in electric or manual versions and many different sizes. You can purchase a one-speed small plastic wheel for a child to very expensive adjustable speeds for professionals. Many have attached seats so you know you are sitting at the right level. These wheels are used to make many different pottery pieces such as bowls, flower pots and urns. You can also make porcelain pieces on the wheels, but you need special ovens called a kiln to then bake the porcelain.

The Pottery Wheel

How Does a Pottery Wheel Work?

Using a Pottery Wheel

The most common type of pottery wheel these days is electric. It comes with a foot pedal that turns the wheel faster when pressure is put on it. The wheel is placed in a frame and is about waist high. You sit in front of the wheel and lean forward to work with the clay. The wheel will turn non-stop as long as there is pressure on the foot pedal. As it is turning, the potter is molding the clay into the piece he wants to make. Each step in making the piece will require a certain speed for the wheel to turn. The potter will have it turn relatively slowly as he centers the clay, and much faster as he makes the clay taller. All the while, he is wetting the clay or sponging the clay. He may even be using a special tool to cut lines into the piece. This is what the splash guard is for. As the potter is working on the piece, he doesn't have to worry about the clay getting thrown all over the room.

Manual wheels work the same way, except the rotation speed is controlled by the potter himself. There is a separate wheel at the bottom of the frame that the potter moves with his feet. The faster he needs the pottery wheel to turn, the faster he must move his feet. There are still potters today that use this method, and manual pottery wheels are still being manufactured.

Taking a Pottery Class

Making pottery is an art and takes a lot of time to learn. Anyone who is interested in learning to make pottery should take a class at a trade school, art school or college nearby. The equipment and supplies needed to make pottery can be very expensive, and it would be a shame to purchase all of it just to find out you really didn't like making the pottery. If you take the class and find you do like it, then you have many options in pottery wheels. By taking the class you will also get a feel for what type of wheel you might like.