How to Throw a Pot
Mastering the art of throwing a pot is every beginner potter’s dream. Throwing pots can be a tedious and frustrating task especially if one is new to wheel throwing. However, the technique of throwing is fairly simple to learn if the student is meticulous about every step in the process. The following are the steps one needs to follow in order to become a master at pot throwing on the potter’s wheel. I have gone through the steps when I was beginning to learn the process behind pot throwing. I used to think that throwing large pots was an impossible task because I did not have the strength to work with large pieces of clay. Now, I can throw pots of different sizes including large pots thanks to the mastering of the following simple steps.
The first step in throwing a pot, regardless of its size, is finding the right clay. There are different types of clay available in the market, so the clay used will depend on the potter’s preference. My personal preference is longhorn red primarily because of its color and texture. Once the right clay has been obtained, the potter needs to knead it to remove the air bubbles within. Air bubbles need to be removed from the clay because their presence hinders the clay from raising and being centered.
To remove the air bubbles, I will gently shape the clay into a ball form then slam it against a hard surface such as a slab of plaster. Knead the ball of clay like you would bread, mold it back into a ball shape, and repeat the process. When there are no more air bubbles, I will shape the clay back into a ball form. If the clay will be used to make a large pot then it is advisable to ensure that the clay is a uniform cone shape to make it easier to throw it.
The next step is obviously to put the clay on the wheel head. I learned the hard way that you need to exert some force while throwing the clay onto the center of the wheel. I make sure that I am spinning the wheel moderately fast as I moisten the clay. The purpose of this step is to bring the mound of clay up into a tower form.
The speed of the wheel and the energy one uses depends on the type of wheel that is at the potter’s disposal. If the potter uses an electric wheel, he will use less energy but he will not be able to control the speed of the wheel. If he uses a kick wheel, he will exert more energy but he will be able to control the speed of the wheel. The electric wheel is ideal for beginners, but it will be prudent to also master the use of the kick wheel.
Whichever wheel is chosen, it is imperative that the ball of clay is rotating evenly and it looks even. To guarantee this, I usually push the mold of clay down and in on the center of the wheel while kicking the wheel. Smooth over the mold of clay as the wheel continues to rotate to remove any additional water and clay. This process is referred to as centering.
The next step is to pull the clay into a conical shape while it is still rotating on the wheel. To achieve this, I place both hands firmly against the clay to shape it into a cone. To center the clay further, I place one hand on top of the tower and push down while using my other hand to stabilize the tower so that it does not fall over. It is essential to repeat the process multiple times to ensure that the clay is aligned properly. I have to keep my arms locked against my body to ensure that the centering process goes on smoothly.
Now that my clay is centered, the next step is to open it. Opening the centered mold of clay can be accomplished by making a hole at the center. It is imperative that I find the right center of the tower or else the clay will begin to wobble and I would have to start the entire process again. To find the right center, I need to trace a straight line at the top of the tower and then locating the mid-point. Once the center has been located, I will slowly push down on it using my forefinger while the clay continues to spin. My other hand will be used to offer support to the mold of clay while I make a hole at the center.
Once the hole at the center has been created, it is time to widen it while still allowing the clay to spin on the wheel. One hand will be used as a brace for the wall that will be formed, while the other will be widening the hole. To widen the hole, I will insert a finger (from my free hand) into the center and pull it towards me. The centrifugal force of the spinning wheel plus the force I exert as I try to pull the center towards me, will cause the hole to widen. As I pull at the center, my other hand that is acting as a brace will also be enlarging the base to my desired size. After a few minutes, the cylinder will spin symmetrically because of the thick wall and the enlarged base.
The hole at the center is open, and the tower has a formidable base and wall to support it. The next step of the process is to compress the bottom of the tower. There are several ways to do this, with some potters using a wooden rib to remove the unwanted clay from the bottom. Such a method is best suited for those with meticulous precision; otherwise, the whole tower will come undone if the bottom is tampered with. Furthermore, using a wooden tip to compress the bottom will make the bottom flat, which is not the objective of throwing a pot. My preferred method is to smooth out the bottom of the clay tower with my fingers. Using the fingers will ensure that the bottom retains an appropriate shape for the cylindrical tower.
Thinning and raising the walls follows the process of smoothening out the bottom. The stage is the actual throwing step of the process. With the speed of the wheel reduced to a quarter, and the clay constantly lubricated, I will place my right crooked finger at the base, against the wheel. My left crooked finger will go inside the wall to the bottom of the interior. With both fingers moving in tandem, I will move them straight upwards gently. The movement will have the effect of thinning the walls as well as raising them and it is the actual throw. If any clay attempts to move outward, I will simply reduce the speed of the wheel. The movement needs to be repeated at least twice or thrice to effectively thin the walls.
When the walls are finished, it is time to focus on the top of the pot. The top needs to be even so I will need to cut off the parts of the top that I do not desire. I will use a pin from a wood cylinder to even the top by pressing it against the spinning clay near the very top of the cylinder. The index finger of my other hand will be inside the pot and once the pin reaches this finger, I will stop the spinning wheel and lift off the cut part of the top.